Iowa Press Debates: Second Congressional District

Sep 24, 2020 | 58 min | Podcast

Podcast

Candidates Rita Hart (D - Wheatland) and Iowa Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R - Ottumwa) answer questions from reporters and discuss their platforms, concerns and future plans. David Yepsen, host of Iowa Press, moderates the debate.

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A 2020 campaign season enters its final weeks and Iowans will soon begin voting early just days from now. We dive into the issues of Iowa's Second Congressional District with democrat Rita Hart and republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks here at Iowa PBS for this special live Iowa Press Debate.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Live from Iowa PBS Studios in Johnston, Iowa, this is a special Iowa Press Debate featuring candidates in the Second Congressional District. Here is moderator David Yepsen.

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Yepsen: 2020 can be defined by unprecedented and monumental news events. The issues confronting voters and candidates in Iowa's Second Congressional District mirror those in the national conversation, pandemic, health care and the economy. Tonight we'll focus on the issues facing a district that includes Ottumwa, Iowa City, Davenport and many rural towns along the Southeast quadrant of Iowa. We're hosting this debate with increased public health precautions, minimal staff joining us inside an empty 300-person auditorium at Iowa PBS Studios, and candidates here on set are separated by Plexiglas barriers.

Yepsen: Those candidates joining us are Iowa State Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa republican and former democratic State Senator Rita Hart of Wheatland. Welcome to you both. Thank you for doing this. Good to have you here.

It's good to be here. Thank you.

Yepsen: Joining us in tonight's debate questioning is Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Murphy: So, for the benefit of our viewers at home, the second district is somewhat unique politically. It was represented by Congressman Dave Loebsack, a democrat, for seven terms here. But in 2016 in the presidential race it was won by republican President Donald Trump. So we wanted to start by asking each of you how you plan to reach out to voters that may have gone the other way from your party in the past. So we'll start with you, Ms. Miller-Meeks. What would you say to voters in the district who in the past have voted for Dave Loebsack, including in some races in which you ran against the Congressman?

Miller-Meeks: I think that the most important thing you can to is to be accessible, which is somewhat challenging during a pandemic, but to be yourself, to be authentic and then discuss the issues with them. So we started a campaign back in October talking about accessible, affordable, portable health care, the necessity of that, we talked about skills training, apprenticeships for job growth, preparing our workforce for the 21st century, fair and free trade and then government that is trustworthy and is accountable. So we started with those issues, we talk about those issues on the campaign trail. Throughout that we've had to morph through the pandemic and discuss that as well. But I think if you are yourself, you are available, and you answer questions, you make yourself available to answer questions via Zoom conference or a press interview or a phone call, that I think people will gravitate towards someone who is reasonable, pragmatic and really wants to see things move in Congress. Congress has a really low favorability rating as you know and part of that I think is because of the partisanship and the lack of getting things done.

Murphy: Ms. Hart, how about you? What would you say to people in the second district who voted for Donald Trump four years ago?

Hart: Yeah, Dave Loebsack has held this seat for 14 years as you said, that's a long time, and people are looking for what's going to come next. And so I talk a lot in this campaign about how I was very fortunate to grow up in a divided household where I had a really strong democratic father and a really strong republican mother. And that is where I learned how to stand up for what I believe in, how to listen to the issues of the day. They were very interested in making sure that we had a good education, that we had lots of books and newspapers and we talked about the issues of the day. And I had eight brothers and sisters and I tell people it's like having a caucus at our dinner table every night. And that is where I learned to have an opinion, to have that backed up by facts and be able to tell people what I believed. But I also learned more importantly that it's really important that you listen to the other side, that sometimes when you listen to someone else who doesn't agree with you has to say that that is when you question your own beliefs and maybe figure out that you don't know all the answers. And so that was a great upbringing for me. That's a lesson I took into the classroom for 20 years. I was a much better teacher when I listened to my students. It's a lesson I took to the State Senate. I was a much better State Senator when I listened to my constituents. That is a lesson I will take to Washington because I know it's really important that we listen to the constituents and help make Washington work better.

Henderson: Let's talk about health care. Today, President Trump has signed an executive order about surprise billing on your hospital bills and also requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, does that solve the problem if the Supreme Court were to rule the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional?

Miller-Meeks: I don't think it solves the problem but it certainly helps to set a framework and some groundwork for us. So this continues to be an issue even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act when we thought that would solve much of the health care issues that we have. We still find premiums are continuing to increase, I've talked with individuals, with business owners, I listen to the struggles that they have. And so portability, accessibility, increase in accessibility is still problem. And it's why when I was in the State Senate we put forward a bill looking at aiming to decrease prescription drug costs by having transparency with pharmacy benefit managers. We put forth a bill to ask CMS for a waiver of the five-year eligibility for pregnant and lawful permanent residents to get them access to prenatal care. We looked at pre-authorizations. We did legislation on insurance companies that switch medications, non-medical switching, so trying and attempting to get at that. But there's still more work to be done and given that this is coming up to the Supreme Court next month I think that Congress needs to in a bipartisan way, both parties get together and work on what happens should the ACA be overturned. We don't know if it will be, but we need to start working on that provision now and make sure people continue to have coverage and pre-existing conditions are covered as well.

Henderson: Rita Hart, your party's nominee Joe Biden supports adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act. Is that what you support?

Hart: I think it's really important that we take what we have now and improve upon it. And the thing that we cannot do is to go backwards and that is why it has been very troubling to see the republicans continue to go down this pathway of trying to take away the Affordable Care Act and the provisions that people have found to be so important to their families and that would be the pre-existing conditions and the ability to keep your child on your plan until they were 26. And so I'm looking for any plan that will allow us to not go backwards but instead take the plan that we have now and improve it. And I think there are plenty of ideas out there. For one thing, I think we've got to do this in a bipartisan fashion. I think people are tired of this health care war where we're not getting things done in a sustainable way, that they can count on for the future. So we've got to get across the aisle and we've got to do things that are going to make sense that we can find common agreement on. And so to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices to lower those costs, to improve transparency. My husband had knee surgery not so long ago and there was a charge on the bill that I did not understand, it took so many phone calls and so many rigmarole to find out what in the world that charge was for, to find out that it was a machine that we never received. It shouldn't be that hard to figure out what your bill is, what things cost.

Henderson: Rita Hart, you're being attacked in a republican ad for your vote in favor of allowing the Farm Bureau to sell a product that is not insurance but it is a health care coverage that would allow the Farm Bureau to say, if you have a pre-existing condition you don't qualify for this. Do you regret that vote?

Hart: I think it's so hypocritical and kind of funny that I'm being attacked for that vote. That was a bill that was put out by a republican controlled legislature, a republican bill. It's certainly not a bill that I thought was the right solution but it helped constituents that were asking for it in my district. It's designed specifically to apply to people like my husband and I who are self-employed or small business owners who did not qualify for the subsidies on the exchange but do not make enough money to afford the premiums on the premiums. And so I voted, I crossed party lines, it was the only thing on the table, it wasn't a great plan, but it certainly was the only thing that I could do to help my constituents. So I never regret voting for my constituents. And again, republican-led legislature, republican bill that every single republican voted for under the Dome, it makes me wonder, what would Mariannette Miller-Meeks do? And why would they attack me for that?

Henderson: Well, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, would you have voted for that bill or voted no?

Miller-Meeks: I don't know the bill. I haven't researched the bill. But nonetheless you just heard my opponent say that she was concerned it would not cover pre-existing conditions, it was a loophole, gubernatorial running mate Fred Hubbell had complaints about that bill as well too, but yet she voted for it. So I think what is more important is how do we get affordable, accessible health care that is portable? How do we keep costs down? And there's ways to do it. That's why President Trump I think it was two years ago signed a bill or an executive order on pricing transparency, what she just mentioned, so that we can look at prices, we can look to see where things are more affordable and try to understand the whole billing process which is very convoluted. So I think we need to continue to work on getting accessible health care, affordable health care, the ACA did not bring costs down, people lost their insurance. I know people lost their doctor. I was one of those. And I'm being attacked for lies about my position, which has always been to support pre-existing conditions, chronic conditions and one of your attack ads references an article that I wrote which clearly says that insurance companies much cover pre-existing and chronic conditions.

Yepsen: Rita Hart, do you want to respond to any of this?

Hart: I think it's clear that your position over the years has consistently been to support this lawsuit that would take away the ACA. And even though you can talk about plans to cover pre-existing conditions and do the things that are very popular, that people want to make sure continue in a health care plan, there is no bill in the legislature right now that would replace the ACA. And so to me it just doesn't make sense that we're going to jerk this away from people without a plan in place.

Yepsen: Let's move on. Erin?

Murphy: I wanted to ask you both about the coronavirus pandemic and specifically the relief effort that the federal government is putting together working on the next phase of relief right now. I'm going to give you each a chance to talk about what you feel should and maybe should not be in that. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, we'll start with you. What does Congress need to do in this latest round of coronavirus relief?

Miller-Meeks: Well, I think that we found the pandemic has lasted a lot longer than we thought it would, this virus has proven to be very tricky and very resilient. And so I think the first relief package, which I helped people to navigate through stimulus, through unemployment, to get unemployment, to navigate through PPP, I had individuals who were on the verge of losing their business or not being able to afford to get food that contacted me as their State Senator. And so it was very necessary and I think a second relief package is also necessary. I think it does need to continue to cover unemployment for those people who have not been able to either go back to work or whose jobs have been ended.

Murphy: Should it be at that same $600 level? Some members are saying less.

Miller-Meeks: I think that's being negotiated now through the federal government, I think you need to continue to do that. So I think those negotiations need to continue to take place. But I do think that we need to have unemployment coverage at the same time as we're trying to get people back to work safely, soundly and in a way that they can feel secure that their health is not at risk.

Murphy: Rita Hart, how about you? What needs to be in this latest relief package?

Hart: I was really happy that we saw Washington work together to get that first relief package passed in a pretty timely fashion. So it just proves that it can be done. And so it is disappointing now that they are struggling to get this second relief package done because people are still suffering and we don't have this virus under control and so the pain is going to continue. So it's so important that we get it done and we get it done in a timely fashion. I think we should make sure that we learn something from that first package. We know that we need to make sure that we're as transparent as possible and that we're accountable so we make sure the money is going to the people that need it the most. But we do know that the hospitality industry and the retail industry got hit very hard through this and will continue to get hit hard. The people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own still need to get that unemployment. And we want to make sure that people can pay their rent. Landlords can only last so long. We don't want to add to the homelessness problem.

Murphy: So Senate republicans and republicans in the White House have been critical of the House democrats' proposal, they say there's too much in it, that there's political items in there that aren't specifically for the pandemic. Is that a fair criticism in your eyes? Have democrats in the House asked for too much in this latest package?

Hart: I think that we have got to make sure that the money is going to the people that actually suffered losses and that truly need it the most. So, again, we saw some things happen in that first bill that we should learn from and we should make sure that it is as transparent as possible and yes, that we're holding people accountable, that we're not seeing special interests get in there and take advantage of the situation, but instead the money is going to the people who need it the most.

Murphy: And real quickly before we move on I wanted to ask you both, so we're talking right now about how the federal government should react to the pandemic. How about looking forward and thinking about preparedness and having the government ready for if something like this were to happen again? Mariannette Miller-Meeks, we'll start with you. What can Congress do to help ensure that if we have to deal with something like this down the road that maybe we're a little more ready, a little more mobile when this kind of things first hits? Is there any infrastructure stockpile, for example, that we should have?

Miller-Meeks: One of the things I did when I was the Director of Public Health was to although there was criticism at our national meetings for Iowa having 99 counties and having all of these county public health organizations, I'm very much an advocate of all of our counties having their own public health department, I think that's very necessary and we find out in a pandemic such as this. But there are other things that we can do and I did an opinion piece in the Des Moines Register on this. So we do need to revisit the National Strategic Stockpile. How do we set that up? How do we arrange that? How do we pre-position supplies? And you need your National Strategic Stockpile not to expire, for masks not to become moldy, and there's ways that you can do that working with businesses that produce that equipment. We do need to bring manufacturing back from China. We know that having a single supplier of PPE masks, reagents for testing, that that put us at a little bit of a disadvantage and it slowed our response. Testing supplies, working with our research institutions, our universities, public and private labs, our state hygienic labs, it needs to be a multi-faceted approach so that we can get testing and testing out to people in a broad-based, rapid manner and then contact tracing, having a public health task force that can be mobile.

Yepsen: Rita Hart, same question to you. How does America become better prepared?

Hart: I think it's so clear that we did not handle this very well and I think the first thing is that we've got to listen to the scientists who gave us some advice and gave us some guidelines there that have not been followed. Sure, there was some consternation around this, but in the end we know that we have not done well as a country, that we have not fared as well as other countries in the world and this state has not fared as well as other states in the country. We've got to listen to the CDC and to Dr. Fauci and people like that, the immunologists who have told us that masks matter, that the hygiene is important and that the testing and tracing. And I would agree that we've got to make sure that people, that everybody has the PPE that they need in order to stay ahead of this. And I think education is another great example of where we have failed on that. So lots of things we can learn from this process.

Henderson: So, would you support a federal mask mandate in public places?

Hart: I think it's only reasonable, again, to listen to the scientists who are saying that masks do make a difference. And so I think we've lost an opportunity here. We just went through a derecho and our farm got hit pretty hard, but it was really so typical that our neighbors and our friends and everybody rallied around, we didn't ask who was republican and who was democrat, everybody pitched in and helped. We had an opportunity to do that with this crisis and we lost that opportunity. So yes, we have to keep each other safe and we have to follow the guidelines in order to do that.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, do you support a mask mandate?

Miller-Meeks: I don't think we have to have a mandate from the federal government, but I certainly think that our communication with individuals that wearing a mask can help protect other people, can also help protect you, I think that role modeling, that guidance needed to be more clear. And earlier in the pandemic there was confusion over it. We had people that were within the CDC, within the NIH, and you can look at the research online on masks, I've done it. But nonetheless I think that guidance needs to be more clear and it needed to be more emphasized and supported. We know that, if you can remember early on in the pandemic, Governor Cuomo was saying that New York is just the tip of the sphere. But every place is not the same, every place is not New York. They don't all have mass transit, they don't all live in high rises, multi-generational, small apartments. And so I think having governors and businesses, businesses that have mandated masks, I wear a mask when I'm out as you know from this weekend. So I think businesses, companies that are protecting their employees, public institutions, even coming in here you all had a mask, I'm perfectly supportive of that and think people should wear a mask if the cannot physically separate.

Yepsen: I want to move on to another subject. This district is home to the University of Iowa. Why would you be the best member of Congress for the university?

Miller-Meeks: Well, I think even at the state level I was very helpful for the University of Iowa in navigating through things when there were residency programs, scholarships, loans. I'm a graduate, that's where I did my residency was at the University of Iowa. But I'm a strong advocate for public education, one of eight kids, I'm the first in my family to ever have gone to college. I left home at 16. And the value I think on higher education is extraordinarily important. I was supportive of increased funding for the Regents when we were trying to navigate through our budgets at the end of this session.

Yepsen: Rita Hart, same question to you.

Hart: Absolutely. The University of Iowa is so important not only to the educational pursuits of people, but also to the economic drive of what the university does economically for this state. And that is something I understand, I appreciate, I'm a 20-year teacher myself. I recognize how important it is to support higher education and what that means to the people of Iowa because we have the University of Iowa here and is a driver for so many things.

Yepsen: And related to higher education is the question of student debt. How do you feel about forgiving student debt, Rita Hart?

Hart: I think there's many things we can do to address student debt and it's crucial that we do it because it is hurting us economically and it is a tough thing for so many young people who are trying to get started. I talked to a teacher not too long ago who is an awesome teacher in the classroom and needs to stay there, who is really thinking about quitting because he simply cannot afford to continue paying back his debt on his college years. That is unacceptable. One thing we can do is to make sure that we're educating people in the process so that they're not taking out too large of loans, they understand the ramifications and what makes sense for the educational pursuits they're traveling in, and we need to lower those rates. There's no reason why they should be so high.

Yepsen: Senator, student debt forgiveness?

Miller-Meeks: I'm not in favor of student debt forgiveness. I work with people, help people through the pandemic that if you have an essential worker who has to be out in the workforce, someone who may be making $11, $10, $12 an hour and you're going to ask that individual to pay taxes in order to forgive someone's student debt, which they're trying to do, how do you do it fairly? Is it student debt that has occurred now? Is it student debt that occurred five years ago? And it goes to the point of what do we ask students to do when they're in high school? Are we pushing them to go to college? And maybe that's not the career path for them. Maybe a career path is in trades, so vocational trainings, skills training, apprenticeships, what we've done with concurrent enrollment in our state that looks at other pathways other than a four-year college degree. And then we do need transparency at the college level. Universities, colleges should be talking about what the loan is. What is the cost of a loan? Just like a mortgage, what are the interest payments going to be? What is the total cost? And is the career pathway you're pursuing, are you going to have an income that is going to be able to pay back that student loan and also allow you to have a family if that's what you wish?

Yepsen: Erin Murphy has the next question.

Murphy: I want to move on and talk about Social Security with both of you. Ms. Miller-Meeks, we'll start with you. Recently your opponent challenged a position you had taken in a past campaign supporting raising the retirement age  in order to help fund the Social Security program, to keep is solvent longer, but that would require people to stay in the workforce longer. Do you still maintain that position, first of all?

Miller-Meeks: I think that on a bipartisan level we do need to look at how do we continue to fund our programs such as Social Security and Medicare? There's a variety of things that you can do but that conversation needs to be had and we as a country need to come up with solutions for that. Adding more people onto Medicare may not be the solution. But certainly looking at perhaps the wealthier people that you can alter their benefits, if in fact wealthier people and this country wants to do that.

Murphy: Are you talking about means testing?

Miller-Meeks: Means testing, looking at those options. So I do think we need to look at options for how we continue to fund our programs and there is a level of taxation. The level of taxation can be unfairly penalized to those that are self-employed, small business owners. So we do have to look at those programs. I'm willing to listen to people, to talk with them so that we can build a consensus and we can navigate through this. But yes, we have to look at how we fund them in the future.

Murphy: Ms. Hart, you were critical of that strategy but something has to be done. The program won't be solvent if changes aren't made. So what are you proposing instead?

Hart: Well, let's keep in mind that this is, Social Security are earned benefits and it's a promise to our seniors and it's a promise to our children and our grandchildren that such a  program is going to be available for them because it's so important to secure retirement. And so there are things that we need to do in order to make sure that continues. But raising the age limit is not the way to go.

Murphy: What is the right --

Hart: So we need to look at the budget to make sure that we are prioritizing this and looking at other ways that we can pay for it. And I do think that one way is to look at the cap and see if we can find some bipartisan agreement on how we could approach it that way. There are other solutions out there. We have got to be willing to make sure that we are keeping this promise to our seniors and prioritizing it accordingly.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, one of your colleagues running for Congress, Ashley Hinson, sat at this table last week and said that she supports letting people withdraw from their 401K to cover family and medical leave. Do you support that idea? Or are there other instances or proposals that you support?

Miller-Meeks: I think that it's a worthwhile idea to consider, to discuss and to also know what the impact that's going to have on people. So we do know that there is Social Security when people retire but I do have a concern that people are not saving enough through their 401K's to either take loans out or to remove money. So it would depend on how it was set up, what the arrangements were, if there is an interest rate that is on that money that is withdrawn and then if that can be made up. But I do think we need to look at how we fund the family and medical leave, a discussion with our business owners, with small businesses. I've been in the situation where being young and being single that when people left that you're the one that remains so you pick up that workload. So I think we need to be conscious of that when we're talking about how a business can continue to go if people take long time and leave. But we also know that there are other countries that do have paid family and medical leave. So I think it's one of those things that we discuss and we come to a consensus on how we can do this as a country and move forward to allow people to have the ability to take time off to raise children or take care of elderly parents. 

Henderson: So you wouldn't be opposed to a federal benefit?

Miller-Meeks: I certainly would be willing to discuss that and come to a consensus in a bipartisan way.

Henderson: Rita Hart, would you support a federal benefit or some other proposal to deal with family and medical leave?

Hart: I certainly wouldn't be in favor of having people who are looking for family and medical leave to borrow against their 401K. Many women, it's often women who are in this position, and they already are at a disadvantage with their level of income. So this just sets them up for real trouble down the road. It's not the solution we should be looking at. I think it is a crucial issue that we've got to bring people to the table on. I think we can create some partnerships with business and government to make sure that we can provide the kind of medical leave that makes sense for families. I think that is -- child care itself is tied into this and I think we need to, that is an infrastructure problem that we've got to attack as a country.

Henderson: That is my next question. But just circling back, would you oppose a federal mandate for family and medical leave on businesses?

Hart: I think we have to see what that looks like, what the details look like, and see what kind of buy in we can get from the businesses on that.

Henderson: You mentioned child care. What role does the federal government have in ensuring Americans have access to quality child care?

Hart: It's our future. Our children are our future. And the fact that we have a child care situation where families are struggling to find child care and then to be able to afford that child care, again this is an infrastructure problem that is affecting our economy. When people can't find that child care it affects their ability to go to work and then it affects their ability to be productive at work. So we've got to, again, attack that, take a look at that as an infrastructure problem as a country.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, what are your ideas to deal with the child care problem?

Miller-Meeks: Senator Edler and I in the Senate were looking at this issue on child care, accessibility for quality child care, also the step which is an issue and a problem where people get to a certain level of benefits and they lose support. So we were looking at that and there is traction on both the federal and state level looking at the child care issue and support for child care and I would want to continue to do that. What we found was that we couldn't do it solely on a state level because it's a combination of both for lower income people. But I definitely think we need to look at both child care, federal and state, what we can do as a partnership, what we can do with businesses. Fairfield, one of the places in my Senate district, has done a lot of great work in doing child care with employers and their city council, their mayor, they have really done some great work in partnering together in a public-private manner in order to get child care. And then we need to look at the step, losing benefits, losing child care support as you either get more education or you have a higher paying job or you want to work more hours. And I think those things are all tied together in this issue with keeping people gainfully employed and happy in their jobs.

Murphy: So the second district in Iowa more generally has had to deal with some natural disasters in the last couple of years. Rita Hart, you mentioned the derecho earlier this year, last year there was severe flooding in Davenport and other areas of the state as well. I wanted to ask each of you, and Rita Hart we'll start with you, how much do you believe that climate change is contributing to those natural disasters? And what role does Congress play in helping, and again thinking not just from the clean-up side and relief efforts, but are there things the federal government can do on the proactive side to have communities ready for when these disasters hit?

Hart: So first of all we need to accept the science that says yes, climate change is real, and that we're going to have some certain effects from that and we've seen that. We've got more and more events that are happening and they are more and more severe and I think the science is clear that the forest fires that we're seeing out in California definitely have, that is an effect of climate change. So it's really important that we get this right, that we start moving forward in that direction and we can't go backwards again. These environmental laws that are being torn apart need to, we need to stop doing that and start working on programs much like we can do with the ag programs where we know that if farmers can be put into a leadership position on this that we can lead on carbon sequestration and putting into play the practices that we know work and can make a difference here. We're lucky to live in Iowa where we have Iowa State and the Iowa Flood Center and the University of Iowa who have done the research that tells us what can really make a difference. And I'd like to see our Iowa farmers be in a leadership position to lead that discussion when it comes to farm policy and when it comes to environmental policy.

Murphy: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, same question, what level of concern do you have with climate change's role in these recent disasters? And what can Congress do on the proactive side of this?

Miller-Meeks: Well, I think that again climate change is real and I think, I'm not sure if the question is how do we address climate change on the federal level or how do we address natural disasters. So I got a little lost in the narrative there. But there are certainly things on the federal level we can do in preparedness. We do have a Department of Homeland Security within our state and we have county emergency management and there is pre-positioning on help with our National Guard that comes in, comes in at a very early time. The derecho was one of those things that was very unusual in our state in its persistence. Floods are more likely. But yes, on the federal level it's not only helping people to navigate through recovering but also pre-positioning. We're in a very unusual state in that we have wind, solar and we do have an agricultural economy that has really helped. We've got here in the state of Iowa a real genius when it comes to agriculture who is working on biochar, other ways of carbon sequestration, funded also at the university, Iowa State University. And I think we have a lot of opportunity here to do more research, more development on ways that we can both have a cleaner environment and then our farmers working with Mike Naig and our Secretary of Ag, working at water quality, nutrient reduction. So I think there's going to be a lot more work on that. In our district we have people doing cover crops and are real leaders in how we can do better and cleaner agricultural techniques.

Yepsen: Kay Henderson has the next question.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, you're from Ottumwa. Wapello County passed a local minimum wage that was higher than the statewide wage and then the republican-led legislature said you can't do that. If you're elected to Congress would you vote to raise the federal minimum wage? Or do you think the minimum wage should be set by states?

Miller-Meeks: I think the minimum wage should be set by states but I also think you need to look at what your available workforce is, what the demand for labor is, and then how can we help employees or individuals to get higher wages, better paying jobs, better education? How do we help support them? Minimum wage is, when I started out, 30 cents an hour. So a minimum wage is entry level, it's not supposed to be a wage or was not meant to be a wage that is to support a family.

Yepsen: Should the federal minimum wage be increased?

Miller-Meeks: I'm certainly open to that option of discussing that but my concern about minimum wage or federal minimum wage is that number one, it doesn't look at states as individual states, it doesn't look at employers, the cost of living in places and more importantly raising the minimum wage as we saw in Seattle when it was increased, it led to businesses that closed or had less employees and you had people that were trying to enter in the workforce not be able to enter in the workforce.

Yepsen: Rita Hart, should the federal minimum wage be increased?

Hart: I believe it's time. We have to make sure that we're doing that in a smart way. And yes, there is differences between the states. And so the state can always do a different higher wage and every state will be different on that. But we've got to make sure that we are keeping up with inflation, that we're setting a wage that is actually going to help families continue to survive as they try to pay the bills.

Murphy: How about the gas tax and funding for road and infrastructure projects? Rita Hart, in the State Senate you voted for the state gas tax increase here a few years back to help fill a what the Department of Transportation said at the time was a budget shortfall. Would you support something like that at the federal level? And is the gas tax the right way to go now or should we be moving to something like a per mile fee?

Hart: I'm open to that conversation. When we passed that gas tax here in the state of Iowa that was a bill that took a long time and had to get a lot of consensus in both houses, in both parties. And as a result we've seen the improvements to our roads and our bridges here in the state of Iowa and we're still seeing the results of that. We have some big infrastructure problems across the United States when it comes to our roads and to our bridges. Now, I think that there are some other solutions we could be looking at and I think that would be a worthwhile discussion as we see how we can tie a bigger infrastructure bill together.

Murphy: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, same question to you. Should the fuel tax be raised or is it outdated with people driving less, more fuel efficient cars? Should we be looking at a different method?

Miller-Meeks: I think we're going to have to look at a multi-faceted approach. With people driving more electric vehicles we do know that the amount of the revenue that we get from the fuel tax may be decreasing. So looking at different options, both what do we do with the federal fuel tax, per mileage, I'm not in favor of per mileage. But other avenues, do we charge a registration fee for electric vehicles or do you tack that onto a utility bill because they're on the road but they're not paying for a fuel tax. One of the things we did in the legislature was to have an increased registration fee for those vehicles that were early electric vehicles. So I think this is a huge issue and a huge problem. I also want to make sure that rural Iowa isn't left out in this. Too often you increase a tax, you increase the funding in order to pay for infrastructure and it happens in Des Moines or it happens in a large city and it doesn't happen out in rural Iowa. We had a road in Ottumwa on the way to the high school that had a big sinkhole in it and for two years that was barricaded and you drive around it. That's unconscionable. We have roads, we have bridges, we have locks and dams along the Mississippi River which are important for our agricultural economy that need to be repaired. Broadband and our grid is also part of our infrastructure and we passed a great broadband bill in the Senate.

Murphy: You read our minds.

Henderson: So, how do you provide broadband in rural Iowa without having some sort of federal role in doing so?

Miller-Meeks: We had our grant program and I think one of the things that was discussed right at the end of the last legislative session is we passed a broadband bill. This year I got to run that bill and one of the things we were making sure was that we had to change some language because if one household or one business had high speed Internet in a county then that county was not considered to be available to apply for a grant. So we increased the amount to the grants and we also used some of the federal COVID-19 money, I'm pretty sure that is one of the intents, to be able to supplement that. So it was both a federal and a state program.

Henderson: But can we trust the private sector to go to a farm that is in the middle of a 160 acre area when that's the only customer there?

Miller-Meeks: One of the things we did was that last mile to make sure those individuals would be covered. We did that within our legislation. There was huge concern of that. And I think between the public-private partnerships what our REC's, our rural electric co-ops do, the role that they can play in getting broadband infrastructure out to even the most rural areas and I think if anything the pandemic has really shown the importance of having extensive broadband for telework, telelearning, telehealth, that it's truly important for us to get our economy moving and get us up to speed, state-of-the-art.

Yepsen: Rita Hart, what do you think?

Hart: I think your point is well taken. Our private entities are not getting the job done, they're not getting out to that last mile. And yes, the REC's when we had, when we were putting out electricity that is what the government had to do, they had to step in and make sure that  electricity got out to every last mile. And so it is incumbent on us to make sure that happens because it's not profitable so it doesn't make a lot of sense for the private entities to get that job done. So we need to have that public-private enterprise to get that job done.

Yepsen: I've covered politics in this state for a long time and I wish I had a dime for every time a politician said they want to do something about broadband. Give me a metric here.

Miller-Meeks: I did, last year I passed a bill precisely on that.

Yepsen: How soon before everybody has got that last mile done? Five years? Ten years?

Miller-Meeks: One of the things we did not do was to put a timeline on it. But I think it has to be within five years. I think the pandemic has showed us that we need to have increased broadband, telemedicine, telehealth, telelearning, telework.

Yepsen: She says within five years. Is that reasonable?

Hart: I don't know that that bill is going to, has that timeline, so I don't see that that's a for sure thing going to happen. And you're right, it's frustrating, it should already have been done.

Yepsen: I'm a reporter, if you don't have a deadline stuff doesn't get done.

Hart: Right, correct. And it is so important. I took kind of a survey across the district calling all the superintendents and principals and talked to them when the schools closed down and what they were facing as far as making sure their kids had access and it's a mixed bag everywhere and it's unacceptable.

Yepsen: We have way too many questions and not enough time. I want to move onto the issue of immigration. Immigrant labor is important in rural America to bring in crops. There's also a lot of racial bias and tensions that come with that, people complain about undocumented immigrants. Rita Hart, how do you balance the need in rural America for immigrant labor against this tension that is out there against immigrants?

Hart: I would say that the tension is about jobs, it's about how our system works and is it fair, that's what people are worried about and that is what is getting in the way of comprehensive immigration reform which is what we need. Right now we don't have a system where people can come to this country and know that they're going to get in, know that there's a process, that it's humanitarian, that it keeps out the bad guys. We've got to have secure borders but we've got to have a pathway to citizenship. And so our employers know that when they employ somebody that they have been properly vetted and that they have the proper documentation. But it shouldn't take years and years and lots of money through lawyers to find a way to citizenship.

Yepsen: Senator, what do we do about immigration?

Miller-Meeks: Well, we certainly, need comprehensive immigration reform and so guest worker program for those, as you mentioned, the agricultural economy I think is an important part of that. But I have friends and colleagues that I have ,worked with that are phenomenal people, phenomenal doctors, it takes 12 to 16 years to become a citizen of this great country. So we know that we have to have I think a faster pathway to citizenship for people that are here, that want to become citizens. We also need to have better tracking of people who come here on visas and then we lose them. How is it in an electronic age that we don't know people that are here and in our country? So I think looking at better immigration, better tracking, faster immigration process to become a citizen, our guest worker program and how that impacts our agricultural community and then the H1B waiver program and is our immigration set up to be economically driven. I think those are issues and concerns that we all have. My parents immigrated, my grandparents immigrated here, my great-great-grandparents immigrated from what is now Czechoslovakia or what was Czechoslovakia to Spillville, Iowa in 1854, set up the first school, my grandfather immigrated in 1910 from Germany and we know that they brought tremendous benefits and assets and diversity.

Yepsen: Erin, you have the next question.

Murphy: So our country has experienced some civil unrest this year as the calls for social justice have become magnified across the country, including here in Iowa. Ms. Miller-Meeks, you signed a bill in the state legislature that was a unanimous, had unanimous support, included some police reforms and other things that attempted to address the issues that people are raising right now. Would you support a similar effort at the federal level?

Miller-Meeks: I think that a similar effort at the federal level may be necessary. We acted very fast in the state of Iowa and we acted in a bipartisan way, we listened, we brought together groups of people, the Governor brought in people of all persuasions, all groups in order to discuss and talk with them and in very short order, very early in the session we came up with a bipartisan plan on policing reform, criminal justice reform. We know more needs to be done. I also talked on the Senate floor very passionately about voting rights for felons, automatic restoration of voting rights. We know we have a lot more to go and I think all of it to me brought home that I too need to do more.

Murphy: Rita Hart, how about you? What would you like to see done at the federal level?

Hart: I think there's a lot of discussion that needs to go on here. But I do think a lot of this is unique to local situations. What happens in Des Moines or Davenport is much different than Chicago or New York. I think there are some baselines that should be looked at. I was talking to Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski and I think that the approach that he's talking about is one I would like to see on all levels which is that we ought to be bringing people together, creating these kinds of partnerships, taking a look at all the entities, the social agencies, the educational folks, the Black Lives Matter people, all the different stakeholders and really take a look at what would make a difference because we know it's not just one entity that is going to solve this problem. We have to do this in a more broad-based way.

Henderson: It appears we have about 7 minutes left. We have more issues to cover. But Rita Hart, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe versus Wade, what would you vote for in Congress to address a lack of a court decision on that issue?

Hart: I'm sorry, say that one more time.

Henderson: If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe versus Wade and it is thrown to the states, do you view the federal government in having any role in determining whether women have a right to an abortion?

Hart: Well, I think that that's going to be an interesting time when that happens. I think that this is an issue that we've been talking about for 40 years. It is unfortunate that we're still having this conversation when we know that women have a right to privacy and that is a constitutional right. And so I'm not sure where we would go if Roe versus Wade would be overturned. But we don't want to go backwards. We know what life was like before Roe versus Wade when there was a lot of hospitals that had entire wards dedicated to women who went through botched abortions, etcetera. So we don't want to return to that. We've got to figure out a way to go forward.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, during your primary race this year one of your opponents questioned something you said in Ottumwa in 2018 on this issue. If you could clear that up for people who may have been paying attention to your primary race, number one. And number two, what do you think should happen after the court rules, if they do, to overturn Roe versus wade?

Miller-Meeks: I'm pro-life. I have been pro-life, I've had exceptions for rape, incest and the physical life of the mother. I remain to have that, I still have that stand, that is my viewpoint. and I think if Roe v. Wade is overturned then it goes back to the states where it was. I remember when Roe v. Wade was passed. I lived in Texas. I was at San Antonio Community College and this was an issue that was felt that if, that women once they had access to other methods of birth control wouldn't need abortion. So I think one of the things I did as a State Senator was to pass oral contraceptives over age 18 over the counter. The goal is to try to get access to birth control to make it easier for women and to try to prevent pregnancy.

Henderson: Your republican colleagues didn't take that up in the House. Do you think the federal government should allow women to buy birth control over the counter?

Miller-Meeks: The federal government does allow other medications to be sold over the counter. I think an age limit is appropriate. It is a medication. There are serious side effects. It was one of my democratic colleagues that had concerns about this and spoke with me about it and personal reasons with side effects from the medication. So I think there does need to be an age limit if it is considered at the federal level. But at the federal level there are other medications such as Sudafed, Motrin, that once were prescription only and have become behind-the-counter or over-the-counter. But there has to be counseling, appropriateness in any medication that is considered.

Henderson: Rita Hart, would you support that legislation in Congress?

Hart: I think that this is going to be, we don't know what's going to happen. We don't know what is going to happen with the Supreme Court nomination. There's a lot of things that are up in the air. I think that we need to wait and see what the ramifications are.

Murphy: Just over three minutes left, we're hitting the home stretch here. I wanted to ask, the management of the Post Office has come under fire by the President's administration, especially knowing that people count on the Post Office for not only their mail but also their prescription medication. It's going to play a big role in our election coming up with all the absentee votes that people expect. Ms. Miller-Meeks, do you have any concerns with the way the Post Office is being managed under President Trump's administration?

Miller-Meeks: I think that the problems with the Post Office are longstanding. It's not this administration, it's not the last administration, this is a multi-year, decades long problem. Part of it is how the Post Office itself was run, how they managed, the Postal Service was managed. But then also a lack of developing strategies in order to deliver services. So for instance, by not delivering mail faster when people wanted packages overnight, there was a -- I don't think you privatize it but I do think that there's avenues that they can control cost. And then the Internet hasn't helped either. But I'm kind of old school, I like to send letters, I like to get letters, I send letters to my children, letters to my donors and will continue to do that.

Yepsen: Rita Hart, how do you feel about the Post Office?

Hart: I think that we obviously need to consider that these problems are not, the problems that we're facing now are new to this new Postmaster, that definite things have happened that have caused problems here and it's so important not only for this election where we're worried about what these changes have done, but rural Iowa relies on the Post Office, we rely on the letters that come, the bills that come and the prescription drugs that come through the mail. And so it's so important that we support the Post Office and some of the problems that are here have to do with the unfair way the pension system is handled with the Post Office and those are things that we can fix.

Miller-Meeks: If I can, President Obama also had issues with the Post Office so this is not something that is solely to this administration. So this has been a longstanding problem.

Henderson: One minute left, let me ask each of you to address this. Rita Hart, what committee would you hope to serve on as a member of the U.S. House?

Hart: My passion is in agriculture and in education. I think that labor and education would be a good fit for me and I also think agriculture would be a good fit. I'd love to be part of those conversations about particularly education, about that we could fold in the child care situation as well as looking to the future with how education, we can learn from this pandemic and the challenges that we face through the pandemic with education to really improve education as a whole.

Yepsen: Senator, what committees would you like to serve on?

Miller-Meeks: As you know when you come in as a fresh person sometimes you don't have a lot of say over where you go. But I certainly would want to serve my district in the best manner possible. So whether that was Armed Services as a military veteran, agriculture, health care certainly I hopefully in very short order would want to be on energy and commerce for health care. I'm the only doctor, former director of public health and military veteran running in the race in Iowa.

Yepsen: And I'm running this show and we're out of time. Thank you both for being with us tonight. And a quick reminder, tonight was the second in a full slate of Iowa Press Debates on statewide Iowa PBS. We've already finished debates in Iowa's First and now Second Congressional districts. This Monday, September 28th, we'll welcome candidates in Iowa's U.S. Senate race, democrat Theresa Greenfield and republican Joni Ernst. Then on Monday, October 5th we host Third District congressional candidates, democrat Cindy Axne and republican David Young. For our hardworking Iowa PBS crew here in Johnston, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us tonight.

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