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Two vie to represent Cedar Rapids, Linn areas, in Senate 39
Democrat Liz Bennett, Republican Bernie Hayes speak to different priorities
CEDAR RAPIDS — While Democratic candidate Liz Bennett makes plans on how she can represent Cedar Rapids most effectively as a member of the minority party in the Iowa State Legislature, Republican candidate Bernie Hayes hopes to take his spirit for community service to the Senate.
Bennett and Hayes are vying for the Senate District 39 seat, which covers most of southeast and southwest Cedar Rapids, parts of northeast and northwest Cedar Rapids, and much of south central Linn County between Ely and Fairfax, down to the Johnson County border.
The new district leans blue, with 15,413 of the district’s 33,000 voters registered as Democrats, twice as many of the registered Republicans, and the remainder no-party voters.
As they head toward Election Day on Nov. 8, Bennett and Hayes are campaign on differing priorities.
A representative in the Iowa House since 2014, Bennett won the June Democratic primary against labor organizer Joe Zahorik.
After four terms in the House, Bennett, 40, said she is ready to move to the Senate to employ her experience as someone who works across the aisle in the minority party and leads with accessibility to the public.
Her priorities include putting more teeth into water quality legislation to improve the health of soil and water that Iowa relies on, increasing funding for public schools to raise Iowa’s standing in public education, and finding affordable solutions to Iowa’s child care shortage.
At a glance: Liz Bennett
Residence: Cedar Rapids for 20 years
Prior public office: Four terms in the Iowa House since 2014
Occupation: Wix.com website expert
“I cut my teeth in Iowa politics by knocking on doors in rural areas where we didn’t know how much support we had,” Bennett said. “That experience of meeting Iowans across the spectrum gave me a really deep belief in who Iowans are. … I believe that deep down Iowans care about things like being able to go to work, being able to afford medication and having clean water.”
As Iowa tries to work through a historically low unemployment rate, she believes prioritizing child care will help the state’s industries access workers being held back from entering the labor market.
“I’m bringing a unique perspective of someone who is a young professional employed in the tech industry for 11 years now,” said Bennett, who works as a website expert for Wix.com. “I know what people are going through, adjusting their budgets during this inflationary time, and know what it’s like to navigate the workforce. That’s going to become more important as we continue to lose young professionals from the state and work to attract them back.”
A pro-choice Democrat, Bennett would be the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve in the Iowa Senate. She said she’ll be an advocate for reproductive health care rights and for LGBTQ rights, issues that she said have economic repercussions.
“When companies try to attract workers to work here, people do a Google search and they see what is going on culturally in Iowa, and it drives people away,” Bennett said. “That’s a shame because there are people in Iowa who want everyone to have a place and want everyone to have a fair shot.”
Edward Bernie Hayes
Republican candidate Hayes hopes his third run for public office will be the charm after running for Cedar Rapids-based legislative districts.
The retired Collins Aerospace systems engineer, Hayes, 67, hopes to prioritize solutions to inflation and parental rights in schools and support further restrictions on abortion “to protect life.”
At a glance: Edward Bernie Hayes
Residence: Cedar Rapids for 44 years
Prior public office: None
Occupation: Retired systems engineer
Hayes, a native of Baltimore, Md., has lived in Cedar Rapids for 44 years and has served on the state Republican Party Central Committee.
“The biggest thing for me is willingness,” he said. “(It’s) not that I’m the greatest, but I’m willing.”
Hayes became involved in Republican politics as a local campaign coordinator in 1996 when Alan Keyes ran for president. He has been involved in Fresh Start Ministries, a ministry to those incarcerated, and Noelridge Park Church in Cedar Rapids.
As a retiree who relies on stock market performance, inflation is top of mind.
“Inflation is big on everybody’s mind,” he said. “It puts a damper on a lot of people.”
He believes abortion and parental rights in school districts — as in Linn-Mar, where some parents are challenging a board-approved transgender policy — will be pivotal issues for voters. He supports legislation like the heartbeat bill, which Gov. Kim Reynolds asked courts to reinstate this year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
But as a member of what is likely to remain the majority party in the Iowa Legislature, he believed Republicans have a duty to reach across the aisle and sustain bipartisanship.
“I don’t have any party affiliation on my (campaign) cards,” he said. “I wanted to have conversations with people, I wanted to hear their thoughts. … We may have a lot more in common than we think.”
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