Key Moments From Iowa Democrats’ US Senate Debate

Iowa PBS screenshot

By Nikoel Hytrek
May 20, 2022

The three Democrats competing to take on Sen. Chuck Grassley this fall used last night’s debate on Iowa Press to try to set themselves apart as the June 7 primary quickly approaches. The candidates, former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, former US Navy Admiral Michael Franken, and Dr. Glenn Hurst sketched a picture of how they would address key problems facing Iowans.

One of the first questions was about gun violence and hate crimes in the wake of the recent mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Finkenauer shared a story of talking with a Black Iowan this week who has been avoiding going to the grocery store out of a subconscious fear of more racist attacks.

“That’s not freedom,” Finkenauer said. “Not being able to go the to the grocery store or send your kids to school or an after-prom party and not know if they’re going to come home or not because they might get shot. We have a problem in this country and it needs to be dealt with by leaders.”

She said potential solutions include HR 8, a bill to require background checks for all firearms purchases that she voted for in the House, and red flag laws, which would ban the sale of firearms to people who have been labeled a potential threat.

“I grew up with firearms, it’s been part of my professional life,” Franken said. “There’s no one in Washington, DC, or in Iowa or the NRA who is going to gun-splain me. My extensive experience in this makes me a superlative person on the committee to draft these laws.”

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He called for background checks similar to what the military does for surplus arms sales, liability insurance for gun owners, and regulations on magazine size and on ammunition sales.

Hurst had similar ideas about restricting ammunition and magazines and included limiting accessories such as bump stocks.

“We absolutely need to ban assault weapons. There’s really only one purpose for those and that is to kill large numbers of people in a short period of time,” he said. “There’s just no time to wait anymore. We’ve had that time and the time to act is now.”

Another early question addressed access to abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in June, as it seems likely to do. The candidates were asked if they supported limits to abortion access like parental consent or defining fetal viability.

“The best person to answer this is a doctor and a woman. But as a man, I would say ‘no,’” Franken said. “I believe that this is a responsibility of the mother, of the woman and her doctor. I don’t believe we ought to have oversight laws and I believe we ought to codify [Roe].”

Hurst spoke from his experience as a doctor and fundamental rights which should be afforded to women.

“We absolutely want to assure that a woman has control of her body at all times. Body autonomy is part of being an American and one should always have body autonomy,” he said. “It [Roe] needs to be codified immediately; I’ve stated that I would codify—I would write the law if necessary. We absolutely cannot have second-class citizenry here for women.”

Finkenauer emphasized that the court’s decision impacts her personally, and that having a young woman in the Senate could offer a strong voice on the matter. She said state laws to ban abortion early in pregnancy are about controlling women and nothing more.

“This decision belongs between a woman and her doctor, full stop,” she said. “Pregnancy is complicated, it’s not black and white, it’s why this decision belongs between a woman and her doctor. It is horrific what is happening in this country, the extremism that has taken over and taking away my rights as a woman.”

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And with most Americans worried about higher prices of goods and services, the candidates talked about the practices responsible for inflation and wealth inequality in the country.

“We have put far too much money in single baskets in this nation and what we need is leadership to go to Washington, DC, and break up [trusts], and then you’ll see that corporate greed. It’s got to be far more than just looking at inflation,” Hurst said.

He also said he’d like to re-balance the economy so the very wealthy pay more taxes to fund necessary services, and Americans outside of that tier keep more of the money they make.

“What we have seen happen since the Reagan era is this sequestering of money into the hands of the top 1% of Americans,” he said. “We have set up a society that has rewarded people at the top and allowed them tax breaks and tax deductions with the idea that that money was going to trickle down to the folks who need it. Well, it didn’t trickle down.”

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Finkenauer said much of the price increases are because of corporations taking advantage and raising prices, and a fractured domestic supply chain.

“I know Iowans are hurting right now and I get that they’re frustrated and there is work to be done. Part of that is holding these companies accountable,” she said.

“We’re talking about actually leveling the playing field here to make sure that the brunt isn’t on working families, that you’ve got these people at the top who keep getting all of these tax cuts, all of these tax breaks and not the folks doing the work,” Finkenauer continued.

Franken connected the current issues to supply chain problems as well.

“One of the many factors associated with this is the fact that we’ve exported so much of our capabilities overseas,” he said. And with China dealing with a COVID outbreak, shipping is held up.

“The demand for this is here and in the corporate world they’re sitting on a fat amount of money,” Franken said. “So some of this is generated by corporate greed in America.”

The primary elections will be held on June 7, and county auditor’s offices are now open for early, in-person voting.

You can rewatch the entire debate here.


Nikoel Hytrek

Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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