Jennifer Smith sees her candidacy as a way to give back to the community that welcomed her 11 years ago.
“Dubuquers are some of the best people I have ever met,” Smith said. “When I moved to Dubuque, I knew nobody — I was alone as a single woman with her two dogs. But Dubuque took me in with open arms.”
Smith, 47, said she wants to repay the community’s kindness with public service. She is the Republican challenger seeking to unseat incumbent Iowa state Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, in Iowa Senate District 50.
“As an educator, I’m always trying to talk to all kinds of people,” said Smith, an economics professor at Loras College. “I thought I could be a voice for people. I have a perspective that is not always out there.”
Born in Madison, Wis., Smith has lived at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, in Kansas City, Kan., and Bloomington, Ill., where she went to high school.
Smith moved to Dubuque in 2009 to teach at Loras, and shortly thereafter became involved in local and state Republican politics.
“When Barack Obama was running in 2008, I was getting my Ph.D. (at Northern Illinois University) at the time,” she said. “I was concerned about the direction of the country. I am in favor of individual rights, and I am not big on government intervention.”
Smith describes herself as an abortion opponent as well as a supporter of gun rights.
Joining the Dubuque County Republican Party committee after the 2010 Iowa caucuses, Smith became co-chair in 2012.
After serving as interim chairwoman for several months, Smith officially took the reins as chairwoman of Dubuque County Republicans in May 2014, serving in that post until January 2019. She also has served as a member of Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee since 2015.
Smith said she decided to run for office this year to bring an economist’s perspective to governance.
“I have a tendency to ask a lot of questions when things are being proposed,” she said. “That’s something the government doesn’t always pay attention to. With economics, we look at things on a broader scale — not just what something costs, but what are the secondary effects. What other impacts are there going to be on people’s wellbeing? As an economist, we are trained to look at those secondary effects.”
Smith said her campaign focuses on education and workforce development.
“I worry a lot about what I see the students learning these days,” she said. “Basic skills are being lost. They can’t do basic math anymore — that’s a lack of development of critical thinking skills.”
Smith said education also can play a greater role in the development of Iowa’s workforce.
“We need to expand on training,” she said. “I think apprenticeship programs are the best things we can have. We are losing our plumbers, our electricians and our HVAC techs — those are the people that, if we don’t have them, we’re in trouble. We need to encourage people to go into those jobs. It is a falsity that everyone has to go to (a four-year) college. There are so many different ways to get training.”