116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Democratic voters in the newly created Senate District 39 have a choice between a four-term Iowa House representative and a fresh face from the labor organizing world — both with different priorities for the seat they hope to win.
State Rep. Liz Bennett, first elected to the Iowa House in 2014, is running against Joe Zahorik, the political director for Ironworkers Local 89 with 17 years of experience in iron work.
The two square off in the Tuesday primary. The redrawn district covers much of Cedar Rapids, including the southwest side, the downtown and portions of the southeast and northeast quadrants.
The winner of the general election in November will succeed state Sen. Rob Hogg, who is not seeking re-election.
Bennett and Zahorik are both pro-choice and strongly disagree with the public school vouchers proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, a bill that failed to pass the Legislature this year.
With eight years of experience in the 65th House district, Bennett was the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve in the Legislature.
She was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign on Friday and is also endorsed by VoteProChoice, Sunrise Movement CR and Our Revolution Iowa. She also carries endorsements from former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, state Sens. Rob Hogg and Claire Celsi and state Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt.
Bennett, a 39-year-old website expert for Wix.com, listed child care access expansion, cleaning up Iowa’s impaired waterways and improving access to mental health care as her top priorities.
“Child care jobs need to be regarded as a profession, which is just as important as any other, and compensated as such,” she said.
Since 2014, she has twice attempted to pass a Gay and Trans Panic Defense Ban bill. The panic defense is used in criminal courts, typically against murder charges, where a defendant claims to have acted violently during a temporary state of insanity, resulting from unwanted same-sex sexual advances or from the realization that someone is transgender.
That is one example she cites in her approach to representation that she said will help Democrats make their time as the minority party count in the Statehouse. In the last eight years, she said she has shown up in the communities she represents to “give voices to folks who go unheard.”
“With Democrats in the minority, the truth is that opportunities to pass our legislation are few, and although we fight to stop the Republican agenda, the strings are often pulled far above our heads,” Bennett said.
“The question then becomes, as an elected official, what are the best things I can do to elevate my constituents’ voices and help create the change I want to see in the Legislature?”
Zahorik, 40, aims to prioritize improvements to long-term care facilities and to restore collective bargaining rights for public employees after Republican lawmakers severely restricted those rights in 2017.
“A big part of my job has been bill tracking, and after witnessing the countless attacks on working people over the last six years, I decided that it’s time for someone with firsthand experience and perspective to run for office,” Zahorik said, noting that District 39 is now the third-most, labor-dense district in the state.
Zahorik retains the endorsement of nearly every labor group in the state, including the Iowa Federation of Labor, Iowa State Building Trades Union and the Hawkeye Area Labor Council. He also was endorsed by Cedar Rapids City Council members Tyler Olson and Pat Loeffler, Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers and Iowa state Rep. Eric Gjerde.
Zahorik also said the Legislature must address reform for long-term care facilities and infrastructure for roads and bridges in a state ranked as having among the nation’s most deficient bridges.
“Having had conversations with many voters, it’s clear we need to increase staffing ratios and have a registered nurse on site around the clock in every long-term care facility,” he said. “The current requirement only mandates eight hours a day.”
Both candidates support abortion rights — a stance that had taken on renewed importance in light of the widely anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer that would strike down Roe v. Wade, leaving the abortion issue to states. The Iowa Supreme Court has previously held that a right to abortion is protected by the state constitution.
“Many Iowans are not aware that we are one-third of the way to an anti-abortion constitutional amendment in Iowa,” said Bennett. “This is why, particularly at this time, we need the voices of people who can become pregnant, and proven pro-choice champions, in the Senate.”
Both strongly disagree with the governor’s proposal to fund private school tuition aid with public money.
“This is a blatant attempt to funnel more money into private hands,” Zahorik said. “A voucher system in Iowa is allowing private schools to choose their students, versus allowing every family to choose a school. We have an option for every family in Iowa to choose which public school their children attend through open enrollment.”
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