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Candidates appeal to bipartisanship in 1st District debate

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1st Congressional district candidates, State Rep. Christina Bohannan, left, and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, take part in a debate Sept. 26 at Iowa PBS in Johnston.

In their first debate of the general election, the candidates for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District made bipartisan appeals as they each seek to represent southeast Iowa.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the incumbent Republican, and Christina Bohannan, a Democratic Iowa House representative, argued policy over abortion, immigration, inflation, democracy and more in the first of the Iowa Press debate series Monday night on Iowa PBS.

Miller-Meeks spent time defending her record in Congress, pointing to bills she’s sponsored that have become law with Democrats' support and criticizing Democratic-led bills that she said have made inflation worse.

Bohannan, in turn, said Miller-Meeks has voted against bills that have improved the lives of Iowans and would decrease the deficit, like the infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Miller-Meeks, who is serving her first term in Congress after being elected in 2020, is a former ophthalmologist from Ottumwa. She is also a former state senator and former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Bohannan, of Iowa City, is a law professor at the University of Iowa. She is serving her first term as a member of the Iowa House.

Abortion

Both candidates attempted to paint the other’s position on abortion as extreme, as the overturning of federal abortion protections have opened the door for restrictions at the state and national level.

Miller-Meeks has endorsed a proposed bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortion at 15 weeks with some exceptions. She said she supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, and her support for a national 15-week abortion ban was to convey that position.

“At 15 weeks, I thought was a usable way that was supported by the majority of people, and it had exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother,” she said.

Miller-Meeks said Democrats supported abortion "up until the time of birth and even after birth."

Bohannan said she did not support abortion up until birth and said her opponent's position was extreme. Bohannan said she supported the framework that existed under Roe vs. Wade.

“This is a very dangerous path that we are going down, it will put women’s rights at risk and it is one of the worst examples of government overreach that we have seen in a very, very long time,” Bohannan said.

Inflation

Both candidates offered their proposed solutions to bring down inflation, with Miller-Meeks suggesting government spending and President Joe Biden’s executive policy have blown up the cost of energy and other goods, while Bohannan pointed to bills aimed at bringing down prices of gas and medical costs.

While she said there are infrastructure concerns in Iowa, Miller-Meeks said she voted against the federal infrastructure bill because it was tied to a “human infrastructure” bill with too high a price tag.

“We warned that spending that level of money when there was already almost one trillion of unspent COVID money from the first CARES package, that it would lead to inflation, and it did,” Miller-Meeks said.

Bohannan, alternatively, pointed to high gas prices and what she called corporate price gouging as a cause of inflation. She criticized Miller-Meeks for voting against a Democratic-led bill that would allow the president to prevent companies from raising fuel prices past a certain amount.

Candidates appeal across the aisle

Despite sharp disagreements, both candidates pitched themselves as moderates willing to work across the aisle on issues.

On immigration, both candidates said they want to allow a path for legal immigration while providing border security. Both candidates also said they wanted to make college more affordable but did not support loan forgiveness.

In an interview after the debate, Miller-Meeks said she’d sponsored 13 bills that have become law in the Democratic House, which shows her ability to work with Democrats.

“When there are good ideas that are going to help your district and help your country, then those are things you can work together to achieve,” she said.

Bohannan questioned Miller-Meeks’ commitment to bipartisanship in an interview after the debate, saying she votes in line with the Republican Party.

"I am very independent-minded; I call it as I see it," Bohannan said. "But the fact is that Mariannette Miller-Meeks, I don't think she's ever disagreed with Kevin McCarthy on anything."

When the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll was taken in July, voters in the district preferred Republicans by a margin of 50% to 40%. Four percent of voters said they would vote for someone else and 6% were undecided.

The district covers much of Southeast Iowa, including the Iowa Quad-Cities, Iowa City and Fort Madison, and extends to central Iowa counties including Warren and Jasper.

After redistricting, Miller-Meeks’ home of Ottumwa was drawn out of the district, though it covers many of the counties of the now-2nd District she was elected to in 2020. She said after the debate she had a residency in LeClaire but planned to keep her home in Ottumwa as well.

The general election for state and federal offices will be held Nov. 8. The first day of early voting, either by mail-in ballot or at county auditors’ offices, begins Oct. 19.

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