The candidates for Iowa House District 12 found some areas of common ground and some areas of stark disagreement at the Chamber & Development Council (CDC) of Crawford County candidates forum on October 15.
Candidates for Crawford County Treasurer, Crawford County Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, Crawford County Supervisor, and Iowa State Representative for District 12 were given the opportunity to answer a variety of questions.
The candidates vying for the District 12 seat are Brian Best, (R), incumbent, of Glidden, and challenger Peter Leo, (D) of Manning.
The following is an edited and condensed account, presented in the order of the CDC questions.
Best was born and raised on a 240-acre farm south of Glidden. He graduated from Glidden-Ralston High School in 1978.
“We had hogs and cattle and baled a lot of hay and did a lot of good blue-collar work,” Best said.
He and his wife, Sharon, have four children and five grandchildren.
They started BestMed Respiratory in 2001 and Western Iowa Sleep in 2005.
“We know what it’s like to own a business, pay employees, pay the bills, pay the taxes and then at the end, hopefully pay ourselves,” he said.
Leo grew up in the Des Moines area and graduated from Grinnell College in 2006 and Drake Law School in 2010.
He worked at the Heidman Law Firm in Sioux City for three and one-half years after law school.
Leo’s career later took him to Omaha, where he felt he lost sight of his purpose.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, had both grown up in Iowa and wanted to raise their two boys as Iowans.
Leo was fortunate that Brad Nelson at the Norelius Nelson Law Firm was looking for someone and was willing to take him on, he said.
“It’s my love of this community and my rediscovery of the purpose of why I went to law school, which is to help people, that motivates me to run for the statehouse,” he said.
On the question of how to make healthcare more affordable, Best said the affordability of healthcare was and still is a major problem for most people.
Individuals on the state exchange get no assistance and pay up to $30,000 a year for a plan that isn’t very good, he said.
Legislators in the last session came up with a plan that allowed individuals to get a less expensive Wellmark policy as long as they joined Farm Bureau, he said.
“It’s not perfect, we’re still working on it and a lot of that is going to be deciding what happens at the federal government level and what they get sent down to us,” he said.
Leo said he supports expanding Iowa Medicaid to allow for a public buy-in to backstop affordable healthcare.
His family gets healthcare through Obamacare, so he knows how the process works, he said.
Leo said he was disappointed by the Wellmark/Farm Bureau health insurance plan because it allows an unregulated healthcare product on the market, the Iowa Insurance commissioner has no jurisdiction over it, the federal subsidy through the Affordable Care Act can’t be used for the plan and Wellmark is allowed to discriminate because of preexisting health conditions.
“This is not a solution, it’s not even a step in the right direction,” Leo said.
On the question of how Medicaid is affected by “managed care,” Leo said, “Under no circumstances does it make any sense to take the same pot of money, carve out a 12 percent profit for at first three - now two - out-of-state companies and expect to get better results. We’re not seeing that efficiency.”
The year to year cost increase for Medicaid patients is four times higher under privatization than it was under state management, he said.
Best said the reason the governor went with managed care was that in 2005, nine percent of the general fund was used for Medicaid, which rose to 18 percent in 2019.
Medicaid costs are rising at a very rapid rate, but he had agreement with Leo on the subject.
“The MCOs (Managed Care Organizations) are bad actors,” Best said.
During the next session, the MCOs have to be looked at closely and penalized when not paying providers or when taking care away from patients in need, he said.
On the topic of the Iowa gun rights amendment, both candidates agreed with adding Second Amendment language to the Iowa Constitution.
Leo and Best disagreed about the “Fetal Heartbeat Law” enacted in 2018.
“It’s unconstitutional,” Leo said. “It’s almost certainly going to be struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court.”
He said it was an issue that divides the legislature and takes attention away from areas that need attention, such as fixing Medicaid, funding schools and investing in infrastructure.
Best said he voted for the bill.
“I support life and if there’s a heartbeat there is life, so how can I possibly vote against a bill that would support life?” Best said. “It’s as simple as that.”
On the question of education funding and low teacher pay, Best said Iowa education ranks high when compared to other states and Iowa ranks eighth in teacher pay with cost-of-living adjustments.
The legislature put $14 million toward schools with high transportation costs last year. That brought per-student costs down significantly for Ar-We-Va, Carroll and IKM-Manning, Best said.
Leo said he has advocated for expanding Iowa public schools from traditional K-12 to two years of pre-kindergarten and two years of post-secondary education after high school graduation.
“If we have $2.7 billion in tax cuts we can give away to the wealthiest corporations and the wealthiest two and one-half percent of us over the next six years, we have the money to expand into universal Pre-K through 14,” he said.
Both candidates agreed that the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) should not be changed.
On the question of collective bargaining, Best said he voted against it.
“I was never a part of a union and it seemed like I did really well just on my own talents,” Best said. “I didn’t have to have anybody come in and arbitrate for me.”
Under collective bargaining, everybody gets the exact same amount, which would be disadvantageous to a good worker asking for a higher raise than everyone else, he said.
Leo said real wages for working people have not increased since the late 1970s.
He said no one could tolerate an environment where an employer says, “Take it or leave it. This is the deal.”
“Public employee unions, private sector unions advocate on behalf of the working people for better pay, better working conditions,” he said. “Collective bargaining is essential. We need to see it restored.”
Asked about policies or laws the candidates would promote if elected, Leo said his first priority would be to introduce a bill to study the feasibility of expanding to universal Pre-K through 14.
“I think it should be our policy in this state, if you are a student in Iowa you can go through public school and straight into a career, if that’s the path you choose, or you can go on to finish a bachelor’s degree or onto further education,” he said.
Leo would also investigate privatized Medicaid to make sure taxpayers aren’t losing money.
Best said radon testing in schools is an issue that should be addressed because of the length of time children sit in classrooms during the day.
He also wants to make sure that school transportation funding is renewed for future years and that Future Ready Iowa is funded so it can do what it is intended to do.
“We have a lot of kids getting out of school who aren’t going into the right major and they’re coming out with $100,000 of debt, so we need to make sure that Future Ready Iowa gives them the skill level in the areas where we need them,” he said.
On the question of whether the recent Iowa tax cuts were good or bad, Best said he had voted for the tax cuts.
“I don’t want Iowans to pay more in state taxes than they would have otherwise - by the fact that the federal tax went down,” he said.
He said he believes the tax cut will spur the economy.
“(Citizens) know where to spend their money,” he said. “They don’t need us to tell them where to do it.”
Leo said he does not believe the tax cuts will spur the economy or provide additional revenue.
“We were promised that about the 2013 commercial property tax cut and that never materialized,” he said.
More and more of the tax burden is being pushed down to local governments, he said.
Tax cuts didn’t work in Kansas, Oklahoma or Arizona, Leo said.
In closing, Best said he could be an independent voice and would not necessarily vote along party lines.
He said his vote for cannabinoid oil legislation was an example of voting against party lines.
Iowa has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and has a $127 million surplus for the last fiscal year, Best said.
“The state of Iowa is being managed well,” he said. “Let’s keep it on the right course.”
Leo said Iowa has the highest number of people working two jobs to make ends meet and 40 percent of the people in the state don’t earn enough money to meet their basic needs.
Best voted with the party leadership 98.2 percent of the time the last session and his campaign was funded by more than a half million dollars of outside spending in 2014, Leo said.
“This is my community of choice. This is my home,” Leo said. “I want my boy to grow up here and thrive here.”