Candidates talk state budgets, education, and pot

From left to right Bob Morawitz, Jeff Kurtz, both Democrats from Fort Madison and Jeff Reichman, a Republican from Montrose field questions at Thursday's candidate forum at Old Fort Players. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – Three candidates for the Iowa House District 83 talked about a variety of issues as part of a forum in Fort Madison Thursday night.

The forum is a lead up to the primary on June 5 where Democrats Bob Morawitz and Jeff Kurtz, both of Fort Madison, will square off with the winner facing Montrose’s Jeff Reichman, a Republican, in the general election on Nov. 6.

The forum was moderated by Tim Gobble, executive director of Fort Madison Partners, and sponsored by the Fort Madison Daily Democrat and Pen City Current.  Old Fort Players hosted the event, which featured 90 minutes of questions and answers on topics ranging from the state of mental health in Iowa, proposals to reduce state income tax, economic development, the state of Iowa’s education, 2nd amendment rights, and medical marijuana.

The three are running for the seat being vacated by current State Rep. Jerry Kearns, D-Keokuk.

All three of the candidates said they supported second amendment rights and said the guns weren’t the problem, mental health was.


Morawitz said 30-round clips and bump stocks are out of bounds and said he doesn’t necessarily believe it’s a personal right for everyone to carry a gun, but it is a Constitutional right, and he said as a former member of the Navy, he swore to support the Constitution.

Kurtz said he’s not a gun owner, but believes in the 2nd amendment.

“A lot of this is mental health. We rank 49th and 50th in mental health in some areas here in Iowa. I think we have to do a better job of identifying these people that have problems and keep guns out of their hands,” he said.

Reichman said he is an owner and borderline collector of guns. He put the responsibility on physicians.

“I think the doctors have the responsibility to report and should be reporting when someone is on drugs enough that they pose that risk. I would support a greater amount of reporting from our health care providers to keep the guns out and away from them.”

He also said social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. should have a greater amount of scrutiny with kids that are posting “off the wall” statements.


But Reichman said background checks should have greater scrutiny and that some keys indicators should be looked at closer.

Switching to economic development and incentives, Kurtz said he believes we’re in an information economy and an age of a cleaner, renewable energy economy. He sited Siemens, BNSF, and Dupont as local corporations that are engaged in those industries.

“I think we’re well-positioned, but as far as incentives, I’m not against tax credits or breaks for industry that comes in as long as we don’t get into corporate welfare. We want these people to be good corporate citizens. Targeted tax breaks are entirely appropriate.”

Riechman said Iowa was just rated the number one state to live in, but he acknowledged that Lee County isn’t in as good of a position.

“I wish we could just rely on the great little town on the river, but unfortunately we just can’t. I’ve been a member of Keokuk Economic Development and Lee County Economic Development Group, and we’ve seen these things turn tail on a whim if questions aren’t answered right, if the wind blows, they’ll turn tail and go somewhere else because they have so many people vying for their business. So yes, I believe in the targeted tax breaks and I would support that.”

Morawitz said he understands the competition factor that exists.

“It’s become a vicious cycle of incentives to buy jobs. You’re not going to end it, but we need to be smarter with it. We’ve got millions and millions of dollars going out to corporations in Iowa and nobody’s paying attention to whether its creating jobs, whether its bringing income into the state, or what’s happening with it.”

More specific to the mental health funding, Reichman said mental health illness is on the rise. He said it’s unfortunate and he hated to hear that the state was cutting funding for mental health services in favor of a regional health care approach. New state laws are looking at access centers with the closest being in Marion.

“To have something as far away as Marion, yeah that’s terrible and that’s going to hurt us even more,” he said. “Because of lot of these people, if they’re not getting proper treatment they turn to another huge issue in our area – drugs. They’re readily available, more available then Marion.”

Morawitz said the state had a good system, not a great system, but a system that worked and needed help.

“Now our sheriff becomes a babysitter for people with mental health issues and that’s not his job,” Morawitz said. “Now if he picks someone up with an issue he may have to drive them to Des Moines. Marion’s going to be the same way. I’d rather have the money spent local with services nearby,” he said.


Kurtz said he recently spoke with a county deputy and the first thing the deputy mentioned was the problems he was having with the mentally ill.

“Our law enforcement are not trained for this. They’re very good at what they do, but they’re not trained for this. We’re wasting a lot of money by jailing people. What they’re doing to keep them calm is druggin’ them up. The human cost to that is just outrageous. We’re going to have invest in mental health. There’s no other way around it,” Kurtz said.

All three also said they favor lifting the cap on pharmaceutical marijuana for the benefit of those struggling with diseases, including post traumatic stress disorders, seizures, and glaucoma. All, however, said they didn’t support recreational use.

Reichman said he’s never been a drug user, but he said he’s heard great benefits from the pharmaceutical use.

“I’ve got some brother veterans that have some issues with PTSD and it helps with that and there are long-time known benefits for glaucoma. There are some other drugs that are more harmful than marijuana out there and we don’t mind writing prescriptions for those all day long,” Reichman said.

Morawitz said as long it’s a prescription that can be controlled better than opioids, he didn’t see a downside to medical marijuana.

Kurtz said he absolutely supports raising limits because it helps with children seizures, but he said his concern would be about drug testing and the THC that would be present from the people.

“There probably would have to be some kind of a better test or they’re going to have to look at what they have for a prescription,” he said.

All three also said Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed $1.5 billion tax cut plan is harmful to the state.

Kurtz said the state has to do better and do its homework because the federal tax cuts aren’t producing the increased wages legislators promised.

“We’ve got to do better than this and we have to do our homework on this stuff.”

Reichman said he supported the tax cuts at the federal level, but couldn’t get behind the state cuts at this point.

“I fully support the federal tax cut, the state I don’t. We do have things that need to be funded and I don’t think we’re going to see any growth at the state level. We had a brighter outlook on the federal cut and we haven’t seen that but it’s only been six months so we need to give that some time.”

Morawitz said the state, outside of Lee County, has had a couple of good years and still had to do two different budget cuts just to balance the budget.

“And now they want to take another $1 billion or two out of the economy. We can’t pay for what we need now. We’re not funding schools, not funding mental health, not funding the medicaid system. Where are they going to get the money? Who’s gonna pay for it?”

“This is an issue that I brought up six years ago when the state was talking about a commercial and industrial tax cut of 10% off the top. The idea was that with all this extra money we’d create all this growth that somehow these companies would reinvest all this money and grow their factories, and retail stores would double in size. I told them back then it wasn’t going to work and it didn’t.”

He said the answer is targeted tax cuts and pulling back on the corporate handouts.

“John Deere doesn’t need incentives, Wal-Mart doesn’t need incentives. They’re fine. But Main Street needs help. Main Streets probably hire more people than any of the corporations in Iowa. The real growth happens at the local level.”

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