Johnson County candidate forum highlights university-focused issues

On Thursday evening, 10 Iowa Senate and House candidates gathered in the Iowa Memorial Union for a forum focused on issues that Iowa City and the university community find important.


Grace Kreber

Candidates from house districts 92 and 89 Jacob Onken, Eileen Beran and Elinor Levin speaking during the legislative forum. The University of Iowa hosted a Legislative Forum at the Iowa Theater in the IMU on Thursday Oct. 6, 2022. (Grace Kreber/The Daily Iowan)

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

Johnson County candidates said at a forum on Thursday that in the case that abortion is banned in the state, medical students should still be able to learn abortion procedures at the university.

On Thursday evening, 10 Johnson County state Senate and House candidates participated in a forum hosted by the University of Iowa Staff Council and Faculty Senate to discuss education and health care issues.

All ten candidates agreed that college tuition should be made more affordable but their plans differ.

House District 85’s Democratic candidate Rep. Amy Nielsen said tuition should not only be lowered, but costs of living like housing, food, and transportation, should decrease in the state. She added that wages should rise for tuition prices to be less of a burden.

“One thing we can do is work on lowering costs so that Iowans can invest in their 529k plans,” Nielsen said.

House District 85’s Independent Jacob Wenck said cutting federal and state regulations is one way to reduce costs for Iowans.

According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, federal regulations cost the economy $1.9 trillion yearly. These cuts could help Americans and Iowans to put more money toward education, Wenck said.

“What we really need to be doing is offsetting the cost by making it more appealing for students to stay in Iowa after graduation,” Wenck said.

Present at the forum were candidates from House Districts 85, 89, 91, and 92, and Senate Districts 45 and 46. The forum was split into three sessions. All sessions were asked about tuition affordability, freedom of expression, academic curriculum, and reproductive health.

Recently, a UI student was arrested for kicking over a table at a Turning Point USA event. All four candidates agreed that kicking the table was wrong and that freedom of speech needs to be respected on campus.

When asked about the required free speech module implemented by the state Board of Regents, none of the candidates were familiar with the training, but all said more sufficient work needed to be done.

Wayne Grell, a Republican candidate for House District 85,  said the university should have specific, required classes for free speech. The UI does in fact have a ‘Freedom of Expression’ class offered as a general education course, but it is not mandatory.

Annual state funds allocated to Iowa’s public universities consistently dropped in recent years. The candidates gave plans for what can help the state see the importance of the universities.

The Republican candidates from all three sessions said that the university needs to sift out the areas of study that do not bring job opportunities after graduation. This, they said, will invest in the economy and community more so than the ‘less necessary’ areas of study.

Harold Weilbrenner, R-45, said if courses offered at the UI don’t lead to jobs, they should be phased out. He referenced the “brain drain” of students who come to Iowa for their education, but do not stay in the state.

“If students are drilled in the sciences, languages, and other required subjects, I don’t think students will have a hard time finding a job, and the university has a good reputation for doing that. Kids will want to come here and hopefully, keep the brain drain thing away,” Weilbrenner said.

Elinor Levin, D-89, disagreed. The supply and demand for jobs change over time and students need to support all areas of study at the university, Levin said.

“Patterns change over time, it’s dangerous to make decisions based on what’s happening now,” Levin said.

Reproductive health was another issue that was emphasized in the forum.

If the legislature imposes a complete ban on abortion, every candidate said UI Hospitals and Clinics should still teach reproductive health and abortion procedures to incoming medical professionals. All the candidates agree that if medical professionals go out of state to learn these procedures they should not be prosecuted.

Elle Wyant, D-91, said the UI needs to have all the necessary access to conduct research and educate medical professionals. The other Democrats in the forum agree.

Janice Weiner, D-45, said the medical field is already at a crisis level, and keeping doctors from teaching abortion procedures keeps more doctors from practicing.

“Students will not want to study here if they cannot practice the wide variety of reproductive health measures,” Weiner said.

Republican candidate for House District 89 Jacob Onken said he doesn’t consider abortion to be a reproductive right because reproduction is an issue before conception and abortion is an issue after.

Onken said nothing should prevent doctors from learning how abortion procedures take place, but they should not have to perform an abortion to be licensed.