Three state senate candidates gathered for a public forum Thursday at Fairview Lodge to speak with prospective voters about a variety of topics, including bipartisanship, jobs, education funding, tax rates and climate change.
Organized by the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County, the forum was attended by Iowa Senate District 25 candidates, incumbent Republican Annette Sweeney and challenger Democrat Tracy Freese, and District 25 candidate, incumbent Democrat Herman Quirmbach.
Eric Cooper, Libertarian challenger for the District 25 seat, was unable to attend.
The forum opened with five-minute statements from the candidates, which were followed by questions from the audience and answers from each politician.
Tasida Barfoot, a member of the League of Women Voters, was moderator for the event.
Not surprisingly, the candidates disagreed on some issues, such as term limits, the privatization of Iowa’s Medicaid program and the budget. They agreed on some things too, however — especially on the need for senators to work in a bipartisan fashion, the need for civil discourse and the importance of education.
David Loupee, of Story City, started the question-and-answer session asking the candidates about what he perceives as a political climate encouraging “mob violence.”
“On a local level, we’re not seeing a mob mentality. Things are actually quite civil,” Freese said.
“Anyone with any ounce of moral fiber believes we need violence, period, to stop,” Sweeney said. “People need to be good to other people in all circumstances. We all need to be part of the solution.”
Quirmbach said “nobody is advocating” mob violence, but recent violent attacks, such as the murders of Celia Barquin Arozamena and Mollie Tibbetts have shone a light on the problem of violence against women in our country and our state.
The candidates fielded a question from Clark Ford, of Ames, regarding the funding of public higher education.
Freese said she’d graduated from college with “crushing school debt.”
“I don’t regret that, but it is difficult,” she said. “If nothing else, we should cut the interest rates. We don’t need to be profiting from student debt.”
Quirmbach said the money the state has spent subsidizing three of the biggest companies in the country, Google, Apple and Microsoft, could have been better spend investing in the education of Iowans.
For every single job created at Google in Iowa, the state could have offered 242 half-tuitions, he said. He also said people young people should be encouraged to consider college, but also job programs to “find the job that will get you paid.”
Sweeney said high interest rates are a problem and her oldest son is paying 7 percent on his student loan, so she understands what a burden this debt can be.
Renee Klaus, of Ames, got emotional asking about the candidates’ views of the privatization of Medicaid.
“It breaks my heart to see what the state’s move to for-profit Medicaid has done to the impoverished people of this state,” she said.
Freese and Quirmbach agreed on “getting rid of the MCOs” (managed care organizations).
Sweeney was in favor of keeping the MCOs, but admitted there were problems that need to be fixed.
“Our state needs to make sure our monies are being spent where they’re supposed to be spent,” she said.
She said she is looking for improvements in the program, but also admitted “it’s going to be rocky.”
Freese had a personal perspective on Medicaid, as her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 25, when Freese herself was 2 years old.
“I was literally raised on Social Security and child support,” she said.
Her mom benefits from Title 19, “but not everyone has a Tracy,” she said, to walk them through the process of getting that help.
Freese pointed out Iowa is seeing a nursing shortage, as Medicaid is failing to reimburse providers, wages aren’t high enough, and nurses are leaving for other states.
“Profits should not drive care,” Freese said. “That’s bad for patients and providers.”
Opponents Sweeney and Freese were often in agreement on general issues, like the importance of increased access to technology, especially in rural areas. Cell phone service and broadband were both technologies the candidates thought rural Iowans should have easier access to.
John Monroe, of Nevada, asked the candidates about their opinions on climate change.
“Climate change is real,” Quirmbach said. “It’s not a matter of belief, it’s a matter of fact.”
He recommended more use of alternative energies, such as wind energy, geothermal and solar. He believed the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord “set us backwards.”
Sweeney pointed to innovations in agriculture helping to reduce the carbon footprint of farmers and benefit water quality.
Sweeney was a teacher until the 1980s, when she moved home to help her mother farm after her father’s death. She said fields that used to require five to seven passes with machinery now take just two. She and her family have also installed extensive buffer strips on their farm to protect waterways from runoff nutrients.
“Innovation and technology have helped us cut down on that carbon footprint,” she said.
On the issue of term limits, a question posed by Ted Rasmusson, candidate for Story County Treasurer, Sweeney was opposed, Freese thought voters should set term limits if they want them in place, and Quirmbach was opposed.
Sweeney pointed out as legislators change, their staffs often stay the same for long periods of time. The time it takes to re-educate everyone on the new system takes away from the time those employees serve Iowans, she said.
Quirmbach said, “We already have term limits. They’re called elections.”
The forum closed with a question from 17-year-old Olivia Sterling Chase, of Ames, who wondered if the candidates were open-minded to new ideas from young people.
They all assured her they were thrilled to have young people involved in the political process, regardless of which party they support.
Quirmbach mentioned this is the time of year when young people can apply to be legislative pages, and encouraged local youth, including Chase, to consider applying for these positions at the Statehouse.