Val Fitzpatrick, manager of telesales at American Home Shield in Carroll (left), speaks with Dave Quandt, AHS vice president of field operations (center), and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
Val Fitzpatrick, manager of telesales at American Home Shield in Carroll (left), speaks with Dave Quandt, AHS vice president of field operations (center), and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
Tom Miller wants to know what you think about rural Iowa today, its challenges and potential, the ebbs and flows of life in the state’s western reaches in an increasingly divisive political climate.

So he came here.

For nine hours.

Iowa’s attorney general spent Wednesday on something of a whirlwind Carroll County listening tour. He toured Swan Lake State Park, American Home Shield and Templeton Rye Spirits, attended the grand opening of Waspy’s Truck Stop in Templeton, met with business and development leaders at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce and talked with local Democrats during a dinner at Jalisco Family Mexican Restaurant. Along the way, he engaged in dozens of individual conversations.

“I’ve really been impressed today in Carroll,” Miller said. “It looks like and feels like you’ve created some really good things here in terms of business and jobs and opportunities and community spirit.”

The Iowa Democrat is seeking re-election in his own right in 2018, something he shares publicly but hasn’t announced officially. Miller, 72, has served as Iowa’s attorney general since he was first elected in 1978, except for four years (1991-94) when he was in private practice.

Miller came to Carroll with a broader mission than his own political fortunes. As the state’s top elected Democrat he’s looking to play a leading role in repairing frayed connections between his party and vast swaths of rural Iowa, including Carroll County, where Democrats didn’t even field a candidate to challenge State Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, in 2016, and President Trump captured 63 percent of the vote.

“We need to get rid of the cultural barriers,” Miller said. “We need to spend more time in places like Carroll.”

That means interacting with rural Iowans, getting to know them as people, not voters to be pitched and spun. Miller, a native of Dubuque, said.

At American Home Shield in Carroll, Miller heard from employees about a family atmosphere.

Don Wellington, a contractor relations regional representative who lives in Sac City, said the connections he makes with co-workers motivate him, make him feel part of a team.

“They can name off your children and spouses by their first names,” Wellington told Miller.

Kerri Osterlund, who also works with contractor relations for AHS, asked Miller how he handles conflict.

The goal, Miller said, isn’t to just fix problems, but relationships with customers or others.

“There’s so much division in America today,” Miller said. “We pay an incredible price for that. We need to turn that around.”

Dave Quandt, American Home Shield’s vice president for field operations, said one of the major issues for the Carroll branch of 450 employees is the labor pool. AHS could hire up to another 100 employees in Carroll today if the right people were available for the jobs, Quandt said. Other business leaders echoed Quandt’s observations in private conversations with Miller.

Templeton Rye Co-Founder Keith Kerkhoff led Miller on a tour of the expanding whiskey facility in southern Carroll County. A $26 million addition, anchored by the development of a distillery, is expected to be fully operational in the summer of 2018.

Templeton Rye produced more than a million bottles of whiskey in 2016 with California, Illinois and Iowa as top markets.

“Everything is going to be turnkey here,” Kerkhoff said.