WEST LIBERTY, Iowa — Five of the seven Democrats who would like to be governor of Iowa offered strong support of education, civil rights and diversity at a Tuesday night forum.
The forum was organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, of Iowa and hosted in West Liberty, a Muscatine County city of 3,700 that was Iowa’s first Hispanic-majority city.
John Norris of Des Moines told the audience of 100 or so that Iowa schools aren’t funded well enough to deal a lack of children’s mental health services and the number of children on free and reduced lunch programs.
“The funding for education levels are woefully inadequate to address the issues that we face in our schools today,” said Norris, a former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Vilsack.
Candidate Cathy Glasson, a Coralville nurse and union leader, said she would increase funding for K-12 education and work for tuition-free community college and a tuition freeze at public universities.
“As governor, my first month in office, we will have tuition-free community colleges,” Glasson said. “We will work to make in-state undergraduate tuition so that those students graduate debt-free from any of our public universities.”
Ross Wilburn of Ames, a former Iowa City mayor, spoke about students being bullied at school, saying it’s important for a governor to be a welcoming leader and provide programs similar to the Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.
“Another thing we can do, and it’s not just a symbolic thing, but (provide) opportunities for young people who feel that they have been bullied to get together, to learn from each other, to get support,” he said.
One of LULAC’s legislative priorities last year was to stop Iowa’s new voter ID law, which the Legislature adopted and which now requires voters to present an ID at the polls.
Andy McGuire of Des Moines, a doctor and former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said everyone who is eligible should be able to vote, including felons who have served their time and have their voting rights restored.
“Right now, we’re going the wrong direction,” McGuire said, addng she would support repealing the voter ID law. “I think we should go all the way to vote by mail. I don’t see why we wouldn’t want everyone to vote.”
Jon Neiderbach, a Des Moines attorney, said he wants to make Iowa a welcoming state for diversity. He said communities can’t afford to have local law enforcement officers enforcing federal immigration laws.
“We’re a graying state,” Neiderbach said. “This is an economic development necessity, that we have to appeal to all kinds of folks not only from around the country but around the world to come to Iowa. Otherwise, we’re not going to have a workforce.”
In regard to renewable energy, University of Iowa student Emiliano Martinez, appearing on behalf of another gubernatorial hopeful, state Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said Boulton supports the renewable energy industry and solar and wind tax credit policies.
“I would say that environmental issues in this state, both urban and rural, are some of the most important issues my generation sees coming on the horizon,” Martinez said.
LULAC co-hosted the forum with the West Liberty Rotary Club, and Maria Bribriesco, LULAC’s deputy state director, said the groups had planned a forum tonight for Republican gubernatorial candidates. That plan was canceled, though, when Gov. Kim Reynolds and former Cedar Rapids Mayor Rob Corbett declined because of scheduling conflicts.
Bribriesco said it’s the first year the organization has had a gubernatorial forum. What began as a voter registration outreach effort, she said, turned into a bigger project to inform voters and train candidates.
“We saw this as the next logical step because Latinos, we’re growing in numbers, and we see that really we can be a political force in the state of Iowa and across the country,” Bribriesco said. “We want to do this as a public service for the community because an informed citizenry will give us a better government.”