3rd Congressional District Forum sponsored by Ankeny Dems

Thanks to Stephen Nein for this first-person account. Many central Iowa Democrats I talk to are still undecided on this primary race. -promoted by desmoinesdem

(I just want to say that I apparently do journalism like every thing else – I’m an unrepentant slowpoke. -SN)

Unlike the Presidential campaign, I’ve been undecided on my candidate for the House and Senate election. In the House race: I’ve admired Jim Mowrer for his run against Steve King (& and I grew up in a house across the street from his current home in Waveland); Desmund Adams has a remarkable narrative and palatable thirst for the job; and Mike Sherzan is no slouch in his progressive business-based values.

Thankfully, the Ankeny Area Democrats helped by holding a candidate forum this week. If you missed it, it’s cool – there’s an even BIGGER forum next Tuesday for the Democratic candidates for both seats.

I’ll also mention that both challengers for the Iowa House districts in Ankeny were also there – Heather Matson & Andrea Phillips. Ms. Matson pointed out that because of the state legislature session, Ankeny schools lost $1.5M in funding for the next academic year, and that the Superintendent has stated that any further cuts will remove teachers from the classroom. Considering Ankeny’s insane growth and packed schools, this would have disastrous consequences for Ankeny students no matter their income or family. Ms. Phillips noted that because of Ankeny’s growth and challenges, voters for both parties must work to find solutions.

I’ve seen the elevator introduction stump speeches of all 3 candidates before – they didn’t change much. I’ll only note I find it interesting that only Sherzan mentions incumbent David Young’s name in his elevator sale. Unfortunately for all of you, my ability to recall statements sucks and my notes paraphrase everything.

  • Question One: What in your opinion are the biggest issues in the 3rd District?
  • Mowrer: The economy, making sure families can still work and get ahead. Access to quality education opportunities. More proactive activity in fighting global climate change. Equal pay for equal work.
    Sherzan: Economic injustice, the widening gap between incomes.The $15/hour minimum wage is not just a positive for lower income earners, but for businesses as well. It affects not just Polk county but rural areas too. Sherzan finished up with an odd note that the argument against the minimum wage increase is unverifiable without exposing employer competitive secrets can be solved. This argument really puzzled me – current hourly wage reporting does this perfectly well already.
    Adams: all 16 Counties have poverty issues. 75% of all Des Moines Public School kids receive free or reduced price lunch; 100% of Pottawattamie county school children receive free or reduced price lunch. 2/3rds of the counties in the 3rd district are losing population; we need to re-invest and repopulate rural areas. Considering the metro anchor points of Des Moines, Kansas City, & Omaha, we could have a triangle of opportunity. We need to invest in rural broadband internet service to encourage telecommunication-driven education and work.

    Me: I have a job encouraging rural broadband adoption and Wide-Area Networking (WAN) within the state — and I’m telling you Adams has no idea what he’s talking about. Employers want the physical presence of employees (telecommuting as a norm is still a long ways off for anyone outside the managerial class). Anyone working sophisticated-enough jobs already now lives in metro areas – and wants to stay there. Fast broadband is important, valuable, and worth investment, but it can’t lead a rural re-population. Cynically speaking, I have to suspect the adoption of this stump point.

  • Question Two: The Bakken & Keystone Pipelines.
  • (sorry, I was still picking my jaw off the floor from Adams’ previous answer)
    S: Decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Climate change is affecting agriculture, its obvious. Both pipelines are too risky for our state.
    A: Ag is obviously a cornerstone for our state. I strongly dislike the use of eminent domain for private enterprise projects, but [he] doesn’t rule it out absolutely.
    M: We need to balance short-tern needs, like gas now for our cars, and long-term answers like the migration to renewable sources. I support the clean air, soil & water directives. Everyone must understand that it’s going to take to time to make these changes.

  • Question three: . . which is a follow up to Two; Do you support the use of eminent domain?
  • A: I believe I just answered that. (room erupted in laughter)
    M: This issue is complex. Energy is a public utility, even if it’s privately operated, so access must be guaranteed. There’s a case for Rock Island projects using eminent domain in the construction of transmission towers for distribution. As we expand infrastructure eminent domain could be appropriate in building distribution networks.
    S: I’m not in favor of eminent domain for either pipeline because of the reasons stated earlier.

    Me: When I asked for questions from Twitter, DMD asked if I could get some clarification from Mowrer regarding the pipelines. I’m not sure this qualifies, but I do think he’s resigned to both pipelines’ construction and operation.

  • Question Five: How will you preserve and protect Social Security for the future?
  • S: One of the most disquieting things about retirement is you have to predict your death in order to plan for your future. Everyone should expect Social Security to be there for their retirement. If you remove the income cap for contributions, Social Security will be closer to full funding.
    A: Our state has the fourth largest aging population in the U.S., and we’re not far from third. Eliminating the tax cap would reduce the predicted shortfall by 74% in the next 10 years. But what about that remaining 26%? Guess what – if we guarantee equal pay for equal work and eliminate the pay gap we virtually close that remaining 26%. Paying a woman for equal work now increases her index in the future when she goes on Social Security.
    M: Social Security is the most important program put in place by the New Deal. My father was killed in a farming accident when I was a child, but Social Security benefits saved my family. I refuse to scale back benefits like Simpson-Bowles; I support Harkin’s plan that removes the income cap for Social Security taxes. I also support the Buffet Rule which treats anything over a million dollars of capital gains like income; that should also apply to Social Security taxes. Immigration reform where migrant workers pay into Social Security would also stabilize it. I refuse to support the Republican plan to link benefits to the chained CPI which would reduce cost of living increases.

    Me: This is probably the strongest answer Mowrer gave all evening, and Adams also had a strong answer, although I’m not sure about his math.

  • Question Six: What are your views on protecting the rights of Americans under the Second Amendment?
  • A: I originally came from [that town] in Illinois, and was raised here in Iowa. I believe people kill people, but I don’t see why wartime guns are available for purchase in stores. I want to close the gun show purchase loophole. I’m not in favor of armor-piercing rounds on the market.
    M: Despite what you might think, no one has proposed to take away weapons from law-abiding people. Everything proposed has been about restricting the sale of guns from people who shouldn’t have them. I’ve seen the effects of these weapons on the human body. As part of the military my background was checked out & I was trained before I was given a weapon. We also have a health crisis – mental health services in this country are severely underfunded.
    S: Guns are different things to different people. I’m a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. I’m not a supporter of gun show sales. If you own a gun store you have to be licensed – but that’s not the case at gun shows. It allows criminal access to weapons. Most hunters don’t want assault weapons with large capacity clips. It’s reasonable to restrict the size of ammo magazines. Culturally, everyone has the freedom to enjoy hunting or target shooting.

    Me: In case you weren’t aware that Iowa is a purple state, I think this illustrates it well. I think Democrats are trying to reopen the door on weapons control with phrases and ideas that were rejected and demonized after the passage of the Assault Weapons Ban in the 90’s. I was quite disappointed that no one pointed out both the suicide rate of success for the first attempt with firearms is much higher than other means or weapons, as is accidental death of self or others. There are very good arguments for better gun control and all 3 just took a pass.

  • Question Seven: What are your views on campaign finance reform?
  • M: Our campaign finance system is broken. Massive amounts of super PAC money is flooding politics and preventing the operation of our democracy. We need a new Supreme Court justice to fix that. We need public financing and matching funds. It’s no wonder we can’t do all these other things [in Congressional legislation]. [Campaign corruption] needs to end.
    S: I want to give some insight. I’m right in the middle of campaign financing. We have to depend on a system that is absolutely corrupt. I have no idea where these guys are going to get $2.5M [indicates Mowrer & Adams], but I’m going to be calling you folks. There’s legislation named the Stop Act, you should learn about it, because until we get rid of dialing for dollars, I can’t represent you folks while doing it.
    A: Campaign finance reform needs to be done as a Constitutional amendment. We are losing talented people because they can’t [or won’t] compete to raise funds. My lower fundraising targets were a strategic choice. It came at a great cost because we can’t afford slick ads and commercials [massive side-eye at Sherzan-SN]; we made up for it with shoe leather, elbow grease, and by visiting all 16 counties in the district. We’re valuing campaigns by who writes a check, and not on the quality of their [candidacy].

  • Question Eight: What are the most critical education issues?
  • S: My daughter is an educator, and when I see her every week, she educates me through the stories she tells of her school and classroom. How do we educate kids and way are we saddling them with $30K of more of debt? We need legislation to reduce that burden. If our focus isn’t on education, we are crippling our future. Public service could be means to reduce debt. We’re losing that opportunity [for higher education] for most people.
    A: I’m have my GED and I’m a licensed educator. We need to do several things: 1) Subsidize universal pre-school, it benefits children; 2) Pay your teachers what they’re worth, Iowa is 38th in the nation for teacher pay; Teachers are social workers for students, we need to recognize that and respect it; 4) We need to offer tuition-free community college and vocational training. Adams gave a great extemporaneous story about an eight year-old he met this last month who asked for money for his mom who lives in Fort Dodge. “I have a six-figure student loan myself!” Last of all, I have the support of the entire Des Moines Public School Board.
    M: I have two young children in the Des Moines Public Schools, one has a chronic illness. The fundamental flaw in school funding is basing it on property taxes – it crease an immediate funding inequality. We should create a federal school funding source and every student should receive equal funding. I went to college on the GI Bill, but my wife has 3 separate school loans which we can’t consolidate. There should be an option of public service to discharge that debt. David Young just voted to cut the GI Bill in Congress. It was collective action in the greatest generation which made this country great and education is just one part of that.

    Me: Adams in the last two questions really hit a stride of being passionate, sincere, and not setting off my bullshit detector. On the other hand, I think Mowrer stumbled badly on equality of funding; as a parent of kid with a chronic illness myself, it’s not necessarily about making sure everyone gets the same dollar amount but equality of opportunity, or the removal of obstacles for success for all.

  • Question Nine: You’re running for the most unpopular job in America. Why? And how would you work with a President Trump?
  • (Sherzan lets out this great whoop of laughter along with the crowd)
    M: That’s my nightmare scenario. If his plans are like his rhetoric, my job would be to stop him. I’m a pragmatic optimist – I’ve been able to work with anyone, including in the armed forces and in the Pentagon.
    S: My wife and I have actually talked about this, and there’s nice property in New Zealand. (laughter) The Tea Partiers think they’re in this terrible enviornment, don’t they? They think everything is so awful. It’s amazing to me. All the indicators are better [than in 2008]. I would talk to them and ask them to allow me to make a decision. I don’t give up. I don’t hate anybody. They also want the American dream, just like us, but we agree what we’re doing now isn’t working.
    A: I have had to negotiate in my life with many folks, many of whom don’t like me. I look through a lens of what can exist. I will consider anything beneficial for the 3rd district. I won’t take easy jabs at Trump. There will be opportunties with a party on the side who also are extreme. I want to connect with them without being obstructionist. I pray Trump won’t be elected, but I can find middle ground.

  • Question Ten: Lack of mental health providers in is causing a crisis in timely and effective care. How would you change that?
  • S: I got an education at the VA hospital last week [The VA has come under fire again with a week-long NPR report on All Things Considered] in what does and doesn’t work. Their adaptations and work is something to be proud of. I think we can do the same with mental health care.
    A: When I ran for the state senate, my wife’s cousin, a war veteran, took his own life. This is an issue that cuts across all lines. This is significant for us all. We need to increase mental health care reimbursement rates in Iowa for Medicare. We need to gorw our group of practitioners.
    M: When i was at the Pentagon, a suicide task force was assembled. Post-9/11 we’ve lost more soldiers to suicide than in combat. Prevention and intervention are up-front investments. we need to improve our mental toughness in advance of conflict. Coping skills, resources for our soldiers both within and outside of themselves. We need to increase funding. By investing in mental health funding we’re going to keep people out of jail and out of the hospitals.

    Me: This was, without a doubt, the worst group answer of the bunch. The mental health crisis was framed with military veterans, rather than acknowledged as a greater epidemic carrying social stigma. They’re trying, which is better than so many of their GOP competitors, but it illustrates how weak the Democrats are in mental health policy. Unless understanding gets uniformly better across officeholders, mental health care will remain in crisis.

  • Queston Eleven, and last one (YAY!): What makes you the best candidate to beat David Young?
  • (I’ve combined this and closing statement)
    A: That’s normally my closing speech. In order to win, we have to build coalitions. I believe I’m the best candidate to win because I can build coalitions between Polk County and the other counties, between rural and urban.
    This isn’t an issue-based election [because of the Presidential circus]. I’ve been endorsed by a number of Democratic leaders. I care about issues. This is about winning – that’s what this is about. In 2012 the incumbent Democrat with $2.7M was eviscerated by by the 5th runner up GOP candidate. In 2014, the wife of a sitting state supreme court judge was shellacked. If we want to do something different, I’m that guy. Put forth a coalition-building candidate. It’s about tomorrow.
    M: 3 reasons: I’m a proven progressive fighter, I’ve worked on our agenda my entire life. My background is unique, I’ll negate the weak on defense argument the Republicans like to use. I have strong grassroots support – I have the endorsement of 10 labor unions.
    This really is the most important election of our lifetime. Look at the Trump and Tea Party. this is the turning point. I think we’re in a fight, I’m prepared to fight.
    S: I had a hard time getting started, it was hard work to find qualified campaign staff. The successful candidate will need experience, know how to win, organize and bring people together. I’ve lived through severe challenges in my business. Mr. Young has never encountered someone like me; he’s been the beneficiary of Republican largess from his position in Sen. Grassley’s staff and from within his party.
    I’ve had the support of great people in my life. Business is not government, nor vice versa. David Young can be beat – look at his ads. I know we can beat him with the right candidate that can connect with people.

    I still don’t have a favorite in this race yet. Desmond Adams comes off the best, charismatic and motivated, but I’m concerned about his ability to remember facts right or draw solid conclusions. Jim Mowrer strikes me as great guy and someone who’d be a solid bureaucrat in the State Department, but I don’t think he’s a great candidate. Mike Sherzan leans heavily on his successful life in private business, but he’s from a financial services background and somewhat vague about most issues; he brings nothing new to Congress in either policy expertise or life experience. I also now see a troubling blindness to his own privilege.

    Many thanks to Matt Pfaltzgraf, Gary Schmidt, and the Ankeny Area Democrats for hosting this forum.

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    • Interesting

      I like this post b/c I went to a forum in Johnston also undecided, with a lean toward Mowrer.

      After the Johnston forum, where DA stated the greatest threat facing America is global climate change, I EVd for Dez.
      I think they are all good candidates and look forward to supporting with enthusiasm whoever wins the primary. I just wish there was woman candidate in the race. Even tho she has never held office, Claire Celsi would’ve been an excellent candidate here, IMHO.

    • From the outside looking in...

      It is tough to make an argument that anyone other then Mowrer is actually running a congressional race. Adams claims to be building Obama style coalitions but ignores the fact that Obama also raised a billion dollars. I appreciate everything Sherzan brings to the race but, unless he has another 2 million dollars to put into his race, he stands no chance in the general. Mowrer seems to be the only one putting together all aspects of campaign that is capable of winning a general election.

      • From the outside ey

        If by actually running a congressional race you mean paying himself salary like he did last time,including when he illegally paid himself after he lost the election. Then yes. he is running an “Actual” campaign. I feel like I’m on crazy pills that no one cares that a candidate would take money from people and unions and instead pay himself.

        I admit, I like Desmund so maybe I am overreacting but considering your only other post was about how Desmund “overreacted” to Jim’s negative campaigning, I assume you are either a supporter or work for the man.

        And insinuating that only Jim can raise the money for the general. Staci Appel raised over 2 million dollars and I don’t think anyone that ever spoke to her would think of her as a prolific fundraiser. If you are the candidate the money comes.

        I don’t know if Desmund can win, but I will vote for Sherzan if it means making Jim Mowrer earn an honest paycheck somewhere else. Maybe he should just keep running against Steve King every year. They deserve each other.

    • I am a supporter of Mowrer

      but only because I want to win the seat. I like all the democrats that are running. Anyone thinking that money will just show up after a primary is on something. Just ask Patrick Murphy how that works out.
      I for one have no problem with candidates who pay themselves a reasonable salary. I have no idea what, if anything, Mowrer is paying himself for his time but I want candidates running for congress who aren’t wealthy. If you are arguing that only people who can go 18 months without getting paid should run for office, that pretty much leaves the Donald Trumps of the world. I do not want to be represented by only the 1%.
      Again, all the dems seem to be right on the issues. This is going to come down to who is running a campaign that can win. I know who I’m voting for.

      • Sure

        I like that you ignore the part where he pays himself AFTER he lost the election, for two more months. Then you create a straw dog argument about Millionaires and 1%ers. Desmund Adams isn’t a Millionaire and he doesn’t pay himself. Maybe Jim Mowrer wouldn’t need to pay himself if he had done anything other than run for congress for the past 4 years.

        Your logic is that since he raises so much money he is entitled to cut of it? Maybe if he told every donor and union that he was taking points on it. And you think he raised so much money in 14 because he is a good fundraiser, not because he was running against Steve King.

        I’m sorry but it is hard to see him as anything other than a career politician, and watching him turn from a Blue Dog to a Progressive makes my stomach turn. I don’t trust Jim Mowrer. And Jim Mowrer breaking the law doesn’t help.

        I trust Desmund Adams, an actual progressive. You are right that all the candidates seem right on the issues, but I think Jim Mowrer will say anything to get elected.