Luther College Hosts Local Candidate Town Forum


Left to Right: Tim Lecander, Mark Faldet, Dr. Randi Berg (Matt Spencer’s wife), Gary Rustad, Michael Bergan, and Steve Kelsay. (Lydia Marti)

On Thursday, October 27, the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement (CEPE) hosted  candidates for Winneshiek County Board and Iowa State House. The community gathered in the Recital Hall at the Center for Faith and Life where candidates answered voters’ questions. The candidates who attended were those running for the offices of Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors; Mark Faldet, Steve Kelsay and Gary Rustad. Dr. Randi Berg also attended, representing Matthew Spencer, who was unable to attend the night’s forum due to illness. They were joined by Michael Bergan and Tim Lecander, candidates for Iowa House District 63. 

The event was attended by members of the Luther and larger Decorah community. Also in the audience was District 3 Winneshiek County Supervisor Shirley Vermace, who frequently attends campaign events in the district. Although she is not up for reelection this year, she still believes that participating in political events around the Luther College campus is important.

“I serve Luther College and the surrounding neighborhoods, so I’m just interested to hear what questions my district is asking tonight,” Vermace said. “But, I’m curious too. I’m curious to find out what  the answers are for the people I’m voting for at the state level, and what are the answers [from] people I may be serving with at the local level.”

The Thursday night forum was a structured place for all questions regarding the upcoming election. Attendees raised awareness for the community’s concerns regarding education, reproductive rights, and funding for community projects. The candidates’ responses were widespread, but many showed a deep appreciation for how active the community is both politically and socially. 

Forum organizer and Center for Public Ethics and Engagement (CEPE) student member Spencer Gillian (‘23) praised Luther and the surrounding community’s drive for political advocacy. Gillian explained that this drive influenced his motivation to put on this event. 

“Decorah is such an active community, politically, and just in terms of  just active people,” Gillian said. “There’s a really close knit community and people are active. I think it’s a great place for Luther students to be in a community that is so civically involved. We are residents here and Decorah issues affect us.”

The President and Vice President of Luther College Democrats — Ethan Bellendier (‘23) and Anna Wallace (‘24), respectively — also attended the local forum. Wallace explained the importance of such an event for Luther students.

“It’s important to actually learn what your candidates want to go into office to put into effect or try, and what their values are,” Wallace said.

While the crowd was primarily filled with members of the greater community, many are hopeful to see Luther students in attendance at future events. The community sees Luther College as a major part of their way of life. Individuals in office and running for office want to hear what Luther students have to say, viewing them as a great resource. 

  Vermace also joined in Wallace’s sentiment that students are important in these, and every, elections.

“[Students] bring so much energy to this country, it is amazing,” Vermace said. “We love when [they] come back in the fall. ‘Oh, they’re back!’ The town is alive again, energetic again.” 

While students can choose to vote in Winneshiek County or otherwise, Vermace and the candidates present at the forum put an emphasis on the importance of Luther students voting in general.. Students can receive a “proof of residency” letter from the Residence Life Office in order to vote in Iowa. The upcoming midterm elections will be held on November 8, and more information can be found on the Winneshiek County official election website.