Editor’s note: The following is part one of a two-part series covering the League of Women Voters forum. In an effort to reduce the layoffs, Newton News has decided not to feature the responses that were presented at the latest forum hosted by the Republican and Democratic party chairmen. Only House District 38 candidates Erick Zehr and Michael Wood and supervisor candidates Bev Price and Pam Olson could make it to this recent forum.
The elephant in the room at the Women Voters League of Jasper County Candidates Forum on October 20 was that there was no elephant in the room.
Republican candidates announced months ago that they would not attend the forum, a trend that has spread to other parts of Iowa and even across the country. Three Democratic candidates and one Libertarian candidate attended the local forum, which was recorded by high school band Cardinal TV.
After a 30-minute round of questioning, Democratic candidate Erick Zehr – who campaigns for Iowa House District 38 – told the audience he didn’t understand what Republicans were so afraid of when they refused to participate in the League of Women Voters Forum this year.
“It’s so silly to me that this forum and this organization has been demonized and dragged through the mud,” Zehr said. “The League of Women Voters is an organization that promotes…public education, protection of women’s rights, protection of the right to vote, defense of democracy.”
If a political party’s goals and missions don’t align with those efforts, Zehr said that says more about the party than the organization hosting the forum. Although the League of Women Voters was told that Republicans would not be attending the event, they left seats open for those people.
None of the Republican candidates for the Statehouse or the County Supervisory Board had changed their minds. Zehr pointed to Rep. Jon Dunwell’s empty seat, saying the legislator pretended to care about the will of his district, paid lip service, then turned around and did whatever he or the governor wanted.
“And that’s especially offensive in an election where the future of our education hangs in the balance, the future of women’s rights in Iowa hangs in the balance,” Zehr said. “These are issues that are of critical importance to the citizens of Iowa, and these decisions must be made with their best interests in mind.”
Although Zehr’s Republican opponent was not present, Libertarian candidate Michael Wood – who is running for the same House district – was at the forum to offer guests a different perspective. Although he kept his answers short, he made his positions clear: He defends the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Limited government, local control, elimination of state income tax, abortion rights, protection of same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, and support for school choice were among the many issues that Wood championed. If elected, he would do “everything he could” for the people of his district.
REFLECTIONS ON THE GUN RIGHTS AMENDMENT
When asked their opinion on the proposed gun amendment to the Iowa Constitution, Zehr said it was one of the most important questions to come on the ballot this coming. election. Unfortunately, he said, it flies under the radar. The question is up to the citizens to vote in this next election.
The proposed constitutional amendment reads: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right as a fundamental individual right. Any restriction of this right must be carefully scrutinized.
Critics say it could hamper future screening legislation in the state. A “yes” vote would add the language to the Iowa Constitution. A “no” opposes it. Zehr said the first two sentences were correct, but his issue is with the third sentence, specifically the use of the phrase “strict review.”
“Strict control is a legal definition,” he said. “There are three standards for legal proceedings and the highest and hardest to meet is scrutiny. And what that does is it undermines all of the gun legislation that we have in Iowa to this day. And that would make all future laws much more difficult to pass.
This should go through the judicial system, in addition to legislation, Zehr added. Wood would support the amendment, saying it is one of the individual rights Iowans have and should maintain. But Wood is unsure why it needs to be enshrined in the Iowa Constitution, saying the US Constitution guarantees that right.
“And I think that would just reaffirm that, and I totally agree,” Wood said.
OPINION ON DOMAINE EMINENT
The Republican majority was unable to pass an eminent domain bill last year that would have protected farmers from unwittingly donating their land for a carbon pipeline project. Candidates were asked if the lack of support to move the law forward signals a lack of support for farmers.
Wood and Zehr were also on whether they would support the bill if it were reintroduced. The Libertarian candidate wasn’t sure the bill’s failure shows a lack of support for farmers. However, Wood is against the government forcibly taking away land that belongs to citizens.
“I am against the abuse of eminent domain and would support a bill that would reduce that,” Wood said.
Zehr agreed. The use of the Eminent domain is difficult to paint with a wide brush. It’s hard to say it should never be used. Ultimately, it comes down to the effect of a particular use in a particular case, or on a case-by-case basis. Zehr said there should be a balance between public good and private land ownership.
“To me, too often we see pipelines being put in place and eminent domain being used simply for the benefit of a private company,” he said. “They want to move the oil, they want to move the carbon, somewhere else just to help increase profits. To me, that doesn’t meet the criteria of being for the public good.
IS THE STATE ADEQUATELY FUNDING MENTAL HEALTH?
Zehr and Wood don’t believe Iowa is funding mental health enough. Essential services must be provided to citizens. Zehr pointed to the $1.9 billion surplus, suggesting the state government has an opportunity to provide or create better mental health services.
“We have people waiting with these incredible waiting lists. Weeks, months just to be seen just because there is so much demand with no options available to these people,” Zehr said. “Mental health is something that we are just, as a society, finally starting to understand the seriousness of, the seriousness of.”
Going back would be detrimental. Funding for mental health services and research is critical, Zehr said. Wood would go so far as to say he is in favor of increased funding for mental health, saying he has a number of family members with mental health issues.
“When my boy was 12, I had to commit him for a week on suicide watch,” he said. “I have very good insurance, so I wasn’t worried about that bill. There are other people who don’t have that luxury like me… It’s one of the flaws of our state We need to increase spending on mental health.
Wood said he would support a bill that legalizes the recreational use of marijuana and also uses a portion of the sales tax generated to go toward mental health treatment and addiction treatment.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 560 or [email protected]