Six Iowa Statehouse candidates put on a significant display of inter-party unity Tuesday in Dubuque, with both Republican and Democratic candidates offering similar stances on a variety of issues.
From the legalization of medical marijuana to the desire to protect and preserve the Iowa Public Employee Retirement System to the privatization of Medicaid, candidates for Iowa House and Senate seats representing Dubuque County on Tuesday found common ground along the gamut of political talking points.
The League of Women Voters of Dubuque hosted the forum, held in advance of the Nov. 6 midterm election. About 40 people filled the seats in the Historic Federal Building as candidates answered questions provided in advance by the audience.
Iowa Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, was joined by Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, as the incumbents at the table. House District 99 candidates Pauline Chilton, a Republican, and Lindsay James, a Democrat, also participated, as did Democratic House District 57 candidate Nancy Fett and Isenhart’s opponent, Hank Linden.
Neither Fett’s opponent, Iowa Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, nor Republican Carrie Koelker, who is challenging Bowman, were able to attend the forum, according to organizers.
When asked whether she would support the privatization of IPERS, the pension system for public employees, Fett was unequivocal.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said. “Pensions are deferred wages. They’re not an entitlement. The IPERS system is sound and it should not be dismantled in any way.”
Chilton said that “anything that is in opposition to (preserving IPERS) I wouldn’t agree with.”
“It is a strong system,” she said. “It is one of the most-sound systems in the country.”
Isenhart described it as a talent-retention issue.
“One of the few reasons we have for retaining good teachers in this community and this state is because of our strong retirement program,” he said.
Bowman, a teacher, mentioned the decision by a Republican-controlled Legislature “gutting collective bargaining rights.”
“Now (Gov. Kim Reynolds) has said she wants to change and gut IPERS and the Senate Republican leadership has also said that,” he said.
Both Republican and Democratic candidates also offered a similar desire to revisit changes to Iowa’s workers’ compensation laws. Limits were established for how long workers injured on the job can receive benefits and the law reclassified injuries and eligible benefits.
“I would support revising the workers’ compensation law,” Chilton said, noting that she has been talking with union representatives about the issue. “I’ve learned that the workers’ comp has not been good for working people.”
Bowman had particularly harsh words for the move.
“I’m always going to stand up for the person who takes a lunch bucket to work,” he said. “These people aren’t disposable parts. This bill cheapened and disgusted me.
James said, like the collective bargaining issue, the decision impacts workers.
“I am passionate about restoring collective bargaining rights and reversing the changes to workers’ compensation,” she said.
Linden said he knows “from experience how vital it is to our workers.”
“If there needs to be adjustments made, I agree with that,” he said.
The candidates also were united in their dissatisfaction with the 2016 decision to privatize Medicaid, which provides health coverage for more than 600,000 needy and disabled Iowans. Critics say the system has been devastating to families and health care providers.
“This is an issue I cannot defend my party on,” Chilton said. “After talking with representatives at hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, providers of services for elderly and disabled, it’s not hard to figure out that the state’s privatization of Medicaid is not working as it should.”
James said she’s “utterly heartbroken around the reality that this has become a politically polarized issue.”
“I believe that health care is a fundamental human right,” she said. “I believe that we are all one accident, one illness, one job loss away from needing Medicaid.
Isenhart described the privatization move as a “unilateral decision” by then-Gov. Terry Branstad.
“And this is a decision that can only be undone by a Gov. (Fred) Hubbell,” he said, referring to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ midterm opponent.
James noted the medical benefits of marijuana, specifically citing its potential as a pain-management alternative at a time when opioid addiction has become widespread.
Plus, there is a social justice factor to consider.
“There are a number of issues as it relates to the issue of marijuana and mass incarceration of minorities,” she said.
The other candidates agreed that expanding access to medical marijuana could have substantial health benefits.
“I know (a) psychiatrist (friend) who said there are instances where it would help,” Linden said. “I’ve taken his word for it.”
Fett said hemp is a “valuable commodity” that would be a potential cash crop for farmers. She also said she’s in “total support of medical marijuana.”
“I think we need to keep exploring ways to help struggling Iowans deal with their chronic pain,” Fett said.
However, aside from James, the candidates stopped short of saying they’d like to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Lawmakers in recent years have instituted laws for a “very weak” medical cannabis program, Isenhart said.
“We put some half-measures in place that simply aren’t good enough because we didn’t consult the medical professionals,” Isenhart said.