1st District candidates clash on abortion, infrastructure in debate

The candidates answered questions about abortion, student debt, infrastructure, and other national issues impacting Iowa.

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Jerod Ringwald and Ryan Adams

Left; Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, announces she is seeking reelection in Iowa’s 1st congressional district during a press conference at Dahl Old Car Home in Davenport on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. Right; Rep. Christina Bohannan poses for a portrait outside the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

Natalie Dunlap, Politics Editor


The candidates in Iowa’s newly drawn 1st Congressional District found some common ground on issues like eminent domain, but mostly drew sharp ideological differences in a debate on Monday night hosted by Iowa PBS. 

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, is serving her first term in Congress after she won her seat in southeast Iowa in 2020. She is facing a challenge from University of Iowa law professor and state Sen. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City.  

The upcoming Nov. 8 election is the first since Iowa’s new redistricting maps were established. 

The district is politically divided. Under the old boundaries, Miller-Meeks won by six votes against Democratic candidate Rita Hart. September voter registration totals from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office report 160,905 active Democrats and 158,186 active Republicans in the newly drawn 1st Congressional District. There are also 148,996 active voters who are not registered with a party within the boundary. 

When asked about representing a district where many constituents are of the opposite party, Miller-Meeks said her office has an open door policy to meet with any Iowans traveling to D.C. and that she works to do outreach with tours, businesses, and nonprofit groups in the district as well. 

“People feel that they’re listened to and I translate that into legislation. So I’ve passed 13 bills – even though we’re in the minority — and have had five of them signed at the White House,” Miller-Meeks said during the debate. 

Bohannan said she’s heard voters say they are sick of politicians of opposite parties fighting like enemies instead of like families while on the campaign trail. Bohannan grew up in a trailer and her father worked in construction and had his health care canceled when he had emphysema.

“I understand a lot of the struggles that people are going through. For me public education was so important, transforming my life, lifeline like Medicare, Social Security, and so on, and so I understand what that means to people in the district,” she said.

Post-Roe legislation 

Abortion was among the more contentious topics between the candidates.

Bohannan said she supports the legal precedent of Roe v. Wade

“It is one of the worst examples of government overreach that we have seen in a very, very long time,” she said. “It inserts politicians into the most private, personal aspects of a person’s life. And for someone who talks a lot about unnecessary government overreach, she has sure signed on to some pretty terrible bills involving government overreach.” 

Miller-Meeks said she was in favor of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, decided in June 2022, that gives states the power to regulate abortion, though she has supported several federal bands on abortion ahead of the SCOTUS ruling. 

Miller-Meeks co-sponsored a bill House bill introduced this September that would prohibit abortion after 15 weeks with the exception of rape, incest, or if the parent’s life was at risk. The bill hasn’t passed out of any chamber.

“I am pro-life with exceptions for life for the mother, rape, and incest and that has not changed,” Miller-Meeks said. 

Bohannan said Miller-Meeks was inconsistent in her positions because Miller-Meeks also co-sponsored a bill called the Life at Conception Act which would declare the Constitution protects a right to life beginning at the moment of fertilization. This bill was also introduced this month and hasn’t passed out of any chamber 

Bohannan claimed Miller-Meeks was being dishonest about her record on abortion, saying her position about when it should be legal has not been consistent.

Infrastructure 

Miller-Meeks voted against the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa were the only members of the state’s delegation to vote for it. 

Miller-Meeks said she was opposed to how the bill was presented in the U.S. House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California because it was tied to human infrastructure. 

She has, however, visited project sites to promote projects funded by the infrastructure funds

“This is a situation where we have to get away from saying we’re not going to do something good for the people of Iowa because it was introduced by the other party and we’d give the other party a winner,” Bohannan said. “That kind of thinking is killing this country. We have to get back to what is good for the people of Iowa. There’s no question that this infrastructure bill is absolutely critical for Iowa.”

Carbon capture 

The candidates have a shared history of family members’ property being seized by eminent domain, and both the Republican and Democrat expressed hesitancy about the government using eminent domain for carbon capture pipeline projects proposed in the state, some of which would be in the 1st District. 

“I don’t think property should be taken by eminent domain,” Miller-Meeks said. “Let me just say that first and foremost, my grandfather on my father’s side who emigrated to the United States in 1910, ended up settling in California and twice had his farms taken over by eminent domain for interstate five.”

Miller-Meeks said through communication with farmers there may be a way to prolong the ethanol industry. 

Bohannan said Iowans should always be looking for markets for products like ethanol and soybeans, but that she opposed government seizures for large corporate projects.

The candidates also said Iowa has been successful in adopting renewable energy.

“We have a great story to tell,” Miller-Meeks said. “And we’ve done that without mandates and without emission standards.”

Miller-Meeks said the flexibility of energy among the states is how the country will meet increasing energy demands while reducing carbon emissions. 

College affordability 

Bohannan shared criticism of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. She said the assistance could have been more targeted. She added that she wants to focus on affordability for the future, which one-time debt relief doesn’t accomplish. Bohannan also shared concern the move could incentivize colleges to increase tuition. 

Similarly, Miller-Meeks said college affordability is an issue, but that many Americans don’t attend four-year universities and instead find jobs through skilled training, community colleges, and other career pathways.

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