J.D. Scholten remembers a time near the end of his pitching career in professional baseball when he was standing on the mound and wondering what would come next for him. The concern wasn’t with what the count was or what pitch he should throw. He was focused on the future.
Now, in the final few days of his bid for the House seat in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District, with the COVID-19 pandemic still a presence in the state, Scholten’s primary focus is on healthcare and how it can be made better.
“I think some of the things we’re seeing brought up more and more at events like this are: protecting Social Security and Medicare,” Scholten said.
“We’ve stopped at rural hospitals and nursing homes and care facilities for people with all different abilities and they just talked about how disastrous the privatization of Medicaid has been. My opponent was the leader in the Senate on getting that passed.”
The way that Scholten sees it: There have been pitches to fix healthcare through the markets for decades and none of them have panned out. Costs haven’t gone down for people. They’ve gone up. And people are struggling to pay.
“The reality in the district is pancake breakfasts and GoFundMes and gas stations with donation boxes. We have to beg to pay for our medical costs and yet we’re the wealthiest country in the world,” he said. “We’re already paying, per person, the most of any country in the world when it comes to taxpayer dollars and we’re not getting a very big bang for our buck.”
Tied in with healthcare for Scholten is the response to the pandemic.
Scholten has said that he thinks there needs to be a greater emphasis placed on mask usage, perhaps with a mandate, and testing needs to be as available as possible.
On the economic front of the equation, Scholten said that giving so much money to Wall Street in the first round of stimulus spending, with so little accountability, wasn’t helpful to individual people or small businesses in the Fourth District. He said that where the focus should be is on additional stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.
“We’re seeing people whose backs are against the wall and I think the Republican talking point that we shouldn’t encourage them to stay home, I don’t think they’re understanding the entire severity.”
He also said that the idea that people can get more from unemployment benefits than they can from working speaks to a problem with wages in the district and around the country as a whole.
“A huge part of this district is that wages are so low. And yet healthcare costs are skyrocketing. Housing’s skyrocketing. Student debt is at an all-time high. Farm debt is at an all-time high. We’re just seeing a disconnect with wages and the needs of people right now,” Scholten said.
As a way to deal with stagnant wages in the meatpacking industry in particular, Scholten has said he’d enforce antitrust laws that are already on the books, which could give more power back to workers.
Even more specific to the district, Scholten said he wants to see ethanol prioritized further. He said that if he wins the race on Tuesday, he’d push for more pumps nationwide to offer ethanol, which could help with demand for producers in the district.
Scholten said he believes that that push sets him apart from Feenstra on the issue. As does some of the funding they’re getting.
Scholten has pointed to Feenstra receiving $50,000 from the 20 For 20 Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee set up by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Scholten has noted that Cruz has worked against the renewable fuel standard being sufficiently supportive of corn-based ethanol, with many waivers given to oil companies.
“I would never take money from an entity who is trying to attack one of our main industries. I think that shows a difference in character between him and myself.”
New EPA waivers could reduce biofuel and ethanol production and, here in North Iowa, the general manager for POET Biorefining in Hanlontown says that farmers will suffer.
For farmers, Scholten again said that enforcing antitrust laws could be helpful for keeping small farms from being completely overrun by large-scale farming enterprises.
“It’s policy that’s driving people off the land and so what I want to do is enforce our antitrust laws, empower our Iowa farmers and go down that direction,” he said.
In the moments of downtime on his 374-town tour, Scholten said that he’s likely to be chatting on the phone with his girlfriend.
“Her having a more normal life just kind of calms me.”
He said he relishes the little towns he gets to visit in the district that seem to be making a comeback. Towns such as Grundy Center which he believes lays claim to the best hand-breaded pork tenderloin to be found anywhere in the state.
As for what fills him with hope, at a time when there’s a lot of doubt and uncertainty, Scholten said he thinks about processes such as the annual harvests. He finds them to be a bit of a comfort and somewhat of a metaphor for his own political life.
“You put in a seed and just hope it grows and hope it grows right.”