Staff Editorial

Q&A: Ross Wilburn will make Iowa a welcoming place

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Iowa City mayor Ross Wilburn speaks during a forum for Iowa gubernatorial candidates for the Democratic and Libertarian party primaries hosted by the League of Women Voters of Iow at Ballantyne Auditorium on the campus of Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 21, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Iowa City mayor Ross Wilburn speaks during a forum for Iowa gubernatorial candidates for the Democratic and Libertarian party primaries hosted by the League of Women Voters of Iow at Ballantyne Auditorium on the campus of Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 21, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The Gazette’s editorial board met with Democratic candidates for governor ahead of the June 5 primary. Although we don’t make endorsements in party primaries, we will be publishing issue Q&As with the candidates on Sundays before the vote. This week, we’re featuring Ross Wilburn, diversity officer for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and a former mayor and city council member in Iowa City.

• WHY ARE YOU RUNNING?

“I have concerns in the fields of education and mental health care. Sometimes, people will ask you what the number one issue is, and, for me, it’s got to be education. But mental health is layered within there, with good paying jobs for parents so they won’t have to live off food banks, so that they’re children aren’t going to school hungry,” Wilburn said. And then a concern I have is about Iowa moving away from being a welcoming and inclusive state.

Editor’s note: The Gazette’s editorial board is meeting with Democratic candidates for governor ahead of the June 5 primary. Although we don’t make endorsements in party primaries, we will be publishing issue Q & As with the candidates on several Sundays before the vote.

“Welcomeness looks like a variety of things. Certainly folks who are living here regardless of their immigration status, if they are living in fear of being deported, if they are living in fear because they are being told they are the cause of your problems in life, that certainly doesn’t make them feel welcome,” Wilburn said. “I want us to return to a state where people are welcome, neighbors helping neighbors. That’s what ‘Let’s be Iowa’ is all about. Let’s put people into office who are going to put policy in place that’s going to help not just the most wealthy in the state but makes sure there is opportunity for Iowans regardless of citizenship, regardless of LGBTQ status, regardless of whether you live in rural or urban Iowa, let’s make sure there are opportunities there for everyone.”

• HOW DOES A GOVERNOR MAKE IOWA MORE WELCOMING?

“Part of is a bully pulpit. But there is some legislation out there. For example, Iowa is an English only state still, I believe. And while in some ways that’s symbolic … but it sends a message of being unwelcoming. We’ve got school districts in this state that have more than 60 languages being spoken in their schools.

“When our president makes statements about people from other countries, to challenge that. That’s more of the bully pulpit to say that’s not what Iowa’s about. We welcome folks here in Iowa,” said Wilburn, who would reach out to and showcase diverse Iowa communities such as Storm Lake and Columbus Junction.

“And sometimes it’s just a matter listening, being willing to go to the state LULAC conference to listen, being willing to have the governor actually go to the LGBTQ governor’s conference and just listen to what young people have to say. When you show up and listen, it can help change the conversation,” Wilburn said.

• HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS PROBLEMS TIED TO MEDICAID PRIVATIZATION?

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“I would reverse the privatization of Medicaid,” said Wilburn, who isn’t mimicking rivals promising to reverse it on “day one.”

“It’s not just a matter of day one. Reversing the privatization of Medicaid is a process, and that process starts the day after the November election,” Wilburn said. “Is there a way to be creative and do a hybrid system? Not just the fee for service, but is there are way to help incentivize? Offer a grant or block grant to some providers so you are incentivizing wellness.”

• HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS WATER QUALITY CHALLENGES?

“There’s not going to be any one particular solution that’s going to solve that. But certainly acknowledging that we have the issue, and that we should be monitoring our waterways,” Wilburn said. “I do support the natural resources outdoor trust fund, the three-eighths of penny (sales tax increase), that was approved by 62, 63 percent of Iowans. That’s not going to do everything, it’s not going to address every water issue, but that’s a potential source for some public-private partnerships.

“I’ve got relatives in Flint, Michigan, you bet they’d pay three-eighths of a penny to have clean water moving forward,” Wilburn said.

Wilburn would restore funding to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, increase staffing in the Department of Natural Resources and revise the “master matrix” for evaluating large-scale livestock confinement projects. Water quality efforts to curtail fertilizer runoff from farmland would be voluntary, to a point, he said.

Lack of cooperation could lead to regulations,” Wilburn said.

• WHAT’S YOUR PLAN FOR THE MINIMUM WAGE?

“I’ll try and push for $15 per hour and link it to inflation or the federal poverty guidelines. That’s going to take a Legislature that’s willing to do so,” Wilburn said. “And if we don’t have that Legislature, at a minimum we try to see if there are some Republicans willing to return the ability for counties to set the minimum wage in their own area. There might be a way to try and use the budget process to do some negotiation to return that right.”

Wilburn said he’s considering a four or five-year phase in for a higher minimum, with the possibility of tax relief for smaller businesses as they transition to a higher wage. He would also look for ways to help workers avoid the abrupt loss of child care or housing help spawned by a wage boost.

• HOW WOULD YOU HANDLE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT?

Wilburn said he would evaluate tax credits and incentives for business. And he’d aim incentives at small and medium-sized firms.

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“Not every community is going to have a big Apple box in their community, or a Rockwell Collins or a Procter & Gamble. I would also look at tax incentives for small to medium-size business, and in our micropolitan areas, not just the 10 biggest counties in the state. That way tax incentives and regeneration of jobs and economy will happen throughout Iowa,” Wilburn said.

• HOW WOULD YOU WORK WITH REPUBLICANS?

“You can only extend your hand. You can’t make someone shake it. But it is about starting with relationships. I try not to Republican bash too much,” Wilburn said. “However, when hearings are not being held, when decisions are being made in the middle of the night, which party is in control of that?”

If Democrats win control of all or part of the Legislature, he’d urge them to be more transparent and inclusive.

“I’m not a believer in ‘they screwed us so we’re going to screw them,’” Wilburn said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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