State senator Rita Hart (D-Wheatland), the Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor and running mate of gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell, made a stop in Creston Tuesday.
Hart spoke about their plan for transparent, people-oriented policies, and weighed in on her top four priorities should the pair win the governor race this November: medicaid, mental health, education and wages.
“There is so much on the line,” said Hart. “It’s such an important election.”
Hart started her forum by immediately addressing the issue of medicaid privatization.
“It’s crucial. We have to do it,” said Hart.
Hart said the decision to hand control to managed care organizations (MCOs) and privatize medicare was an executive decision that did not take the concerns of patients or providers into account.
“MCOs have been routinely denying benefits,” said Hart. “So people have fallen through the cracks and not received the benefits they need and the providers have not been compensated in a timely fashion. Personally, as myself as a legislator, and I can say this for all the legislators that I know, we’ve had to intercede on the behalf of those patients over and over again. And, we’ve had to intercede on the behalf of health care providers. And, some of those health care providers go out of business because of it.”
Hart painted the picture of the mental health crisis occurring in Iowa, where access and affordability is an issue.
“I hear a new story all the time about somebody who is having trouble getting the mental health services that they need,” said Hart. “Someone who has had to wait for a bed. Someone who has had to travel across the state to get the care that they need. That’s simply not acceptable.”
Hart said she can not understand why education has been consistently underfunded during her tenure as a state senator.
“Teachers have been disrespected,” said Hart. “The work that they do is difficult and it’s being made more difficult by the under-funding in general.”
Hart said increased funding to higher education, particularly at community colleges, should be a priority to decrease the shortage of skilled workers and boost the economy.
Hart also said legislation is needed to raise the income of Iowa workers.
“Forty percent of the state of Iowa is struggling to pay the bills,” said Hart. “We have to do better by raising the average income across the state.”
One of the first questions Hart yielded was in regards to her voting record on labor unions and collective bargaining — specifically on House File 291, a 2017 bill that dramatically scaled back a 40-year-old collective bargaining law that governed union contract negotiations for the state’s public workers.
“That was the most devastating thing that happened in my tenure there in six years,” said Hart.
Hart said the Republican driven bill was an orchestrated situation that lacked public and bipartisan input. She added that the old law — by a Republican governor in a bipartisan way – worked well.
“I’ll never forget when ... we fought that through the night,” said Hart. “You remember the story — all night long making the arguments. When the final vote was cast, and all the union guys and women were up in the gallery witnessing. They had their arms up in the air and they turned their backs. That was one of the most emotional, horrible days I have ever experienced in the legislature.”
Bill Mullin, a teacher at Creston Community High School and union member, said he has suffered the consequences of the collective bargaining legislation.
“On the heels of that, we are starting to see a tax on IPERS (Iowa Public Employee Retirement System),” said Mullin.
Mullin asked what is being done to protect IPERS.
“They went through an effort last summer ... of bringing in a group to analyzing IPERs and those hearings came out loud and clear — IPERS is sound. It doesn’t need to be monkeyed with,” said Hart.
Hart said much of the economy depends on the fact that people can count on IPERS.
“All I can tell you that this is why this election is so darn important” said Hart. “They have that on their (Republican) agenda. If we don’t get the governorship, if we don’t get the house, if we continue to stay in the minority in the senate, we will lose IPERS as we know it.”
Hart said she’s happy to be on the ticket with Hubbell.
“Not only because of his business background, he understands a budget, understands what we have to do to get the budget back in shape,” said Hart. “We have to get away from this mismanagement that has caused these midyear budget cuts, which have then affected health care and education.
Hart said their focus is “people first” and giving rural Iowa an opportunity to succeed by investing in it.
Hart was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2012 and re-elected in 2014. She represents Clinton County, and the northern and eastern parts of Scott County.
According to her website, Hart is an assistant leader and ranking member on the Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget. She also serves on the Agriculture, Appropriations, Education and Natural Resources committees.
After earning her Associate of Arts degree from North Iowa Area Community College, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a master’s degree in Educational Administration from the University of Iowa. Hart worked as a teacher in the Calamus-Wheatland and Bennett school districts for more than 20 years.
Hart and her husband, Paul, are lifelong Iowans who have five children, and have owned and operated a farm in Wheatland since 1986.