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Deidre DeJear, Democrat running for governor, discusses plans for education, mental health, abortion

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John Pemble
/
IPR
Deidre DeJear is the Democrat running for governor of Iowa.

Deidre DeJear is the Democrat running for governor of Iowa this fall against incumbent Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. DeJear often says that this election is about freedom and preserving democracy.

“This is about our freedom—access to a public education system, access to the ballot box, access to health care and mental health care services when you need it,” DeJear told supporters last month at a campaign event in Boone. “Democracy is worth fighting for, and I want you all to fight with me.”

DeJear sat down with IPR last month for a wide-ranging interview about her ideas for the state, and some excerpts are transcribed below. IPR requested an interview last month with Reynolds but had not received a response as of the time of this publishing.

DeJear on education

DeJear says the public education system needs more resources to help Iowa students compete in the future. She points to the fact that the annual percentage increase in base K-12 funding has been lower in the past several years of Republicans controlling the statehouse than it was before. So she wants to give at least a 4 percent funding increase per year to public schools. This year, Reynolds proposed and signed into law a 2.5 percent increase.

“And we have to make sure that when we’re having this discussion, we’re not talking about putting more resources in for the sake of putting more in,” DeJear said. “We’re talking about meeting the occasion so that our schools can perform in the way that they need to perform. And we have the resources in our state to do that without increasing the cost of taxes. Because when we talk about increasing funding to a certain segment, folks think, ‘Oh, well that means that we are going to have to increase taxes to do that.’ No. We have to prioritize our funds in such a way that we’re prioritizing education.”

DeJear said she’d also like the state to guarantee at least 30 hours a week of preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old to better prepare them for Kindergarten. She said she opposes Reynolds’ plan to divert some public school funding to state-funded scholarships that families could use for private school tuition.

DeJear said she would also want to boost funding for community colleges and Iowa's three public universities. The Republican-led legislature cut the universities' budget in 2020 and never fully restored the money that was cut, and tuition has gone up. Reynolds recently joined a lawsuit seeking to stop President Joe Biden from canceling student loan debt for an estimated more than 400,000 Iowans. DeJear said Reynolds' lawsuit "is a continuation of her attacks on working class Iowans."

DeJear on mental health services

DeJear says she believes Iowa’s mental health system is failing. Gov. Reynolds led bipartisan efforts that created a framework for adult and children’s mental health. But DeJear said she hears from parents who are still having a really hard time finding mental health care for their kids. She has a goal of getting sometimes months-long wait times for mental health services down to seven days. DeJear wants to boost reimbursement rates to mental health providers to encourage them to work in the state. She often shares a personal story from her childhood in Mississippi.

“That is a system, again, that means a great deal to me. I wouldn’t be here without it,” DeJear said. “My mother died when I was 8 years old. I was in elementary school. Had it not been for mental health care workers and social workers, I don’t know how I would’ve handled that situation. We often talk about how resilient our kids are, but sometimes they need help getting through some of the toughest times of their lives. And I’ll tell you, this is an issue that K-12 and post-secondary college students, this is an issue that’s at the top of their list. They are self-aware, knowing that this service is needed.”

DeJear on abortion

DeJear said she would veto any abortion restrictions lawmakers send to her desk and that she would protect the right to choose. She declined to say what kinds of abortion policies she would support. DeJear said she believes laws are meant to protect individuals rather than regulate them.

“No matter where I go, I ask women to raise their hand if they’ve been pregnant. They raise their hand. I say, if you’ve had more than one baby, raise your hand. They’ll raise their hand. I said, do any of those pregnancies look the same? Nobody raises their hand, because they don’t look the same. And so we cannot stay in the business of trying to regulate and put in black and white this process,” DeJear said. “It’s irresponsible. We don’t do this with other types of medical procedures. Why do it with this one? And I understand that there is a moral flag that people have on this issue. I’m a Christian woman myself. But as I believe, that doesn’t mean others have to, right? My belief is my own belief. And the law should be to protect, not for me to institute my own Christian thoughts or moral thoughts and ideas. We’ve got to draw the line there.”

Reynolds has asked a court to revive a ban on abortions after about 6 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions. Reynolds has said she “won’t rest until every unborn Iowan is protected,” but she hasn’t publicly discussed specifics about what other abortion restrictions she wants to sign into law.

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Katarina Sostaric
/
IPR
Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear took questions from the audience at her event in Boone in September.

DeJear on inflation

DeJear did not describe specific policies she would look at to lessen the impact of inflation on Iowans when asked about it by IPR. But more broadly, she said she wants Iowans to be ready to face challenges.

“That’s why I want to resolve the challenges with our education system and with our economy,” DeJear said. “This is the time that we look at the most fragile components of our systems and we try to strengthen them. So the time another recession comes, another pandemic, another derecho, god forbid, we’re equipped to weather it. But that means we’ve got to get things right now.”

DeJear says she wants to alleviate workforce issues and boost small businesses by giving them opportunities to provide benefits like health care and paid family leave, and by improving access to child care.

DeJear on tax cuts and state revenue

DeJear said she doesn’t want to raise taxes from the current rates, and she said Iowa won't go broke. Iowa closed the last fiscal year with a budget surplus of nearly $2 billion, and DeJear has said some of that money could be used to fund the priorities she’s laid out. Iowa’s state budget last year was just over $8 billion.

“That’s what we needed our governor to do, figure out how, collectively, taxpayer dollars could be utilized, versus saying, ‘We’re just going to give it back to you and you figure out how to improve your education. Go start your own school. Homeschool your kids.’ She’s delegating the responsibility back to the taxpayer,” DeJear said of Reynolds. “And that’s not her job, because this is a public education system. If she makes it private, she’s no longer responsible. I want to be responsible for making our public system work for all people, because that’s what it was intended to do.”

But DeJear said she may explore ways to prevent the income tax cuts signed into law by Reynolds this year from fully phasing in over the next few years. Those cuts are expected to start reducing state revenue soon. Any attempt to reverse tax cuts would likely require support from the Republican-led legislature that approved the cuts, and the House and Senate are unlikely to flip to Democratic control this year.

Reynolds recently said she wants to cut taxes even more, but did not provide details.

DeJear on police funding

DeJear said she does not support defunding the police.

“I don’t believe that any system in our state is beyond reproach,” DeJear said. “But what I also believe in is that we can’t expect our systems to perform without the resources that they need. And we know that law enforcement needs resources.”

A Reynolds campaign ad featured a Black congresswoman from Missouri expressing support for defunding the police. DeJear later said Reynolds found “a real cute look alike for me.”

DeJear said racial injustice exists in the criminal justice system and it needs reform. But she said she wants Iowans to think about racial injustice holistically, because economic and education policies also need to be inclusive to give everyone a chance to succeed.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter