The two candidates competing for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives representing a swath of Johnson County answered voters’ questions on a range of issues including gun control, abortion and Medicaid during a Thursday night forum.
Questions ranged from national to local issues, with both candidates occasionally agreeing about things like the importance of funding education and improving wages, but disagreeing on the specifics — like where funding should come from and to what extent minimum wage should be increased.
“That’s a lot of questions, guys,” said the Democratic Party candidate and North Liberty mayor Amy Nielsen when she saw the stack of notecards handed to the moderator at the start of the event, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County.
Nielsen is facing off against Republican candidate and former two-term Tiffin mayor Royce Phillips. The candidates are vying for a seat vacated by Rep. Sally Stutsman, D-Riverside, in District 77, which spans parts of Johnson County, including North Liberty, Tiffin, Swisher, Shueyville, Oxford and Lone Tree.
Presidential candidates draw fire
At times, the conversation grew tense, such as when the topics of abortion and support for top-of-the-ticket candidates were raised.
“Donald Trump is the candidate for the Republican Party. I am a registered Republican,” Phillips said.
Phillips implied that he doesn’t agree with everything the Republican presidential candidate says, but then joked that he didn’t always agree with everything he himself says because he sometimes changes his mind.
Nielsen jumped on that, suggesting Phillips wouldn’t be a consistent, reliable voice for the people.
“I resent the smear,” Phillips said.
Nielsen, for her part said that she supported the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“I do believe that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate that I have seen run for the office of president,” she said.
Questions about abortion also highlighted divisions.
“Being a woman myself, I do not feel that any man or any governing body has a right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body,” Nielsen said.
Phillips, a pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Coralville, said that while he certainly wants women’s healthcare needs to be taken care of, he also wanted to keep in mind concerns for the fetus.
“If you believe, as I do, that that so-called fetus is a child, you have two lives there to consider,” he said. “I think that unborn child also deserves the healthcare necessary as well.”
The two candidates sparred briefly over gun control.
Nielsen said that she supports the Second Amendment but also supports measures such as universal background checks.
Phillips called her support for the Second Amendment into question.
“Certainly we don’t want to have the Wild West attitude,” he said, citing the importance of teaching gun safety. “On the other hand, the forefathers put the Second Amendment in the Constitution for a reason and that was for self-defense.”
Both candidates critiqued Iowa’s switch to privatized Medicaid, which went into effect in April.
“People are not getting the healthcare they need. Doctors are not getting paid for the services they are providing. It’s an absolute mess and it needs to stop” Nielsen said.
Phillips said the issue started with the national health care system, though the state’s efforts have not improved the situation.
“We’ve got a dysfunctional system that we just made a bigger dysfunctional system. There’s a lot of things that need to be done. And certainly that has to happen or the system is going to sink,” he said.
What do voters want to see in 20, 30 years?
The candidates asked voters to consider what they want the state to look in 20 or 30 years before they head to the polls this election season.
“There are so many issues that need to be addressed,” Phillips said. “It’s going to take countless hours and countless voices to get it done.”
He pointed to his time as mayor in Tiffin, which he said demonstrated his ability to work across party lines to get things done.
“Every individual is important,” he said “I will carry that same pattern on into the State House.”
Nielsen said that she will work to put Iowans first, which included cutting out tax breaks to out-of-state corporations. She also cited her accomplishments as North Liberty mayor, like developing new public transportation options.
“I notice, I pay attention and when I see something I go out and fix it,” she said.
The forum came a week after early voting began in Iowa. According to the Johnson County Auditor’s Office, 3,734 ballots had already been placed as of Thursday evening, although many of those were for Iowa City precincts.
To find satellite voting locations, view a sample ballot or learn how to register to vote, visit the Johnson County Auditor’s website.