I am often asked why I decided to run for office. It is a bit of a long story, but I feel like my life has always been moving me toward this moment. I hope you’ll take a moment to read on and learn what drives my passion and desire to serve.
I am a California native that became an Iowan in 1988. I grew up on a small family farm with a very large family that included many foster children. My mother introduced me to politics at a young age by door knocking for her school board campaign. She is now 80 years-old, and is still an active nurse for the American Red Cross.
I began working with children with special needs at only 11 years-old as a volunteer junior counselor at an Easter Seals Day camp where my mom was camp nurse. Children with special needs became a lifelong calling for me, and became part of every job I ever held.
After high school, I became a lead preschool teacher for the Navy Children’s Center in Long Beach, CA, where my first husband was stationed in the Navy. After his enlistment ended, we moved to Keokuk, IA to be near his parents.
I operated a registered daycare in our home so I could be home with our three young daughters. I also worked at a YMCA teaching swim lessons and directing a day camp. There I taught swim lessons for adults and children with disabilities and helped students train for the Special Olympics.
When that marriage was ending, I went back to school and became a registered nurse so I could support my children. Later, I met a divorced father of three that was a software engineer. We married in 2001, and together had 6 children within 4 years of age. We later added two more children to our family. Our busy family had puberty and potty training at the same time with two parents working full-time.
My nursing career had taken on a focus on disability services just as my early childhood career had. I worked in in-patient physical rehabilitation in Cedar Rapids, and later became a case manager for a home care agency that provided in-home services for adults and children with disabilities.
My career was just getting momentum when tragedy struck us. I arrived at the daycare center at the end of the day and found my then 14-month-old daughter sitting in the middle of the floor with no toys. She was leaning forward on her hands in a tripod position, which can be a warning sign for respiratory distress. I asked the classroom staff how long she had been like that. The teacher smiled and said, “She’s been quiet all day.”
I pulled off my daughter’s shirt and found all the signs of severe respiratory distress. I rushed her 40 miles to the hospital, where I was informed one of her lungs was slowly collapsing due to a condition called atelectasis, which was caused by a severe asthma attack. My daughter spent a week in the hospital. When we returned to daycare, we found the terrified staff were unprepared to meet our daughter’s medical needs and they were ham-stringed by policies and rules that prevented them from meeting her needs effectively.
After months of repeat crises at daycare and monthly emergency room visits, I decided we couldn’t continue this way and risk our daughter losing her life. Through my home care agency, I had become acquainted with a childcare center for children with special needs in Coralville, IA. I got in contact with the founder and director of the center and asked about what options I had as a nurse to provide special needs child care services.
She told me about her own start as an in-home childcare provider, and how registered childcare providers can provide Medicaid Waiver services. My entire career path suddenly came together with a new purpose and direction. I opened Tipton Adaptive Daycare in our home in 2005.
My mother and family all feared that leaving my nursing job would be a mistake and that caring children with special needs was too much of a liability risk, but they all supported me. Being home with my daughter meant I could better manage my daughter’s severe asthma, and it meant she had no more emergency room visits for asthma attacks.
A year later, her younger sister arrived, who also had severe asthma. My risk of opening my special needs daycare had double the impact on the health of my children. In fact, I had an impact on 100 other children in the nine years the daycare was in my home.
By 2011, my youngest children were in school, I had earned a bachelor degree in nursing from the University of Iowa, and my family was ready to have their home back. My family needed their space and privacy. I was also struggling with accessibility issues for my very first daycare child that was now a teenager with a bigger wheelchair that would not fit in my tiny main floor bathroom. I had decided it was time to close the daycare and return to my nursing career and start bringing home a better paycheck for my family.
I announced to my daycare families well in advance that I planned to close so they would have ample time to make other arrangements for their children. I was not expecting the reaction I got. I was confronted with tears of desperation. No other daycares would accept their children with special needs, especially the ones with challenging behaviors.
One single grandmother that had adopted her twin grandsons with intellectual and behavioral needs told me flat-out I could not abandon them because she had made her decision to adopt them after first ensuring I would be able to care for them. If I closed my daycare, she would not be able to work and either lose her job and her home or be forced to give up custody of her kids. It shook me deeply to realize the harm I was doing these families if I closed.
That night I sat at our kitchen table in despair as to what I should do. I needed to get the daycare out of our home, and I needed to move forward with my own career. My husband said, “Well, I guess it’s time for you to open a center.” That was an idea that had been presented to me before by several people, but I was intimidated by the scale and complexity of running a center and managing employees. Seeing the fear and desperation in the eyes of the families I served was enough to push me to overcome my fears and take that next step I thought I wasn’t capable of taking.
In 2012, I purchased an abandoned commercial building on a huge lot in an ideal location. I thought I could do a few cosmetic and mechanical repairs and open a couple rooms in a few months, but discovered the building was in much worse condition than we realized. We ended up mortgaging our home to cover the cost of the repairs and doing most of the work ourselves. It took us three years to completely gut and rebuild half of the building.
In October 2014, we opened two classrooms with a licensed capacity of 30 children. I had just four employees, including one of my adult daughters. I figured it would take a few years to build enrollment up to our capacity, so we could take our time renovating the other half of the building. To our astonishment, we were at capacity five months after opening. I decided to take on more loans so we could hire a contractor to finish the next three classrooms, which expanded our licensed capacity to 86 children.
By 2017, we were caring for more than 60 children and I had 15 employees. The daycare was thriving, and I was exploring ideas to ideas to branch out to neighboring communities, form a non-profit, or even franchise my inclusive business model. My business was successful beyond what I had hoped for, and I was finally able to put myself on payroll and bring home a little of the fruits of my labor. The future seemed so bright for all of us, but there were dark clouds on the horizon that threatened that future.
For years, I had been seeing some disturbing trends in the child care industry, and I was concerned about how young parents were struggling to cover the cost of care. More and more providers were closing, and new daycares were not opening fast enough to replace them. Despite the shrinking supply of childcare, enrollment was starting to drop by 2019. The feedback I was getting from departing parents was that they simply could not afford child care, or that they had suddenly lost their subsidy and did not earn enough to cover rent and child care. All the signs of a failing system were there.
I started contacting legislators and state leaders trying to alert them to the problem and to make suggestions on how to address it before it escalates into a crisis. At first, I got little or no response to my cries of impending doom, so I decided to take a different approach. Rather than focus on the entire child care system heading toward crisis, I focused on little problems within the system that could be easily addressed.
This got the attention of some of my elected leaders, and I gradually built a relationship with them, both Democratic and Republican, as I gave them ideas for solutions and industry insights to help them draft legislation. Over the past 17 years, I suggested or consulted on a number of childcare and family legislation and policy changes, but I remained an unknown figure in the background. I was simply doing what I could to save my business and my industry from a worsening condition. I was also doing whatever I could to help the families I had been watching struggle just to survive and raise their children.
I had been raised in a Republican family and heard all the tales of welfare queens and lazy bums that mooch off the taxpayers rather than working and contributing to society. I had been insulated from the harsh realities of poverty, and as a result was blind to the truth all around me. But my childcare career tore down the barriers that kept me separate and ignorant from the truth.
Many children with special needs live in poverty, and often the disability and poverty are interconnected in a complicated web where each exacerbates the other. Without help, the family and the child cannot thrive. To work with these families is to have an intimate look at their struggles and the profound effects it has on their children.
Every day, I see single parents working two or three jobs and couples with both parents working and juggling the demands of parenting. These are the hardest working people I know, yet they are unable to meet the basic needs of their families. Even those that manage to get by lack the safety net or resources to navigate challenges and life events that would be a mere inconvenience to the rest of us. An unexpected car repair or routine illness can trigger a cascade of consequences that can have long-term effects on the family.
The intimate relationship I had developed with the families I serve opened my eyes and heart to their plight. My fight to save my industry grew to include a fight to improve the lives of the people served by my industry. How could I strive to provide quality child care to ensure my young charges are ready for school while ignoring all the barriers that are pushing them towards failure in school and society?
I increasingly found that my mission truly extends beyond the walls of my center. I could not stop caring for them when they left at the end of the day. By 2019, the crumbling of the child care system was becoming evident to me on a local level. I was seeing a drop in enrollment, but it was obvious they weren’t leaving to go to other providers. There was also a huge drop in the number of child care providers in my area.
Over a decade, my community and the surrounding area went from a dozen registered providers to only two. In a quest to increase the quality of care in the state, regulations and standards were being steadily increased, which increased the cost and stress of providing child care. Providers were forced to raise rates or close. Others chose to opt-out of the child care system and operate under the radar as unregistered providers, which also enabled them to provide cheap care without oversight or standards.
With the increased cost of care, parents were no longer able to afford child care at all, and were being forced to make less than ideal decisions for their families. They were leaving the workforce or leaving their children with whoever they could find and afford to take them. Quality, or even safe, care for their children became a luxury they could no longer afford. Each work day they had to swallow their fears and hope for the best, or for at least that the worst would not happen.
The decrease in enrollment was putting a strain on my center, and so were our increasing expenses. We were struggling to retain quality staff because we could not afford to pay anything more than poverty wages. Without full enrollment to cover our operating expenses, our long-term outlook was looking less viable. I again reached out to legislators and policy makers begging for changes in the child care system, especially in the very low reimbursement we got from subsidies for low-income families. I didn’t want to have to make the same choices other centers were making and start turning away families with state aid to stabilize our finances.
I am not in child care for the money. If that was what mattered, then I would be working as a nurse and making far more than I do now. I’m here to make a difference for the kids and their families, and the kids with special needs and low-income families are the ones that need me the most. So, just as the child care crisis I had long seen coming arrived, so did a pandemic. But with this new crisis came swift help.
With the financial help early in the pandemic, I was able to focus all my energy, training and experience into keeping my staff and childcare families safe. We adapted to the challenge and earned the trust and respect of our community. Our community, and our nation, came together to ensure we could all get through it together.
Sadly, political division quickly began to erode away the sense of community that had developed. Some individuals and groups exploited the fear and uncertainty to sow mistrust and division for their own political gain. “We’re in this together” gave way to “Us against them”. Public health messaging was undermined by misinformation so badly that “the common good” was now replaced by “what is best for me”.
Much of society lost faith in our leadership and the information our leaders were giving. People doubted the messaging and became unwilling to make the personal sacrifices needed to control the pandemic and limit the loss of life and long-term consequences of covid-19. Mitigation meant to keep our community members safe went to the wayside as political affiliation became the primary deciding factor for how we responded to the pandemic for individuals, businesses, institutions and government entities.
Unfortunately, in Iowa, our current political leadership is loyal to the side that chose to distrust science and to promote individual liberties over the needs of the community. Even if local leaders wanted to do everything possible to keep our community safe, they found their ability to set any policies or make changes hindered by our state leadership. Even our public health department was severely limited in their ability to serve their primary function, public health.
This left me in a situation where the environment outside of my center was, and is, directly threatening the environment inside my center. As community transmission rates increased and children returned to school, the likelihood that a child or staff member would be exposed outside of the center and bring covid into our center increased. For me to meet my obligation to keep everyone inside my center safe, I needed to focus on what was happening outside my center.
If public health was going to be limited in their ability to educate and inform the public, then someone else would have to step in to fill that void and counter all the misinformation that was spreading throughout the community. In addition to my community outreach on social media for my child care center, I had also created the largest social media groups in our county. I had the ability to have the greatest reach with my message and the professional credentials and training to be a credible source for that information.
I also had previously worked and volunteered for public health and have strong ties with that agency. What started as occasional sharing of covid news and local information grew into a daily covid report where I compiled data and statistics for Cedar County and a weekly report on county schools. Later I also began reporting on local vaccine clinics and appointments. When the state started offering free covid tests by mail, I also turned my child care center into a discreet, no contact free test distribution site.
I also volunteered at public health vaccination clinics. My goal was to educate the people in my area and facilitate testing and vaccination of our residents. Public health, school superintendents and community leaders quietly thanked me for doing what they were not being allowed to do and provided me with information for my reports. Unfortunately, the political divisions around covid response meant that some community members were angry that I was able to distribute information that the Republican leadership had worked to suppress.
I have endured personal attacks through social media for my efforts. When the attacks and threats started being directed toward my family and my child care center, I had to change my approach so that my identity was not tied to my reports and community education. I formed two separate online identities, one for Twitter and one for Facebook, to distribute my reports while keeping myself mostly anonymous. This succeeded in ending the threats and harassment against my business, my family and myself.
So why run for office now? My ability to make changes to improve the health and well-being of the people around me is very limited in my current capacity. My family, friends and I have long known that someday I would run for state office so that I can truly make a difference in my state. I have always put it off, citing the time constraints of my family and business obligations. In reality, they were excuses and self-imposed limitations.
Since I am self-employed, I can make the changes needed to enable me to run a campaign and serve in the legislature. I have to be willing to trust others and hand over some control of my center. I also have to overcome my own fears and insecurities, like I did when I opened my center. Just as the despair and fear of my child care families gave me to push I needed to overcome my fears a decade ago, the fear and uncertainty the pandemic has created in my community has motivated me to stand up against the political forces that endanger our entire country.
I can’t quietly sit back and watch what is happening and do nothing. There is one other driving factor for running right now. The once in a decade legislative redistricting created an opportunity I may never see again: An open senate seat in my district. I have come to realize that now is the time for me to finally take that step, and now is the time that my state needs me to step up. It’s time to stop making excuses and to start making a plan. My time is now.