OSKALOOSA — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell brought his Economic Opportunity Tour to Oskaloosa on Saturday morning.
Hubbell, who has led both the Iowa Power Fund and Iowa Department of Economic Development, met with community members in a roundtable forum at Smokey Row on Oct. 14.
One of the primary topics discussed was education.
Bob Morris, assistant director of the student success program at William Penn University, pointed out that the Oskaloosa Community School District, like others around the state, is seeing a drop in teacher applicants.
“Oskaloosa has seen a big drop in applicants for some positions,” Morris said. “And the little tiny districts where the pay scale is minimum, there are places they’re not getting anybody for.”
Briana Bartlett, an art teacher at Oskaloosa Elementary School, echoed what Morris said about the small school districts.
“They might close their schools,” Bartlett said. “They don’t have enough money, they don’t have enough staff and people don’t want to move there because they can’t pay enough. It’s a really hot topic.”
Hubbell agreed that there is a problem with education funding.
“What they’re really doing by reducing the funding and telling teachers that ‘we don’t respect you, it’s not a profession, you’re the problem, we’re taking away your union rights,’ what they’re trying to do is just force the consolidation,” Hubbell said. “They don’t say that, but that’s exactly the impact of all the reductions. The end result is you don’t have enough people working there, and you can’t continue as a district.”
Former state Rep. Eric Palmer was also in attendance, and he pointed out a study that showed the number of education graduates in Iowa is dropping.
“We shouldn’t be surprised,” Hubbell responded. “The legislature demeans the job. The salaries are frozen, and they’re low to begin with. You have no collective bargaining. You can go to Minnesota and get collective bargaining, so what do you expect.”
Hubbell offered one solution to help with the problem.
“We have a lot of jobs open in our state, and it’s tough to fill some of them,” Hubbell said. “I’d be willing to give a state incentive to rebate part of their student debt if they’ll go take a job in a small community, if they commit to working there for five years.”
Hubbell also said he believed that that the state is not spending its $7.4 billion budget properly. He harkened back to his days running the Department of Economic Development, being appointed to clean up the $200 million film tax credit fiasco.
He spoke against the recent decision to give Apple a $20 million tax credit to build a facility near Des Moines.
“I think the $20 million that the state put in there is unnecessary money,” Hubbell said. “I wouldn’t have given them $20 million. Rather than trying to attract businesses by giving them money, let’s try to attract businesses with some natural strength that we have.”
He used the wind industry in Iowa as an example of using Iowa’s natural strengths.
“We have over 9,000 jobs in the wind industry here,” he said. “Most of it is because we have good wind. Then you develop a supply chain around that. That’s the kind of industry we should support.
On healthcare, Hubbell said that, if elected, he would quickly take back the currently privatized Medicaid program.
“It’s a failure, and causing pain and anguish all across our state,” he said.
On the state’s current budget shortfall, Hubbell said he holds Gov. Kim Reynolds accountable.
“She’s been there the whole six years,” Hubbell said. “She’s been standing behind [former Gov. Terry Branstad] endorsing everything. At the end of this last session more than once she publicly said that this is the best session we’ve ever had. She owns the record; she owns the budget.”
He said his approach, as governor, would be to unify lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I want to bring Iowans together to bring progress to Iowans,” he said. “I want to bring people together to find common ground. I don’t care if it’s a Republican or Democrat. Our job is to make Iowa a better place to live and to work. There’s always going to be some common ground we can find. You do that and build from there.”
— Herald Staff Writer James Jennings can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @OskyJames.