Jim Hahn has a one word answer when he’s asked this question: Is there anything that separates you from Shawn Hamerlinck?
The two men, Republican state senators, are vying for their party’s nomination to run in District 46, which includes parts of Scott and Muscatine counties.
Hahn, a 21-year veteran of the Statehouse, and Hamerlinck, who was elected in 2008, were thrown into the same district by the once-per-decade redrawing of legislative boundaries.
Neither was willing to move, setting up the uncomfortable prospect of a primary.
So, what was Hahn’s answer?
“No,” he said. “That’s what’s so terrible about this.“
“We’re both conservative. We both look at things that same way,” he added, then paused.
Perhaps there is one thing that is a difference. “I can say I’ve been in business. I’ve had to meet a payroll,” he said. Hahn had been a farmer for years and now rents out his land. “Maybe he hasn’t had that type of background.”
Ask Hamerlinck the same question, and he’s not so reticent.
“We may have the same ideology and vote the exact same way most of the time,” Hamerlinck says. “But before the vote ever happens on the Senate floor, someone has to write the bill. That’s what I do.”
Hamerlinck, a professor of sociology at Clinton Community College and a former Davenport alderman, said he’s the guy who stands up and willingly takes on the left.
“I work a lot harder at making sure we stand up for the principles we believe in,” he said.
That might or might not be so. But their approach to the same question tells a little bit about both men.
Hahn, in a 45-minute conversation with the Quad-City Times, leaned toward talking about his days growing up on the farm, of cutting cabbage. And of those things that are at the bedrock of local Republicanism: local control of school districts and keeping spending down.
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The state is limited to spending 99 percent of its revenues. “I’m more inclined to put it down to 98 percent,” he said, adding that he would reject taking any money out of the state’s reserves at this time.
Many Democrats want to do that rather than limit spending in education. “That’s what it’s there for,” Hahn said.
Hamerlinck said he’s had his successes on such things as seeking more funding for community colleges. But he said he has his sites set higher. Asked about his ideas for growing Iowa’s economy, he says eliminate the income tax.
“Imagine if I could pull that off,” he said. “Put me at the table, we’ll make it happen.”
Hamerlinck conceded it’s a “huge hill to climb.” But he said it would amount to more than just tinkering around the edges.
Hamerlinck expressed misgivings about the dueling legislation to cut commercial property taxes, including the bill passed in the Republican-controlled House. Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed reducing the taxes by 40 percent over several years.
Hamerlinck said the House-passed bill leans too much on income taxes. And he says the only way for true property tax reform is to overhaul the whole system, something that’s been talked about for years.
Both come from different backgrounds.
Hamerlinck is 32, and he has three small children. Hahn, at 77, is apt to talk about the athletic exploits of his grandchildren.
For a race that pits two Senate incumbents, it’s a rather low- dollar affair.
As of last week, Hamerlinck had raised more money for the race. He’d raised about $13,000 since the start of the year and had $11,148 in the bank as of the middle of the month.
Hahn had raised $695, but had more money in the bank to start with, and had spent a little bit less, so he had about $6,000 in then bank at the middle of the month.
The race also is flying mostly under the general public’s radar.
Both men have set about winning the race by doing what it takes to come out on top in a mostly rural legislative race: getting out at night and on weekends, knocking on doors.
By June 5, one will go on to face Democrat Chris Brase, a Muscatine firefighter who has no opposition in his primary.