Carrie Koelker said she never imagined herself as a member of the Iowa senate.
“This was something I never had on my bucket list,” she said. Now that her first year has come to an end, Koelker has had a chance to reflect on everything she has learned and experienced.
As a state senator for District 29, Koelker serves as the voice of approximately 62,000 Iowans in Dubuque, Jackson and Jones counties. From mid-January to the beginning of May, she spent most of the week in Des Moines serving the communities of District 29. When she isn’t in Des Moines during session, she can be found in any of the 42 communities she serves, learning about local issues she can assist with as senator.
Rural Iowa is one of Koelker’s great passions. As a lifelong Iowan, she has seen communities changing with the times. “I’m in these communities and I see them shriveling up, and I see their downtowns closing. I see people working endlessly to try and raise their family. Rural Iowa and its future are probably one of my biggest concerns.”
Koelker said her role as the executive director of the Eastern Iowa Tourism Association gives her a unique position in the senate. “I’m normally at the Capitol on the other side of the fence, promoting Iowa,” she said. “Being at the Capitol and those legislative fronts are not new to me. What’s new to me is being an elected official.”
She said that the two positions are not unlike one another. Both positions give Koelker plenty of time to drive around Iowa, and she said they both deal with people and places of Iowa.
“I’m used to working with people and places in Iowa,” she said, “so why not work with a little bit of policy in Iowa to make sure they’re all collaboratively combined?”
Though her two positions share some similarities, Koelker said she was not immediately prepared for her new role. “There’s no training for this,” she said. “You go from an intense, enduring campaign right into election day. You’re drinking from a fire hose. And you’re going down to Des Moines for session and you’re being sworn in and you are running committees and subcommittees.”
As a member of numerous committees and a subcommittee, Koelker said she had a pretty full plate. In addition to all of the committees she was a part of, Senator Koelker also served on the Enhance Iowa Board and the Midwest Higher Education Impact Board and Executive Committee.
After her first year in the Senate, Koelker said adjusting to the tone difference was one of the more challenging parts of her first year. “It’s been a personal and professional adjustment. I’m used to being all-to-all, and you cannot be all-to-all in this capacity. Everyone is passionate about their issue, or about the funding they need, and I’m just amazed by the tone and the brutality of all of this. People will either like you or dislike you just because of your party line affiliation, and that has been hard for me.”
Despite this, the local senator said her first year has been incredibly rewarding. “I’ve met a lot of new people and seen the great work they’re doing out there with their communities,” she said. “It’s really rewarding because you get to work with a lot of different Iowans, and the good that they’re doing. Mixing all of those together for the betterment of Iowa is very rewarding within itself.”
Though Koelker said she feels blessed to have met new lifelong friends and peers, she says her biggest supporters are her family members back home.
“Behind every elected official or candidate, there is a team of family and friends who are supporting you. And they’re giving up just as much. I cannot thank my family and friends enough for being behind me through the campaign, through this first session, and for the days coming forward.”
“It’s an honor and I appreciate the privilege to represent the district. It’s a very humbling experience,” said Koelker. “I’m working hard to serve my district to the best ability I can.”