Presidential hopefuls connect climate change to infrastructure policies at first Finkenauer fish fry

Eight presidential hopefuls pitched their plans on jobs and infrastructure at a Cedar Rapids fish fry put on by U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat from Dubuque.


Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa greets the crowd during the first annual Finkenauer fish fry at Hawkeye Downs on Saturday, November 2, 2019. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Caleb McCullough, Politics Reporter

Several presidential hopefuls linked their jobs and infrastructure proposals with their positions on climate change at Abby Finkenauer’s first fish fry and forum focused on jobs and infrastructure on Saturday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., touted the Green New Deal, a Congressional resolution that he co-sponsors. He said the measure would create a million new jobs in sustainable energy industries. 

Pertinent to Iowa, several of the candidates proposed investments in biofuels after being asked about the topic by moderators, saying farmers should be part of the solution to climate change, not opposed to it. 

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg attacked the Trump administration’s granting of waivers to 31 oil refineries, which lifted biofuel blending requirements. 

“When you see what they’re doing with these refinery waivers, it is a betrayal to American farmers and a backwards energy policy for the United States of America,” Buttigieg said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., discussed a proposal that would invest  in research and development to work on solutions to climate-change, then make those discoveries and inventions free to use for businesses that create jobs in the United States.

Maria Muniagurria, a faculty associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attended the fish fry while visiting family in Iowa. She said she’s leaning toward supporting Buttigieg and said she liked his proposal to incentivize farmers to use sustainable farming practices to combat climate change. 

“It’s a really macro problem,” she said about climate change. “It’s a big problem that you have to work on different angles, and you have to think of incentives, and you have to think about, ‘how can you make people do the right thing?’”

Talking about their infrastructure plans, many of the candidates emphasized the importance of investing in rural broadband. Warren said the United States couldn’t function in a 21st century economy without broadband internet access everywhere. Harris focused on how lack of internet access can affect students’ ability to succeed in school. 

“It affects our children’s education and their ability, with their big brains, to actually do the homework that will allow them to be successful,” Harris said.

Oval Office hopefuls pledged support to a range of changes to labor laws, including increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, eliminating “right to work” laws, and paid family leave.

Member of a local carpenter’s union, Matthew Konrardy, 48, said he’s using the fish fry to decide between Warren and Sanders. He predicted the hierarchy of his labor union would probably endorse a more moderate candidate.

“We tried the centrist candidate for the last — I don’t know how many years,” Konrardy said. “I think we should give the progressives a shot.”

He said he was impressed by Warren’s plan to pay for Medicare for All released this week. 

Finkenauer campaigned for the House in 2018 as a supporter of unions and job creation, and she sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House. Finkenauer said infrastructure doesn’t get enough attention in the national campaign conversation. 

“Even though [infrastructure] does not make for the flashiest news story all the time, it is something that is incredibly important right here in Iowa’s 1st District and across this country,” Finkenauer said. 

Iowa’s unemployment rate has sat at 2.5 percent since July — lower than the national rate of 3.6 percent in October.

Finkenauer did not make an endorsement in the presidential race after the fish fry, saying she was “thinking about” pledging her support for a presidential hopeful. 

She recently announced an engagement with Warren’s Iowa political director, though she told reporters her personal life would have no implications on who she would support for president.

None of Iowa’s current Democratic U.S. representatives have made an endorsement for the 2020 caucuses. 

In 2007, Democrat Dave Loebsack endorsed Barack Obama for the 2008 election. However, this year, he hasn’t decided yet whether he would make an endorsement, spokesperson Joe Hand wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. In the 3rd District, Rep. Cindy Axne, has “no plans to endorse,” former spokesperson Madeleine Russak wrote in an email to the DI this month.

Although scheduled to attend the fish fry, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke didn’t make an appearance after announcing his exit from the presidential race Saturday.