House 65 rivals view role of state government differently

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Although they found common ground on a variety of issues, candidates in Iowa House 65 in southeast Cedar Rapids differed greatly on the roles of state government.

“No one exists off on an island,” Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, said during a League of Women Voters’ forum Tuesday evening at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. “What happens to the person lives down the block from me, affects me.”

GOP challenger Harry Foster, however, called for a limited role for government.

The state should focus its attention and resources on providing the infrastructure and institutions people need, Foster said, “But we should not expect government to take care of us.”

More specifically, he called the minimum wage “a government intrusion in private industry.”

“Private industry and the open market will set the minimum wage,” Foster said after Bennett called for a $10.10-an-hour minimum wage.

Bennett, who is seeking a second term, agreed that infrastructure is a priority as well as “creating an environment of justice.”

“State government should mostly stick with things that are the proper role of the state,” she said.

Their disagreement came amid solidarity on same-sex marriage, restoring felons’ voting rights and following the state law on school funding,

Bennett, first elected in 2014, has worked for a financial services firm and GoDaddy. She also volunteers with animal rescue groups, for Democratic candidates and One Iowa, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group.

Foster, a Marine Corps and Iowa Army National Guard veteran who served in Iraq, owned a small manufacturing firm. He now manages property in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Foster has seven children.

Bennett and Foster agreed lawmakers should follow state law requiring the Legislature to set the school funding rate early in the session to give local districts time to prepare their budgets. However, they disagreed on the funding level.

“At least 4 percent if not a little more,” Bennett said, even if that means not funding economic development incentives.

Foster wants school funding based on enrollment with growing districts getting more and schools with declining enrollment receiving less state funding.

Both candidates put a priority on improving Iowa water quality, but again disagreed on how to achieve it.

“Nobody likes to raise taxes. No one likes to pay taxes,” Bennett said, but she would support a sales tax hike to fund a natural resources trust.

Foster said he would not support the tax hike and thought resources can be found without the increase.

“I support Second Amendment,” Foster said when a question about gun control came up.

Some people want to attach a stigma to carrying firearms, said Foster, who carried weapons for 37 years in the military, but now owns no guns.

“We need to not be afraid of firearms legally purchased and legally possessed and legally carried,” he said.

Bennett noted there have been “lots of gunshots” in southeast Cedar Rapids, some resulting in death. She wanted “common sense things” such as background checks and closing the so-called gun show loophole.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go there and will feel safer about people carrying guns openly” at the First Avenue Hy-Vee, she said.

House 65 covers much of southeast Cedar Rapids from the Cedar River on the west, the river and Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the south, Blairs Ferry and Collins Road on the north and the city limits on the east.

Democrats have more than a 2-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans — 8,166 to 3,948 — among active voters, according to the Secretary of State Office. Thirty percent of voters — 5,319 — identify as no party or other.

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