Constituents in Iowa’s 1st District couldn’t get an in-person meeting scheduled with their two-term Republican Congressman Rod Blum this summer despite repeated attempts for months. So they set up meetings with the next best thing: the four Democrats running to replace Blum in 2018.
The candidates in the 1st District Democratic primary – Abby Finkenauer, Thomas Heckroth, George Ramsey and Courtney Rowe – have all set up “office hours” to sit down with Indivisible members to let voters’ concerns be heard. From now through the end of September, each will meet at the Blue Strawberry coffee shop in downtown Cedar Rapids to speak with local activists about key policy issues. Rowe was the first candidate to attend this past week.
“They covered great issues and I was thankful for the opportunity to do that kind of long-form,” Rowe told Starting Line at a later multi-candidate event in Grinnell. “You come out here, you do a stump speech, it’s really hard to get into any kind of detail. Being an engineer and being about solutions, I got a lot of how we’ll do this out of it. I like to have that opportunity.”
Rowe, an aerospace engineer from Cedar Rapids, spent a little over an hour with about a dozen Indivisible members, where she listened to their policy concerns and related some of her own ideas. The activists had 10 questions prepared, asking about healthcare policy, campaign finance and college tuition, among other things. Rowe got to discuss her plan for solar power investments, her pledge to not take PAC money and her skepticism of increasing military spending.
A good chunk of the meeting revolved around healthcare, as Blum was one of the Republicans who changed their mind on AHCA late in the game and helped get it passed.
“My stance is we need a Medicare-for-all system, a universal system,” Rowe told the group. “A lot of people think that’s maybe a fringe idea, but I’ve gone to county fairs, I’ve talked to people who voted for Trump, who voted on the other side of the aisle, pretty universally people want healthcare. When I have my flyer out, they might not be sure about $15/hour minimum wage or free college, but they want healthcare. So it’s really interesting, people who aren’t with me on other issues are with me on that.”
Rowe noted that when she met with Senator Chuck Grassley’s staff on the matter earlier in the year, she told them that if Republicans actually fixed healthcare while they have complete control of government, Democrats wouldn’t be able to win back control for at least a decade.
She was also pressed on just how feasible some of these Democratic proposals were. What would be the economic and job impact if the healthcare industry were to be dramatically restructured under a Medicare-for-all plan, one person asked.
“We would probably still have private companies within states that may do the administration, and that’s what you see with Medicare now – they’re doing the administration piece of it, but they’re not on the hook for paying out the benefits,” Rowe explained. “So for the everyday people jobs that are doing that, most of that’s not going to go away. It would be simpler, because we’d have single-code, single-payment fees, so really what it would do is save doctor’s offices and hospitals a lot of money. But it wouldn’t decimate healthcare workers.”
The other 1st District Democratic candidates are eager to talk with the group as well.
“I think it’s really sad when you have a public servant who doesn’t want to serve the public,” said George Ramsey, a retired military officer from Cedar Rapids who’s also planning a run in the 1st District. “When you’re elected to serve all Iowans, not just the party you’re a part of, you should be accessible to everyone … When I’m congressman, everyone in my office and my staff will be accessible. My office will be open at times when people can come by.”
Ramsey, who walks by Blum’s Cedar Rapids office on his way to work each day, noted that he sees Blum’s office with the lights turned off and the door closed most days.
“I’m just looking forward to hearing what they have to say,” said Thomas Heckroth, a former Tom Harkin staffer from Waverly who’s also in the Democratic primary. “That’s just something that Rod Blum hasn’t done. And if we’re going to win this seat back, we have to listen to people, even if they don’t agree with us … I’m willing to meet with other groups too.”
Dubuque State Representative Abby Finkenauer will be the next candidate to sit down with the group this Thursday, with Ramsey and Heckroth scheduled for later in September. It’s part of a noticeably increased level of grassroots activism in Iowa’s 1st District following the 2016 election.
“Indivisible, especially in Cedar Rapids, have some really smart people and people who have been advocating in the community,” Rowe said.
The other meeting times are at Blue Strawberry coffee shop are:
Thursday, August 31, 9:00 am – Abby Finkenauer
Thursday, September 14, 9:00 am – George Ramsey
Thursday, September 28, 9:00 am – Thomas Heckroth
by Pat Rynard