Government

Johnson County's House, Senate candidates take questions from voters in candidate forum

Health care, workforce issues among topics discussed

Zach Wahls (left), Democratic candidate in Senate District 37, answers a question as Carl Krambeck (right), Libertarian candidate in Senate District 37, listens during a forum for legislative candidates in four Johnson County races at the Coralville Public Library on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. Candidates answered questions on a range of topics, including tax increment financing and collective bargaining. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Zach Wahls (left), Democratic candidate in Senate District 37, answers a question as Carl Krambeck (right), Libertarian candidate in Senate District 37, listens during a forum for legislative candidates in four Johnson County races at the Coralville Public Library on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. Candidates answered questions on a range of topics, including tax increment financing and collective bargaining. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CORALVILLE — Six candidates running to represent parts of Johnson County in the state Legislature made appeals to the public for support during a candidate forum Monday.

Candidates in four contested races were invited by the Johnson County Task Force on Aging to participate in the forum and answer audience questions at the Coralville Public Library. The 90-minute event covered topics such as health care, higher education and collective bargaining.

In Senate District 37, both Democrat Zach Wahls and challenger Carl Krambeck, a libertarian, spoke. Both candidates for Senate District 43, incumbent Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat, and Republican Patrick Wronkiewicz also attended the forum.

Democrat Sen. Kevin Kinney, the incumbent for Senate District 39, and House District 73 candidate Jodi Clemens, a Democrat, both participated. Their Republican opponents, Heather Hora for the Senate and House incumbent Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufman did not attend the event.

Many of the candidates expressed concern over Iowa’s switch to privatized Medicaid and outlined their thoughts on how the Legislature might aid in improving the system.

“The decision to privatize Medicaid has been a disaster,” Bolkcom said. “The state needs to take it back under its wing and manage this program. Medicaid is there for all of us, should you suffer a catastrophic disability or injury, it is your safety net. It’s an incredibly important program.”

Wronkiewicz said, however, he would rather streamline the appeals process for paying medical costs and add more staff to help oversee the system.

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“These people have to jump through a lot of different hoops, and it’s very very confusing. They need to be streamlined so Iowans know how to get the resources that they are allotted to,” Wronkiewicz said. “I think there needs to be some agreed upon bipartisan changes ... but going back to the way it was is unsustainable.”

Many of the candidates also discussed a number of workforce issues, including collective bargaining, access to education and attracting businesses to Iowa.

Clemens said a key reason she decided to run was the change to Iowa’s collective bargaining law, which now bars negotiations over benefits.

“I have no problem losing a fight if there are two groups of passionate Iowans that are on opposite sides of an issue and they want to negotiate. There was no other side on this,” Clemens said. “The real issue was the cost of health care. Let’s fix the cost of health care so that schools can budget again.”

The state is expected to save money on a reworked state employee health insurance plan that caused employee costs to increase.

Krambeck said he’d restore collective bargaining rights and noted that much of the time spent negotiating was focused on better utilizing resources, not on employees trying to get more money.

“It’s not ‘Iowa nice’ to be ignoring large groups of people,” Krambeck said. “These are things that people should be able to bargain with their employer. I cannot see any sort of logical pattern. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

As for attracting employers to the state, Wahls said Iowa needs to provide a skilled workforce with plenty of available workers and invest in education.

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“We need to be investing in the people of our state,” Wahls said. “It’s very important that we have the best workers in the Midwest, if not the entire country. And that starts with a strong investment in our K-12, because you never get a second chance at a first start. That means making sure we are fully funding our higher education.”

Kinney said ensuring communities have affordable housing for workers and providing a skilled workforce to employers are major challenges to attracting new employers.

“In many cases, in some of my smaller communities, they’re going, ‘We don’t have skilled workforce. We don’t have workforce period,’” Kinney said, adding that training facilities, perhaps by the community colleges, need to be set up to train workers in those communities.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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