Gubernatorial gathering

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, February 7, 2018
For an evening, the eyes of political Iowa were on West Liberty, Tuesday, Jan. 30, as the community hosted a gubernatorial forum for Democratic Party candidates.

Five of seven declared candidates were joined by hundreds in the West Liberty Community Center, including several media outlets and newspapers.

Organized by the West Liberty chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Rotary Club, it was the biggest political event to be held in the community for some time.

“This is exactly what we should be doing as governor candidates, coming out and meeting people,” said candidate Andy McGuire.

Candidate McGuire, former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, was joined by fellow candidates John Norris, Cathy Glasson, Jon Neiderbach and Ross Wilburn.

Meanwhile, Nate Boulton, who was scheduled to attend, was absent due to work in the Iowa Senate. He was represented by University of Iowa student Emilio Martinez.

“We knew about this forum a long time ago and I gave my word, and giving your word means something to me and that’s why I’m here tonight,” said John Norris, “The candidates who are not here made a mistake.”

Norris has spent plenty of time in Iowa government under former Governor Tom Vilsack. He was also appointed to represent agricultural policy to the U.N. by President Obama.

The six individuals sat in a line on the stage, facing a huge audience with attendees from West Liberty, Iowa City, Muscatine, Davenport and more.

In front of them were the forum panelists, selected to directly ask the candidates predetermined questions on education, the environment, civil rights and fiscal responsibility.

With so much content and so many candidates, it took a full two hours to get through the evening’s docket of political questioning and candidate responses.

“I remember in the early 1990s when I was a youth worker traveling to West Liberty,” said Ross Wilburn, “Working with young Latinos and Latinas to provide counseling.”

A former mayor of Iowa City for many years, Wilburn and the other candidates spoke about their local connections to the community, and other small Iowa towns, during introductions.

Thanks to the gubernatorial forum, all 2018 Democrat candidates have now passed through our small town of 3,600 this election season at some point or another.

Nate Boulton, senator, spoke in West Liberty on Oct. 26, 2017, while businessman Fred Hubbell visited El Patio on Thursday, Jan. 18.

The forum filled out the remaining Democrat candidates on Tuesday, Jan. 30. Each had different backgrounds, but the same goal to become Iowa’s next governor.

The U.S. will hold gubernatorial elections on Nov. 6, 2018, in 36 states. In Iowa, Democrats are attempting to replace incumbent Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

The Rotary Club is attempting to organize a forum for the three gubernatorial candidates on the Republican side, including Reynolds. However, they haven’t been able to agree on a date.

“Thank you candidates for running for public office and being here tonight,” said Gabriela Vidal, “Thank you to the audience for showing your support for local government.”

Vidal, reporter for CBS2 and Fox28, was chosen as both the emcee and moderator for the evening’s forum. She helped the panelists know when to ask questions.

“What really distresses me most as I travel around the state is that people don’t feel they can change things,” said Candidate John Neiderbach, an attorney.

“I’m someone who believes we need wholesale, radical change,” he added. “I don’t think the time for incremental change is upon us; we need strong, powerful, change.”

In a way, Neiderbach echoed what became a running theme that evening for the Democrats. Each disagreed with decisions made by Iowa Republican leadership.

Education

West Liberty’s own Dan Stevenson, 10-year-teacher of history at the middle school and president of the local school union, kicked off questioning on the topic of eduction.

In February, 2017, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill rewriting Iowa’s law on collective bargaining, directly affecting teacher’s unions.

The biggest change: every time public-sector unions renegotiate contracts, every two to three years, they must also vote to be re-certified as a union.

“That reform [to chapter 20], you kind of laughed, that’s exactly what you should do is laugh,” said Andy McGuire. “There was no problem with chapter 20, it had worked since 1973.”

Candidate John Norris agreed with her, stating that there was no need to touch legislation that’s worked since the 1970s.

“The reality is, we need both a change in governorship and a change in legislature to fix the damage that was done on this and many items the legislature did last year under Republican control,” he said.

On the topic of bullying, Jon Neiderbach had one of the more standout comments of the evening.

“Frankly, the biggest single impediment to fighting racism, bigotry and xenophobia is we’re all too Iowa nice,” he said. “Maybe it’s because I was born in New York that I’m willing to say we can’t be Iowa nice on this anymore.”

“There’s things from the bully pulpit that the governor can do,” said Ross Wilburn, “One is being a welcoming inclusive state and welcoming those who are different, those who are new to Iowa.”

Finally, Emilio Martinez, on behalf of Nate Boulton, and Cathy Glasson had a a lot to say on the topic of funding for Iowa public schools.

“State Senator Boulton fully supports funding for public education. He’s outraged that for the past seven years Republicans in the legislature, led by Terry Branstad and now Governor Kim Reynolds, have slashed funding for public education,” said Martinez.

“As governor, I have come out bold in saying I will fully fund K-12 public education with a six percent increase over the current budget,” said Cathy Glasson. “I will veto anything less than four percent.”

Environment

David Osterberg, clinical professor in the University of Iowa Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, asked the candidates questions on the environment.

One form of water pollution control in the nation is to require industries and citizens to pay plants to filter wastewater before it’s discharged into rivers.

Three of the candidates were simply asked, should farmers be treated differently?

“The short answer is no, they should be treated the same,” said John Neiderbach. “I think we need some very creative financing to help farmers do pollution control measures.”

John Norris took a step back from the question, stating that pollution, whether it be in the water or the land, needs to be an Iowan problem.

“I’m not going to stand today and point a finger at Iowa farmers and say this is all your fault, because we’ve driven this system of industrial scale agriculture and I think we all have to be a part of cleaning it up,” he said.

“Right now we have a voluntary nutrient reduction strategy, when’s the last time you did anything voluntarily that cost you money?” asked Andy McGuire.

“Now I don’t think we should balance the budget on the back of farmers, I think this should be something we do all together,” she added similar to Norris.

Another one of the questions Osterberg posed to candidates: should the legislature consider placing limits on animal feeding operations to improve quality of life?

Ross Wilburn answered yes, tying the question in to climate change.

“All of this is part of a strategy of climate change resiliency, we need to be looking at that,” said Wilburn. “Climate change is here, it’s happening, it’s going to continue to happen.”

Emilio Martinez, on behalf of Nate Boulton, didn’t have a direct response to the question, but he did have some words on the environment.

“One of the few tax credits that Nate Boulton supports are the solar and wind tax credits,” he said. “Nate fully supports renewable energy, especially here in Iowa.”

Finally, Cathy Glasson emphasized the importance of cover crops. Cover crops are meant to manage soil health, erosion and quality.

“The State of Iowa should encourage and educate farmers on that practice, and we need to make it easier for them to purchase cover crops,” she said. “Maybe it’s a subsidy to farmers to do the right thing.”

Civil Rights

Iowa’s elections laws were overhauled back in 2017. Lead by Secretary of State Paul Pate, one of the biggest changes was to require an I.D. at the polls.

“First of all I’d change the secretary of state so it’s not Paul Pate,” said Cathy Glasson when asked about it. She received immediate applause.

“It is voter suppression,” she added. “Just like so many other states have tried to do, it’s one of the Koch brothers’ agendas across the country to minimize the votes from Democrats.”

“What I would do is even go farther than repealing that law, I think we should go all the way to vote by mail,” said Andy McGuire. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t want everyone to vote.”

Jason Daniel-Ulloa, who has a PhD in Health Behavior Science and is an officer for LULAC Iowa, was on hand to ask questions about civil rights.

He talked about Senate Bill SF 481. If fully passed it will prohibit state, city and county governments from employing sanctuary policies to provide safe havens for undocumented immigrants.

“We can’t afford to have local law enforcement working to enforce immigration laws, they have their hands full doing other things,” said Jon Neiderbach.

“We need to make Iowa the most welcoming state in the entire country,” he added. “Why? Because we’re a green state and it’s really the right thing to do.”

Emilio Martinez echoed a similar sentiment on behalf of Nate Boulton.

“Senator Boulton stands for sanctuary cities,” he said. “He voted against the ban on sanctuary cities last year and believes that local law enforcement should not be using taxpayer resources to be an immigration task force.”

“When I was mayor of Iowa City one of the things we did was monitor law enforcement on their traffic stops,” said Ross Wilburn. “That’s a piece that could be easily adapted.”

Back in May of 2002, then Democrat Governor Tom Vilsack signed a piece of legalization declaring English to be the state’s official language.

It was said the bill would be a unifying factor, and that the state would continue to find resources to help immigrants learn to speak English.

“I should start this out by saying I was the State Democratic Party Chair, we elected Tom Vilsack governor in 1998, and we’d take him again today if we could have him,” said John Norris.

“I’ve had conversations with him and he knows it was a mistake,” he added. “People make mistakes, we should accept that, and we should move on, and we should repeal this.”

Fiscal Responsibility

Jazmin Newton-Butt, a bilingual attorney who practices law in Illinois and Iowa, had some tough questions for the candidates. For example:

“Iowans can deduct the amount that they pay in federal taxes from their state’s taxes. Iowans will be receiving a tax break on our federal taxes, which likely means that our state tax bill will be higher,” she said.

“Do you see a need to reform Iowa’s income tax law?” asked Newton-Butt.

“We need to totally reform our tax system,” responded Jon Neiderbach.

“Not just in the context of federal tax reform, but to make it much more progressive and to raise a great deal more money by repealing credits, exemptions, deductions, that benefit special interests,” he added.

“The overarching principal should be, whatever tax law changes we make in this state, we make them more progressive and not regressive,” said John Norris, next in line.

Ross Wilburn was the third candidate to be asked the same question. He too wants to overhaul the tax system in the state of Iowa.

“The answer is yes,” he said, “As part of an overall evaluation of the system we need to look at a more progressive, more fair tax system… We do need to take a look at rolling back some of the corporate tax breaks.”

Candidate Andy McGuire was asked about TIF, or Tax Increment Financing. It’s a form of public financing used as a subsidy to get funds towards infrastructure and community-improvement projects.

She was all for bringing businesses to Iowa, the same stance the other candidates took as well before she spoke.

“What we’ve done of late, in the last seven years under the GOP, is we have really just made bad deals,” said McGuire. “You should never give way incentives and not get something in return for Iowa taxpayers in return.”

When asked about Medicaid, Cathy Glasson was ready to go. A registered nurse for over 20 years, she had some opinions on Iowa’s health programs.

“We all know in the room that the privatization of Medicaid in the State of Iowa is a total disaster,” she said flatly. “It’s a total disaster for the patients and it’s a total disaster for the provider.”
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