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IOWA CITY — Iowa Democratic gubernatorial nominee Deidre DeJear said she is fighting to bring Iowans together — young and old, Democrat and Republican — at a time when divisive policies over school choice and abortion and transgender rights are pitting communities against one another.
Instead, real issues — like rural revitalization, support for K-12 schools and higher education, and access to quality, affordable health care and mental health care — get ignored.
The Des Moines small businesswoman reached out to different generations of Iowans for support this week with campaign stops in Des Moines and in Iowa City.
“And I can tell you, the issues that all of those generations are talking about are very, very common,” DeJear said in an interview with The Gazette. “We heard the issue of mental health care. We heard the issue of education (and) health care. Those are the things people are asking about and worried about.”
DeJear spoke to more than 70 students and Iowa City residents at a Monday town hall at the Iowa Memorial Union hosted by University Democrats at Iowa.
DeJear addressed the need for more accessible health care, as rural hospitals have closed and Iowans grapple to access needed mental health care.
“I want to be that governor that funds our education system,” DeJear said. “Not only do I want to fund our education system, I want to help our mental health care system and our health care system.”
DeJear met earlier Monday with the Older Iowans Legislature, a nonpartisan, nonprofit volunteer organization that advocates for policies to improve the quality of life for older Iowans. DeJear said topics covered included health care and mental health care, inflation, child care and education.
DeJear said after the meeting, one individual came up to her almost in tears as he described his challenges accessing mental health care services in the state.
“I’m inspired because they were attentive, and just through their attentiveness, I know that there’s an interest in overcoming the challenges,” DeJear said. “And what I reminded them of is that we’ve overcome challenges like this in our past. And so I feel very, very inspired about our ability to do it again. I just need their help.”
DeJear said Iowa needs to be a place where both Republicans and Democrats can respect one another.
She criticized Republican incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds for policies that “rob Peter to pay Paul,” push public tax dollars to private school vouchers and attack the rights of transgender students.
“And you saw three Republicans sit in front row front and center today,” DeJear told reporters after the town hall. “And I can tell you, they didn't agree with everything that I said, but there were some things that they did agree on and we walked away civilly. …
“That's the type of environment that we have to create. That is not the type of environment that this current governor wants to create in the state. She's pitting communities against one another.”
Asked about the legalization of marijuana in Iowa for recreational use, DeJear said Iowa can learn from other states to make sure legalization is implemented safely.
She said Iowans are increasingly flocking across the Mississippi River to obtain legal cannabis at Illinois dispensaries, and that a majority of Iowans, according to polling, approve of legalization, which would increase safety around the substance and keep tax dollars in the state.
“At this point, it’s a matter of public safety and regulating this the way that we regulate alcohol, because we see it coming from all sides of our borders,” DeJear said. “We do need to have a more expanded policy in the state.”
Asked of her plan to protect women’s reproductive rights, DeJear replied: “My plan is to mind my business.”
“Pregnancy has infinite variables,” DeJear said. “And the idea that we are trying to regulate this process in black and white is irresponsible and undemocratic.”
University of Iowa sophomore Ramayana Kazazic, 19, said she was inspired hearing DeJear speak about the importance of protecting reproductive rights.
Kazazic, of Urbandale, said the issue is most important to her in this year’s midterm elections with the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal in June of Roe v. Wade, removing the federal right to an abortion. The court decision has cleared the way for states to reshape abortion law across the country and pass near-total abortion bans.
“Reproductive and abortion rights are vital to our health and safety,” Kazazic said, who criticized Reynolds for asking Iowa courts to lift an injunction on the so-called fetal heartbeat law that would ban abortions at roughly six weeks of pregnancy, which often is before women are aware they are pregnant.
“And I’m sure not just for me, but other college students, just not being able to have a voice on our own bodies, it’s terrifying,” Kazazic said.
UI senior Stephanie Gutierrez, 21, who is from Chicago, said she was impressed by DeJear’s focus on education and working to unite Iowans.
“Maybe Iowa can change,” Gutierrez said. “Maybe Iowa can uplift students that come here. Honestly, maybe Iowa can make me stay here.”
Libertarian Party candidate Rick Stewart also is running for governor. The election is Nov. 8, and early voting starts Oct. 19.
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Gazette Des Moines Bureau Chief Erin Murphy contributed to this story.