Democrat C.J. Petersen is running for the Iowa Senate District 6 seat. Petersen is the lone Democrat in the field. To learn more about his candidacy, visit his website.
What is the proper role of government?
I believe that the government which governs best, governs least. I think most of the time, governing is as much about NOT adding laws as it is about passing new laws. Of course, there are some things that government must engage in, like levying taxes to pay for infrastructure, education, and other items that cannot be managed on a large scale by individuals or private enterprises.
What are some issues you consider non-negotiable?
Respectfulness among members of our society is extremely important to me, but it’s sorely lacking in our politics. Instead of constantly trying to get digs in at each other with dumb slogans, I plan to run a campaign that speaks to the issues facing the people of our district and the state of Iowa.
Talk about your views on climate change and how you believe government can or should help solve the problem:
Of course climate change is real, and of course it is helped along by human activity. The science is clear. But the idea that government can fix something on its own is, I think, a mischaracterization of the way most people feel about this issue. There are steps government can take without a massive overreach or spending trillions of dollars. (The United States can’t and shouldn’t do it alone). The federal government can hash that out, of course, but I’m focused on what will be in my purview as a state senator.
I favor policies that mitigate the effects of climate change, like investments in ethanol and biofuels, and using the vehicle registration fee table to incentivize consumers to purchase vehicles that use those alternative fuels. There are a lot of things that make sense, but one thing I’d support is allowing farm trucks to use dyed diesel fuel to give farm families a tax break. No amount of human activity can turn things around overnight, but with some common-sense steps like promoting regenerative agriculture and ensuring local control over permits for new livestock confinements, we can mitigate Iowa’s contribution to greenhouse gases.
Describe your position on gun rights and how you believe we can curb gun violence:
If you want to elect somebody who’s going to increase the government’s control over individuals’ lives and liberties, that’s not me. I strongly support our nation’s Bill of Rights, and that includes the Second Amendment. I come from a family of Iowa hunters and gun-owners, and it wasn’t that long ago that I was a registered Republican. I may not have an (R) after my name anymore, but I still firmly believe we must defend our civil liberties through limited government and local control. But it’s not my uncle in the deer stand that keeps me up at night. It’s the troubled teenager whose school can’t afford a psychologist. It’s the guy who beats his wife up on Friday night and goes to the gun show on Saturday. So, we’ve got to make sure that our state’s mental healthcare is treated as the healthcare issue it is. The right to bear arms is a fundamental constitutional right, and I agree with the Supreme Court’s decision that gun rights can and should only be impeded “with good rational reasoning.” Law-abiding citizens should never have to worry about the government taking away legally-owned and licensed firearms. I support an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that makes hunting and fishing a right of citizens of Iowa, and would support an amendment to Iowa’s Constitution that mirrors the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution. I oppose any attempts to impose 3-day waiting periods for the purchase of firearms in Iowa. And I support requiring firearms confiscated due to the commission of a crime to be auctioned to FFL dealers to raise money for local law enforcement.
Would you support raising the minimum wage in Iowa and if so, what do you believe the right figure is for a minimum wage?
An increase in Iowa’s minimum wage is long overdue. State legislators work 4 months out of the year and earn more than a full-time worker making $7.25/hour. It’s insane for anyone to think that their work is somehow worth more than the hardworking people of our state. A lot of politicians talk about getting the government off people’s backs, but the Iowa Legislature in 2017 undercut locally-elected county supervisors and kept thousands of Iowans from receiving a pay increase. That kind of heavy-handed, top-down approach doesn’t sit well with me. If the federal and state governments won’t do their jobs, local governments should be able to get the job done for their constituents. And while any increase, even an incremental one, would be welcomed by the people of Iowa, a living wage of $15 an hour implemented over a number of years should be the goal. We must remain competitive and attract the best workers, especially when only one neighboring state (Wisconsin) has a minimum wage as low as Iowa’s. When our workers are paid better, they will spend more money in our communities, and this will be a boon for Iowa businesses.
What are some ways you believe Iowa could improve education?
Iowa has excellent schools–some of the best in the nation. Our public schools consistently rank #1 for graduation rates, and that number has only been going up (while dropouts decline). Our teachers are doing incredible, innovative work to prepare the next generation of Iowans for success. But as student needs increase and operating costs rise, we must ensure our state continues to fund schools equitably, adequately, and responsibly. An area of concern: A recent report found Iowa wasted an astonishing $3,662,045 in taxpayer dollars due to a lack of accountability for charter schools. Talk about fiscal irresponsibility! I would work to improve public oversight of public dollars and promote policies to address classroom needs, including student nutrition, mental and behavioral health, and workforce readiness.
Are you generally in favor of tax cuts or tax increases? Are there any specific taxes you believe could be cut? Are there any specific taxes you believe should be increased?
I think any opportunity to return the peoples’ money to them is a good thing. Of course, the government has to keep the doors open, and we can’t just shut down the state government when our chief executive doesn’t get their way. I think tax cuts can be great drivers for economic activity, especially with regard to climate change. I’d cut the fuel tax on products containing ethanol, and reduce property taxes for stations that install E-85 pumps. There are always areas where we can shrink the bureaucracy, and every penny must be accounted for, just as it is for Iowans’ household budgets. One thing I’d like to do is provide tax relief to family farmers, especially as they will likely continue to be harmed by the federal government’s trade policies.
How can the Iowa legislature help solve the rural health care crisis in Iowa?
Healthcare is too damn expensive. It is no secret our country spends nearly twice what other countries do, and yet we have some of the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates in the developed world. There are still over 100,000 Iowans without medical insurance, and an estimated 230,000 more would lose their coverage if Obamacare is repealed without a suitable replacement. We must put an end to surprise medical bills and lower prescription drug prices. Still, under those circumstances, Iowa’s health providers are doing exceptional work, and our state scores well in a number of measurable outcomes – including gradual but much-needed gains in mental health care. But there is more work to do. The closure of hospitals, especially in rural areas, has led to a shortage of psychiatric beds. At the same time, Iowa continues to see high levels of binge drinking, alcohol- and drug-related deaths. We must expand substance abuse treatment programs and treat addiction like the health issue it is. The current way of thinking is not only not working, it’s overburdening our law enforcement officers and our state’s correctional system. The financial strain on rural hospitals and clinics is also making it harder for Iowans to access essential health services, including OB/GYN preventative screenings, family planning, and prenatal care. I will be a strong voice for rural Iowans who want affordable and accessible healthcare.
Would you support mandatory E-Verify for Iowa businesses?
The short answer is no, and I’ll tell you why: E-Verify isn’t even enforced in the states that have enacted it. Employers just ignore the requirement, the way they ignore other immigration laws. The result is yet another law that makes some politicians feel good, and lets them go home and pat themselves on the back for “doing something” about a problem that isn’t even in their purview (immigration enforcement is a federal issue, and the federal government needs to act). This isn’t a liberal open-border fantasy: It’s about protecting Americans’ privacy from a system that is too untested and too prone to error to justify. Before we start expanding the reach of the federal bureaucracy and allowing for mass collection of fingerprints, DNA, and iris scans, let’s make sure the program actually does what it’s intended to do.
Would you support a Religious Freedom and Restoration Act in Iowa?
Our founders were brilliant people. They rightly took up arms against a tyrannical government that had mistreated them, and endeavored to create a government that respected the rights of all people. I place my faith in Jesus Christ, and I attend church every Sunday (currently we’re on Zoom like the rest of the country’s houses of worship). I’m always shocked when I’m told I don’t have the freedom to worship as I please. In fact, I checked the United States Constitution, and there’s an entire Amendment about that! The freedom to worship (or not) is at the heart of our democracy, as are our freedoms of expression, peaceable assembly, and the press. And I think those freedoms came first in the Bill of Rights for a reason. But when businesses engage in commerce, they can’t discriminate against people who are members of protected classes. I fear that’s what this Act is about: codifying the right to discriminate into Iowa law. I’m a supporter of free people and free markets, and in states that have passed these types of laws, the economic impact has been extraordinarily harmful. Sometimes the intent of a law doesn’t matter, and the economic impact is more harmful than the intended effect (take Indiana for example, where the state’s economy took a $60 million hit due to the perception that a similar law codified discrimination).
Can you discuss your position on abortion rights and if you favor any additional regulations on abortion in the state of Iowa:
I believe in making government smaller wherever possible. And again, most of the time, government’s job is to get out of the way, not step in and try to impose more restrictions on individuals’ lives. Just as passing more gun laws isn’t going to keep weapons out of the wrong hands, banning abortion isn’t going to keep women who want abortions from getting them. Personally, I hate that abortion too often feels like it’s necessary for women who have them—that’s why I want to reduce the number by ensuring people are educated about sex, have the economic security to provide for their children, and that anyone who wants to adopt a child and can provide a loving home can do so. My mother had endometriosis and a hysterectomy when I was very little. She says my brother and I are the greatest gifts God ever gave her, but she would’ve loved to have just one more child. But it wasn’t ever economically feasible for her to do so—even though there are over 800,000 children in our foster care system awaiting homes. So, let’s strengthen Iowa’s foster care and adoption system so every child who needs a loving home can find one.
When do you believe life begins and what, if anything, should be done legislatively to protect life?
My faith in God is strong, and I believe He gave every human free will. I don’t pretend to be privy to His plans for the universe. My faith teaches me that life doesn’t end at birth. We must have compassion for women who feel they have no other choice—let’s stop letting birth be the sole objective. Because if we’re going to call ourselves defenders of life, we should want every child to have a fighting chance. Government can’t solve the problem alone—faith organizations and secular groups alike should also work together to provide family planning resources and education for mothers who want to raise their child, and ensure that every child who needs a loving home can find one.
Talk about the importance of fighting for civil rights:
I’m a gay man, and I’m blessed to have a loving partner who I’ll marry this September. And I was a Republican not long ago. To be honest, I always felt more comfortable as a gay man among Republican friends (and they’re still my friends) than I did as a Republican among my gay friends. And that says a lot about where we were headed as a society, and why the fight for civil rights shouldn’t be viewed through the prism of partisanship or ideology. It’s hard to imagine today some of the cruelest injustices of our country’s past, but we can’t deny they happened or forget the harm we caused to others. When people see the humanity in each other, they join the cause. That’s what the fight for civil rights means to me: showing others our humanity in the pursuit of a more just and free world.
As a member of a group of people who were denied the right to marry, still fights employment discrimination in many states, and just a few years ago obtained the right to serve honorably and openly in our nation’s armed services, I believe the fight for civil rights has made our state and nation stronger. And Iowa has often led the way—desegregating our public schools ahead of Brown v. Board of Education, enfranchising women & African Americans, and yes, allowing committed same-sex couples to marry the person they love.
Do you consider life to be a civil right?
I do believe in the right to life, but it’s a natural (or God-given) right, not a civil right. Civil rights come from government, but I believe natural rights come from God. We live in a world far too great for lack of nuance, and not every issue is black and white. And there are arguments about where life begins for legal purposes—The US Supreme Court set a threshold at the viability of a fetus, and that’s been the law of the land for nearly 50 years. There are good people of pure intentions involved on all sides of this discussion, and it is possible for reasonable people to disagree. It’s not up to the government to decide who lives or dies. That’s why I detested the idea of panels who’d decide who would receive life-saving treatment during the original Obamacare debate. The right to life is eloquently enshrined in one of our nation’s most treasured documents, the Declaration of Independence—right where it should be.