‘I’m really about local politics’

Iowa Senate candidate Cox outlines vision for rural Iowa in Tama County

While Sam Cox is running for Iowa Senate, she still finds time to help out her employees at Saint’s Rest Coffee House in Grinnell. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Sam Cox, the Iowa Senate Democratic nominee for District 27, visited Tama County on Saturday, Aug. 27 to personally canvas for her campaign.

“I’m the new kid on the block here. I realize there has to be new players all the time. I don’t have as much experience running for office as others. Thankfully, the Democratic Party, on a state level, has given me classes, tools, advice, contacts [and] the support to be successful,” she said. “If I’m lucky enough to be elected into this position, I’ll be doing everything I can to be successful. You don’t just get to sit back and rest on your laurels, you have to work, and I’ve always been a worker. I’ve already started getting my ducks in a row, so when I get there, I can be as successful as I can be. I am learning so much, and it’s so enlightening. The whole process is just an education for me. I’m grateful to have the opportunity.”

Cox is a mother of four children, a wife to an Army veteran, and a pet mom to one cat and four dogs in Grinnell. She also donates her time to fostering for Paws & Claws.

“I’ve been in Grinnell pretty much my entire life. I love our little community. I’m an avid animal lover,” she said. “I do everything I can to be supportive both financially and giving of my time in fostering [dogs] It’s incredibly rewarding.”

While not born in Iowa, Cox was raised in Grinnell, where she graduated high school and Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls. She then went into the retail workforce, followed by restaurant management, real estate, and lending. Now, she is the owner of Saint’s Rest Coffee House and Lucky Cat Drive-Thru Coffee in Grinnell.

“The retail life that I was living was just not allowing me to be more present in my family’s life. I purchased Saint’s Rest Coffee Shop that I’ve had for 10 years. Three years ago, [in the] September before the pandemic, we opened the Lucky Cat drive-thru. I’m an incredibly hard worker. I was raised that way, that if you want something, you’re gonna have to work to achieve it.”

She then went on to explain her reasoning for running for the Iowa Senate against GOP incumbent Annette Sweeney.

“At the point I jumped into the race, Annette Sweeney [Republican Party candidate] didn’t have a challenger. That was my first reason for running,” she said. “I don’t believe anybody should just automatically get a position because somebody else doesn’t want it. I feel like it’s every person’s civic duty, at some point in their life, to hold a public office and vote.”

While Cox is running on the Democratic ticket, she’s focused on working together with both political parties.

“I think a lot of us, myself included, are very disenfranchised with the [two party] system. My husband is a Republican, and I’m a Democrat. I’m more of a rural Democrat, and he is more of a — moderate Republican, in my opinion. He and I actually have a lot of things in common. We just differ on some of the edges,” she said.

Many voters in both parties, she added, are seeking a new direction.

“He’s disenfranchised with his party and what’s going on in his party. I’m disenfranchised with my party and what’s going on in my party. Unfortunately, all of us are too familiar with the super far right and the super far left. That’s what stands out to us,” she said. “I think there’s this giant bubble of like 70 percent of the population who’s in the middle ground where we just forget that we have things in common anymore, and you’re forced to choose one or the other. It’s unfortunate that we’re stuck in that situation. We have a diverse population, and I don’t understand why we all don’t want to band together [and] lift each other up.”

The candidate explained the most important items on her agenda, starting with education.

“For me, it starts with public education, and that came about for me as a parent. Sometimes you don’t necessarily become as involved in your child’s education as you should. I don’t know why I just took my children to school and just thought they were going to be okay. I just had faith in the system,” she said. “I guess because I was raised in that system. [But] we need to learn to adapt to better work with the children of today.”

As a night custodian at Fairview School in Grinnell during the pandemic, Sam got firsthand experience into what educators dealt with on a daily basis, and she worried that some of the current legislative pushes centered around curriculum are pushing good teachers out of the field.

“It really was eye-opening to see what our educators did every day. It was unbelievable to me to watch the amount of work and passion that they put into it. I think in the environment we live in now and the climate that we live in, I think that we are killing that passion,” she said. “I think that we’re making it really hard for educators to want to stay in this industry. I think people who have no right and no educational background [shouldn’t] make decisions about what should be taught in our school system. I’m appalled with what we are doing with library books that we are doing book bans [and] that a parent, for whatever reason, can object to a book you want to read to your class. It could be the most innocent, innocuous book.”

Her second major concern that she would seek to address as a state senator is for the working class of Iowa.

“I came from a lower-middle-class family. I am [a part of ] the working class, and I have been for my entire life. Being middle class in America is tough. If you look at the cost of living and the increases that have happened [with inflation and goods], they’re astronomical. It’s insane to me to look at a CEO of a major corporation and then look at the pay for the president of the United States, [the president] isn’t making anything near what a CEO is. It’s absolutely abhorrent that our CEOs are making $30-60 million dollars, and you’ve got an employee that’s making $10, living in a car in a parking lot off of food stamps,” she said. “The fact that our minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009 [when wages were increased] from $6.55 to $7.25 — is atrocious. We talk about raising that minimum wage, then you talk about there being a $15 Big Mac, [but] that’s not really the answer. The answer is: the people at the top are just going to get less, that CEO is just going to take less, and maybe the shareholders are going to get a little less, but they’re still going to make a profit. But what about sharing with the people that are doing everything they can to bring in those dollars for you?”

But Cox does, however, see signs of hope with a recent resurgence in union organizing activity.

“It’s been lovely to watch employees finally getting a little more power, a little more opportunity to advocate for themselves, to get a livable wage. I’m a small business owner. Last year, during the pandemic, I raised my manager’s salary to more than I was making myself. There are business owners out there that will tell you that it’s ludicrous that you’d pay people more than yourself. I want my employees to be able to maintain a lifestyle that covers their most basic needs, like housing and food,” she said. “I’ll always be one of those people who share wealth. I think that’s the difference between the working class and the ultra-rich. The working class knows what it’s like to be poor, and I think [they] have more generosity in them than people that come from money.”

Tying into her agenda, Cox explained that she believes childcare to be the most important issue for her district.

“For our district, I think, affordable housing and affordable childcare, which then bleeds into employee shortages. How do you find people that are going to be able to come to work when they have a small child at home and childcare isn’t affordable for them?” she asked. “How do you find people who can’t afford to pay rent and pay their childcare provider? They want to go out and get a job. They don’t want to live within the system. They want to be productive parts of our society, but it’s very difficult for them to do so.”

Pivoting to a local hot button issue, Sam did take the time to speak about wind energy and the current conflicts Tama County is facing with its ordinances.

“I am definitely a supporter of greener, cleaner energy. However, I agree with a lot of Iowans [about] how many wind farms are we going to have, what’s the right amount [and] what should we cap that at. I can’t tell you I would like to see hundreds and hundreds of [wind] farms across the state of Iowa. I feel like there are some opportunities out there to help us, maybe, gain some independence from fossil fuels,” she said. “I’m not saying we don’t need fossil fuel energy. I understand that ethanol is a huge export of Iowa. [But] there are a lot of opportunities to diversify Iowa’s [energy grid.] I also feel like there are opportunities to be greener in our footprint, which I think is important. I do believe in climate change. I am a believer in environmental rules and regulations that will provide us with clean water and air. I think it’s super important that we are good stewards of our environment.”

From there, she did endorse the idea of taking another look at the county’s ordinances without advocating for any specific changes yet.

“I read [Tama County’s] wind ordinance, and I have to tell you it’s — all a little wordy. Clearly, it needs to be revisited. [Local representatives] have to revisit [their county’s ordinances] when your community is growing and [updating County wind ordinances every five years] is a common sense measure,” she said. “People putting up wind turbines on their property were offered an amount of money that was appealing to them without thinking about how that’s going to affect other people that it directly relates to. I think you have to come up with current rulings that are going to help make good decisions for the planning that needs to be done in your community. If you’re unhappy with what’s not being done in your community about wind turbines, that’s a voting issue. Vote, vote accordingly, vote your conscience. It starts small. It starts with your Board of Supervisors, your Senate Representative, your House Representatives.”

When asked about the American Anti-Corruption act yet to be passed through Iowa legislation, Cox offered her wholehearted support for the measure.

“Honestly, that’s a no-brainer. That law should be passed. Campaign reform should be passed. There should be transparency in the money that’s donated to our government officials [and] those running for office. In the lobbying sector of our government, it should all be crystal clear,” she said. “Because I think in so many situations in politics and where we are in general, we are beholden to people that give us money. I think that makes it very difficult to be true to your constituents.”

After analyzing the issue of the growing tension between Democrats and Republicans, Cox said she has a plan to help resolve this inner turmoil taking place in the government.

“I think we’re always going to be unhappy with our administration. My reasoning why [is] because [of] the Senate’s structure right now. It’s almost impossible for any administration to get their goals passed because they can’t get the support they need from who’s sitting in the Senate,” she said. “Really, the question is, how are we ever going to get anything done if we’re 50/50? Why are we not doing something about what’s going on in the Senate and Congress? Why aren’t we making changes? We’re talking about [governmental systems] that are outdated. What are we going to do to make it a more viable system so we can actually get something done [for Iowa]?”

As recently as 2012, Iowa went comfortably for former Democratic President Barack Obama, but it swung hard to former Republican President Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. Cox hopes to see the state become “purple” again in the future, but she knows it won’t be easy.

“Would I like to see a change in the state of Iowa? Of course, I would. Could we go back to the purple state that we were that was partially Democrat and partially Republican [with] a more even balance in our state Senate and the House of Representatives? I would. It’s going to be a long, tough uphill climb to get us back to that ratio,” she said. “But if we don’t start, if Democrats don’t start getting out there and fighting the fight, particularly in small races, we’re not gonna get there anyway. My solution to being a successful Democrat in the state of Iowa [is] to start forming bonds with the people across the aisle. We’ve all got to work together. It’s about not giving up on the Democratic party, not giving up on bipartisan relationships. [I’m] really hoping to bring people back to the center.”

As she seeks to represent the people of District 27, which includes Tama, Grundy, Hardin, Poweshiek counties and a portion of Black Hawk County, Cox has made it her personal mission statement to listen to the communities that comprise this district.

“I’m here to listen. I wanna hear what’s important to you [the voter]. I wanna hear what issues you have and what issues you want us to focus on. It’s really about trying to connect with as many people as possible, trying to gain as much insight as you can into each community and what they’re looking for,” she said. “[I’m] trying to be that problem solver that can do something for the good of all.”

The 2022 election will be held on Nov. 8.