Article Comment Submission Form
|10/10/2012 ||Email this article Print this article |
Olson will use experience to continue work in House District 97
|Steve Olson, (R-DeWitt)|
|Ted Whisler, (D-LeClaire)|
By Jeremy Huss
Steve Olson (R-DeWitt) is running for his sixth term in the Iowa House of Representatives and is facing a challenge from Ted Whisler (D-LeClaire) for a seat in House District 97.
Olson, 65, has served in the Iowa House for 10 years and recently was elected speaker pro tem.
He is a graduate of Calamus High School. He attended Iowa State University but left early to serve in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1966-1972.
He served two terms on the Calamus School Board before the district merged with Wheatland Community Schools and also has served as president of his church council and on the DeWitt Development Co. (DDC) board of directors.
He is a member of several farm commodity organizations, including Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Cattleman's Association and Iowa Pork Producers and is endorsed by the Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business.
He and his wife, Eunice, have two children and four grandchildren.
Olson previously represented the DeWitt area in House District 83 before districts were re-drawn following the 2010 census.
Under the new district maps, House District 97 covers the western half of Clinton County and the northern part of Scott County.
Olson said he's seeking re-election to continue serving residents of the greater DeWitt community and to push for reform of the state property tax system and an increase in the gas tax.
"My district didn't change too much, and I think I would like to see something from the property tax standpoint, both commercial and industrial, as well as possibly getting the gas tax passed," Olson said.
"That seems to be a big issue for Clinton County in particular, but I think if we get it passed it will be a part of a property tax reduction bill."
Olson said he supports a gas tax increase of 8-10 cents implemented over a period of three years to fund road and bridge infrastructure.
He said his business experience and record in the legislature show he's qualified to continue to represent the region in the Iowa House.
"I think I listen to the people and make myself available to the public. I have farmed for 40-plus years. I ran my own business, and I've been a part of many community organizations and I'm aware of the wants and needs of the community," he said.
"I think jobs are what's important to the vicinity, to Iowa. And part of that is tax reduction. And we need to streamline and expedite the regulatory system.
"Regulations coming down in particular from the federal government, and there are even state ones that are in place, have become an impediment for businesses to grow. Whether you're banking, manufacturing, whatever, there are large issues to be addressed.
"I think we need to maintain Iowa's right to work status. That's a big plus when it comes to recruiting business to the state of Iowa. Then we also need to invest in job training to have a prepared work force."
Olson said it's important to invest in job training for residents who may not be cut out to get a four-year college degree to prepare them for manufacturing positions or trades such as plumbing and welding.
Olson believes property tax reform is key to economic development, although he's not necessarily in line with Gov. Branstad's proposal for a 40 percent commercial property tax reduction.
"I will support whatever we can get passed, but I think probably a realistic figure of property tax reduction might be in the 10-15 percent range, and I think if we can tie it to the agricultural and residential formula so there is some predictability for these businesses, I think they would be very happy."
He supports keeping the agriculture productivity formula tied to ag land values and believes it's an accurate indicator of Iowa's economy because many businesses in the state are driven by agriculture.
Olson said he supports the governor's use of tax incentives to recruit businesses to the state, such as the recent multi-million dollar tax package for the Orascom fertilizer plant in Lee County.
"I know there are those that think it's very generous, but when you try to lure those facilities, I've learned firsthand from being on the DDC board, that's just the way the game is played, and you have to put those incentives in place because if Iowa doesn't or if the local communities don't, the business will go somewhere else."
He said he's confident construction of the fertilizer plant will spur additional business growth in related industries nearby.
"If we want jobs, we have to be a player."
On education, Olson believes the legislature "laid the groundwork for possible improvements" in the 2012 session.
"One of the issues I know they're talking about is trying to increase pay for younger teachers. I don't have a problem with that as long as the younger teachers are the ones who get it. I remember six or seven ago we made money available and they were not necessarily the recipients of all of it," he said.
Olson said he supports allowing parents to send children to their school of choice but stopped short of advocating a voucher system or other method to use public funds for private schools.
Instead, he referenced charter schools and said parents shouldn't be penalized economically for sending their children to parochial schools.
"We've made some tax credits available for those individuals if they choose to donate to those facilities.
"I don't think we necessarily need to start state funding or be a player altogether," he said.
He supports reforms in the teacher pay system but did not offer specifics on how to accomplish the goal.
"I'm not sure I would tie it completely to test scores, but I think the pay for performance as far as evaluation needs to be discussed," he said.
Olson said the legislature has worked with the Board of Regents and made progress toward transparency in tuition for the state college system.
He expects state funding for college to remain neutral.
"I'm not sure we're going to have huge increases for them next year, but I don't see any cuts."
On energy, Olson said he supports promoting development of renewable sources such as wind energy but he puts more stock in generation methods such as coal and nuclear.
"I voted for tax credits for wind energy and for the ethanol incentives, and I've supported the possibility of looking into nuclear energy, and I'm not sure that is a dead issue either. That's the cheapest alternative there is, is nuclear."
Olson said the problem with wind energy is the lack of infrastructure to store electricity generated by wind turbines.
"Wind is not necessarily there all the time. You may have excess one day, and it depends on the wind flow and the ability to transport. You can't save it up.
"You take nuclear or coal-fired or natural gas, they are dependable and they are going to be there. I'm not going to necessarily downplay wind energy, but there are skeptics that say it isn't going to be available all the time."
In 2012, Olson supported a bill that would allow MidAmerican Energy to begin charging customers for a potential nuclear plant, even though there is no guarantee the plant will be constructed. The 2012 bill passed the Iowa House but stalled in the Democratic-led Senate.
He said he would continue to support the proposal.
"I would vote to support it because the REC, Alliant and MidAmerican are concerned their old coal-fired facilities are aging and their life span will come to an end, and they've got to have another source besides wind."
Although he supports gun rights, Olson said he doesn't see a need for additional firearms legislation in the state.
"I've supported the issue, the (concealed carry) legislation two years ago, and I did vote for the "stand your ground" bill that was passed out of the House this last year.
"I still support those two particular issues but I'm not sure, I'd have to sit back and think pretty hard to expand it more.
"I have a permit myself and I have some guns, but I also think businesses need to have the ability to ban them from their property if they want to.
"I know there are those who would take a different stance than I would and think everybody needs to just be able to carry and to carry it wherever they darn well please, and I'm not sure I agree with going quite that far."
Olson indicated he doesn't support additional environmental regulations in the state.
"I think if the DNR does its job of implementing regulations that are already in place, they will have a full plate.
"There is progress being made on cleaning up Iowa streams, I know there are those who disagree with me, but the DNR and the Iowa Department of Agriculture have a plan in place and they are working together. They can't get the whole state cleaned up all at once. I know there are areas they have willing cooperators, and that's where they're working at right now."
Olson said he would vote in favor of a bill allowing residents to vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but it is not one of his legislative priorities.
"If a bill comes up to put it to a vote of the people, I would support it. In my own opinion, we need to concentrate on jobs and the economy and educational issues. Those are the ones that need to be on the forefront," he said.
Olson supports continuing Iowa's retention system for judicial appointments but takes no position on the retention of Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, one of the judges who ruled on the 2009 gay marriage case, or any of the other justices.
"They are doing their jobs, and we as legislators need to do our jobs."
Working for Iowans
Olson said his record shows he is willing to work with members of the opposing party to benefit the state as a whole.
"I think I have in the past. Rep. Mary Wolfe would acknowledge that, as well as numerous other members of the opposite side that I do communicate with.
"And I think the system is becoming, I'm not sure I want to use the word radical, but we are getting so far apart, both Republicans as well as Democrats, there's becoming too big of a wedge between the parties."
Olson said individuals and organizations are "coming out of the woodwork" requesting more and more funding and policy changes form the legislature, but "There's only so much to go around. We just can't spend more than we take in, and I'm not sure taxing ourselves to death is the way to prosperity."
Asked what makes him a better choice than is opponent, Olson said, "My background of running a small business, my experience in the legislature as well as serving community and leadership roles, and my military service and my accessibility and concern for the future of the next generation of Iowans.
"My legacy will not necessarily be what I have proposed and passed as much as it will be what I have stopped," he concluded
Whisler offers a different choice for House District 97
Ted Whisler (D-LeClaire) is challenging incumbent Steve Olson (R-DeWitt) for a seat in Iowa House District 97.
Whisler, 56, retired in 2004 after working for Alcoa for 30 years. He is a lifelong union member and served as committee man and union steward.
He graduated from Bettendorf High School and took some college courses but left before earning a degree. He has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and serves on the Churches United board of directors.
He and his wife, Liz, have four children and 10 grandchildren.
Whisler says he's running for office in order to give back to the community and to make Iowa a better place to live. He also provides some sharp contrasts between his policy positions and those of his opponent.
"I'd like to give back to the community that which was given to me growing up. I'd like to see a good education system and good employment opportunities. Iowa is a good place to live, and I want to keep it that way," Whisler said.
Whisler said his lack of political experience is one of the attributes that qualifies him for the Iowa House.
"I am not a politician, for one thing. I'm a regular person, and I think we need the opinions and values of regular people rather than politicians swinging deals and manipulating each other."
Whisler said he wants to protect the collective bargaining rights of police officers, firefighters, teachers and other public employees from limitations proposed by the Branstad administration, and he supports "fair share" legislation requiring all employees at unionized businesses to pay union dues.
To those who argue "fair share" forces workers to pay for membership in a union that doesn't necessarily represent them, Whisler responds, "I would say, 'You are being represented. The wages you earn right now are due to collective bargaining.'
"There are people who have paid for that. The insurance you get and all the other benefits you get have been earned by collective bargaining," he said.
Whisler supports an increase in the gas tax to fund road and bridge infrastructure, but he would limit an increase to 5 or 6 cents implemented over two or three years.
He would tie that increase to a provision requiring road projects be bid with prevailing wages and give preference to local contractors.
"That's to keep the money flowing, circulating within the community, whether it's Sioux City or Clinton or any other part of the state," he said.
Economic development and education are the other major components of Whisler's legislative agenda.
"I'd like to lower the property tax on commercial and industrial property. I'm actually in line with Gov. Branstad's 40 percent reduction in graduations," Whisler said.
"I think what that will do is free up employers to grow their businesses, provide more products and services, which means there will be more employees, and I'm all for hiring more people.
"I'm very positive about the economy right now. I believe we've hit the bottom. We're bouncing a little bit, but I believe it's going to start back up again. I think the economy will start progressively doing better now."
Whisler said he's not sorry to see the Orascom fertilizer plant go to Lee, rather than Scott County, due to concerns about unknown environmental impacts.
"I'm afraid there are too many questions that couldn't be answered, like how much water will that plant consume and what happens to the groundwater in that area. I'm afraid we wouldn't find out the answers for 40 years, when it would be too late."
He also opposes the way tax incentives were used in the Orascom deal to lure a foreign company to the state.
"I don't like tax incentives as they were offered because that's an unfair advantage to outside corporations that local businesses and Iowa businesses would not have," Whisler said.
On education, Whisler says it's important to continue state funding for preschool programs.
"I think that readies children for kindergarten so they get a running start on the educational process," he said.
Although he takes issue with Gov. Branstad's proposal on teacher pay, he supports the governor's proposal to establish a mentoring program for new teachers.
"I think that's a really good idea, and we can expand on that just a little bit. Junior and senior students in high school could mentor freshman and sophomore students, and maybe use that as part of their public service time," Whisler said.
"I just want to open that for discussion. I want input on that," he added.
Whisler says a proposal to tie teacher pay to student test scores is too narrow in scope.
"We need to evaluate pay scales with several factors rather than just student test scores, because there are so many social and economic diversities in each school system," he said.
"I think we should evaluate them with test scores, with the mentors' evaluations, with administrative evaluations and considering the socio-economic area in which they're working."
Whisler said he would oppose legislation introduced last session to allow MidAmerican Energy to charge customers for a nuclear plant that may never be constructed.
"I thought investors were the ones who should pay for that, and then take their profits after they provide a service," he said.
He said he's excited about the possibility a natural gas-powered electricity plant could be built in the area but is withholding judgment on a possible nuclear plant.
"We have Cordova, and we've only had a few small incidents over there, right across the river. And I live within the danger zone of that plant.
"I'm reserving judgment on the nuclear at this point. I'm excited about the natural gas," he said.
Whisler said he's also excited about wind energy production in the state but had no specific proposals for the wind industry.
Whisler said he supports gun rights but sees no need for additional firearms legislation.
"I'm fine with what we have now. You can get a license to conceal and carry, you can own firearms.
"I'm not an NRA member but I own firearms. It's not an issue for me. Firearms are tools just like any other tools," he said.
Whisler said he will carefully walk the line between cleaning up the environment and supporting the agriculture industry.
"I understand we are an agricultural state and that's very important to our economy. I think there are things coming into place that are helping to balance between the farming industry and the environment," Whisler said.
"I think farmers realize the environment is important to their very survival, to protect topsoil, to protect the creeks and the rivers, the marshlands. I think the farmers realize the importance of these assets."
Whisler said he likes developments like GPS field tracking that allow farmers to monitor field conditions and turn off sprayers in parts of the field that don't need additional fertilizer or herbicide because it prevents chemical runoff from entering waterways and saves farmers money on chemical costs.
"So it's a two sided good deal, a win-win situation," he said.
He said he's also glad to see farmers putting in marsh and wetland areas to protect the environment and wildlife habitat.
"I think we can be both farmers and environmentally responsible," Whisler said.
Whisler doesn't support banning gay marriage in Iowa, but he would not oppose allowing a constitutional amendment to go to a public vote.
"I'm fine with where it stands right now," he said.
"I don't have any problem with gay marriage. People should be allowed to love whoever they want to love. That's moral and religious freedom, and the state shouldn't interfere with it."
However, "The people should control the country," he added.
"This is of the people, by the people, so if the people want to vote on that issue, I would allow the vote. I would vote for the ability to vote on the issue," Whisler said.
Whisler supports the retention of Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins despite the controversial gay marriage ruling in 2009.
"I don't think we should fire judges for doing their jobs," he said.
Mental health care
Whisler says the legislature should revisit its recent mental health care reform efforts because cuts in local funding mean residents with mental illness will wind up being housed in the county jail and going through the court system.
"We're trading one problem for another. I think we need to sit down and talk about this and come up with a long-term resolution. Quick fixes usually end up resulting in long-term problems," he said.
"There are several differences in how I would vote compared to Steve Olson," Whisler said.
He cited a long list of bills his opponent has supported that he would oppose, including a bill to end collective bargaining for public workers, a bill banning employees from discussing workplace harassment with employers, bills preventing workplace discrimination based on age, race and creed and a bill to cut funding for preschool for low-income Iowans.
He takes a strong stance on the "ag gag" bill that made it a crime to mislead agribusiness employers in order to document alleged animal abuses.
"Steve Olson voted to cover up animal cruelty at animal facilities and stop whistleblowers from reporting abuse," Whisler said.
Working for Iowans
Whisler said he will reach across party lines to pass legislation to benefit all Iowa residents.
"I would very much like to reach across the border and get things accomplished for the state of Iowa," he said.
"I believe both parties want what's best for Iowa. We've just got different ways of doing it. I don't believe anyone is trying to harm Iowa on either side, either party.
In addition to his policy differences with Olson, Whisler said residents should vote for him, "Because I'm not a politician. I have a more open mind."