Taxes, education and job creation were among the topics tackled Thursday evening by Iowa House District 2 Republican candidates Josh Davenport and Megan Hess in front of about 40 people in Spencer City Council chambers.
Hess included those topics in her opening statement as she touted her five-year goals of creating 5,000 new jobs in the district, reducing the size of government by 10 percent, increasing family household income by 25 percent, eliminating 10 percent of business regulations and pushing Iowa's math and reading rankings into the top five in the nation.
"I won't make any promises about numbers of jobs or anything like that, but I can promise you I will work hard and stand up for the taxpayer and stand up against the liberals and their social agenda," Davenport, a local pastor and school employee, countered in his opening statement.
When asked what makes him electable compared to Democrat Steve Bomgaars, who is also running for the open seat, Davenport simply said, "My conservative values will speak for themselves, and in the end, that's what will win the election."
Hess, a law school graduate and former Iowa House page, has been a candidate for nearly a year and said she has been connecting with potential constituents.
"I've been knocking on doors since August. I've put 24,000 miles on my car. It's going to be hard work," Hess said. "In saying that, I've met a lot of people and we've talked about the issues and they know I'm listening to them and I will represent them well in the legislature."
Audience questions opened with a query about gun rights, and both candidates promoted their credentials.
"The National Rifle Association chose me in this race as the one who would defend our 2nd Amendment rights," Hess said of a recent endorsement. "I believe that shows I'm a good steward of the 2nd Amendment. I've taken a CCW (concealed carry weapon) class and I'm certified and I've worked for 2nd Amendment issues in the past."
Going a step further, Davenport said he is a gun owner with a permit to carry weapons and an NRA-certified instructor. Having also filled out the NRA's survey and receiving an "A" rating, Davenport offered a theory on why he was not endorsed.
"Sometimes it's not what you know, but who you know," Davenport said. "I know she had worked for Rep. Clel Baudler, who is on the national board of directors for the NRA and things like that. I can't always understand why the NRA, as such a good group as it is, sometimes picks the ones they endorse they way they do in seeing neither of us has a voting record on those areas."
He later added that, while Baudler is an NRA board member, he "torpedoed the NRA's own bill on preemption reform, which is something I fought very hard here in Clay County and the city of Spencer," referring to a bill that "would prevent cities and counties from enacting ordinances that were stricter than Iowa Code 728.29."
Hess defended the endorsement, saying she earned it by working for past NRA issues.
"I did work for State Rep. Clel Baudler, and he's the chair of the Public Safety Committee in the Iowa House of Representatives," Hess said. "That gave me a really good opportunity to see the 2nd Amendment issues, understand them and also fight to protect our 2nd Amendment rights. So, that's the reason the NRA endorsed me over my opponent."
Also on the topic of gun rights, both expressed support for the "Castle Doctrine," commonly called the "Stand Your Ground Bill," which would remove legislative language that requires gun owners to attempt to flee danger before using potentially deadly force.
The candidates also agreed on numerous tax issues.
Pointing to Iowa's commercial and residential tax rates -- nationally ranked second and 16th, respectively -- Davenport highlighted the need for reform.
"It's important for businesses, it's important for families. I will fight very hard for that," Davenport said. "I'm a very limited-government candidate, and I think we need to be very wise and good stewards of our spending."
Hess referred to her goal of raising incomes when talking on the topic.
"We definitely need to reform our property taxes and figure out a different way so we're taxing our businesses less, so our people can bring home a bigger paycheck at the end of the week," she said.
When moderator George Bower asked about backfilling lost tax revenues for local governments, both candidates talked about keeping commitments to those entities, while promoting better spending practices.
How can the government create jobs?
"I believe we should be proactive in bringing in small and mid-size businesses to the area," Hess said, after referencing Gov. Terry Branstad's goal to create 200,000 jobs.
She also shared an idea regarding unemployment benefits.
"I want to encourage a business to hire someone off the unemployment roles by paying half of that person's wages for a period of six to eight weeks, so we can wean them off of unemployment and wean them onto the payroll of a business," Hess said. "I believe that's one way to insulate the business from taking that risk of hiring someone on because it's not easy for a business to grow and it's a huge risk."
"The only jobs government can create are government jobs and we have too many of those already," Davenport responded with a chuckle in his voice. "The only thing we can do is work on regulatory reform, tax reform and things like that to create an environment so that businesses and job creators can do a better job at creating jobs."
While both candidates are in favor of property tax reform, they mutually oppose a potential gas tax increase.
"I'd be in favor if there wasn't so much wasteful spending," Davenport said, referencing a 17 percent pay increase for Department of Transportation employees at the end of former Gov. Chet Culver's term.
Escalating registration fees were meant to pay for infrastructure, not a tax on already high-priced fuel, Hess added.
On the topic of education, Davenport and Hess believe it should be a local issue, but also support a reformed school start date. They also agreed the state should keep its funding commitment, regardless of the amount of allowable growth, and rejected the idea that the state should force small school districts to consolidate.
"One of the things that bothered me most was Iowa Core Curriculum," Davenport said, in line with his local-control stance, regarding recent education reform. He also spoke out against adding more government employees for oversight.
Hess called education reform an emotional issue and pledged to work with Department of Education Director Jason Glass and former Rep. Mike May, who serves on the Iowa Board of Education.
She added her disappointment with one facet of reform that was not included.
"I think there is some real reform that needs to be done with regards to how we pay our teachers," she said. "My idea to restructure the way we pay our teachers is to create a mentorship program the first year a teacher is teaching. Perhaps they don't like teaching and they'll find that out the first year. We need to not give them a union contract the first year, make sure they are a good, quality teacher, and then we can offer them a contract."
When asked about working with Democrats to get things done,
Davenport, Hess debate the issues
Hess said she had a record of doing so, while Davenport used examples from marriage and being a pastor to show good compromises can be made.
"I'm not going to make friends, but I want to get along," he said, later adding, "There are some things you can talk about, discuss and come to an agreement on. However, there are some things I will not compromise on. I will not compromise on the very principles of life, liberty or property."
In closing, Davenport reiterated his opening points, saying, "I will be accessible, and I will listen and will stand up for the taxpayer and against Democrats and their liberal agenda."
"You're electing a representative to govern, not to gridlock," Hess said. "I want to govern and I want to help Iowa get back on its feet. In saying that, we need ideas, we need goals. We need at least something to shoot for and I've offered you ideas and goals."
She went on to say she is not pushing her agenda, but those of northwest Iowa and implored those present and watching the debate on Spencer Municipal Utilities TV to "please, please, please remember November."