State candidates hold forum

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State candidates hold forum

Jeff Danielson (left), Democratic State Senator

Walt Rogers (right), Republican State Representative

Jeff Danielson (left), Democratic State Senator Walt Rogers (right), Republican State Representative

Courtesy Photo

Jeff Danielson (left), Democratic State Senator Walt Rogers (right), Republican State Representative

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Jeff Danielson (left), Democratic State Senator Walt Rogers (right), Republican State Representative

JOSHUA DAUSENER, Staff Writer

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Election day is drawing ever closer, and deciding student voters had an opportunity to attend a forum to hear the ideas of seven candidates running for state office on Monday night. The forum was held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Maucker Union Ballroom, and there were about fifty people in attendance.

The candidates in attendance were Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson, Republican challenger Bonnie Sadler, Republican State Representative Walt Rogers, Democratic challenger Gary Kroeger and Democratic State Representative Bob Kressig – plus challengers Republican Drew Speer and independent Nick Taiber.

Candidates answered a variety of questions posed by students. The main topics discussed were UNI’s funding, mental health care in Iowa, accountability within the Board of Regents, medical marijuana, treatment of American Muslims and job growth.

The topic that received the most attention was funding for UNI.

“Education, and UNI in particular, is the engine of this economy and prosperity,” Gary Kroeger said. “We keep more students here in Iowa, and we have more Iowa students going to UNI. The state needs to recognize the importance of the University of Northern Iowa.”

Kroeger emphasized “intelligent government” in his reasoning, citing recent corporate tax incentives Iowa has given to fertilizer company Orascom, which totals approximately $107 million. Kroeger said Orascom is being sued by the federal government for tax fraud and suggested funding Iowa schools would be a better use of the money.

Incumbent Walt Rogers argued that UNI’s funding situation is already improving.

“The last six years, UNI has increased 30 percent of their funding, compared to 11 percent for Iowa [and] 12 percent for ISU,” Rogers said. “I would contend that’s because we have a Republican caucus who fights for UNI every time we’re in there. We need to take care of UNI. We’ve been doing that for the past six years and I will continue to do that as long as I’m in there.”

Rogers also argued that the state could not provide more funding to education because of budget pressure from Medicaid and mental health costs.

Mental health care in Iowa was another hot topic, specifically mental health care initiatives at Iowa universities. A recent study by the Treatment Advocacy Center placed Iowa at 49th in the United States in terms of access to mental health care, and Governor Terry Branstad has recently closed mental health hospitals in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

All of the candidates agreed that mental health care is not accessible enough to Iowans and commended the efforts of the UNI student body to bring mental health to the forefront of discussion.

Incumbent state senator Jeff Danielson suggested state appropriations to student health centers on campuses that would enable universities to hire professional psychiatrists and therapists to help college students. Danielson also suggested greater coverage of mental health in Iowa health insurance plans.

“As your senator, I will continue to vote for resources at the state level regardless of whether the governor continues to veto them or take unilateral action to close facilities,” Danielson said.

Challenger Bonnie Sadler emphasized a lack of mental health care providers in the state. She called for residency programs to attract mental health professionals to Iowa, as well as improved home care as solutions to Iowa’s mental health care situation.

Medicinal marijuana was also discussed at the forum. UNI social works graduate student Justin Everett confronted the candidates regarding their support for medicinal marijuana oil. The issue carries personal importance to Everett, as his mother suffers from chronic regional pain syndrome and mental illness.

“Her body, from head to toe, is in extreme pain, all the time,” Everett said.

Everett went on to say that his mother has told him she feels like she is on fire. Everett expects his mother to die within the next couple of years and said he cannot legally access cannabis oil that would ease his mother’s suffering.

Every candidate on stage spoke in favor of medical marijuana. Independent Nick Taiber even suggested full legalization – medical and recreational – of marijuana. However, Everett was not convinced with what he was hearing.

“I came here tonight because I know some of these candidates’ voting records don’t match what they say,” Everett said. “I’m tired of people telling me to vote for them, who don’t at least have the decency to tell me to my face their honest-to-God opinion.”

Junior political science and public administration major Sam George was also in attendance.

“I’m here tonight just to learn about local politics,” George said. “To be honest, I don’t know that much about it and asking some of my friends, they don’t know much about it. So I just wanted to see what candidates are out there, what stances they have.” George cited adequate funding for UNI as his most important issue.

The event concluded with closing remarks and a brief meet and greet with the candidates. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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