Candidates in a northeast Cedar Rapids Iowa House district voiced sharp differences on a variety of issues facing the Legislature, ranging from budget priorities to gun rights to mental health funding and rail transportation.
Most of the disagreements between Rep. Renee Schulte, R-Cedar Rapids, and Democratic challenger Art Staed during a League of Women Voters forum Thursday centered around budget priorities.
Staed, a teacher who served one two-year term in the House before being defeated by Schulte in 2008, called for “investing” more in education, mental health, health care and other state services.
With a $1 billion state budget surplus projected and an improving economy, Staed said the Legislature should approve a 4 percent allowable growth rate and fully fund a variety of other programs, such as Head Start and watershed management.
“These are our children,” he said, referring to a question about education. "They are the most important resources. They should be our No. 1 priority.”
Schulte, a mental health therapist, agreed education is a priority, and said the 65 percent of the state general fund budget that goes to all levels of education reflects that.
However, maintaining a balanced budget without using one-time revenues to fund ongoing services also is a priority, Schulte said.
Spending beyond the state’s means resulted in four across the board cuts to schools, she added.
“Talk about what’s disastrous to schools,” she said.
The Schulte-Staed race is a rematch of their contest four years ago, when Schulte won by 13 votes. House 66 is a new district created by the redrawing of legislative boundaries to reflect population changes following the 2000 census. It includes Cedar Rapids north and east of First Avenue, west of the Cedar River, those parts of Cedar Rapids that wrap around Hiawatha and south of Collins Road.
The latest voter registration numbers show that Democrats outnumber Republicans 35 percent to 30 percent in House 66.
Staed was critical of the Legislature’s mental health redesign – Schulte’s signature issue. The Legislature underfunded mental health, resulting in a loss of services in Linn County.
Schulte, who over the past two years led the effort to redesign Iowa’s county-based mental-health system into a statewide effort where services would be administered regionally and delivered locally, said the new arrangement isn’t to blame. The redesign hasn’t been implemented yet.
They also disagreed on gun owner rights, with Schulte supporting the so-called stand-your-ground legislation that would allow Iowans to defend themselves not only in their homes, but wherever they felt threatened.
“I stand for those rights," she said.
Staed called it “reckless and irresponsible” to let people defend themselves in public places.
Staed supported a plan for a rail link from Iowa City to Chicago, saying it would create jobs and open the state for development.
Schulte’s not a big fan.
“If we’re talking Japanese bullet trains that are fast and efficient, yes. But Amtrak? No,” she said.
The LWV is hosting several legislative forums, all beginning at 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 – House 67, Rep. Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, and Democrat Mark Seidl, Hiawatha Community Center, 80 N. Center Point Rd.
Oct. 15 – House 70, Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, and Republican Lance Lefebure, Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist, 4980 Gordon Ave. NW, Cedar Rapids.
Oct. 18 – House 68, Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, and Democrat Daniel Lundby, Kirkwood Training and Outreach Services (KTOS), 3375 Amar Dr. in Marion.Oct. 25 -- Senate 34, Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, and Republican Ryan Flood, KTOS, 3375 Amar Dr. in Marion.