By DI staff
Janice Weiner is a Democratic state senate candidate for Iowa’s 37th District, which encompasses parts of Iowa City, Coralville, and other parts of Johnson and Cedar counties. Weiner was born and raised in Coralville, and attended Princeton University, graduating magna cum laude and later attended Stanford Law School. She was a U.S. diplomat in the State Department for over 25 years. She also worked as a field organizer for the Democrats in 2016. Her top priorities are public education, economic development, and protecting Medicaid patients.
The Daily Iowan sat down with Weiner ahead of the primary election to discuss her campaign and issues facing the community. Weiner faces three other Democrats for the nomination in Tuesday’s primary election.
DI: What made you want to run for the 37th District?
Janice Weiner: A variety of things made me want to run. I’ve worked on and off in grassroot politics from the time I was fresh out of law school and I worked as a field organizer in 2016 for several months. I thought if something comes open in my district, I’ll put all my skills to work and run because essentially if not now, when?
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DI: What skills have you gained after doing all the field work? What skills will you bring to the 37th District?
Weiner: We’re losing someone with enormous experience, Bob Dvorsky. I have a different type of experience. My 26 years in the U.S. foreign services as a U.S. diplomat gave me a whole different set of skills. I did political analysis and getting to know people across the whole political spectrum, trying to understand where they came from, what made them tick, why they cared about what they cared about to understand their political motivations overall. It didn’t mean I agreed with them all but I had to figure out a way to talk to them. That’s a really valuable skill right now and it’s needed in Des Moines.
I know how to hold the line and when to hold the line. In diplomacy, you don’t give up things for the country, but you build relationships so you can learn things and work with people. It gave me perspective. I’ve seen the U.S. and Iowa from the eyes of other countries and I think that’s valuable. I’m also a lawyer and I have adopted and raised two girls on my own. I understand parenting, schooling and mental health issues. The full breadth of experience is what I would like to put to work in Des Moines.
DI: What do you think are some of the biggest issues in the 37th District moving forward?
Weiner: I don’t think you can separate the district from the state. This district has an advantage in that it’s extremely diverse. Rural areas, urban areas, a college community. I think the combination of views and people I’ve gotten to know is really valuable. The issues are what you would expect; healthcare looms large. People are concerned about Medicaid privatization. Health insurance and healthcare is extremely expensive, and some people don’t have good options where they live. The rural areas are concerned about ambulance accessibility. Iowa’s finances have loomed large as well. So many people have said to me, “Why are they trying to cut my taxes? We can’t afford that right now.”
Two other issues that I’ve heard everywhere are education and funding public education. I don’t understand how Iowa and Iowa State have absorbed these cuts. From grandparents down, they are worried about their grandkids and whether or not they can get a decent education. We will see in the fall what the state house is going to look like. I think there is a good chance of flipping the House. I think we will be much better off when Democrats take one or two levers of power. I think a single senator can accomplish nothing. It’s about building coalitions. I was not happy with most of what the legislature did in the last two years, including the ridiculous and unconstitutional six-week abortion ban. There are a few things they did that were good, they passed this complex needs mental health bill unanimously which is nothing short of amazing in this political climate right now. Now the issue is how does it get funded? If we can do a better job of taking care of children’s mental health, it will save us so much going forward.
DI: State funding for Iowa’s higher education institutions has been dwindling, what is your plan to relieve the pressure on Iowa’s students?
Weiner: I’d love to roll back the tax cuts that were just signed into law and have the legislature take a holistic look at Iowa’s budget and see what’s sucking money out of it, which include a couple major tax credits and see what the overall revenue is and figure out what our priorities are.
From the very beginning, I think public education at all levels has to be a priority because if we don’t have good opportunities, why would people come here and stay? It has to be a priority. We shouldn’t be putting large amounts of money into corporate giveaways. We don’t need to lure big out of state corporations here. We need to spend on education and local economic development. My dad was in World War II, and that generation didn’t fight so that the 1 percent could become richer while the rest of us are static or go down. They didn’t fight so kids end up with a bunch of debt.
DI: After Nate Boulton suspended his campaign for governor after sexual misconduct allegations, and David Jamison was fired after sexual harassment claims, what do you think can be done to prevent sexual misconduct in Iowa’s institutions?
Weiner: It seems to me that in addition to basic training, it’s a mindset. It’s a culture that needs to change. I think we see it in the numbers in Des Moines. The ratio in the Iowa Senate right now is seven men to one woman. It doesn’t make any sense to me. In my career, when you got enough women in the room, it changes the environment, and everyone gets things done. I don’t need credit when things get done. It just needs to get done.
Awareness training is important with anything. What Starbucks did the other day was good. We need to start to change how people think. Unless people are confronted head on and directly, often nothing changes.
DI: Why would you say you are the best candidate for the University of Iowa student body?
Weiner: I’m the best candidate because I am able to see the big picture. I understand the importance of education. I’ve been through it myself, my daughters are going through it right now. I understand how crucial it is for the state and this area. I believe I can build relationships with the university as well as in Des Moines and stand up for the university. It has been unfairly targeted by legislature. I think there’s a bias towards college communities due to them being more liberal. We need to build bridges to counteract that. We need to work together. We will do much better if we are humble and say, “Let’s all learn from this. Come and work with us and we will figure out what works and what doesn’t work.” The universities have a lot to offer in terms of public private partnerships and in business. They can benefit the entire state.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.