WAUKEE, Iowa—Republican Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines) and Democrat Desmund Adams (D-Clive) met for an hour-long forum Saturday morning at the Waukee Public Library to discuss legislative issues in advance of the state Sen. special election Dec. 11.
Schneider and Adams, both 39-years-old, are competing to fill the seat in District 22, which was previously held by state Sen. Pat Ward (R-West Des Moines), who passed away in October. Both Schneider and Adams praised Ward’s public service while collegially disagreeing on major issues facing lawmakers in the 2013 session beginning next month.
Schneider, an attorney for Principal Financial Group and a West Des Moines city councilman, stressed his city government experience since 2007, particularly weathering a recession without raising property taxes. His 23-day campaign has given the fresh-faced politician a baptism by fire in the contest with Adams, who has campaigned for 20 months.
Adams, who leads an executive recruitment firm and serves on several nonprofit boards, fell back on his tested slogans that he has deployed throughout the campaign. “I entered this race, ladies and gentlemen, because I believe moderation needs voice,” he said. “We have complex challenges and we need to address them with complex solutions.”
Lucas Casey, an adjunct political science professor at Grandview University in Des Moines, moderated the forum. Casey first asked the candidates about employment in Iowa, noting that the state’s relatively low unemployment rate (5.1 percent) is much lower than the national rate (7.9 percent).
Adams noted that women-owned businesses in Iowa experienced a negative 3.1 percent growth rate, citing an American Express study of businesses from 1997-2011. He said that the state needs to assist female entrepreneurs. Adams also suggested focusing on small- and medium-sized business over large corporation and focus on job training for the under-employed.
Schneider said the “most imminent challenge [facing the economy] is our looming fiscal cliff.” He also mentioned Iowa’s “brain drain,” as young Iowans receive state-funded educations and then leave for other states for better opportunities and bigger paychecks. Schneider agreed with Adams that the state should provide more job training through community colleges.
Adams and Schneider clashed on how to manage Iowa’s budget. State officials will meet Dec. 12 to project revenues. Schneider pointed to his tenure in West Des Moines, where he said the government saved taxpayers $6 million by paying down bonds instead of spending surplus revenue. He advocated for holding on to surplus revenue, citing the “devastating” 10 percent across-the-board cut implemented by former Gov. Chet Culver.
Adams said that Gov. Branstad came into office with a $287 million surplus, which is now close to $750 million. Adams noted that the state already requires 10 percent of the general fund set aside by statute,
“We’ve squeezed our cities, we’ve squeezed out counties…” he said. “It’s not about spending; it’s about being a good steward.
Schneider said Iowa’s judicial retention process, which replaced popular votes for judges in 1962, is fair and “takes a lot of politics out of the process… There’s also an opportunity for people to remove justices.”
“I like the process,” he said.”I think it allows people the opportunity to have a vote, to have an opinion… We have to value all opinions, not just a few. If someone has a difference of opinion, they should be allowed to have their voice.”
The moderator then turned to same-sex marriage, which has been legal in Iowa since a unanimous 2009 state Supreme Court decision.
“I believe equality is equality,” Adams said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court will have the ultimate say on the issue. “This is not something that we need to vote on.”
Schneider, in contrast, supports a public vote on same-sex marriage as a constitutional matter.
“This is a difficult issue for a lot of people,” he said. “I work with people at Principal who are in same-sex relationships… A lot of people voice frustration about the [state] Supreme Court ruling, in part because they feel like they didn’t have a say in the process. It’s such an important issue that I think we ought to let the people decide.”
A question submitted in advance addressed the recent controversy over health care premiums for state employees. Iowa is only one of six states that pays 100 percent of the premiums for employees and elected officials.
Schneider said he thinks public employees should contribute a percentage to their health care costs, noting that the current scheme is “out of whack with the private sector and what taxpayers experience in their own jobs.” Iowa doesn’t need a “one-size-fits-all solution,” he said, noting that he supported creating three plans in West Des Moines to address different demographics.
Adams said that public employee unions and the administration of Gov. Terry Branstad need to find compromise, but he ultimately stood behind the labor union: “As of today… I side with employees and what they have been able to collectively bargain.”
Schneider and Adams also discussed education policy (we need to “really throw money into that program,” Adams said), property tax reform, library funding, tax-increment financing, and partisanship in the state Senate.
To listen to the full, hour-long forum for a more detailed perspective on the issues discussed, click here.
According to data provided by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Republicans lead Democrats in absentee ballots as of Friday. Republicans returned 1,200 out of 2,334 (51 percent) requested absentee ballots while Democrats returned 616 out of 1,450 (43 percent). No party voters returned 134 out of 403 (33 percent) requested ballots.
Note: this post has been updated.
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