Affordable health care, voter's rights and state infrastructure were some of the hot topics at a candidate forum Tuesday night at Luther College.

The forum, attended by more than 80 local residents, was sponsored by the American Association of University Women. It was comprised of two segments: the first featured candidate for Winneshiek County Sheriff Lee Bohr (R) and Winneshiek Medical Center Board candidates Steve Hildebrand, Karl Jacobsen, David Kratz and Jim Tweedy, all of Decorah; The second featured District 55 state representative candidates Michael Klimesh, Spillville, (R) and Roger Thomas, Elkader, (D), and District 28 senate candidates, John Beard, Decorah, (D) and Michael Breitbach, Strawberry Point, (R).

Deputy Chuck Ihde (nominated by petition), who is opposing Bohr for county sheriff, did not attend.

Law Enforcement

Questions posed to Bohr by the audience concerned diversity training, high-speed chases and funding for law enforcement.

Bohr, who has served as Winneshiek County Sheriff for the past 10 years, said high-speed car chases are "very serious."

"People get hurt and people die. We do not take it lightly," he said.

Bohr added the officer in pursuit has to weigh the circumstances. The sheriff's department has a policy, and "we try to follow it very closely."

When asked why the sheriff's position is a partisan office, Bohr responded, "In Iowa that is part of the process. But I want to make sure everyone understands that, in the sheriff's office, we need to be objective and fair, whether a Democrat or Republican, resident or visitor. Everyone will be treated fairly."

Bohr added members of his department also receive cultural diversity training.

"This is a hot topic and diversity training is part of being objective and fair," he said.

Bohr said while he doesn't really have an opinion about whether or not funding for county law enforcement should come from the general or rural fund, it has always come from the general fund.

"I don't care. They can do it either way ... just don't cut services for the sheriff's department."

WMC Board

During his introduction, Winneshiek Medical Center (WMC) Board candidate Steve Hildebrand said he decided to run for the Board as the result of the ongoing discord between Winneshiek Medical Center and Gundersen Lutheran (GL).

"I've been watching what's been going on in the paper, and I felt it was my duty to run. I bring to the Board something that's not common: common sense," said Hildebrand.

He said while he might be a "neophyte" with regard to this issue, he believes everybody who has an insurance plan should be accepted by the hospital.

He said he feels Mayo is an "intuitive" facility, and feels Gundersen is more interested in getting patients referred to Gundersen.

"Both (WMC and GL) are fine organizations and both are good at what they do. We need to get a deal where Gundersen refers to the local facility, not to La Crosse," he said.

WMC Board candidate Karl Jacobsen, who serves as administrator at Eastern Star and works at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iowa City, said he would bring to the Board both experience as a critical care nurse and nursing home administrator.

He said health care in this country is currently experiencing a "perfect storm."

"There is a switch in the health care model that is creating fear and crisis throughout society. We're switching from disease treatment to wellness promotion," he said.

David Kratz, who previously served for 18 years on the WMC Board, 10 as president, said his No. 1 concern is guarding the hospital.

"We have to maintain it under any circumstances. We have a lot of problems ahead of us, and we're capable of overcoming those problems," he said.

Candidate Jim Tweedy said while he understands there are some issues between WMC, GL and The Family Care Clinic, "This community can't afford to lose any of them."

"There has to be a way to figure out a way to get these groups to be able to work together for the benefit of the Medical Center and the benefit to the community," he said.

"It's important to find common ground among these competing entities," he said.

Jacobsen said it's just a matter of time before the national health care bill will be changing the face of health care.

"We may see some solutions to these problems with that," he said.

He added the issue of "practice control," is not new.

'I remember a Norwegian doctor in Spring Grove, who, years ago, wouldn't send his patients to Decorah because he didn't want to lose them. This issue is not new," said Jacobsen.

On the subject of weed control on the WMC grounds, Jacobsen said he feels environmentally correct administration (of pesticides) "works just fine."

"This issue has been around for 18 years. We called ISU Extension and asked their advice. We took their advice and that's what we followed," said Kratz.

Hildebrand agreed with Kratz.

"None of us are experts, so we should contact the experts and follow their direction. I remember when farmers used to have Atrazine in a tank and mix it with their hands. We've come a long way since then," said Hildebrand.

Tweedy added, "As an old man with a young child, I'm pretty paranoid. I think it's best to be careful."

With regard to the relationship between the Decorah Clinic - Mayo Health System and WMC, Kratz said he doesn't understand why people find it confusing.

"The hospital bought the clinic from Mayo and leases the doctors from Mayo. It's a symbiotic relationship. The doctors like living in Decorah and are employed by Mayo. The clinic is part of the county ownership," said Kratz.

Hildebrand said the WMC Board of Trustees committed a "public relations nightmare" when they chose to have a meeting in Rochester which was followed by the decision to not accept the GL health plan.

"To most people, perception is reality. Right or wrong, the perception is that Mayo and WMC are in each other's pockets," he said.

State races

All four of the candidates for state office said they support equal pay for equal work.

Breitbach, who owns a trucking company, said his female drivers make the same wages as the men.

Beard said he is proud of the state Legislature for going beyond just equal pay, by passing legislation to make sure women can play a bigger role by being more fairly represented on government boards and commissions.

"They can make decisions just as well as we can. They're not often asked to serve," said Beard.

Breitbach disagreed with Beard regarding the law on boards and commissions, as he feels sometimes those rules can do more harm than good.

"We had a seven-member women library board, and (as the result of the new law) we had to allow male counterparts to take their place. It wasn't because they (the women) weren't doing a good job," he said.

Campaign financing

A second issue Klimesh, Beard, Thomas and Breitbach agreed on was how unlimited donations impact the health of democracy.

"Where corporations have first amendment rights like you or I as individuals, it opened the flood gates ... there was a time when you funded a campaign based on people who believed in you as an individual. Now special interest groups control the candidate and how he votes," said Thomas, who has served seven terms in the Iowa House.

"What we have is a government being responsible to the people who fund their campaigns," said Beard.

"I think there's a way around this. In Maine they have public financing and there are more able and qualified people running for office."

Breitbach added that money has too much of an influence on campaigns.

Klimesh said in addition to supporting legislation that would limit campaign contributions to the candidate's district, he feels there should be term limits because non-incumbents are at a disadvantage.

Environmental challenges

When asked about the greatest environmental threat facing Iowa, Beard said soil loss should be the primary concern.

Breitbach said while soil loss is a concern, he gives farmers a lot of credit.

"Farming practices we're using now are so different from 20 or 30 years ago. Unfortunately, some people have the ideas that farmers are out to damage our waters and our wildlife. We have to work together to simplify and allow people to save our lands," he said.

Klimesh, a 1991 Luther College graduate with a political science degree, said his biggest concern is the loss of clean drinking water.

"We need to focus on that and identify the problems we have and identify solutions," he said.

Thomas added, "We need to have the right regulations and rules, not a haphazard process about how much money to put into programs."

All four candidates also support utilizing more sustainable energy options in the form of wind and solar technologies.

Voting regulations

While neither Breitbach nor Klimesh has a problem with voters being asked to show a voter ID at the polls, Beard and Thomas both expressed concerns.

"There's always cause for concern, but the state is spending $280,000 to find a problem that might not exist. I don't think you should be denied because you can't provide a photo ID," said Thomas.

"I think the current campaign to find massive voter fraud is a solution in search of a problem," added Beard.

"Let's be really carefully about disenfranchising voters," he said.

Breitbach said he doesn't have a problem with asking people to show an ID to vote.

"You show an ID to drive a car or cash a check. If you get to the polling place and you don't have your ID, you can sign a provisional ballot," he said.

On abortion

Klimesh, Thomas and Beard agreed women should have access to safe and legal abortion in Iowa.

Beard added the focus should be on affordable contraception.

"If we're truly serious, preventing unwanted pregnancies is something we should be concerned with," said Beard.

Breitbach said, "I will do everything I can to preserve human life, whether in the womb or with older Iowans. The situation of rape is addressable."

Breitbach added he also believes medical centers should not be asked to go against their religious beliefs to comply with the law.

"If my Catholic hospital doesn't want to do it (perform an abortion), please don't make them do it. It's against their morals, and we shouldn't tell them it's what they have to do," he said.

Castle Doctrine

Both Klimesh and Breitbach said they support the passage of a Castle Doctrine in Iowa, which allows for home owners to defend themselves when threatened in their homes.

"It's the essential right to defend yourself and puts the burden of proof off you, the homeowner," said Klimesh.

Thomas said while he supports the second amendment (to bear arms), he does not support the expansion of the Castle Law to include locations other than the home.

Beard agreed.

"I'm concerned about the Castle Doctrine, depending how it's written, if it expands rights unnecessarily and threatens public safety. People have a right to have guns and protect themselves, but let's not get carried away."

A second forum

A second candidate forum is planned for Thursday, Oct 11, featuring candidates for Winneshiek County supervisor. The following candidates have confirmed their participation: District 1, Bill Ibanez (D), Dennis Karlsbroten (R), Bob Watson, nominated by petition; and District 2, Floyd Ashbacher (R), John Franzen (nominated by petition) and Rachel Vagts (D). District 1 and 2 supervisors will be elected to two-year terms.

Candiates for District 3, Les Askelson (R) and Dean Thompson (D); and District 4, Clark Goltz (D) and John Logsdon (R), plan to attend the forum. AAUW has not yet heard from either District 5 candidate, Mark Kuhn (D) or Lonnie Pierce (R). District 3, 4 and 5 supervisors will be elected to four-year terms.