Read this candidate profile of 1st District Democratic candidate Anesa Kajtazovic. She was interviewed as part of IPR's 2014 Primary Voter Guide series.
Give an example of an experience you’ve had that you believe has prepared you to become a member of the U.S. Congress?
I’ve had many personal and professional experiences that have prepared me for this. I usually tell people only in America could someone like me be given a second chance in life – coming here to this country when I was 10 from a refugee camp from the war in Bosnia and becoming the youngest elected woman to the Iowa legislature.
What did you take away from that experience, coming here?
I would say perseverance. I consider myself to be very lucky and fortunate that my family and I were able to escape, come to this country, and get a second chance at life. I’ve also seen challenges and opportunities that this country offers. That’s what I think separates me from everyone else. I’ve seen those challenges firsthand, I’ve been offered those opportunities firsthand, and I want to make things better.
If you could name one of the biggest challenges right now, what would you say it is?
Currently, I would say we need to address climate change. We’ve seen it impacting all over the world in countries that have never had some of these severe weather patterns and they’re experiencing that now. I would like to see Congress address that issue. That’s just one of many.
I have a plan. It’s called “My American Dream Agenda.” It consists of three main components that include education, economic security, and energy independence. Those three key components help strengthen the middle class families. And what better way to create jobs than by insuring that everybody has a way to achieve their dream and to be self-sufficient?
A March Iowa poll shows 65 percent of those polled support an increase in the minimum wage. Would you support a minimum wage increase?
Yes, I support raising the minimum wage. I also think we need to tie it to inflation. We should be talking about a living wage as well. I think we have to address income inequality in this country by tying minimum wage to inflation. Also, we have to talk about some of the biggest corporations in the world that get some of the big tax cuts but do not want to pay their employees a decent, fair wage. I also support expanding the rights of workers – having a seat at the table to negotiate their wages with their employer. I think that’s a plus-plus for everyone.
The proposed changes to the fuel standard seem to suggest that the administration may move away from grain-based alternatives to conventional fuels. What would you do in Washington to work in a bipartisan manner that would benefit Iowans and still have national appeal?
There are two components. I think we need a long-term energy portfolio that includes aggressive incentives toward renewable energy. Some of these tax extensions from year to year are killing the industry. We’ve seen the amount of jobs that it’s created in Iowa. Look at, for example, wind industry, how many manufacturing jobs. The industry has been huge for a leader. I would like to see long-term goals and proposals to incentivize the industry, to really invest in the new and clean energy technology. I also have come out in support of carbon pollution tax. What that would do is hold those companies accountable that pollute our environment and take that revenue and invest it into infrastructure and renewable energy. That plan would help us create jobs, reduce energy costs, and all while preserving and protecting our environment.
Even with a former Iowa governor heading up the Agricultural Department, farmers were kept in limbo for years over new farm policies. How will you represent the interests of agriculture and rural communities in an environment that is heavily urban?
Actually, part of my current (Iowa) House district includes quite a bit of rural communities as well. Let’s be honest, agriculture is the backbone of Iowa’s economy and we have to find ways to strengthen agriculture. I will work in a bipartisan manner to get things done. I also believe we need to have an equal representation and voice that will understand the importance of agriculture. I have been able to do that and work across party lines during my time in the Iowa legislature.
You’re campaigning to join Congress at a time when its approval ratings are some of the lowest in history, hovering in the low to mid teens in most cases. How do you think we got to this point?
I think people are not getting the things done. They’re not putting politics aside. I have been talking directly to the people. Iowans want us to work together at the end of the day, regardless of party lines. Some of the policies that I have been proposing will help with this. I know it’s a long-term proposal, but someone has to get stuff done. But that’s campaign finance reform. We’re seeing too much money in politics. The notion of too much money in politics is a bad thing. We have to get away from that. We have to get away from some of these special interest groups having such a huge impact. I am the only candidate talking about this, and I’m not going to stop because it’s that crucial. I also think it’s time for a new, fresh voice in Congress. Congress has too many millionaires and too many special interest groups. What our campaign offers is the new, fresh voice that understands the challenges and struggles of middle class families firsthand.
In what areas do you imagine yourself compromising with the other party to get something accomplished for Iowa?
We’ve done a number of key issues. Agriculture was obviously one of them. Education, we worked very hard and had to come to a compromise. I was a strong champion and helped expand access to over 20,000 Iowa preschoolers. Also, renewable energy - I worked on capping the first renewable energy incentive bill. I think our state is well positioned to lead in all sectors of renewable energy and to be even more of a national leader. I’ve worked in a number of key positions and in Congress we need a fresh, new voice that’s willing to do that.
Nearly every candidate running in this race says they want to cut government waste and bring down the national deficit. Name a program you would cut and why.
I would say we need to make government more efficient. And one of the departments we need to look at making more efficient, utilize technology better, and solving the challenges is the VA. When you have veterans who are waiting for months and months and sometimes over a year to get benefits that they’ve earned, there’s something wrong with the system and we need to get it fixed. Yesterday I was actually talking to quite a few veterans and they shared many stories with me. I’ve heard it all across this first district by campaigning and talking to people that we have to improve and make it more efficient, so let’s start with the VA.
Are we spending enough on national defense?
When you have experts come and testify in front of committees that there are certain amounts of money that they don’t need - for example - I think it was an $80,000 or $90,000 proposal that they had that they don’t need in their budget. Paul Ryan refused to take that. Instead, he came after SNAP benefits for the children, elderly, and veterans. I think there’s room for improvement and making it more efficient.
Immigration reform is an issue important to Iowa, but it’s stalled in Congress. What immigration reforms would you support?
I support the version that passed in the Senate. It had bipartisan support and the House should have taken that version. I know a lot of Democrats and Republicans worked together to get a compromise and it did pass with bipartisan support. Perhaps Speaker Boehner should bring that forward.
You mentioned climate change earlier in the interview. You do believe climate change is a real problem, is that correct?
What is your stance on climate change as far as what policies you would support?
As I mentioned, I would support the carbon pollution tax proposal. I know it’s not a new concept that’s been out there, but we have to start with that. I also support having more long-term incentives and goals for renewable energy. That way new industries and businesses can plan and have those incentives before them so that they can grow more. We have to focus on those two issues. That would be where I would start.