The Democratic candidates in Iowa’s First Congressional District have been campaigning in what appeared to be a respectful manner for months, but an education forum in Waterloo last (Wednesday) night may have signaled a tactical change with just a few weeks left until the primary election.
Democrat Rick Dickinson accused rival Bruce Braley’s campaign of conducting a push poll in January that suggested Dickinson supports school vouchers. Push polls are designed to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll.
Dickinson, a local economic development official from Sabula, says he has never supported vouchers. Dickinson says his wife has been in public education for 31 years and had he supported vouchers in the legislature, he says upon returning home, “I don’t think I would’ve had a very good supper that night.” Dickinson says the push poll hurt him and his family but also voters because it clouds issues.
Braley, a lawyer from Waterloo, maintains he’s run a positive campaign focused on changing the direction of the country. Braley says he’s never done a push poll and anyone who says he has is lying or doesn’t understand what a push poll is.
Braley says one form of negative campaigning is to accuse your opponent of going negative. Braley says he opposes vouchers for private schools and public education is the only education that should be funded with public money. He says private schools are not required to live up to the same responsibilities public schools are.
Candidate Bill Gluba, a real estate agent from Davenport, says 90-percent of kids go to public schools and if vouchers are going to take a significant amount of money from public schools, then we simply can’t do it.
Gluba says there’s room for experimentation while home schooling and charter schools are healthy and worth investing in. Gluba says we have to make sure anything the federal government does regarding vouchers meets two tests — it has to be constitutional and provide for the separation of church and state.
The fourth candidate in the race, Denny Heath of Clinton, doesn’t support vouchers either. Heath says that’s letting students run away from the problems with public schools. He questions why the government should pay for that when its short on money for public schools.
Two of the three Republicans running for Congress in the First District participated in the education forum as well. Bill Dix, a state representative from Shell Rock, says in a number of our poorest communities, school choice has improved education opportunities and performance.
Dix says every student, along with their parents, should have a chance to pick a school where they’re going to get the best possible education. Dix says those decisions should be left up to the state and it’s “nonsense” to say vouchers or tax credits for private schools siphon dollars away from public schools.
Brian Kennedy, a long-time G-O-P staffer who’s now practicing law in the Quad Cities, says he struggles with the idea that the area public school is the best solution for every family in that neighborhood. Kennedy says in higher education, funding follows the student and they decide which school to spend it at. He says that’s resulted in the best higher education system in the world.
Kennedy says money for a new federal voucher system isn’t available right now so we should experiment on a limited basis. Republican Mike Whalen, a businessman from the Quad Cities, did not participate in the forum due to a scheduling conflict.