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Candidate Profile: Swati Dandekar

Swati Dandekar for Congress

Read this candidate profile of 1st District Candidate Swati Dandekar. She was interviewed as part of IPR's 2014 Primary Voter Guide series

The U.S. House has held dozens of votes to either repeal, defund or otherwise dismantle the Affordable Care Act.  President Obama has made it clear he’s not interested in signing legislation that does any of those things.  But, the law remains unpopular… with most polls showing more people opposed to, rather than in support of the law.  What are your ideas for revising the law?

I do support the Affordable Care Act. To have good health care is a basic human right. One of the ways that I will try to make it better is by making sure we have telemedicine so that every person, no matter where they live, whether they are in rural parts of Iowa or rural parts of United States, they should have an opportunity to get good health care services.

My plan is to give students who go into health care professions, to give them forgivable loans if they serve in underserved parts of the United States, and that includes rural parts of the United States and also the veterans hospitals.

You’ve had experience serving on lots of governing bodies. You have served on the Iowa Utilities Board, and as a state legislator in the Iowa House and in the Iowa Senate. You were also the first democratic woman to chair the Senate Commerce Committee. How have those experiences prepared you to serve in congress?

I am the one person who has experience at all three levels. You forgot to talk about the school board. I was on the Linn-Mar school board. That gave me really in depth knowledge about working on the local level, and of course, I was in Iowa House and Iowa Senate, and of course on the Iowa Utilities Board, I had to work with other commissioners in other states. I was also chair of the National Foundation of Woman Legislators. Women legislators elected me to be their leader. I have always worked tirelessly for what I think is best for the state of Iowa and what is best for the United States of America. That knowledge and that experience will help me in D.C. because to find what I call a common ground is a strength not a weakness, and that is what I will do, find a common ground to do what is best for our country and to do what is best for Iowa. That’s what I will be doing. I will work tirelessly to do what I think is best for the state of Iowa and for this great country, the United States of America. 

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 did we get to this point?

Because I think policy makers at this moment are not doing what is best for our country or what is best for our citizens. I am going to do what is best for our state. I am going to do what is best for our nation. I really think it is time for somebody like me to say that, “let’s work together.” I’m an immigrant. I came here with a good education. I was armed with good education, and I could achieve my American dream because I had good education. And that is what I am going to do. I am going to get the best education for our children in this global economy.

I know when I have 10 great ideas, I may not get all of them at once, but I tell my friends that if I get three things out of 7 the first year, I will take it and run with it because next year I will just have to work on the other 7. And that is what our leaders did before when they worked with each other. They didn’t get everything they wanted all at once. Right now, in Congress, everybody asks for my way, or they say “I’m not going to get anything done.” And as you know, when you say my way or highway, you end up doing nothing. And I am a person in this pool of candidates who thinks it is okay that if I want 10 things and I get 3, I will take it and work on the other 7 the next year because we have to do what is best for our state of Iowa and what is best in this global economy.

You said one of your strengths is being able to find middle ground and compromise. What are some of the areas that you would reach across the aisle on and compromise specifically?

I’m not going to say exactly where I’m going to compromise. The situation may be different. I will look for common ground on a given situation. If I say, “I’m going to compromise on this and not on that,” I’m already having a line in the sand saying “I’m not going to do this, or I’m not going to do that.” I am going to have a conversation with every legislator in Washington D.C. about what is best for the United States of America and what is best for Iowa.

And there are a couple of things I will not compromise on, and that is Medicare and Social Security. It is very important for us to protect those two things because again, it has to be there for our senior citizens. 

What do you think is the one thing you can do in Congress to help create jobs in Iowa?

High speed internet. In this global economy, if we do not have high speed internet or broadband, we will not be able to compete in the global economy. I have said time and time again when I have met with citizens in District 1, and citizens from Iowa, that that’s one thing I am going to do, is make sure we have high speed internet so our jobs will be there for all of us. We don’t need “haves” and “have nots.” When you have high speed internet, companies can go anywhere and be successful.

Because you asked me what is one thing I will do for economic growth – that is what I will do. High speed internet because high speed internet will give us telemedicine. High speed internet will give us great education for our children. For children, it doesn’t matter whether they are in rural parts of Iowa or urban parts of Iowa, they will be able to take advanced placement online anywhere they are. And to compete in the global economy, you have to have good education and affordable health care for all of us, so our economy can thrive.

A March Iowa Poll shows 65% of those polled support an increase in the minimum wage.  Would you support a minimum wage increase?

Yes, I do support an increase in the minimum wage, and I support $11. By the time I am in
Congress in 2015, it should be 11 dollars an hour. I have also suggested that I am not going to make this a political football. At this moment, we don’t do what is right. We really need to do what we did for Social Security in the early 1980’s when we tied Social Security to COLA. I am going to tie minimum wage to COLA, that’s the cost of living adjustment. I will do it in steps, so that when small and midsize businesses hire people, they know exactly how it is going to happen and will be aware of it. They will also know what is going to happen in 2016, 2017 and 2018, so there will be no surprises for small, midsized or large businesses.

There are proposed changes to the renewable fuel standard. Those seem to signal that the administration may move away from grain-based alternatives to conventional fuels. What would you do in Washington D.C. to work in a bipartisan manner on energy policy that would benefit Iowans and still have national appeal?

I think it’s a part of education. We have to educate at the grassroots level why renewable fuels are important to our economy. That is the important part. I will educate not only my colleagues about how important it is for us to have renewable energy but also about how important it is for us to have wind tax credits. Those are clean energy. I will explain why it is important to have solar energy tax credits, why it is important to have research and development for our renewable energy. All those things need to be looked at from an education point of view. I will be able to pass that legislation because it’s good for our environment and it is good for Iowa’s economy and our nation’s economy. That’s how I will approach it. I will educate my colleagues, educate the United States about the importance of renewable energy.

Even with a former Iowa governor heading up the Ag Department, farmers were kept in limbo for years over the new farm policies. For example, the Farm Bill that was supposed to be renewed in 2012 wasn’t signed until February of this year. How will you represent the interests of agriculture and rural communities in an environment and from a district that is heavily urban?

I have always done that. Our farmer friends will tell you that even though I come from an urban area, I have always done a good job of representing them. I have shown time and time again that I care for them. I did that in the Iowa House and in the Iowa Senate. They will not doubt that I understand how important the farm economy is for us. When I am in Congress, I will try to sell our value added goods to other countries, for example, corn oil and soybean oil. I know that there are countries who need edible oils, and those are valued added economies. It helps Iowa, and it helps our farmers. If you go and ask them, “what do you think of Swati Dandekar? Will she help you?” I know they will say, “yes, she has been there for us, and she will be there in US Congress.” 

You mentioned that you’ve cared for farmers with your votes when you were serving in the Iowa Legislature, you supported farmers with your votes. Can you give an example of a vote that would have benefited Iowa farmers?

When I was working on the Iowa Values Fund with other legislators, I remember that farmers came and talked about giving tax credits for what we called the value added economy.  That was one thing they wanted us to add. And I worked on that. It was very, very important.

Another one was – the farmers wanted me to protect the eminent domain laws, and that time I took the side of the farmers because they wanted me to protect eminent domain laws for them. I am very proud of that. I know that time I went against Governor Tom Vilsack, and I did it because that was the right thing to do.

Nearly every candidate running for office says they want to cut government waste and bring down the deficit.  Name a program or department you would cut, and why?

You know, I have to look at the program. I am by nature, a scientist. I have to do research. Sometimes you streamline a program or a department, you don’t cut it. It is better to streamline it and make it proficient and use different methods to save money. For me, that’s how you do it. When I am in Congress, I am going to look at each program and see how we can make it better and ensure the services are there for citizens of the United States. By saying today, I’m going to cut this, or I’m going to cut that, that’s not the right approach. You look at the program and see how it has changed and see how we can make it better and streamline it, and that’s how I will do it.

Are we spending enough on national defense?

I think we have to take care of our veterans. When you ask that question on the budget – that includes our veterans’ health care. That includes how to we take care of them. When I go to Washington D.C., I will look at the budget and make sure the VA hospitals are in great shape. I am going to make sure our veterans are taken care of. I will look at it and streamline it, but we have to take care of our veterans when they come back from Afghanistan, and some of them are still in Iraq. When I look at the budget, that is what I’ll be looking at.

Immigration reform is an issue important to Iowa, but has stalled in Congress.  What immigration reforms would you support?

I support the Senate version of the immigration bill. I do support the DREAM Act.

According to figures from NASA, Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. Do you believe the science?  Should government act on this issue?

I am a scientist. Yes. This is global climate change, and the world is global when I talk to people. We have to look at it from a holistic point of view. We have to work to make sure we have a great environment for our children and our grandchildren.

Because it is global, global climate change should be part of our foreign policy. We have to work with other countries. We have to work with other countries. A classic example is what Secretary of State did when she was Secretary of State. There were women cooking with soft wood for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She worked with government and educators to educate these women how important it is not to cut the soft wood and use natural gas chulas. They cook on chulas in India. Now all these women are cooking on natural gas chulas instead of wood. That is a small example of what we can do through foreign policy to educate people.

Earlier this week Liz Mathis, a democrat from Cedar Rapids, endorsed Monica Vernon. Sometimes endorsements mean a lot sometimes they don’t. Will this endorsement matter to your campaign?

I am doing what is best for District 1. I am going to coffees. I am knocking on doors, and to me, I have a plan. My campaign has a plan. My staff has a plan. We are going to stick to our plan of knocking on doors, making phone calls, going to coffees and shaking hands and talking to people. I am going to focus on the plan I have. I really do not pay attention to what other campaigns are doing.

You gave up what some people consider a quote “safe” seat in the Iowa legislature to take your position at the Iowa Utilities Board. Do you think this endorsement signals that the Democratic Party in Iowa may be disgruntled with you in some way?

Well, I worked very hard to get Liz Mathis elected. I was the one who suggested that she would be a good candidate when I left to take my job at the Iowa Utilities Board. My husband and I knocked on doors for her when she was running in special election. We also helped her raise money for her campaign. I did what was best for democrats to keep that seat and have those 26 senators on the democratic side. We know what the results were. Liz Mathis won with 56 percent.

Swati Dandekar's webiste