In an election reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, one standby event on the election year calendar continued, albeit entirely online — the Dubuque League of Women Voters candidate forum.
For nearly an hour and a half Tuesday night, six candidates for four Statehouse seats representing portions of Dubuque County answered the same list of questions, submitted by county residents. Several of these focused on COVID-19 relief needed in the 2021 legislative session. Others touched on gun control, Iowa’s privatization of Medicaid, felon voting rights and a possible moratorium on factory farms.
Positions and answers were as varying as the candidates.
The only question answered with a unified voice was their opposition to a constitutional convention. Every 10 years, by statute, Iowa voters are asked if they favor establishing one.
Iowa Senate District 50
Regarding COVID-19, candidates were asked what needs they would express to Gov. Kim Reynolds if the opportunity arose.
Longtime Iowa Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said those have become clear and specific.
“We need far more testing throughout the state,” she said. “The turnaround time for those needs to be really quick. Without that and contact tracing, we will never get on top of this. The virus has to be contained.”
Absent that, Jochum said, it would be very difficult to open the economy any more.
“We are going to lose jobs,” she said. “Some are never going to be back again. We need to have those certificate programs and apprenticeship programs in place for those unemployed by this pandemic.”
Her opponent, Republican Jennifer Smith, focused most on opening businesses and returning students physically to the classroom as quickly as is reasonably possible.
“With our reaction to this, we have a whole set of things we’ll be dealing with in the future,” she said. “Students are falling behind with their schoolwork.”
She continued, “We have a lot of mental health issues starting. People are isolated and feeling very depressed. We forget that the cure can be worse than the disease.”
Jochum said she would look to the state’s rainy day fund as a way of funding the recovery.
“The revenue estimating council just met and said we will see a 4% growth, even with this,” she said. “My question is, what happens the year after that when we see the impact of people being out of work for two months and no revenues coming in?”
Smith said the rainy day fund might be necessary but only as a last resort.
“This is the kind of thing the fund is for, but just like with your own savings, you’re going to want to absorb as much as you can,” she said.
Iowa House of RepresEntatives District 99
For her part, first-term Iowa Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said she would have a lot to say to Reynolds about COVID-19 relief, given the chance. She said the state needed rapid testing in all 99 counties, a statewide mask mandate and enough personal protective equipment for businesses and schools to operate safely.
“We also need to rebuild our social safety net,” she said. “We need a comprehensive sick leave program for all teachers and staff. There are a lot of ways that we can have strong mitigation efforts. We do not still have to be in the red zone.”
Republican challenger Pauline Chilton also preached returning children to schools as soon as possible.
“I would talk about how we can reopen our state, fully — meaning our businesses and giving our kids options for a full time in school as well as the option to have full time online,” she said. “The hybrid model wasn’t a good idea for us, our family.”
Chilton also bemoaned the censorship of “scientists and doctors that have been counter to the narrative” during the pandemic.
Iowa House District 57
Iowa Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, did not attend the forum, as she had a previous engagement.
Her Democratic opponent, Ryan Quinn, focused his analysis of COVID-19 need on contact tracing.
“We’re falling very far behind other states in our ability to trace the virus and react to it,” he said. “We also need to make sure that money is available to fund efforts to keep our small businesses afloat. There’s a lot of minor changes to what we are doing now that will have a major impact.”
Iowa House District 100
Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, is running unopposed this year. He said voters could expect more of what they have had from him, mainly a focus on agricultural and environmental issues.
“I’ve introduced 37 bills over the last two sessions, relating to soil health, clean water, climate action, clean energy and outdoor recreation,” he said.
But he also promoted “rebuilding” public health.
“It is hollowed out at the federal, state and local level,” Isenhart said.
Sticking with parties
The candidates in each of these races landed basically on party lines on many issues.
Democrats said they support Second Amendment rights but not amending the state constitution to enshrine stricter gun rights there. Both Republicans, however, supported that proposal.