Mathis faces Republican Ashley Hinson in Iowa’s 2nd District
Liz Mathis dabs away tears from her eyes with a tissue as sunlight streams into the living room of her Hiawatha home on a temperate Tuesday afternoon in late August.
The 64-year-old Democratic state lawmaker had just finished recounting, during her run for re-election to the Iowa Senate in 2016, knocking on the door of a Cedar Rapids couple on a fixed income, unable to afford their out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.
The wife recently was diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. The husband was receiving medication for a chronic illness, Mathis said. The couple, who were retired and receiving Social Security benefits, were standing at their kitchen counter with a prescription pill bottle in front of them.
“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And she said, ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. And we have to decide, you know, what prescription drugs we are
going to take, because we know the costs are going to go up,’” Mathis recounted. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my God. What’s happening here?’ It was terrible. It was just terrible.”
She said the couple had purchased a Medicare Supplement Insurance policy from a private insurance company, but still had a coverage gap. The plan they selected provided only “catastrophic coverage” and did not cover the cost of prescription drugs, meaning coinsurance and co-payments would not kick in until they met their out-of-pocket maximum, which they could not afford.
Mathis said the story hit close to home, caring for her ailing parents and dealing with the bureaucratic red tape of Social Security and Medicare. Her father suffered from congestive heart failure and died from an infection following a valve replacement in 2006. Her mother, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, died in 2009.
“My parents were part of the Greatest Generation,” Mathis said in a recent campaign ad.
Her father served in an Army field artillery forward observation battalion in Europe during World War II, and returned home to Eastern Iowa to farm. Her mother taught in a one-room school house, worked as a riveter and welder at the Rock Island Arsenal during WW II, served in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps and later became the town nurse.
“So when I hear talk out of Washington about cutting Social Security and Medicare, I know who will pay the price,” Mathis says in the TV ad.
Who is Liz Mathis?
Town of residence: Hiawatha
Occupation: State senator
Political experience: Iowa State Senate 2011-present, representing Senate District 34, which includes Robins, Marion, Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, Bertram, Ely and southern Linn County.
Campaign website: lizmathis.com
Mathis is running to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, of Marion, in the Nov. 8 election for Iowa’s new 2nd Congressional District. Hinson is serving her first term in the U.S. House after unseating first-term Democrat Abby Finkenauer in 2020.
Both candidates are running competitive campaigns and have support from the national Democratic and Republican parties as control of Congress hangs in the balance.
Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District includes 22 counties in Iowa’s northeast corner, and includes the cities of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Mason City.
The district has flipped back and forth between Republicans and Democrats in recent elections. Leading election forecaster The Cook Political Report lists the race as “likely Republican.” While both Roll Call and Inside Elections changed their forecasts for the race slightly toward Mathis’ favor, from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”
Democrats have a modest voter advantage over Republicans, with nearly 9,600 more registered Democrats in the district. No-party voters, however, outnumber both registered Democrats and Republicans among the district’s nearly 560,000 voters
tram, Ely and southern Linn County.
Campaign website: lizmathis.com
‘A voice for Iowa families’
Mathis said she has listened and been a voice for Iowa families as a journalist, a nonprofit leader and a state senator since 2011.
After putting herself through college — by saving money from years of detasseling corn and mowing the local cemetery — she worked as a reporter and anchor for 27 years at KWWL-TV and KCRG-TV. After her career in journalism, she joined Four Oaks, a children’s welfare agency in Cedar Rapids, helping families recover from floods and supporting children and adults requiring mental health care and basic needs.
In the Iowa Senate, Mathis said she has spoken up for and assisted families struggling with the state’s privatized Medicaid program, and pushed measures that focused on children’s mental health, Iowa’s economy and educational growth.
During her time at Four Oaks, Mathis said she assisted professionals who worked with children who had faced neglect, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse.
“I visited a Health and Human Services Appropriations meeting and watched as legislators talked about adult mental health for one hour and children’s mental health for 10 minutes. That made me mad,” Mathis said.
Enough to run for the Iowa Senate.
She led a state task force on children’s mental health, which led to the Iowa Legislature in 2019 passing and Gov. Kim Reynolds signing into law a bill that created a children’s mental health system, but without the money to fully fund it.
If elected, Mathis said her priority will be to continue to increase mental health services for Iowans; reduce health care costs, especially of prescription drugs; and expand access across rural areas.
That includes working on legislation to strengthen critical access hospitals, increase mental health access with telehealth, incentivize mental health professionals to serve in rural and urban areas and enlist “the federal government in development of more mental health treatment centers all across the country, not only in Iowa.”
Mathis said she would work to lower costs for Iowans, supporting recent bills passed by Democratic majorities in Congress aimed at bringing down prices of gas and health care costs and supporting the state’s ethanol and renewable industries.
She said E15 ethanol needs to remain available year-round throughout the country and domestic oil reserves should be made available. She also said she would work to cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for all Americans, not just seniors, and protect Medicare’s ability to negotiate for lower drug prices.
Mathis said Hinson has voted against bills that have improved the lives of Iowans and would decrease the deficit, such as the infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. The latter limits monthly cost sharing for insulin products to no more than $35 for Medicare beneficiaries and requires the federal government to negotiate prices for some drugs covered under Medicare.
Mathis grew up on a farm where her father was the first no-till farmer in Clinton County in 1972.
“So I got to see firsthand how he was trying to innovate,” Mathis said. “How he was trying to save his soil; not just for future planting, but for future generations.”
She said she supports funding and initiatives, such as those included in the bipartisan infrastructure law, to help farmers adopt regenerative farming practices, find uses for agricultural waste and create new markets for other crops to create good-paying jobs, lower greenhouse gas emissions, improve Iowa’s soil health and water quality and boost economic opportunity in rural communities.
Mathis noted abortion and women’s reproductive rights has been a prime motivator for female voters across the district with whom she’s spoken, especially among Democrats.
According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of voters say that the issue of abortion will be “very important” to them at the polls, marking a significant increase from 43 percent in March, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer overturning Roe v. Wade. Additionally, an increasing number of states have seen a surge in women registering to vote following the court’s abortion ruling.
Mathis said politicians should not be interfering with the rights of Iowa women to make their own health care decisions, and will work to pass legislation that restores women’s rights to an abortion established under Roe.
“I believe abortion should be legal and accessible, but also rare,” she added. “You know, they’re not going to be able to treat women fully for their medical needs in many of the states that are outlawing abortion. I see that as a huge detriment; not only in the life of the child, but also in the life of the mother.”
Hinson has endorsed a proposed bill from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortion at 15 weeks with some exceptions. Hinson said she supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Republicans have been quick to describe Mathis as a “status quo Democratic.” The Hinson campaign has labeled her “liberal Liz,” who “will rubber-stamp (President) Joe Biden and (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi’s harmful policies in Congress.”
“A vote for liberal Liz is a vote for another two years of Nancy Pelosi as speaker, more reckless spending and higher gas prices,” Hinson campaign manager Sophie Crowell said in a statement. “While Ashley Hinson will always stand up for Iowa families, Liz has proven she will side with Pelosi over Iowans every single time.”
Mathis said her track record in the Iowa Senate shows she can work across the aisle. She noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic she would regularly dine with a bipartisan group of lawmakers serving on the Senate Agriculture Committee at an Altoona steakhouse on Monday nights.
“In a time of great divide in our nation, when many working families are struggling to make ends meet, it’s more important than ever to bring people together from both parties and focus on solutions,” Mathis said. “I have a track record of putting Iowans first and working across the aisle to get things done at the Iowa Statehouse, and I will do the same in Washington.”