KNOXVILLE — Voters in Iowa House District 28, which covers portions of southeastern Jasper, Marion and Lucas counties may find little to differentiate the two candidates running for office other than the letter behind their names. Both Democratic candidate Ann Fields and Republican candidate Jon Thorup found plenty of common ground during a debate Wednesday night at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum in Knoxville.
In their opening statements, each candidate pointed to their long history of public service — Fields, as the past president of William Penn University and Thorup, a member of the Iowa State Patrol, who became a first responder at the age of 19.
In her opening remarks, Fields said she decided to run for office because she cares about her local community.
“I have a real passion for helping people and putting people first,” Fields said.
For her opponent, the focus is on safety. Citing his career in law enforcement, Thorup said he has seen Iowa become an increasingly dangerous place during his time patrolling the state’s highways. Distracted drivers, many on their cell phones, are leading to an increase in dangerous accidents, Thorup said.
“I want this community 25 years from now to be safer, more robust economically, and I want more people moving in,” Thorup said.
The candidates were asked a series of prepared questions by a moderator from the Marion County Tribune; the first question dealt with tariffs. After President Donald Trump instructed the United States to impose tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports in June, China struck back, slapping a 25 percent tariff on 435 US goods, including soybeans. China is the largest purchaser of US-grown soybeans, importing 1.35 million bushels from United States farmers last year, 33 percent of the total crop. Now the United States Ambassador to China, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad faces a tough road, with economists suggesting a trade war could cost Iowa farmers as much as $624 million in lost revenue. With local farmers continuing to struggle, candidates were asked what they planned to do in response.
Thorup said he has spoken with farmers across the district about the issue, and they have told him Iowa farmers “have been on the short end of the stick” for a long time, but he’s not sure how much influence a state legislator can wield dealing with what he sees as a “federal” issue. Even so, Thorup said he will keep listening to local farmers as he keeps tabs on the issue.
“My patience has been wearing thin on this issue,” Thorup said. “We’re going to listen to what farmers have to say and go from there.”
Fields said she favors a multi-pronged approach to dealing with tariffs. She would like to see Iowa farmers look to diversify their crops by growing other products, naming marijuana and hemp as two she would like to see produced. As the wife of a farmer, Fields said she understands the issues farmers are facing firsthand. The second part of Field’s approach, if elected, she said she’ would push the state legislature to increase manufacturing jobs in Iowa.
Noting corn is present in one out of every four products found in the grocery store, Fields said Iowans need to manufacture those products, rather than shipping their commodities out of state.
“Why aren’t we manufacturing those? We have the commodity here,” Fields asked the crowd. “We can capitalize on our commodities and make a profit in these communities.”
Increasing Iowa’s manufacturing capability would also help draw more residents to state, something candidates were asked about during the debate. A past president of William Penn University, Fields said she was concerned about the student loan debt graduates have. By offering a loan forgiveness plan, Fields said she believes the state could entice young graduates to stay in Iowa. Outlining a plan that would offer $5,000 per year in student loan debt forgiveness for graduates who remain in rural Iowa, Fields said the plan would re-energize Iowa’s small communities.
“I’m really saddened to see students leave with this debt,” Fields said. “We need to create more manufacturing jobs, we need to improve rural broadband, and we need to provide housing.”
Thorup said he would focus on increasing the number of vocational training opportunities across the state, but he was hesitant to back Field’s plan to offer a debt forgiveness program for college graduates.
“I’m a little reluctant on that. I don’t know where we’d come up with the money,” Thorup said. “If we could come up with the money I’d be all for it.”
When it comes to fixing the state’s Medicaid mess, both candidates agree — Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system is not working, and it’s time for the state to explore other options to provide care for Iowans in need.
On Wednesday, Thorup painted himself as a Republican candidate who isn’t afraid to go back to his party and ask tough questions about why the private system is not working. Asking for a show of hand, he asked the audience if anyone thought the system was working. Fields said she wants to see the state move to bring the program back in-house. According to Fields, it is one of the biggest issues she has heard from voters.
“I agree 100 percent with everything you said,” Thorup told Fields. “I’m one of the few Republicans willing to say that.”
Both candidates often found themselves in the same corner at Wednesday’s debate. Both support restoring collective bargaining rights, with Thorup, a longtime member of the Iowa State Patrol’s Union board, calling the move to strip those rights “shortsighted.”
“If I emerge victorious in this campaign, I’m going to bring that into the caucus room,” Thorup pledged to the audience.
To Fields, leaving nurses and EMS personnel without collective bargaining rights is unfair.
“No collective bargaining for EMS, aren’t they essential?” Fields asked. “No collective bargaining for teachers, aren’t they essential? We have to go back and get rid of collective bargaining. We have to do better than that.”
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or email@example.com