A Hamilton County League of Women Voters forum on Thursday welcomed three of the four local state legislature candidates. Hamilton County League President Pat Powers moderated the debate, which asked community members to submit questions for the candidates.
Incumbent Republican Jerry Behn and Democrat Shelly Stotts, running for the state Senate District 24, were both in attendance. Democrat Becky Perkovich from Napier was also at the forum. She is running against Republican Rob Bacon from Maxwell for state House District 48, who was not able to attend due to a family event for his son who has entered the military.
Perkovich opened the state portion of the forum. She has been working in healthcare for the past 14 years, most recently in home hospice. She said she was inspired to run for office because of a trip to Washington D.C. as a member of a 4-H group.
From left, Becky Perkovich, Shelly Stotts and Jerry Behn answer questions from moderator Pat Powers at the LWV forum at City Hall. Candidates fielded questions for about an hour from community members.
Stotts, a fifth and sixth grade teacher, said she wants a better life for her two kids and she believes many middle class residents of Webster City want that as well. In her opening statements, she said focused on helping the middle class, creating more jobs and facing the challenge of teaching students that have problems with food or shelter.
Behn, the only incumbent from the legislature forum, said Iowa has more opportunity and potential in front of it than any other state if it has the leadership and vision it needs. He supports the Iowa Strong plan Gov. Branstad laid out, property tax reform and efficient and effective government that offers core services.
The candidates were asked how they would turn around Iowa's rankings in standardized tests, which fell from first in the nation to the middle of the pack. Behn said school districts needed better ways to keep quality teachers in classrooms. He also discussed the current "Last In, First Out" policy, where the last teacher hired is the first to be cut. He said we need to give principals the power to keep the best teachers in the classrooms.
"We have some great teachers and I think with great tools those teachers can help those students and I think it's important to empower those schools with those tools," Behn said.
Stotts said her 150 students have become part of her family. She said she was concerned with Behn's support for regulation of teacher's employment because she didn't know who would oversee that.
"If you're given a class where maybe you have lower readers or lower math students, you don't get to pick your kids. You know, if I could go out and hand pick all the kids I wanted in my class, I could probably show you quite a bit of growth," Stotts said. "We get the kids we get and we try to grab ahold of them and pull them through as hard as we can and as fast as we can so that they can be ready for the next grade."
Perkovich said giving kids the skills to sit quietly and learn is something she would like to discuss with parents, but she would also consider looking at college curriculums for teachers in training.
"No one becomes a teacher because they think they're getting rich, you become a teacher because you want to do the right thing, you want to help somebody and we need to make sure we're giving them the resources to do that," Perkovich said.
She said she sees her role as a facilitator if elected, looking at and discussing these issues with constituents.
Needs of the mentally ill
The candidates were asked about their ideas of how the needs of the mentally ill in Iowa can be met
Stotts attended the Hamilton County LWV forum on mental health issues. She said the problem with current state plans of grouping counties together to receive mental health care, as Hamilton County has been with five other counties, is that there is no funding for it. She said a bill would have to be passed to cover the cost, and would vote for the funding as soon as it would be possible.
Behn said he worked hard last session to work on mental health issues, since the counties can't afford it. He said people have told him to fix a broken system. He said the plan, which was bipartisan in nature, was held off because it overstepped and changed the current system too much. He encouraged more input on the matter so it could be addressed as soon as possible.
Perkovich said meeting the needs of the mentally ill is complex because of the differences of situations. She said trust must be given to local providers versus not seeking help, which can lead to violence. She said access to a mental heath care network must be easy and she believes local communities can best serve mental health needs.
Candidates were asked if they would support enacting voter ID laws in Iowa and what they would do to ensure the sanctity of the election system.
Behn supports a photo ID law. He said maintaining the integrity of the system is important because losing that integrity turns people off of voting.
Stotts opposed ID laws, after finding only three cases of fraud in Iowa. She said creating more gates to voting is unnecessary when people she has spoken to believe they already need a photo ID to vote in the state and that would put elderly voters at a disadvantage.
Perkovich was unsure about issue, and said she would need to hear from auditors before making a choice. She said she was nervous about photo ID laws, as elders she knows would be pressed to wait for hours at a DMV location to receive a non-driver's ID.
Candidates were asked about their stance on personhood, defending life from conception and if they think exceptions should be allowed for cases of rape and incest.
Stotts said a woman's healthcare needs are between her and her doctor. She said help needs to be available to those who are raped or victims of incest.
"I think it's almost like making the woman be raped again by having to have a child that was conceived under rape or incest," Stotts said.
Behn said he believes life begins at conception and it should be protected as much as possible.
Perkovich has personal objections to abortions as directed by her Catholic faith, but she doesn't want the government in her bedroom or her doctor's office. She said government has no place to legislate morality and is pro-choice.
Candidates were asked about their position on allowable growth.
Perkovich said she was surprised it didn't happen this year. She said she assumed it was standard as inflation increases.
Stotts said zero allowable growth with higher expectations on students performance is unreasonable. Putting allowable growth at two percent is appropriate, she said, and she said Behn has not voted for education appropriation bills in the past six years.
Behn said he has and has not voted for appropriation bills. He said allowable growth is based on number of students and he doesn't believe automatic raises should be implemented. He cited a 10 percent cut across the board during Gov. Culver's administration that was made, according to Behn, because Culver made too many promises.