CLINTON — Educators in Clinton had a big influence on Thomas Kedley, so much so that today he's a teacher who is making education one of the focuses of his political campaign.
Currently serving as mayor of Osceola, Kedley is running for Iowa's Second Congressional seat, a position held by Dave Loebsack since 2007. Loebsack announced his retirement from the House in April.
"I grew up on the doorstep of poverty," said Kedley, a 2006 Clinton High School graduate. "Clinton Community School District is why I am where I am today."
"The people who taught me resilience... were my educators."
Kedley attended Jefferson Elementary through fourth grade, he said, and then went to Henry Sabin Elementary.
"I believe I was the last graduating class of Henry Sabin," Kedley said. The school closed in 1999.
Kedley finished his primary education at Washington Middle School and Clinton High School.
"I couldn't say enough about the teachers and staff at Clinton High School. They did a lot of good things for me," he said.
"A lot of my teachers were pushing me... [to] further my education," Kedley said. "I had no idea how to do that."
School personnel walked him through filling out forms and applications and obtaining scholarships.
Kedley attended Clinton Community College for two years while working for Clinton Parks and Recreation, he said, then transferred to the University of Northern Iowa, where he roomed with two friends from Clinton High School.
Kedley met his wife Becca, who is also an educator, at UNI. Following graduation, Kedley took a position as Technology Integrationist and Talented and Gifted teacher in Clarke County, and the couple moved to Osceola.
Kedley currently teaches eighth grade U.S. history and city civics there.
"Politics have kind of been my Super Bowl. I've always been in to American history, our founding fathers," Kedley said. "And that's what I teach today. It's a sincere passion of mine.
"I always preach to my students, go out there and leave a legacy," Kedley said. "Be a part of the solution, not part of the problem."
His students tossed his words back at him when Osceola mayor Fred Diehl retired. They challenged Kedley to run for mayor.
"We made it a teachable moment," Kedley said. He gave his students an inside look at politics as he campaigned.
Kedley became mayor in 2015.
Clarke County ranked 98th out of 99 counties in quality of life in health, Kedley said. As mayor of Osceola, he sought to change that. He pushed a quality of life initiative that included creating a recreational complex, a trail system, new parks and a municipal golf course, he said.
Kedley hoped to keep people in the community, but also to give them a good life there.
Now Kedley has his sights on Washington, D.C. hoping to represent Iowa's Second District in the House. He's running as a Republican, but said the issues affecting Iowa interest both parties.
"I want to take the problems from District 2 to our federal government and find a solution," Kedley said.
As a teacher, one of the three main pillars of his campaign is education.
"I watch educators work tirelessly, and it feels like they're insufficiently funded," he said.
Kedley applauds what Iowa has done in its schools as far as its Teacher Leadership and Compensation system, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs and providing mental health services to students.
"Iowa could be an example for America," Kedley said.
Because Clarke County is a rural community, Kedley has become an advocate for farming. After talking to farmers the last seven years, Kedley says the industry is "endless fields of government red tape. It's really difficult for them to do their jobs."
Kedley's third biggest concern for the nation is the budget.
"Our... government needs to not spend our future dreams away," he said.
"As mayor, I have to have fiscal responsibility. At the national level, they can spend into oblivion, and there's no repercussions. I think we need to take that level of fiscal responsibility to [the federal government]."
Kedley said he'd hoped to announce his congressional run July 4 – an important date for a U. S. History junkie – in his hometown, but word leaked out, as it often does in politics.
Kedley hopes to return to eastern Iowa this weekend, he said, to tour areas affected by flooding. He's planning a southeast Iowa tour this summer.
"I miss that Mississippi River. I loved that community," Kedley said. "So many fond memories."