Bret Richards
Bret Richards

August 6, 2019

The board chairman of the Manning Regional Healthcare Center, a former mayor of Irwin and businessman-educator from that city, says he’ll bring a common-sense, regular-Iowa eye to Congress. What’s more, he says, he won’t stay too long in Washington, D.C.

“I’m interested in business and profit-and-loss statements,” Bret Richards said in an interview with the Carroll Times Herald.

Richards, 47, a former first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, is seeking the Fourth Congressional District seat now held by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.

Richards, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, is one of four announced candidates in the GOP field, joining King, State Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull and Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, a former state legislator.

“I’m running because I think that, like Iowans I’ve been talking to — hundreds, and I probably shook the hands of thousands already at the fairs — I’m tired of career politicians,” Richards said. “They certainly know when a career politician looks them in the eye and says they’re going to fix all the problems — Iowans are tired of that crap. They really are.”

Richards said he is an “average Iowan who knows how to get things done.”

How is he the average Iowan? Richards notes he’s lived in Iowa most of his life, attended the University of Iowa, served in the military and married his high school sweetheart, Jill, with whom he has three children. They live in Irwin.

What’s more, Richards’ parents were in the hog business before operating a chain of convenience stores, which Richards eventually managed until the family sold the 1978-launched chain, Country Stores, in 2015. He’s most recently, until just weeks ago, taught research methods to doctorate students, helping prepare them to do the research for their dissertations.

Richards said he will term limit himself to 10 years, or five, two-year terms in Congress. He’s careful not to criticize King directly too often in interviews, but Richards said King, who has been elected to nine terms in the House, has “a lot of the characteristics” of career political figures.

“He does have a lot of good ideas and Republican principles,” Richards said of King. “But we don’t get them done. We just talk about them.”

Richards said the Washington should have solved immigration problems long ago, for example.

“We have to change how we govern,” Richards said. “We have to get more people who are interested in America solving the problems. That’s one of my first priorities is getting some of those things done. It’s not putting a career ahead of America.”

Richards does not share the view of some other Republicans, and most Democrats in Iowa, that King is embarrassing the state with hot-blooded comments on immigration and cultural issues.

“No, Steve King is who he is,” Richards said. “I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to attack other politicians.”

When asked if King has made comments that can fairly be interpreted as racist, Richards said, “I think he says things that a lot of people do.”

He added, “Again, I’m not going to attack Steve King.”

On health care, Richards said insurance companies have too much power to get between physicians and patients.

“That’s a hidden cost,” he said, adding there should be a broad discussion on health care.

Insurance companies should be required to cover people with preexisting medical conditions, he said. Reimbursement levels for Medicare need to improve to ensure the sustainability of medical centers like the one in Manning, he said. Richards also wants to see better prices for pharmaceuticals.

Richards, with his social-media presence, highlights his anti-abortion or pro-life position.

He’s opposed to abortion, including ones involving rape and incest.

“I don’t know how you distinguish a life,” Richards said, adding that he’s empathetic to the victims.

Is abortion murder?

“It’s a beating heart, yes,” Richards said.

Richards stopped short of calling for prison time or other penalties for doctors who perform abortion and women who have them.

“You know what, that is all part of discussions that we talk about in all these things that are driven to raise money for every side,” Richards said. “What we should do is have a real, honest — not a seven-second, 30-second media bite — have a real, honest discussion.”

Richards did not name a circumstance in which he thinks an abortion should be legal.

He supports the death penalty but said it should be reformed as it is “problematic” that innocent people are put to death.

Richards went to the University of Iowa to study civil engineering on an ROTC scholarship. He served as an Army officer in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Bamberg, Germany.

He earned a master’s degree in leadership and then a doctorate in human capital management from Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska.