Sioux City, and the state of Iowa, have had the highest average daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, but Republican candidates vying to represent the 4th District in Congress believe now is the time to begin reopening the economy.
“Do I think we overreacted? Yes, to a degree,” Congressman Steve King said Sunday evening during an online forum with the district’s five Republican candidates. “But I don’t think the president had much choice. Now we need to get this country up and running and do so wisely.”
The Sioux City metro area, the largest city in the Western Iowa district, has led the nation in recent days for the fastest average daily growth of COVID-19 cases.
Despite these figures, the candidates were unanimous in their support for reopening businesses in Iowa, while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Less than 24 hours after the forum concluded, on Monday morning, Gov. Kim Reynolds partially lifted business restrictions in 77 counties beginning Friday.
“This level of mitigation is not sustainable for the long term and it has unintended consequences for Iowa families,” Reynolds said, ticking off public safety measures, like closing schools and businesses and suspending elective medical procedures, that have harmed the economy. “We must gradually shift from an aggressive mitigation strategy focusing on containing and managing virus activity for the long term in a way that allows us to safely and responsibly balance the health of our people and the health of our economy.”
The initial question that prompted the 4th District candidates to discuss their thoughts on the coronavirus pandemic came from a constituent wondering whether the United States has “overreacted” with business closures and social restrictions given that “578 Iowans died from the flu” in 2017 compared to the “400 range” of deaths predicted due to COVID-19. (The latest projections from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predict 365 Iowans will die from COVID-19 by Aug. 4 if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.)
“I would agree that there was probably an overreaction on the part of our government,” Steven Reeder, a commercial and industrial real estate developer from Arnolds Park, said on Sunday.
Bret Richards, an Army veteran and small businessman from Irwin, said President Donald Trump and Gov. Reynolds “both did a good job reacting to the data they had as it developed. I’m glad we’re making steps to open up the economy. Iowans are going to start working anyway because it’s planting season.”
Jeremy Taylor, a former Woodbury County supervisor who lives in Sioux City, which is up to 495 positive cases in Woodbury County, pointed to Congress’ spending on coronavirus relief bills as a reason to reopen the economy.
“We are in an unsustainable trajectory as far as federal spending,” Taylor said. “$2.2 trillion cannot be sustained … on a $23 trillion national debt, so we need to start to reopen our economy at this time in a safe and judicious manner.”
State Sen. Randy Feenstra, who leads the crowded field in fundraising and endorsements ahead of the June 2 primary, said he was “truly grateful we have a thoughtful and reasoned governor who has taken a measured approach to this virus. I believe she has found a responsible balance in protecting the health of Iowans and the economic strength of our state. I trust her and President Trump’s leadership during these crises and I look forward to what’s going to happen over the next several weeks as we slowly reopen.”
In reopening a majority of the state’s counties, Iowa joins Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee in easing restrictions on certain economic sectors.
All of the candidates agreed Americans’ constitutional rights to freely gather and attend religious services have been infringed on over the last thirty-plus days due to emergency restrictions put in place by governors. In the case of a pandemic, however, they acknowledged some temporary measures were necessary to slow the spread of the virus.
“When I saw the emergency that we were in, I personally decided I’m not going to throw that wrench into the gears because there’s a national crisis at work and I don’t want to undercut the people that are leading on this,” King said. “We need to look back in the rearview mirror once this is settled and examine this and find out what precedents we might have inadvertently created that can be exploited in the future under circumstances that may be similar.”
Richards said the U.S. needs to “rethink the emergency powers we’ve given our governor.”
“I do think Gov. Reynolds does a great job trying to balance what she sees as important and critical, but … a benevolent governor is great right now, but what about a Chet Culver or someone else in the future that wouldn’t be so good to our Bill of Rights?”
Feenstra, who remains at home in Hull since the legislative session was suspended March 16, said “It’s a difficult time right now, but we should never have our rights infringed.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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