Tom Jeneary is preparing for his first term in the Iowa House. Representative-elect Jeneary will serve District 5. He expects there to be quite a learning curve as a freshman legislator.
“There is just so much to learn,” Jeneary said. “I have to admit, I was pretty ignorant. I never thought I’d ever run for elected office. If you’d have told me a year and a half ago I’d be doing this, I would’ve laughed at you. But, well, here I am.”
Having gone through new member orientation and his first caucus meeting, it’s about time for him to experience Opening Day in the legislature.
“A lot of people don’t really understand the legislative process at all,” he said. “I’m still trying to make heads and tails of it. It’s not easy. There are a lot of things that go into the decision making. I ran my own business, so I’m one of those people who thinks ‘OK, here’s our goal, let’s get in the car and drive there. If we go in the ditch, we’ll get out of the ditch and get back on the road to get there.’ That’s not how government works.”
Jeneary has practiced dentistry for 33 years in Le Mars. He said he started his practice from “ground zero.”
“I essentially bought a dead practice, which you’re not supposed to do,” he said. “People in this area have just been so good to my family and to me. My oldest son owns the business now and when I retired, I just thought this would be a way I could give back and serve the people of the area who have contributed so much to my life.”
Former Representative Chuck Holz attends church with Jeneary. Rep. Holz asked if he could stop by and speak with Jeneary. The two conversed about Jeneary running for Iowa House.
“I was just flabbergasted,” Jeneary said. “He said he thought I’d make a very good representative and I told him I’m not a politician. He goes that’s exactly what we want. Our church has a little daily devotional called The Upper Room. I was reading that and through the Bible verse it came very clearly to me — you should run. So I did.”
There’s a handful of key issues that Jeneary is focused on entering the 2019 session. It starts with taxes.
“The corporate tax rate is the highest in the country,” Jeneary said. “The legislature addressed that with the tax cut, but it’s going to be a gradual thing. That’s one thing I feel pretty strongly about.”
He’d like to focus on ways to reduce taxes, but make sure the state can still provide services for people.
Revitalizing rural Iowa is also a priority.
“The metropolitan areas are growing by leaps and bounds,” Jeneary said. “But there are a lot of small towns to midsize cities that are just slowly starving to death. I’d like to see something implemented.”
That will take a few things, he said. In order to attract business, a smaller town needs affordable housing, daycare, better Internet — and the list goes on.
Health care also has Jeneary’s attention.
“I spent my life in health care and Medicaid is going to continue to consume an ever larger chunk of the state budget,” he said. “We need to find ways to make sure people do have access to care and that providers are being paid because if you don’t get paid for your services, you can’t keep the doors open. That’s Economics 101.”
Other areas of concern include finding qualified workers to fill jobs and improving the state’s mental health services.
One interesting note on Jeneary, who grew up in mostly central and eastern Iowa, is he never knocked on a single door during his primary or general election campaign.
“Everybody looks at me like ‘You’re kidding me,'” he said. “Nope. Retired Rep. Ralph Klemme was my campaign manager. Ralph is one of the most beloved legislators we’ve ever had in the state. Everybody knows him. Representative Holz said you don’t need to knock on doors. I had meetings in towns where I found key people and we’d have coffee and people would come and we’d talk and visit.”
Jeneary served on the Iowa Board of Dental Examiners for six years. He’s an avid fly fisherman and likes to hunt pheasants. He has served as an elder and a deacon in his church. Gardening takes up some of his time as well, but spending time with his grandchildren is his greatest interest.
“I get a kick out of them,” he said. “They’re great little people. Everything is new to them.”