116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With two Republicans and two Democrats running for public office, voters of both parties have a choice to make in the primary for Senate District 41.
All four said education is a priority, but all have different approaches to improving public education in Iowa.
Republican candidate Kerry Gruenhagen of Walcott will face off against Mechanicsville resident Alan Weets. Democratic candidate Deb VanderGaast of Tipton will go against Mechanicsville resident Nikole Tutton.
Senate District 41 covers Cedar County, and parts of northern Muscatine County and eastern Scott County.
Here is a rundown of their views before Tuesday’s primary election.
Weets, 33, is a fourth-generation Cedar County grain and livestock farmer. In 2016 he was elected as Cedar County Soil and Water Commissioner. In 2021, he became an alternate for the Region 7 State Conservation Board. He is the only candidate running for this district to have held public office.
Weets hopes to prioritize issues that would combat inflation and the economic hardships that come with it. Other priorities he described include the judicial system, law enforcement hindrances and the Iowa economy’s self-sufficiency.
"We … have a problem with our judicial system not enforcing our laws,“ he said. ”I hope to bring better review of those judges and prosecutors that hinder our law enforcement.“
A rural Republican, Weets does not believe the proposal from Gov. Kim Reynolds to fund private school tuition aid with public funds, which failed to pass the Legislature this year, will solve the problems facing public schools, “unless it could be (made available) to every single student in the state at the same time.”
“The vast majority of the problems within our educational system result from the problems affecting both our culture and economy,” Weets said.
He agrees with the Iowa House’s recent proposal to steer Iowa’s public universities “to focus on the needs of our own state’s economy,” with the creation of the Iowa Workforce Grant and Incentive Program, which would have campuses compete by enrolling students in high-demand jobs.
With regard to abortion, Weets believes that “the only fair and righteous way to address this issue is to put it to voters.”
Gruenhagen, 33, is a fifth-generation grain farmer and small business owner from Walcott. He’s a former president of the Muscatine County Farm Bureau and co-host of the Quad City Conservative Breakfast Club.
His experience owning a small Davenport business is what compelled him to run.
“As a small-business owner, I know firsthand the challenges facing those in the Iowa Quad Cities,” he said. “Being close to the border of Illinois, it is important we combat increasing crime and work to keep our communities like Davenport safe and protect Iowa’s quality of life.”
Unlike his Republican opponent, he supports private school tuition aid vouchers without reservations.
“While public schools are important for our communities and educating the next generation, they are not the solution for every child,” he said. “The (Education Savings Account) program would allow this … opportunity for life-changing success to other struggling students.”
Supporting law enforcement, giving more power to parents in education and “protecting life” are his top priorities.
Gruenhagen, who does not support abortion rights, said Iowa needs to wait for the outcome of court decisions before planning a path forward on “how we can best protect life in Iowa.”
With experience writing nearly two dozen policy proposals for child care, poverty, health care, disability and small business issues, VanderGaast of Tipton highlights her experience in public service and public policy as a factor that makes her stand out in her race.
VanderGaast, 53, is a registered nurse and owner of a child care center for children with special needs. One of her policy proposals, the Epinephrine in Schools Act, was signed into law in 2015.
Her top priorities are public education, child care, poverty, health care, disability, equality and equity and small business issues.
“I am passionate about making Iowa’s public schools the best in the nation again and strengthening our middle class,” she said.
A California native who has lived in Iowa since 1988, VanderGaast opposes diverting funding from public schools to private schools in the form of tuition aid vouchers, saying the vouchers violate the separation of church and state by funding religious education.
She believes the Iowa Workforce Grant and Incentive Program is unnecessary to fill the need for workers in certain professions given tuition forgiveness programs and Last Dollar Scholarships.
“I feel that incentives for enrolling students in high-need programs is appropriate, but our public universities should not be penalized for offering diverse educational options,” VanderGaast said.
She supports the right to safe, medical abortions, saying the lack of them would lead to more dire consequences.
Tutton of Mechanicsville is the founder and principal human resources consultant of the Iowa Talent Consortium, a human resource consulting firm. She specializes in compensation studies and federal law compliance for businesses and financial institutions.
Tutton was inspired to run for office by the insurrection of the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Compassionate, genuine and caring, Nikole knew community service was for her the minute she received her first hug from a newly diagnosed cancer patient when she assured her that her treatment would be covered,” her campaign website reads. “Nikole has fought for affordable health care access for seniors, kids and adults with disabilities and those with mental illness, and she will take that fight to Des Moines to make Iowa number one instead of 48th in child mental health services.”
Priorities include promoting jobs, “livable” wages and reducing income disparity.
Tutton could not be reached by phone or email for comment.
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