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Former TV anchors debate public policy as they square off in U.S. House race
Ashley Hinson, Liz Mathis differ on abortion, inflation, infrastructure, parental rights
CEDAR RAPIDS — A pair of former Iowa broadcast journalists running for an Eastern Iowa congressional seat argued policy Wednesday night about abortion, inflation, infrastructure and parental rights in their first televised debate before the Nov. 8 general election.
Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson of Marion and state Sen. Liz Mathis of Hiawatha, her Democratic challenger, debated the issues during an hourlong debate hosted by their former employer, KCRG-TV9.
Hinson, 39, and Mathis, 64, are running in Iowa’s newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which includes 22 counties in Iowa's northeast corner and the cities of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Mason City.
Both candidates attempted to paint the other’s position on abortion as extreme.
Hinson has endorsed a proposed bill from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortion at 15 weeks with some exceptions. She said she supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Mathis contends Hinson sponsored a bill in Congress that “would outlaw abortion for the entire country, with no exceptions.”
Hinson supported a “personhood” bill introduced in the House last year that guarantees a constitutional “right to life of each born and preborn human person.” The measure provides protections for those “at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.” As written, it does not include exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when a pregnant woman is at risk.
As a former state legislator, Hinson has previously supported such exemptions when voting in favor of the fetal heartbeat law in 2018. The law, which seeks to ban abortions after 6 weeks into a pregnancy, was blocked in court and has not gone into effect.
“I am a pro-life candidate, and I believe that every life has value,” Hinson said.
“I think being pro-life is about more,” she added, noting she introduced legislation to expand maternal health care access for those in rural communities and legislation to ensure adult women can access Food and Drug Administration-approved birth control pills over the counter at a local pharmacy.
Hinson said Mathis and Democrats support abortion "on demand until birth."
Mathis said politicians should not be interfering with the rights of Iowa women to make their own health care decisions and, if elected, she would work to codify the legal framework that existed under Roe vs. Wade, which was overturned in June by the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision established a woman's right to an abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at about 24 to 28 weeks into a pregnancy.
“I am the pro-choice candidate, and I do not think that government should intervene in a woman’s right to choose or her health care,” Mathis said.
⧉ Related article: Fact Checker: Does Ashley Hinson support criminalizing abortions with no exceptions?
Both candidates also offered their proposed solutions to bring down inflation, with Hinson suggesting government spending and President Joe Biden’s policies have blown up the cost of energy and other goods.
“The first step is to stop the spending spigot in Washington, D.C.,” Hinson said. “Under (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, we’ve seen trillions of dollars spent that we don’t have. My opponent will rubber-stamp that. My first vote will be for new leadership in Washington, D.C., that will respect taxpayers. We also need to target those resources to rural America for manufacturing.”
Mathis pointed to bills aimed at bringing down the cost of gas and medical care. She criticized Hinson for voting against Democratic-led bills that would allow the president to crack down on alleged price gouging by oil companies and other energy producers; to limit monthly insulin costs to $35 for Medicare beneficiaries; and to require the federal government to negotiate prices for some drugs covered under Medicare.
She also criticized Hinson for voting against the infrastructure bill. Iowa is expected to receive $5 billion in funding over five years for investments in high-speed internet, roads, bridges and other infrastructure priorities that Mathis said will support corn growers and biofuels industry in the state.
“My opponent called it a socialistic spending spree,” Mathis said, and weeks later was supporting a lock and dam system repair funded through the infrastructure bill.
“So you can’t have it both ways,” Mathis said.
Hinson said she opposed the infrastructure bill because of its large price tag and that it was “being used as a bargaining chip” for trillions in social spending she said would worsen inflation. But, once the spending was approved, “I went to bat for Iowa taxpayers, and I went to bat to make sure those resources came here.”
Hinson said she partnered with Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois to seek funding for locks and dams in a separate U.S. House bill and later joined in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers to encourage it to prioritize lock and dam upgrades.
“I think more money should be in your pocket, and we should be sending targeted resources to our states,” Hinson. “Having targeted resources for targeted projects is the way we do that, that respects taxpayers and respects the process and investment infrastructure as well.”
The pair also sparred over parental rights and Hinson’s opposition to the Linn-Mar school district policies to protect transgender students from discrimination. Hinson’s two sons attend Linn-Mar schools.
The policies spell out inclusive practices for transgender students, including giving students access to restrooms, locker rooms or changing areas that correspond with their gender identity. They also protect students’ privacy by keeping their transgender status private at school, if they prefer. Students in seventh grade or older have priority over their parents or guardians of a gender support plan at school.
Hinson argued the policy overrides parents’ right to have a say about what is best for their child’s mental health and physical well-being.
“I stand for parents. I’m one of you,” Hinson said. “I stand for your rights to have control over your children because they’re your children. They do not belong to the government.”
Mathis said she believes in parental rights, but criticized Hinson for “trying to weaponize parents’ rights” and the dispute over a Linn-Mar policy she said seeks to protect students from harassment and discrimination.
“She has taken this issue, and she has set fire to it,” Mathis said. “And it’s just against any parental right that I have ever seen.”
The general election for state and federal offices will be held Nov. 8. The first day of early voting, either by mail-in ballot or at county auditors’ offices, is Oct. 19.
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