WATERLOO | The subjects of marijuana and the minimum wage made clear that legislative candidates have passionate disagreements on some topics that make finding common ground difficult, even as they made overtures for bipartisanship.
Candidates for four Iowa House districts that represent Black Hawk County came to the Waterloo Center for the Arts on Thursday night to make their case for election and to talk about issues.
Iowa Reps. Deb Berry, D-Waterloo, and Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, were not miles apart on their opinion about marijuana; both supported some limited role for medical marijuana in helping people through illness and neither wanted to see the state start down the path of recreational marijuana.
But their opposing views on the dangers the drug presents led both candidates to more clearly outline their distinctions on the issue.
Rogers, who is running in House District 60 against Democrat Karyn Finn, answered a question about online voter registration with one sentence in order to have more time to refute Berry’s comments that although marijuana can have some more negative side effects, she has seen it mostly make people hungry and happy.
“It will destroy lives,” Rogers said, adding he’s seen potential being sucked out of people who abuse the drug “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.”
Berry, who does not have an opponent in House District 62, then responded by saying she doesn’t believe the drug should be legalized but pointed to comments by Democratic candidate Timi Brown-Powers, who works in the medical field, about the possibilities of expanding medical marijuana options.
Rogers said he opposed the legislation to allow people with intractable epilepsy to access a medicinal marijuana oil that does not get people high because he did not want to go down the road toward recreational legalization.
With the law’s passage, he said he is willing to look at ways to ensure better access for people with that particular illness.
Most of the other candidates on the stage saw the potential for expanding the options for medical marijuana while not opening the door to recreational use.
Brown-Powers, who is running for House District 61 against Republican Nathan Bolton, came the closest to endorsing recreational marijuana by noting the budget problems for local schools in Colorado seem to have lessened since the state legalized marijuana. While she didn’t say Iowa should follow suit, Brown-Powers said the state should keep an eye on Colorado.
Republican candidate Rick Giarusso, running in Iowa House District 59 against Democratic Iowa Rep. Bob Kressig, also said the state should look at the outcomes Colorado has to determine whether it would be the right path for Iowa to take somewhere down the road.
Giarusso and Bolton both said they would be willing to look at sentence reductions or reforms for marijuana-related convictions but neither endorsed decriminalization of the drug.
The candidates also saw distinctions on whether to raise the minimum wage.
Brown-Powers endorsed raising the minimum wage, while Bolton did not. Though Bolton said the notion was well-intentioned, he said he believes it will do more harm than good.
Finn said she wants to see more jobs with a livable wage rather than arguing over the minimum wage to pay people, while Rogers said raising the minimum wage would cost jobs immediately.
Berry wholeheartedly endorsed the wage increase. Kressig said it might be difficult depending on the makeup of the Legislature, but he would be more than willing to work on it.
Giarusso said he would listen to both sides, but he worried about young people losing the opportunity to work summer jobs and other “unintended consequences.” He also stressed that if the government goes down the route of determining the economy too much it could turn out like Soviet Russia.
While those two topics highlighted the differences, the discussion on education, especially support for community colleges, showed much common ground between the candidates.