1st Congressional District Debate

Iowa Press | Special
Sep 26, 2022 | 58 min

Candidates State Representative Christina Bohannan (D – Iowa City) and U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R – Ottumwa) answer questions from reporters and discuss their platforms, concerns and future plans.



About six weeks remain between now and Election Day 2022. As the campaigns hit high gear, we dive into the issues in Iowa's 1st Congressional District with candidates Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Christina Bohannan in 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, this is a special Iowa Press Debate featuring candidates in the 1st Congressional District. Here is Moderator Kay Henderson.


Henderson: For the next hour, we will explore the views of two women who are running to represent Iowa's new 1st Congressional District. Let me tell you about it a little bit. This is the first election cycle with Iowa's redrawn congressional districts. The 1st District covers much of Southeast Iowa and includes the cities of Fort Madison, Burlington, Davenport and Clinton along that Missouri River as well as Iowa City, Oskaloosa and over to Newton and Indianola in Central Iowa. The candidates are republican incumbent Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an eye doctor who represented Ottumwa in the Iowa Senate before winning a seat in the U.S. House in 2020. Democrat Christina Bohannan is a University of Iowa law professor who is currently representing Iowa City in the Iowa House. Welcome to you both.

Bohannan: Thank you.

Miller-Meeks: Thank you.

Henderson: Across the table, reporters Clay Masters, the Morning Edition Host and Lead Political Reporter for Iowa Public Radio and Stephen Gruber-Miller, who covers the Statehouse and politics for the Des Moines Register.

Gruber-Miller: So, this is a divided district politically and in 2020 Representative Miller-Meeks you won your race in a slightly different configuration by just six votes. So I want to ask each of you, how do you plan to work across and listen to different voters who may not have the same political opinions as you if you're elected?

Miller-Meeks: Well, I think you actually said the most operative word and that is how do you approach and how do you listen? And so in traveling the district as the incumbent or the current representative you're traveling and meeting with people within the current configuration, Congressional District 2, but then also meeting with people in the new congressional district, which is District 1, so you're doing both of those things. Our office has an open door policy for people from Iowa. When someone from Iowa is coming to Washington, D.C. I make extraordinary efforts to be able to meet with them. I also meet with people when I'm in district as well as touring facilities, touring businesses, touring non-profit groups and advocacy groups. So we're known to have very good district outreach, district staff and constituent services. But I think most importantly people feel that they are listened to and I have translated that into legislation. So, I have passed 13 bills even though we're in the minority and have had 5 of them signed at the White House, so have been to the White House on numerous occasions. And so I'm known as a person that reaches across the aisle, that listens and wants to execute and get things done.

Gruber-Miller: Christina Bohannan, how about you? How would you listen to Iowans who disagree with your views politically?

Bohannan: Absolutely. That is so important because what I hear from people is that they are so tired of the fighting, they are so tired of feeling like we're in different camps, that we fight like enemies instead of fighting like family. I think people want to get past that. And that is really important to me. One of the things I have been such a strong supporter of as a law professor has been free speech and I have really talked to and educated a lot of students about the importance of listening to people who have different opinions than your own and the importance of protecting that speech so that we can have those debates. But I think one of the things that is also important as I have been going around all over Southeast Iowa is to listen, I agree with that, to listen very closely to what people are going through and to show that you understand what that is like, what their lives are really like. And I'm a law professor now, but I was not born one. I grew up in a trailer off of a dirt road in a very tiny town of about 700 people. Neither of my parents graduated high school, my dad was a construction worker and he worked really long hours in the hot sun for little pay. And when he got sick with emphysema he had been sick for about ten years and his health insurance was canceled. And we had never had much before that, but boy when that happened we lost everything. We really had no choices. And so I understand a lot of the struggles that people are going through. For me, public education was so important to transforming my life, lifelines like Medicare, Social Security and so on. And so I understand what that means to people in this district.

Masters: One of the things that polling indicates that people are struggling with right now has to do with inflation. I want to ask each of you, what is one thing, one policy idea that you think would help tamp down inflation? Mariannette Miller-Meeks, we'll start with you.

Miller-Meeks: I think one of the biggest things is that all of inflation is related to energy prices. So reopening the Keystone pipeline, getting our leases, we have had only one or two auctions of leases on federal land whereas under the Obama administration there were around 47 in the first 18 months. So if we can re-assert our energy independence, get oil and gasoline prices down, that also helps food prices because natural gas is used for fertilizer. So I think inflation is a huge topic, everyone talks about it. We travel a lot in Iowa. People travel to work and gasoline, food, top items on their list.

Masters: Christina Bohannan, what is a policy issue if you were a member of Congress that you would be pushing for to help tamp down inflation?

Bohannan: Absolutely. So one of them is bringing those gas prices down. And one of the things we absolutely have to do is to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for corporate price gouging. We have seen them talk about the need to raise those prices. Iowans have been suffering with high gas prices and yet they have been posting record profits. My opponent, Mariannette Miller-Meeks voted against a bill to hold the oil and gas companies accountable for corporate price gouging after taking tens of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry. So I would absolutely want to make sure that we are holding companies accountable for price gouging. We also do need an all of the above energy approach to make America more independent in energy. I think renewable energy is going to be a very big part of that and one that can really benefit Iowa because we're already a leader in renewable energy and we can do even more.

Miller-Meeks: So are gas prices down because the gas companies are no longer price gouging? And why wouldn't they price gouge now if they were price gouging earlier? So gasoline prices have come down a little bit because gasoline was released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and because demand is down. So I think lowering gas prices by increasing the amount of supply that we have is critically important that we do that and the Obama administration has not been forthwith. I have submitted bills, I also voted for and submitted, one of seven republicans, the Lower Food and Fuels Act, which is precisely to get to lowering gasoline prices.

Henderson: Christina Bohannan, President Biden took steps to ease the debt load for college students who acquired loans while they were in college. You have proposed a different strategy. Why?

Bohannan: You know, college affordability is one of the most important issues that we face right now. Public education was so important to me, it just transformed my life. I went public education all the way from K-12, engineering school, law school. It was really important for me and gave me opportunities. We have to get college more affordable, especially for first generation college-goers like me because that debt is very intimidating and can really deter people from trying to go to college. I will say though that I think that the approach that the Biden administration took was too much and maybe could have been more targeted. And the reason I say that, there are a couple of reasons. First, we have to really focus on college affordability for all and for future generations. And one-time debt relief just doesn't do that, it doesn't accomplish that goal. So we have to think about what is going to make it affordable going forward. The other thing is that we have to make sure that when we do relieve debt like that, that it's not an incentive for colleges to increase tuition, saying hey your debt will be forgiven, so we can just increase and increase tuition. I think that would be a mistake. And I also think it's very important that we think about fairness, that we think about making sure that low income people are not subsidizing high income people, that blue collar workers are not subsidizing white collar workers, that people who chose not to go to college or chose not to take out debt aren't subsidizing those who did.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, this is something that you have criticized the Biden administration for. How do you make college more affordable, which is the underlying problem here?

Miller-Meeks: Well, the underlying problem, as you said, is college being unaffordable and people really questioning the value of their degree. And it used to be that a college education was the way to have a better career pathway, higher wages and really be able to secure your family. I am a first generation college graduate, my father graduated high school, my mom had a GED. My parents were incredibly intelligent people and they wanted college for their children but they just weren't sure how to navigate that with eight kids. So I was the first one to go to college, started at San Antonio Junior College when I left home at 16 to pay my way through school and navigated of course through medical school, worked, got a degree in nursing so I could work at night so I could keep going to school and ultimately was able to go to medical school. And I admire that, both about my opponent's history and my history and the countless Americans that have done that. As we know, 60% of people don't go to college and there are pathways for community college, pathways for trades, for skills, good jobs and high paying jobs in manufacturing. And how do we then translate that into, for those who have the aptitude to go to college or a career path which requires them to go to a four year university, how do we make college more affordable? One is restructuring our loan program. Another avenue that we could take is to make schools partly responsible for school loans and if there is a default on a college loan, which then makes the college have some skin in the game. I remember as Director of Public Health we were talking about this as far as medical school and medical school scholarships and J1 visas and my comment was, you have a part in this also and to hold down tuition costs. So I think that there are ways that we can do that and expand that, also into the workforce, work related skills, people going into certain professions which may then have an offset for their college as people do in the military.

Gruber-Miller: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, you are a co-sponsor of a bill that would ban abortion nationally after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. Many republicans have praised the U.S. Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade and turning this back to the states. So why should this be a federal issue?

Miller-Meeks: So, the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade or Dobbs decision, first and foremost my position on abortion has always been that I am pro-life with exceptions for life of the mother, rape and incest, and that has not changed. And for those who have followed my campaigns, it has been my viewpoint throughout. Before the Dobbs decision came down, we were presented with a bill to have abortion at 15 weeks and I wanted to make sure that my viewpoint and my thoughts on abortion, with exceptions for rape, life of the mother and incest were conveyed and this was one way to do that. The Dobbs decision has turned the decision for abortion back to the elected representatives and elected representatives can be state officials but they could also be federal officials. And I think that is a position that is held by many within the United States and I think a majority and it's not the extreme position of what we were also asked to support, which almost every single democrat in the House supported and that was abortion on demand up until the time of birth and even after birth, which is an extreme radical position which is not supported by the majority of Americans.

Gruber-Miller: So why 15 weeks? Is that the right number? Or is there a lower number of weeks that you would support banning abortion at?

Miller-Meeks: When you look at if the baby is pain capable, around 15 weeks is pain capable. So we know that babies are pain capable at that point in time. And when you're thinking about what it takes, medically what do you do when you do a late-term or a third trimester abortion, which 15 weeks would not be third trimester, that's not what I'm trying to imply, but those abortions are gruesome, they are dismemberment and when you have an infant that can feel pain it then brings to people, they see that in a different light than they do at an earlier point and time in pregnancy.

Gruber-Miller: So is that the cutoff for you, 15 weeks? Or would you go earlier?

Miller-Meeks: I think I would have to see what the bill is, but 15 weeks I thought that was a reasonable way that was supported by the majority of people and it had exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

Masters: Christina Bohannan, what restrictions if any do you support on a woman's right to an abortion?

Bohannan: Yeah, this whole thing about abortion on demand until the day of birth or after birth, I don't even know what that means. The fact is that I don't support that and I don't know anyone who does. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is not telling the truth when she says that this has been her position all along. The fact is that she has sponsored not one, but two, nationwide abortion bans, one of which is called a life at conception bill, which bans all abortions from the moment of conception with no exceptions at all including not for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. She sponsored that bill. And then she now has also signed onto a second nationwide abortion bill, this 15 week bill. Both of those bills will put women's lives at risk and both of them would throw doctors in jail for providing health care that has been legal in this country for nearly half a century. So I support Roe v. Wade. 70% of Americans support Roe v. Wade. This is a very dangerous path that we are going down. It will put women's lives at risk and it is one of the worst examples of government overreach that we have seen in a very, very long time. It inserts politicians into the most private, personal aspects of a person's life. And for someone who talks a lot about unnecessary government overreach, she has sure signed onto some pretty terrible bills involving government overreach.

Miller-Meeks: I think what is extreme and terrible are all of the House democrats voting for a bill that would permit abortion up until the time of birth. That is what they voted for, all of the democrats. Acknowledging that life begins at conception as a scientist and a doctor, you can acknowledge when life begins but also have an abortion with restrictions but that there is life of the mother, exceptions for life of the mother, exceptions for rape and exceptions for incest. I also passed a bill in the State Senate for oral contraception over-the-counter in order to help prevent pregnancy. I have also been supportive of adoption and making adoption easier. So there are a variety of ways that I have done to both support mothers, support infants. But the extreme radical position is the position of the Democratic Party, which is abortion until the time of birth. That is their position, that's what they voted for.

Bohannan: I'm sorry, that is flatly untrue.

Miller-Meeks: It is not untrue.

Bohannan: It is flatly untrue. And I will tell you, first of all, I am not the entire Democratic Party. Let's just be clear. You're running against me. My position is -- I ran against a 20 year democratic incumbent from my own party when I thought neither republicans or democrats were doing right by Iowa. I will always stand up to my party. What I believe is that we should go back to Roe v. Wade, no more, no less. That was the law of this country for half a century, it was settled law until the Supreme Court overruled it this summer. And I'm going to say one more thing on this contraception issue because this is very, very important. Yes, my opponent sponsored a bill that would help to move forward on birth control over-the-counter, birth control pills over-the-counter. She voted against a bill that would give women the right to choose their own contraception, things like patches, long-term patches, IUDs. There are women who cannot take birth control pills for some reasons and that -- and her bill says, we are going to let you have birth control pills but she voted against something that would let women choose for themselves what contraception they are going to take, including some of the safest and most effective forms of birth control.

Miller-Meeks: I think that is disingenuous. The reason I voted against the bill was not because of contraception or patches or long-acting contraception, it was because the bill said that it authorized non-FDA approved drugs and devices, which didn't explain what non-FDA approved drugs and devices are, which I am not going to put a woman's life at risk with a non-FDA approved drugs and devices and it also violated the religious freedoms of those physicians or providers who were disinclined to prescribe contraceptives. If they are disinclined to prescribe contraceptives but there's other places for a woman to obtain those contraceptives, they were putting physicians and other providers at risk. That is why I voted against that bill. And I also introduced a bill for contraceptives, both oral and other contraceptives.

Henderson: Christina Bohannan, as a law professor what is your view of the proposals some democrats have advanced to expand the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court?

Bohannan: I would think long and hard before doing that. We have these institutions for a reason. They have been like this for quite some time. I will say actually quite apart from all of the brouhaha that is going on right now, there are an awful lot of cases that are asked to go to the Supreme Court and because there are too many cases per justice there's kind of an argument about this regardless of this. But I would want to think long and hard before doing that. I'm not inclined at this moment to expand that number. I think that's something that we would need to take very seriously and take our time with.

Gruber-Miller: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, you have talked on a debate on this program two years ago about the need for infrastructure for Iowa in roads and bridges, locks and dams, broadband. But you had a chance to vote for a bipartisan infrastructure bill last year that Senator Chuck Grassley supported. Why did you vote against that bill?

Miller-Meeks: When the bill was in the Senate it was a clean bill, so it was an infrastructure bill. But in the House side, Speaker Pelosi tied the infrastructure bill to a human infrastructure bill. So it was around a $3.5 trillion bill tied to other things other than hard infrastructure. Only about $653 billion of that bill went to hard infrastructure meaning roads, bridges, locks, dams, broadband and electric grid improvements. So the majority of the bill was for things other than infrastructure and because they were tied together, if you recall during that vote they would try to advance it, it pulled back, they had great difficulty getting it through their own party because they were trying to tie both things together to get all the democrats to vote for that bill. So that is why I ultimately ended up voting against it because it was linked to a larger bill.

Gruber-Miller: So now that that bill is law, are there things that you think need to be done to further improve Iowa's infrastructure in those areas?

Miller-Meeks: Well, certainly there are and even during the time during the discussion of that bill I called people within the state of Iowa both at the Department of Transportation to road builders to talk with them to see about the bill, advancing the bill, what challenges they would have, which one of the major challenges they have right now in road building and infrastructure is the cost of materials and the cost of goods. So I think yes, broadband is still an issue within our state. We had advanced bills when I was in the State Senate. We need to continue to expand broadband so that we have cable to all places. Roads and bridges, or lock and dam, we were able to get Lock 25 expanded, which will be very helpful both for transit of goods along the Mississippi River and for our agricultural economy as well.

Gruber-Miller: Christina Bohannan, how about you? Are there things that you would like to see done to further improve Iowa's infrastructure?

Bohannan: Yeah, absolutely. Infrastructure is a huge need in Iowa. And my opponent has been talking about infrastructure for a long time but then when she had the chance to vote for a bill that would actually do some good on infrastructure in Iowa she voted against it. And as you pointed out, Senator Chuck Grassley voted for this bill and he has talked a lot about how good this bill is for Iowa. This is a situation where we have to get away from saying we're not going to do something good for the people of Iowa because it was introduced by the other party and would give the other party a win. That kind of thinking is killing this country. We have to get back to saying, what is good for the people of Iowa? There's no question that this infrastructure bill is absolutely critical for Iowa. And Representative Miller-Meeks knows that because she has been out there at ribbon cuttings and doing videos and touting all of these infrastructure projects that she voted against. She knows that the people of Iowa wanted this but she voted against it. So she has to tell Iowans one thing when she's doing something else in Washington, D.C.

Miller-Meeks: People also are suffering with sky high record four decade high inflation. And putting forth spending bills without being paid for following a $1.9 trillion COVID spending bill, then an infrastructure spending bill, which again was tied to another spending bill, which was a very large package, when people are already suffering inflation -- we were told inflation was transitory, we were told it wouldn't last. We warned that spending that level of money when there was already almost $1 trillion of unspent COVID money from the first CARES package that it would lead to inflation and it did. So looking at our spending I think is extraordinarily important because people right now, which you admitted, are suffering under record high inflation, which our President seems to be tone deaf on as we heard in his interview with 60 Minutes.

Gruber-Miller: So Christina Bohannan, how do you balance the good maybe from passing bills that have to do with more spending versus those harms that they could create if it leads to greater inflation?

Bohannan: Absolutely. Well, what I would say is that it's one thing to talk about inflation as my opponent does a lot, a lot about inflation, a lot about spending, a lot about the deficit. But again, this is telling Iowans one thing, saying you care about one thing and then doing something completely opposite in Washington, D.C. When she had the opportunity to bring gas prices down by holding oil and gas companies accountable for price gouging she voted against it. When she had a chance to bring drug prices down, she voted against it. She voted against letting Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices. She blames Medicare for the high price of health care, has said that our seniors use their health care too much and says that they should gargle with salt water instead of go to the doctor. Okay, she voted against --

Miller-Meeks: I'm sorry, I have never suggested anybody gargle with salt water to go to the doctor --

Bohannan: It's in the newspaper --

Miller-Meeks: -- in addition to which I voted for a price cap on insulin at $35 and I think I voted for and supported and put forward a bill on lower food and fuel costs, which only seven republicans did that. So I think it's challenging to say --

Bohannan: I think I was answering a question here -- I think I was answering a question here and the bottom line is -- you'll have time when I'm finished --

Henderson: -- on behalf of the viewers, we'll let Christina Bohannan finish the question and then you may speak. But when you talk at the same time, our viewers can't understand both of you.

Bohannan: I agree. I was answering this question, so thank you. So, voted against letting Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices, voted against capping the price of insulin for seniors on Medicare. At the time when that bill finally came through and there was an opportunity to actually get that done for the first time after so long of talking about it, she voted no. The other thing is -- I'll finish, this is my last point -- the other thing is the deficit. She talks a lot about the deficit but the fact is she voted against the one bill that was a major reduction in the deficit in a decade when we had the opportunity to reduce the deficit for the first time in a decade, she voted against. So over and over and over, she is telling Iowans one thing, she says she cares about these things, but on every single bill that has actually come forward where there was an opportunity to actually do something for the state of Iowa on these issues, she has been against, against, against.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks: What about Medicare and prescription medications?

Miller-Meeks: I have a bill that we have on biosimilar drugs, which will be able to get genetically similar drugs in order to help, especially help reduce the price of insulin. On Medicare contracting, Medicare negotiating drug prices, the CBO has said that that bill will end up with 15 fewer drugs that will save lives. So when you're talking about innovation within the drug space, there are other ways to bring down drug costs rather than negotiating or price caps. And I think that it's valid to look at those, it's valid to have a conversation and to have a bipartisan discussion over how is it best to bring down drug prices where we still have innovation, we still have new drugs, we still have new cures because the drugs that are being advanced today are all drugs that are much more expensive and we want to be able to have that research and that development here within the United States and to be able to advance cures for rare orphan diseases and other diseases.

Henderson: She also brought up deficit reduction.

Miller-Meeks: Well, if she's talking about the Inflation Reduction Act, we'll in fact see if it will reduce the deficit. I don't know of government programs that have ever brought in the amount of revenue they say when they raise taxes, nor have costs the amount that they say they're going to cost when it ultimately comes. Medicare costs more than it was predicted to cost and we've seen that on numerous programs. But the Inflation Reduction Act had 87,000 new IRS agents, it increased the budget of the IRS by six times, it doubled the size of the IRS and has more employees than, will have more employees than the State Department, the Pentagon, Customs and Border Protection and the FBI combined and I think people are very concerned about that. That was within that bill.

Bohannan: Can I just add one point real quick? So, first of all, all of the experts say that this bill will reduce the deficit. Joe Manchin finally signed onto that bill, so he's very much a deficit hawk. So, that is true. And I'll tell you something else about this innovation and wanting to make sure that we are continuing to innovate on prescription drugs, I agree with that. And in fact, for the last 23 years my main area in the law school, my main area of research and work has been in intellectual property, patent law, including pharmaceutical patents, innovation and economic growth. And what we know about the pharmaceutical industry is that it is one of the absolute most profitable industries in this country and they spend more on marketing and those television ads that we all see than they do on research and development. So to say that we cannot let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices for fear that somehow the pharmaceutical industry is going to become unprofitable is just a delusion.

Miller-Meeks: I think that it is a tremendous concern. I have talked with numerous people, pharmaceutical companies, visited other countries, researched the topic at length and there are ways that we can get lower priced drugs and still have research and innovation. We can look at the pharmacy benefit managers or the PBMs, which I passed a bill in the State Senate for transparency on the PBMs. We're continuing to look at that both at the state and federal level, which is a middle man within the marketplace, which has pharmaceutical companies in order to get a drug on the formulary has to have rebates that go to the PBMs, which control 70% of the prescriptions in the United States. So there are ways to do this which aren't going to hurt research, development and innovation in new drugs and therapies.

Masters: I want to move onto another topic. The labor market participation rate in Iowa has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Bringing up immigration here, I want to get away from maybe the national debate on immigration and focus on this new congressional district that one of you will be representing most likely after November. You think about places like Columbus Junction or West Liberty that have large immigrant populations that work in the meat processing facilities. What federal policies can be done to help communities in this district when it comes to immigration to people living in this district? Christina Bohannan, we'll start with you.

Bohannan: Immigration is broken in our country. The fact is that Washington politicians like now, Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, have not solved this problem. And both democrats and republicans are to blame on this. Democrats often fail to see the issues at the border. They fail to acknowledge sometimes, especially people who live on the coasts or in the big cities, that border states do have unique challenges regarding immigration. But on the other hand, the republicans have been absolutely willing to kick this can down the road, to use it for gain at election time, to divide people, to put people on buses and send them across the country with just the shirt on their backs. It's cruel. And so we need both parties to acknowledge the issue and to come to the table and act in good faith to actually do comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform. We keep saying those words but it's not happening. And so we need that to happen. And that means a secure border, it does mean a secure border. It also means a pathway to citizenship. It means helping people and small businesses with the bureaucracy that is the INS and our immigration system. And so when I talk to people in these areas -- so I've gone, I was just in a restaurant owned by a Latina woman recently, a really good restaurant, actually I did a little event there and she does have workforce issues. She has a number of issues facing her with her small business. And what we need to do is make sure that we're helping small businesses navigate getting visas and working through that bureaucracy because it is a challenge for a lot of people, it's complicated and I think that we need to help our small businesses here get the workers that they need.

Masters: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, what are you hearing from folks in the district about immigration?

Miller-Meeks: Well, immigration has been an issue that I think both parties have not moved on for different reasons. At one point in time it was we need more legal immigration, it's going to lower wages, then the parties flip. We have a crisis on our southern border right now. I'm from Texas originally so not unfamiliar with illegal immigration. But what is happening now in our border communities if you have been to the border is in fact a crisis. They are overwhelmed, the customs and border protection morale is extremely low. They are having difficulties with retention because they are processing people rather than monitoring the border, rather than interdicting drugs. So there is record numbers of illegal drugs coming across, there are people on the terror watch list coming across. But despite that we know that we are a country and a state that has welcomed immigrants, that we want legal immigration and even though I'm in the minority, I'm in the minority party, I already have bills on legal immigration. So I just mentioned earlier before we started the Afghan Readjustment Act, so looking at how do we get people that have come here from Afghanistan that were here in the air lift, we're still trying to get people out of Afghanistan, my staff and I continue to work on that to this day to get them asylum or to get them their special immigrant visas so that they can stay here, they are allowed to work here. I also have a bill on young people who come here, they are legal on their parent's visa but they age out of the system so they have to apply for their own status and because the system for legal immigration is broken, because it takes 10, 15, they'll age out of the system and we deport them since we know where they are. That is patently unfair. The State Department last year said that they were going to waste 125,000 green cards. So I had a bill to prohibit them from wasting 125,000 green cards and to roll those over so that we could expand that legal immigration. So it is a system that needs to be fixed, both parties need to come together and I do think both parties have tossed this issue around. But meanwhile we have thousands of people that are waiting to come to this country legally, who want to come to this country legally and that I think can help both with workforce, it's not the primary reason that we have them here, but they bring value to our country.

Henderson: An issue that is in the Iowa countryside are developers who help to build carbon capture pipelines in Iowa. The decision on whether land will be seized for those pipelines will be made at the state level. But Mariannette Miller-Meeks, I'll start with you. Is this a good use of federal tax credits to support construction of these projects?

Miller-Meeks: Well, I think if you're looking at our industry here in Iowa and our ag economy and looking at ethanol and its ability to help as a blended fuel to reduce carbon emissions, that by eminent domain I don't think property should be taken by eminent domain, let me just say that first and foremost. My grandfather on my father's side who immigrated to the United States in 1910, ended up settling in California and twice had his farms taken over by eminent domain for Interstate 5. So I am not a big fan of eminent domain. But I think in talking to farmers, letting them know what the need is, letting them know that there is a possibility to capture carbon that is generated in the making of ethanol and then to sequester that may help to prolong the ethanol industry, which is an important industry within our state. It is also important because it reduces carbon emissions and it may help with other liquid fuels. We know that the Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack is looking at blended aviation fuel and so this may be another opportunity for us to make it a cleaner source of fuel.

Henderson: Christina Bohannan, do you think the federal government should be giving tax credits to these projects?

Bohannan: Yeah, so these projects are very concerning to me. I think that we absolutely should look for markets for ethanol and I think year round ethanol is a good thing, I think that can bring fuel costs down and that is something we should consider. We should always be looking for markets for our products whether it is ethanol or soybeans or whatever. And the fact is I will fight for that. But this is a project where the government would be seizing property and exercising eminent domain for a large corporate project. And I do not think that that is what should happen with property rights in a free country like the United States. I have taught constitutional law, I do not think that this is an appropriate taking for a public use. I think that this is a corporate use. And so I do not support the use of eminent domain in this situation. And also I will say something I guess we have in common apparently is that my grandparents had a farm where Interstate 75 ran through it and it really ruined our farm. It was always tough going but when that happened we lost access to part of the farm, it lost value. I do not think that people should be forced to give up their property for this purpose.

Masters: The carbon capture pipelines that have been proposed in the state have to do with an answer to climate change, at least that is the way that it is being sold. The democrat who is running in the 4th Congressional District was on Iowa Press last week and said that it is a false climate change solution. Would you agree with that, that these carbon capture pipelines are a false climate solution.

Bohannan: I have heard so much on both sides of this issue to be honest. I have heard from experts on both sides of this, some saying that it is a good thing, some saying it's not a good thing for climate change. So I think that is something that we need to look at and take very carefully. I was an environmental engineer before I went to law school, I worked mostly in water quality but I paid very close attention to the science of these things and so far I am hearing conflicting reports from the scientists about sort of what this will do. But I think we don't get to any of that until we deal with the elephant in the room which is the eminent domain issue.

Masters: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, do you see this as an adequate way of curbing climate change in the country?

Miller-Meeks: Well, I think if you just look at Iowa in general, Iowa has a great story to tell. So 50% of our energy in Iowa is renewables, around 57% now I think of our electricity comes from wind. So we have a great story to tell whether that is wind, solar, biodiesel, ethanol, manure, other renewables, we have a great story to tell here in Iowa. We don't have hydropower. We did have a nuclear power plant in Palo, Duane Arnold, which unfortunately is closed. But we have a great story to tell and we have done that without mandates and without emission standards. So I think as you look at we have increasing demand for energy -- so I was at COP26, the Convention of Parties UN Climate Summit last year in Glasgow -- everyone acknowledges that energy demand is going to go up by about 60% over the next decade. So how do you get to net zero or less carbon emissions at the same time as you have increasing energy demand? So I think this is one of those ways, one of the ways in a portfolio with flexibility among the states.

Masters: I actually want to circle back, Christina Bohannan, you said something about background in water quality. What kind of things at the federal level as a member of Congress do you think would be helpful to clean up Iowa's waters that are, there's a lot on the impaired waters list in the state and it just continues to grow?

Bohannan: Absolutely. But before we get to that, I just want to say on the issue of climate change, the very first thing that we have to do -- and I agree that Iowa has a great story to tell on renewables, there's no question, we are already a leader, we could do even more, we could grow our economy and be part of the solution on climate change at the same time. So I am very excited about that. I think that's something that we should look into more. But the first thing we have to do is have people elected who are not beholden to big oil. And the fact is that my opponent has taken nearly $60,000 from the oil and gas industry and then voted against holding them accountable for corporate price gouging. And so we have to get off of that if we're going to work on climate change. On the water quality issue, just quickly, I worked in drinking water, I worked in domestic wastewater which is a very fancy name for sewage and I did industrial wastewater. So I inspected things like paper mills and so on. So I have a background in that and I think that's going to be helpful with water quality. But the thing that we have to do and the thing I learned when I was working at the Department of Environmental Protection in Florida is that we have to bring in the people who are regulating and let them be part of the solution. I think that a lot of times we come in with too heavy a hand in regulation when a lighter touch will do. And I learned that working with people is much better than trying to be adversarial with them between the government and them. A lot of our small businesses, our farmers, they want to do the right thing, they want to help clean up the water, they know that we have issues here. But they also don't have the resources. A lot of mom and pop operations, small businesses, small family farmers, they just don't have the resources. They're getting squeeze on both sides.

Henderson: So you would oppose federal regulations that limit how much farm chemicals can be applied?

Bohannan: Well, I wouldn't say that we shouldn't have any regulations. I think that is important. But I think what we need to do is make sure that we're giving people the resources to comply with those. What we have to do is we have to have reasonable regulations that make sense, not use such a heavy hand when a lighter touch will do. We also have to make sure that people have the resources to comply. A lot of people just don't, a lot of these small businesses and farmers, that's what I saw when I worked at the Department of Environmental Protection was that people wanted to comply but it was really difficult. And the last thing is just making them understandable. A lot of these regulations are had for even -- I'm an environmental engineer and a law professor and even me, sometimes when I look at some of these regulations they are really difficult to parse. So we have to make sure that these are things that people can comply with and that they have the resources to do it.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, would you like to reply?

Miller-Meeks: Well, I think number one, we already have or we do have currently in our state water quality initiatives working with our farmers, working with DNR and working with our Secretary of Ag. And so I think working with the people whose lives you're impacting when you pass regulation I think is very important, very important to have the public comment period and actually listen to people, which there are many complaints about that. But I do want to bring up one thing that Ms. Bohannan said and that is that KCRG came out and ruled her ad attacking me on contributions as a D. And so I think that we have a very, have to have a very careful thread on what we're insinuating when we talk about where people get money and how they get money. The price gouging bill in fact did not bring down the price of gasoline. Decreased demand and release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve did those things. And we're continuing to see, demand is down by about 10%. So I think that when I look at our nation, when I look at how people travel, when I look at how far you can go on a charge of an electric battery and does that battery lose its charge faster in cold winter, I think that we need a strategy that is flexible, that is flexible among states and allows us to prosper and it also allows both our state and our country to be able to compete economically around the globe.

Gruber-Miller: I'd like to move onto another topic. So, one of the jobs of Congress is to count the electoral votes for President. I want to understand your philosophy, each of you, on this issue. Under what circumstances, if any, would you vote to reject or object to a state's certified electoral votes for President? Christina Bohannan, we'll start with you.

Bohannan: Well, first of all, I think it depends on whether that state certified total came from the voters. That's the question. When a state votes and when we have our voters vote on this issue, it is the voters whose voice ought to count and that is the total that ought to be certified. If it's the vote of the people and that is established by our trusted auditors and other people working there then it should be certified. I think the concern and the issue in the Electoral Count Act that was just passed is that there would be times, and this has been talked about and proposed in states around the country, that the voters' voices would not be listened to, that actually that you would have a situation where politicians in a state would actually substitute their own electors, people who would vote the way they wanted to rather than electors who would vote according to the will of the people in this state. That is the issue. And the Electoral Count Act that was just passed in the House, which Mariannette Miller-Meeks voted against, is aimed at securing our elections, making sure that it's the voters that count here, not that their will is being substituted for politicians.

Gruber-Miller: So, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, as your opponent mentioned, you voted against that bill. You can explain that vote and then I'd also like to get your answer on your philosophy about under what circumstances would you object to a state's results?

Miller-Meeks: Well, none of us want to federalize elections. So elections constitutionally are the province of the states, they are the authority of the states. So we want to maintain that states have the authority to conduct elections. Since I had to vote to certify electors I can say that looking at the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and having done, having had to vote on this, and the reason I voted to certify the elections is that the states presented to us a slate of electors, each state presented one slate of electors, they didn't present numerous slates of electors and there are specific reasons where you would reject. If there are numerous slates of electors or if someone is a foreign national, then those would be reasons that you would reject a particular elector. In our case that did not happen and voted to certify the electors. So unless there is something that constitutionally would prohibit someone from being an elector or a state having sent forward their slate of electors then you would vote to certify those electors.

Henderson: Christina Bohannan --

Bohannan: -- add one thing to this, which is yes, states control elections, they run elections, the Constitution says that they can do sort of the time, place and manner of elections. That does not mean that states can take away the voice of their own people and substitute someone else who is going to vote for someone else that their people did not vote for. The Constitution does not give the states the power to do that. This Electoral Count Act was meant to clarify that, make that clear, and my opponent voted against it.

Miller-Meeks: It also doesn't mean that the federal government has the right to inviolate or remove voter ID laws that states pass. So we don't want the federal government taking over elections.

Henderson: Christina Bohannan, President Biden recently declared the pandemic over. Do you agree?

Bohannan: Boy, I think everybody feels like it's over. That's what I hear when people talk. I think that there are still challenges. Obviously we're still facing a lot of fallout from that. We have workforce issues, we have business issues and supply chain issues, inflation issues. There are a lot of issues that remain that we're still going to have to deal with. But I do think that people are ready to move on, I think people are ready to have their lives back. I know I certainly feel that way, I think most of us feel that way. But I think it's just important that as we're doing that, and happily so, that we remember that people still are getting COVID sometimes these days, that there still are issues that people are facing as a result and I think we need to deal with those.

Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, earlier in this hour you mentioned that you were the Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. What is the preparation for the next pandemic?

Miller-Meeks: Well, first and foremost, I think we need to onshore or near-short PPE, testing, reagents and then we need to prepare our strategic national stockpile so we preposition supplies where you rotate supplies in and out so you have supplies that aren't expired when they are needed, that we develop our testing programs. We had difficulties getting testing off for the COVID-19 pandemic, so that we have this public-private partnership, research facilities, research at academic institutions, that there is a conversation between them. The CDC may need to be revamped so that it can respond in a more rapid manner. It does great on the research arm but it needs to be able to translate that research into active guidance for individuals and for states. I think what we have done with Warp Speed with getting a vaccine out in nine months, that kind of policy that allowed us to do that is something that we need to incorporate and we need to make sure that we have that going forward.

Masters: Christina Bohannan, Iowans will vote this fall on a constitutional amendment to add the right to keep and bear arms to the state Constitution, subject to strict scrutiny. You voted against this in the legislature. Why did you vote that way?

Bohannan: Yeah, so first of all, that's a state issue but I'm happy to talk about it if you like. So, I am a gun owner. I fully support the Second Amendment. My firearm is actually one of my most cherished possessions because my dad gave it to me. It's one of the things I have left from him and we grew up in a hunting family so I fully support Second Amendment rights for lawful and responsible gun ownership. And in the Iowa House, I and a number of others, actually proposed adding Second Amendment language to the Iowa Constitution. This bill, this amendment is not the Second Amendment. This is a strict scrutiny amendment. It's sort of a Second Amendment on steroids, it's a super charged version of a Second Amendment that only a handful, literally three or four other states, have. And all of those other states have seen an increase in gun violence since they have passed this. What it does is it subjects any gun safety law, including laws already on the books, say the law that felons can't have firearms, it subjects all of that to the harshest form of judicial scrutiny and many, many laws subjected to strict scrutiny do not survive. And so I think that is too much. I think that that actually threatens a number of the gun safety laws that we have had on the books in Iowa for a very long time and I think that it's dangerous. And if you look at the experience in other places you see that, not only an increase in gun violence, but you see over and over that people who are charged with gun crimes in connection with say a burglary or something else, that they actually are going to court over and over again and challenging their convictions under these strict scrutiny laws. And so it's, this is a situation where you're going to have people convicted over and over just challenging that in court. It's unnecessary and it's dangerous.

Masters: And I want to give you a chance to respond to a vote that you made that has to do with guns. President Biden recently signed the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in 30 years. You voted against that law. Can you explain what was wrong with it in your opinion and why you did not support it?

Miller-Meeks: So, I am a supporter of the Second Amendment and the bill that was presented to us, number one, there was already the fourth and I think the ninth circuit courts that had said that prohibiting people between 18 and 20 from buying a weapon was unconstitutional. Also within that bill, and I had introduced bills on school safety, the Secure Act, had also co-sponsored other bills, I had talked with both firearm makers, with Second Amendment advocates, with schools about what things can we do to make schools more safe, but one of the things within that legislation was allowing the government to have access and look into mental health records of 18 to 20 year olds and also into their criminal records. There's ways that I think the background check system can be notified or alerted without having to go into somebody's mental health records. I have talked with attorneys in the House about that. How could we further that system? Also talked about other bills that we could be able to do that and try to be able to address mental health issues, school safety issues and protecting kids not only when they're in school but on their way to school.

Henderson: We have less than a minute left. I'll give you each just a one single thing to mention. If republicans gain control of the Iowa House, what should be the first bill voted upon in January?

Miller-Meeks: To get rid of 87,000 new IRS agents.

Henderson: Christina Bohannan, if democrats retain control of the U.S. House, what is the first bill that should be addressed?

Bohannan: I want a rural health care initiative that will help places like Keokuk that just lost their hospital, to invest in that rural health care and to bring more physicians and health care professionals to Iowa.

Henderson: Well, I'd like to thank you both for being here tonight and sharing your views with Iowa PBS viewers.

Miller-Meeks: Thank you.

Bohannan: Thank you.

Henderson: This, by the way, is the first in a series of Iowa Press Debates here on Iowa PBS. On Thursday, October 6th we'll hear from the two candidates for U.S. Senate, republican incumbent Chuck Grassley and democrat Mike Franken. It will be their only scheduled debate. On Monday, October 17th we'll host the only debate in the Governor's race with republican incumbent Kim Reynolds and democrat Deidre DeJear. And then on Tuesday, October 18th we'll question the candidates in Iowa's new 2nd Congressional District, republican incumbent Ashley Hinson and democrat Liz Mathis. Each debate is live on-air and online at 7:00 p.m. and we hope you'll join us. Now, for all this hardworking crew here at Iowa PBS, I'm Kay Henderson. Thanks for watching.




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