By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
As Election Day nears on Tuesday, Nov. 6, area candidates were out last week in Dyersville, attending a political forum at Beckman High School on Oct. 23. Rep. Lee Hein, District 96, and opponents Nate Willems and Dan Zumbach, Senate District 48, were attendance along with other Dubuque County-area candidates.
The crowd was light, but the questions asked from the audience were pertinent to this election season, covering such topics as job creation, balancing the state budget, workforce development, Iowa as a right-to-work state, the Iowa Public Information Board and renewable sources of energy.
What will be your number one priority going into office?
Zumbach said the most important thing would be to “ensure the budget is balanced.” He said the state serves so many different government entities that the funding should be distributed where the needs are.
“At home, my family and I have to live within our means,” said Zumbach. He said the same should be true for the State of Iowa. “With a balanced budget, everything could flourish, especially education.”
“Our primary role in the legislature is to put together a budget and we are required by law to balance that budget,” said Rep. Willems. “That’s the difference between Des Moines and D.C.”
Willems commented that he felt the state was in a good position financially going into this next legislative session, with 65 percent of the state’s budget going to help fund public education.
Rep. Hein said the state needs to not only balance the budget, but spend less than it takes in. He also feels they need to take a serious look at the property tax issue, which he said “relates to business expansion in Iowa and creates more jobs.
“We need to provide for the needs of all Iowans,” Hein said.
Where do you stand on issuing gambling licenses?
Hein said Iowa needs to be careful not to over saturate the market as it is.
“I can’t see a reason to expand and grant more licenses at this point,” he said. He acknowledged that gambling revenue does help the state, and that there are reasons for these facilities to be here, “but at some point, there is only so many dollars to go around and so many people to gamble with those dollars.
“Are you just moving the money from one facility to the next?” Hein asked.
Willems claimed he is not an expert on gambling market saturation, but it could be a concern.
He pointed out that gambling revenue has helped fund infrastructure projects through IJOBS, which is backed by gambling money. Willems clarified that while his opponent, Zumbach, has attacked him for supporting IJOBS funding, he said it is not taxpayer money used for these projects.
“These projects have put a lot of people to work,” Willems said.
Zumbach said the state would have to be careful to keep these facilities under control, as well as Internet gambling, which he said could be hard to regulate compared to casinos.
“We need to control what we have,” said Zumbach.
This area has been fortunate to have success in job creation throughout workforce development. Where do you stand on utilizing additional training opportunities to fit the needs of the workforce and using unemployment reform to fill those jobs?
Hein said a lot of work in this department could be done through area community colleges when it comes to training.
“There are a lot of good programs for people retooling themselves,” Hein said.
He said Iowa needs to continue to fund these programs and help get people back to work.
Willems spoke about active job centers in Eastern Iowa in connection with workforce development, focusing on placing people in new jobs.
“Community colleges have a big role in this as well,” he said.
Willems also advocated for more affordable community colleges. He said 30 years ago, 80 percent of the funding for community colleges came from the state, the rest was made up by student tuition. Now, Willems noted about 40 percent comes from the state, with tuition filling in the rest of the funding.
“We need affordable, accessible community colleges in our communities,” he said.
Zumbach said he sees this as a great opportunity for businesses to partner with high schools and community colleges when it comes to programs such as welding.
“This will help place students in jobs right out of school,” he noted.
What is your position on Iowa being a right-to-work state?
“I believe in the freedom of association,” said Willems. “This has been endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
However, Willems said you couldn’t force someone to join a union if he/she does not want to.
Zumbach said his views and Willems views on unions differ.
“If you’re doing a great job,” said Zumbach, “you could be held back by a union contract. It could hold the best employees back.”
He said union contracts also keep the poor employees on.
Lee Hein said he believes in a right-to-work state. He added, “Mom and pop shops should compete for the work force. It’s common sense for employer/employee relations.”
A bill was passed into law establishing the Iowa Public Information Board. How do you feel about transparency in government?
Willems said he strongly believes in open records and open meetings.
“But what concerns me is that small towns have a challenge to get good people to serve,” he said. Willems explained if people fear they could be sued due to a decision that was made while in office, that might hinder them from serving ever again.
“It’s a thankless position with real responsibility,” Willems said. “We should not discourage good people from serving in good communities with hoops they have to jump through.”
When it comes to open records, Willems said people should be aware of the particulars of the law.
“We need transparency in government,” said Zumbach. “We need to continue to maintain that.”
Having been on the West Delaware School Board for nine years, Zumbach said he is aware of the open meetings law.
“You need to know what’s going on,” he said. “That’s transparency.”
Hein explained the Iowa Public Information Board is set up to educate people and local governments about open meetings and records laws. He said they are here to help answer questions about the way the laws are interpreted.
“I’m enthusiastic about getting this set up,” Hein said. “It will eliminate a lot of issues.”
In their closing statements, Hein said he has enjoyed listen to and hearing from his constituents during the past legislative term and into the next.
“I can’t be in every community at once to see what’s going on,” he said. “I encourage you to contact me.”
Willems said he is the oldest of three children in his family. He left Iowa to attend college and came back to work in his home state.
“I wanted to plant roots in Iowa,” he said. “It’s important to give kids opportunities when growing up.”
He said he cares deeply about Iowa and is “ready to work for you.”
Zumbach admitted he never intended to run for office in the Senate. “Farming is my passion.”
He felt his representative was not representing their voices. “People are tired of big government and big spending,” he said. “Send someone to Des Moines to represent you.”