Senate race candidates focus on student issues

Varad Diwate

Student debt, tuition freeze and economic development are on the agenda for three candidates running in the state senate district 23 race in November. The district includes Ames and neighboring Grant, Milford and Kelley townships.

Democrat Sen. Herman Quirmbach was elected for the third time in 2010 and is once again in the running. He’ll be in the Democratic primary with Cynthia Oppedal Paschen and the winner will be in the race against Republican Jeremy Davis.

According to the Iowa secretary of state website, the district has a total of 43,412 voters with 14,478 registered Democratic voters, 11,053 registered Republican voters and 255 others.

“We have been working on a generally bipartisan basis with the House and the governor to fund the universities, passing education reform and expanding Medicaid in the state,” said Quirmbach.

He said some of his key accomplishments include extending the tuition freeze for the second year in a row, passing the K-12 education reform bill and working on the HIV transmission criminalization bill.

Quirmbach has been chairman of the education committee for twelve years and has a seat on the Education Appropriations Committee that funds the universities. He is also an associate professor of economics at Iowa State during the fall semester.

“For me, it’s a very appropriate mix of responsibilities where more than half of my constituents are ISU students, and the university is the largest employer,” Quirmbach said. “I think you have to be in touch with what’s going on at the university.Being a faculty member, that puts me in a good position to be able to that.”

Quirmbach said his experience in public policy also helps him when he is teaching students.

Quirmbach said projects like the ISU Research Park are important in promoting economic development and helping new graduates get jobs.

“I usually agree with [Quirmbach] and the way he votes,” Paschen said. “There have just been a few issues [on which] I have disagreed with him.” One recent legislation on which she disagreed with him was the regulation of e-cigarettes — she said it didn’t go far enough in taxing the product.

According to her campaign website, Paschen worked for the Iowa Action Network and as a lobbyist for hunger issues after graduating from Iowa State. She has also volunteered for the Ames Public Library, Youth and Shelter Services and local hospices.

She said she has also noticed dissatisfaction with the Continuous Improvement program for the Regent universities as it has translated into a “No Child Left Behind” program for colleges with testing and evaluation measures.

She said her connection with Ames and surrounding areas from her early days has helped her to become familiar with the needs of the community. Her priorities include working on education and the environment.

“It’s never easy to beat an incumbent,” Paschen said. “But, I am talking to a lot of people who are ready for change.” She said her strengths include listening to new ideas and a willingness to compromise.

All the candidates expressed their support for the tuition freeze that has now been in place for the last two years.

Republican candidate Jeremy Davis said he would focus on private job growth in the state, balancing the budget and reducing student debt. He said he is also looking forward to the regents efficiency study and the ways it could help the university.

“Though some of the recommendations would be implemented internally by the regents, some of the recommendations will need potential changes in state laws and statutes,” Davis said.

Davis said his ability to make a rapport with people to learn their needs and his prior experience in the Ames City Council would be beneficial in the Legislature. He is currently a district representative for Rep. Steve King and has worked as an executive officer with the Iowa College Student Aid Commission.

“In each new election, both the individuals are bringing new priorities, discussions and relationships into the mix. I do not see there being an advantage or disadvantage to challenging an incumbent,” Davis said. “I am looking forward to the challenge.”

The candidates said their campaign plans mostly include knocking on doors and reaching out to the largest number of people possible.

According to Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, early voting for the primary on June 3 started on April 24. Eligible voters in the state can fill out an absentee ballot form addressed to the county auditor’s office or can vote on election day.