Government

District 37 Democrats share priorities in Coralville forum

Senate district primary is most competitive in the state

Democratic candidates for the Iowa Senate District 37 seat Eric Dirth (from left), Imad Youssif and Zach Wahls listen as Janice Weiner speaks during a forum hosted by the Johnson County Task Force on Aging at the Coralville Library on Monday, April 9, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Democratic candidates for the Iowa Senate District 37 seat Eric Dirth (from left), Imad Youssif and Zach Wahls listen as Janice Weiner speaks during a forum hosted by the Johnson County Task Force on Aging at the Coralville Library on Monday, April 9, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CORALVILLE — The four Democrats competing in the Iowa Senate District 37 primary — the most competitive in the state — made their pitches Monday about why they would be the best at countering what is likely to remain a Republican majority in the state Senate.

The candidates have common views on many issues, including supporting collective bargaining, reversing Medicaid privatization and protecting reproductive rights. But their top priorities and approaches vary.

“The MCOs have got to go,” said Eric Dirth, referring to managed-care organizations that started administering Medicaid in 2016 as part of a Republican-led privatization of the program that provides health care to more than 630,000 Iowans.

The 27-year-old law student often had the most fiery responses during the 90-minute forum sponsored by the Johnson County Task Force on Aging at the Coralville Public Library. He said he’s talked with his grandmother, who lives with his parents, about addressing seniors’ transportation and accessibility needs through Medicaid.

“We have to make sure that’s run properly,” he said. “That means the state needs to be running Medicaid.”

Janice Weiner, 60, a retired Foreign Service employee, spoke of finding common ground with Republicans on some issues, while holding firm on priorities such as funding oversight of nursing homes.

“I was very happy to see the complex mental health needs bill pass,” Weiner said, referring to House File 2456, signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds March 29, that would, among other things, establish six new access centers across the state for short-term crisis care and allow disclosure of mental health issues to law enforcement.

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District 37 — which includes northern and eastern Johnson County, all of Cedar County and part of Muscatine County — has been represented for 32 years by Democrat Bob Dvorsky, who plans to retire this year. Of 25 Iowa Senate seats up for election in November, only six have primary challenges.

District 37 is the only one with four candidates, Iowa Secretary of State Spokesman Kevin Hall confirmed Monday.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Carl Krambeck, a Libertarian, in the November election. No Republicans have filed to run for this seat.

Zach Wahls, 26, touted his work pushing the Boy Scouts of America to end sexual orientation discrimination as a sign he’s ready to fight for Democratic ideas in the Iowa Senate. Opposing restrictions to reproductive rights, such as the so-called heartbeat bill, is a critical part to convincing young professionals to stay in Iowa or return after college, he said.

“There a lot of things we need to do if we want to bring Iowans home,” Wahls said.

Imad Youssif, 53, said one of his top priorities is reversing Senate File 481, passed by the House and Senate earlier this month. The bill imposes financial sanctions on local law enforcement agencies that don’t work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when illegal immigrants come in contact with police.

“When they arrest anyone, they need to ask about his legal status,” Youssif said. “That is unacceptable. How we can make sure the police officer does not abuse it?”

One of those in attendance, Susan McGuire of Iowa City, said she was thrilled to hear from four qualified primary candidates.

“I can’t say I’ve made up my mind yet,” she said.

She’d like to hear more on what they think about enhancing Iowa’s recreational offerings and offering passenger rail services.

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The League of Women Voters of Johnson County will host another forum for District 37 candidates from 6:30 to 8 p.m., April 25, at the Coralville Public Library.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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