Courier Staff Writer
State Senate and House candidates discussed education and mental health reform and tax reduction at the League of Women Voters of Ottumwa’s candidate forum Thursday night.
House District 81 incumbent state Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, said mental health reform needs to change before it causes a disaster in Wapello County.
“This is wrong, and our people are going to be hurting,” Gaskill said. “More people will be in our jails, and it’s going to cost us more as a county and state if we don’t stop this and change it.”
Her opponent, Blake Smith, R-Ottumwa, said he would like to keep control local and agreed that a better formula is needed.
House District 80 candidate Joe Judge, D-Albia, said mental health reform is another example of Iowa legislators not coming to a consensus on an issue due to partisan issues.
Tabitha Davis asked Gaskill why she should be re-elected after walking out on her job during gun legislation.
“We walked out of the state house ... to have a caucus,” Gaskill said. “No one in my caucus knew that was going to be debated that day. We presented a good case and I’m not ‘un-proud’ of that moment. I think we drew attention to it.”
The other three candidates disagreed with her decision.
Smith said Gaskill broke the law and violated the Iowa Constitution in walking out, and Judge said the entire “debacle” was partisan games. Judge’s opponent, Larry Sheets, R-Moulton, said he believes legislators need to “sit in their seat and do the job they’re elected to do.”
In the upcoming legislative session, Smith said jobs and the economy are the No. 1 issue, along with cutting taxes and reforming individual income taxes. Sheets agreed, saying property tax reform and income tax reduction are high on his list.
“We need the industry in southeast Iowa,” Smith said. “They’ve knocked on our door, and we haven’t allowed them in.”
Judge said education reform will be huge, especially for him since he is a high school government teacher.
“I’m afraid in the education reform debate, the voices are going to be dominated by large metro schools,” Judge said. “We aren’t going to see southern Iowa schools have a voice in that debate. As a school teacher in southern Iowa, I would be a unique voice and an advocate.”
Gaskill said transportation costs, giving more flexibility to school budgets, strengthening Iowa’s wind industry and job growth are the issues to look for.
Senate District 40 candidates Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, and Tim Tripp, D-Pella, tackled similar issues.
Tripp said mental health patients are not getting treatment in a timely manner.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said.
Rozenboom said as a Mahaska County supervisor, he’s dedicated to making sure mental health services continue for those who need them.
“The state has to hold up their end of the bargain of changes they’ve mandated,” he said.
Rozenboom also said government “needs to be responsible, limited and affordable.” He said since the large part of the state’s budget goes toward education, he would like to find ways to return more control to local schools and limit state funding.
Tripp said the state’s $1 billion surplus should be protected and not tapped into.
“I’m a fairly strong proponent in terms of having a rainy day fund,” Tripp said when asked by state Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, what he would do with excess taxpayer money. “We faced a huge drought this year. Consumers will continue to see that impact in years to come. It’s critical to plan out ... even 10 years down the road.”
Rozenboom said the opposite should be done.
“If we have excess money, we should look at giving it back to taxpayers,” he said. “The tax burden in this country is significant, and anything we can do to reduce it should be part of the equation.”
In terms of education, Tripp said he’s against going to a voucher system, “since those dollars are not as effective when they’re pooled together.”
Rozenboom said the state has a monopoly on revenue and a monopoly on customers, which in this case, are students.
“I believe that if you went to buy a car and you only had one manufacturer to buy that car from ... I believe the product you would buy would be inferior and at a higher cost,” Rozenboom said. “At some degree, that describes our education system right now. We need to have a discussion and challenge the very premise on which we fund education at this point.”
Unopposed candidates for county attorney, Lisa Holl; county auditor, Kelly Spurgeon; county sheriff, Mark Miller; and county supervisor, Steve Siegel, also spoke at the forum.