Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

Candidates sound off at forum

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Aug 04, 2017
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Participating in Thursday’s candidate forum are, from left, Edward Hee III, Travis Harris, Phil Miller and Joshua Miller. The event was hosted by the Jefferson and Van Buren County Farm Bureaus in the Roberts Memorial Building in Keosauqua.

The four candidates on the ballot for the Iowa House District 82 seat participated in a forum Thursday night in Keosauqua.

The forum was hosted by the Van Buren and Jefferson County Farm Bureaus. The special election to fill the District 82 seat is Tuesday. It was previously held by Curt Hanson.

The four candidates are Republican Travis Harris, Democrat Phil Miller, Joshua Miller of the Libertarian Party and Edward Hee III of the Constitution Party.


Opening remarks

During their opening remarks, the candidates spoke about their background, personal life, and why they were running for the seat. Hee mentioned that he is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and that he works at Hill Phoenix in Keosauqua. He has been a member of the Constitution Party for 14 years.

Harris works at Farm Financial Strategies. He said he wants to see the economy grow, and make sure that rural Iowa is represented in the statehouse.

“People seem to forget that the land south of Highway 34 is part of Iowa, too,” he said.

Phil Miller has been a veterinarian for 42 years. He spoke about growing up on a farm near Webster, and about how his family raised hogs. He graduated from Iowa State University one week and was working as a veterinarian the next. He said the issues he’s most concerned about are delivering education, affordable health care and clear air and water.

Joshua Miller grew up in Washington, Iowa, and moved to Jefferson County earlier this year. He believes in making government transparent and reducing fraud and abuse.

The candidates were each given a chance to answer the questions that were submitted by the audience and read to them by a moderator. The questions touched on the following topics:


Mental health facilities

Harris said the state is using the justice system to handle mental health problems, but he would like to find another way. Phil Miller said the first order of business is ensuring the state does not get rid of anymore mental health beds.

Joshua Miller said he was familiar with mental health problems through his work as a paratransit driver. He favors allowing for-profit mental health facilities to compete with state institutions.

Hee said he wants to encourage private solutions as much as possible, too. He worried about people who are deemed mentally unstable, and then having certain rights taken away from them as a result.


State and feds coupling taxes

The candidates were asked whether they supported coupling the state’s tax code to the federal government’s. It allows farmers and business owners to write off up to $500,000 of certain purchases to reduce their tax bill.

Phil Miller said the idea has merit and bipartisan support. Joshua Miller said the real problem is that the state tax code is complex and confusing, and must be simplified.

Harris said it was a “no-brainer” to support coupling. Hee spoke about his desire to keep tax decisions local and away from the federal government as much as possible.


Public employee bargaining

The candidates were asked if they supported the right of public employees to bargain collectively. Joshua Miller said he would like the idea of public employee bargaining to go to the ballot box, to ensure taxpayers’ interests are represented. Hee said the right to associate freely was “fundamental.” At the same time, he worried about public unions having the power to disrupt services that in some cases were a matter of life and death.

Harris was the president of the Moulton-Udell School Board. He said the board wasted time going to arbitration over teacher salaries when it should have been focused on educating students. He said it would be better if the state set teacher salaries.

Phil Miller, the sitting board president of the Fairfield Community School District, said teachers are afraid. He said it would be a mistake to take away collective bargaining from public employees. He said the state has not helped school boards plan for the next year because the Legislature has consistently approved education funding after the school board has set its budget.



A member of the audience asked the candidates for their thoughts on confined animal feeding operations and where they should be sited. Hee said the authority should rest with the county supervisors and not with a “bureaucrat who never smells them.”

Harris said he wants to ensure that a young family interested in raising livestock is not turned away by regulations. He favors giving the state the authority to site CAFOs to ensure a uniform standard that is easy for producers to understand and for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to enforce.

Phil Miller said he favors more local control over CAFOs. Joshua Miller said county supervisors should decide since they have a better feel for what their constituents want.


School vouchers

Harris is uncomfortable passing out school vouchers without accountability. He said that, if a private school opens as a result of vouchers, it can split a community in two and that would be bad. Phil Miller said school vouchers would “devastate rural Iowa,” and said there is not enough accountability over them. He also favors removing transportation costs from the school funding formula, because he thinks it’s unfair rural schools have to pay more for transportation than urban schools.

Joshua Miller and Hee were more supportive of vouchers. Joshua Miller said vouchers are a way to empower parents. Hee said the tax money a resident pays for education should follow their child to whatever school they choose. He argued that private schools, and home schooling, produce better results than public schools.


Cover crops

Phil Miller said cover crops are a great thing. Joshua Miller said the state should legalize industrial hemp before it makes cover crops mandatory. Harris said fields become more productive when cover crops are planted on them, and that they’re a good way to clean the state’s water. Hee said the best approach is to educate farmers about the benefits of cover crops so they can take their own initiative.


Property taxes for schools

The candidates were asked if the state should limit the role property taxes play in funding schools. Hee said funding for schools should come from the most local source possible, and not from the federal government. Harris prefers relying more on a sales tax to fund education, but wants to ensure local governments “see more of it than Des Moines does.” He favors reducing corporate tax rates so more companies will move to the state.

“We don’t need to get in a race with Minnesota or Illinois” over property taxes, he said.

Phil Miller said the state has been giving away a lot of money to corporations, which has caused “chronic underfunding of our public schools.”

“We shouldn’t spend money we don’t have,” he said.

Joshua Miller said he’d like to find an alternative to property taxes for funding schools. He doesn’t like them because he believes they hit poor people hardest.


Eminent domain

Harris was skeptical of the use of eminent domain for private gain. Hee said eminent domain has to be a last resort because private property is a fundamental right. Phil Miller said the state already has strong eminent domain laws, and agreed with Harris it should not be for private gain. Joshua Miller concurred, saying he was against eminent domain for private use.

Wild animals

Phil Miller said it was rare to see a white-tailed deer when he was a kid, but today their numbers have grown. Joshua Miller supports a special season to keep wildlife numbers at bay. Harris said deer, raccoons and geese are plentiful. He said the state should consider some form of compensation for farmers who lost a certain percentage of their crop to deer. Hee said hunting is the best way of controlling the wildlife population. He would like to open some areas of Van Buren County to geese hunting that are now closed to it, and he opposes reintroducing predatory animals.


Mandatory vaccines

Phil Miller said mandatory vaccines have saved many lives. He understands that there are religious objections to them, but worries it’s too easy to get a religious waiver for them.

“We need to ensure people are taken care of,” he said.

Joshua Miller said he wants to leave the decision up to the parent, though he acknowledged that non-vaccinated children can be a liability to those with compromised immune systems. Harris said people today are a few generations removed from the devastating diseases that vaccines protect against, and that we should listen to older generations who lived through those diseases.

Hee said he recognizes the benefits of vaccines but worries they can do long-term damage. He also said vaccines can cause autism.



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