The campaign to represent 20 northeast Iowa counties making up the 1st Congressional District pits incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Blum of Dubuque against Democrat Monica Vernon, a former Cedar Rapids City Council member.
Blum, who founded a successful software company, scored an impressive upset victory in 2014, capturing a seat in a congressional district that tends to lean Democratic. In that race, he also won our endorsement.
Back then, Blum’s message to general election voters and to us struck a collaborative, bipartisan tone. He would go to Washington, D.C., with hopes of being part of the solution in our gridlocked legislative branch, not part of its hopelessly partisan problems.
“I’m not interested in Republican-only solutions any more than I’m interested in a Democrat-only solution,” Blum told us in 2014.
And yet, in his very first vote as a new congressman, Blum joined staunchly conservative insurgents, including U.S. Rep. Steve King, seeking to oust then-House Speaker John Boehner. Blum later joined the hard-line, obstructionist Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 40 representatives, most from deep red districts, that repeatedly have blocked legislative business over demands both procedural and ideological. Its tactics can hardly be seen as part of the solution to a Congress unable to address national problems.
Our disappointment with Blum’s partisanship is one reason we’re giving our 2016 endorsement to Vernon.
But it’s not the only reason.
In out recent editorial board session with Blum, we were surprised by his lack of detailed precision in his answers to our questions on important issues. For instance, Blum called for curtailing federal regulations but could only come up with one example. He picked the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States initiative to clarify clean water rules. Blum believes regulators only should be allowed to address pollution on navigable waterways, leaving out countless creeks and streams that run into them. It’s a sure strategy to sustain a troubling status quo of dozens of impaired waterways in states such as Iowa.
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Vernon’s time on the city council provides her with a pair of advantages, in our view. As part of a non-partisan governing body, Vernon has worked alongside leaders at all levels and from all political stripes to solve problems and accomplish objectives. Her time on the council covered Cedar Rapids’ recovery from the Flood of 2008, which involved intricate, complex dealings with bureaucracies at the state and federal level and two presidential administrations.
That experience, in addition to many years of public service behind the scenes on various community boards and on behalf of many causes, gives her broad and deep knowledge of local issues, problems and needs. She’s been involved with the city’s quest to receive federal flood protection funding from the beginning. She’s been on the front line of efforts to meet social and economic challenges facing not only Cedar Rapids but other metro areas in the region.
Both Blum and Vernon, who founded a market research firm, talk about the need for Congress to take actions kick-starting economic growth. But beyond what’s good for businesses, Vernon expands her agenda to include broader access to preschool and comprehensive immigration reforms with a path to legal status for undocumented workers who already are a part of our communities. Vernon, in contrast with Blum, believes we can carefully vet and welcome refugees while still keeping the nation safe.
Blum again told us he’s determined to work across the aisle and has signed on with the “No Labels” campaign to set aside partisan labels and come up with solutions. We appreciate his service to the district, but we think the label “U.S. representative” should be worn by Vernon.
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