Education, climate, health care top Sen. Joe Bolkcom’s list as he seeks reelection

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, seeks a sixth term in order to increase education funding, take environmental action, and expand medical-cannabis laws.


Lily Smith

Iowa state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, poses for a portrait in the IMU on Oct. 9, 2018.

Julia DiGiacomo, Politics Reporter

Now approaching his 20th year in the Iowa Senate, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, seeks a sixth term representing Iowa City and environs.

Tackling the expansion of medical cannabis, education funding, health-care reform, and environmental challenges are among some of his top proposed initiatives for the upcoming legislative session.

Bolkcom, 62, is running against Republican candidate and University of Iowa student Patrick Wronkiewicz to represent Iowa Senate District 43.

A longtime Iowa City resident, Bolkcom holds a master’s degree in public affairs from the UI and is the outreach and community education director for the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. He was first elected to the Iowa Senate in the fall of 1998.

Increasing financial support for K-12 public schools, public universities, and community colleges is high on Bolkcom’s list of goals.

“Public education is really the key of opportunity for millions of Iowans. It’s why we’re a prosperous state today — because we’ve invested in public education,” said Bolkcom, who is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In the 2019 legislative session, Bolkcom aspires to bring Iowa’s Medicaid system back under state control. The state’s health-care insurance program for low-income individuals is now under the management of for-profit companies, which he views as a problem for many people across Iowa.

Bolkcom said he hopes to return to the Capitol to work with a new governor, stakeholders, beneficiaries, and health-care providers in order to obtain state control over most components of the Medicare system, with private management playing a smaller role.

He also strives to expand medical-marijuana laws. The current medical-cannabis law, passed in 2017, is one of the narrowest medical-cannabis laws in the country, he said. The law now allows a few medical marijuana manufacturers to grow and sell cannabis to be used for a tightly regulated list of medical conditions.

“It’s an issue I’ve worked on for the last four years, and I hope to go back in January and work on fixing that program, making it possible for thousands of Iowans who suffer from debilitating conditions to get the medicine they need,” Bolkcom said.

He recognizes climate change as a major threat to Iowa and the world, citing the recent extreme rainfall in Iowa City and elsewhere in the state as evidence.

Proactive steps to counteract climate change, such as addressing carbon emissions, energy use, and water quality, will cost less, Bolkcom believes, than dealing with resulting climate disasters later on.

“It’s going to be financially very difficult for us to afford any of these other investments in health care and education as the cost of climate denial continues to skyrocket,” he said.

Throughout his nearly two decades in the Iowa Senate, he said, he has led efforts on a range of issues. As for instance, he notes that he has worked expanding civil-rights protection for gays and lesbians in the Iowa civil-rights code.

He wrote a bill to create a solar tax credit in Iowa and led the effort to raise the tobacco tax and ban smoking in bars and restaurants. Bolkcom also worked to expand Iowa’s earned income tax credit, which allows working families to reduce their state taxes.

“The last two years under Republican control have been the worst of the last 20 I’ve served, and I feel like it’s time to return this state back to the people and get back on track with supporting public education, supporting a stronger health-care system, and beginning to deal with environmental challenges,” Bolkcom said.