Though two of the candidates have yet to officially declare their campaigns, Iowa Democrats’ eight-person gubernatorial field is nearing the end of the introductory phase. Now we’re into the never-ending forum stage, also known as the “fun” stage for people who have no concept of what that word means. Now primary-going Democrats start to see how well their Terrace Hill hopefuls can think on their feet and how they choose to differentiate themselves with their opponents sitting next to them.
Last week seven of the eight Democratic gubernatorial contenders gathered for a lively forum in Des Moines sponsored by the Asian and Latino Coalition. Questions ranging from Donald Trump’s wind energy comments to Black Lives Matter put several of the Democrats on their toes and drew them off their regular talking points. The candidates were given the option of having extra time in case another candidate attacked them; sadly, it was not necessary for anyone.
In attendance were Nate Boulton, Cathy Glasson, Mike Matson, Andy McGuire, Jon Neiderbach, John Norris and Todd Prichard (this post was delayed as was many others as I took off a few days from writing).
The contenders got plenty of chances to pitch their criticisms of the Republican incumbent they hope to take on next November. The mismanaged state budget offered up several avenues of attack.
“I felt something was wrong,” Boulton said when the governor informed Iowans that tax refund delays were due to security concerns. “Sure enough, we find out later on that this was an effort to mislead Iowans about what was happening with their finances and how this budget mess has affected their lives.”
The Democrats eagerly pushed the critique that Kim Reynolds – and Terry Branstad before her – were terrible stewards of taxpayer dollars.
“This version of Terry Branstad is the most grossly mismanaged and administratively incompetent administration we’ve ever had,” Neiderbach declared. “If the goal was to deplete the state coffers, you couldn’t do it any better. Tax policy has been absolutely awful.”
The biggest source of frustration was with the large tax cuts and tax credits given out to corporate entities.
“If you look at the priorities in this budget, it just simply is not people,” Prichard said. “We need to look at these corporate tax credits. We simply cannot afford to give away the state budget to corporate America. It needs to end.”
Boulton emphasized how the issue was completely from Republicans’ own doing by pointing to Reynolds’ mentioning the budget problem in her inaugural address.
“As if this problem just fell from the sky in the twenty minutes between her predecessor being sworn in as ambassador to China and her making that speech!” Boulton exclaimed. “We should not be giving out the state’s credit card and using our reserve funds to make ends meet. We’re going through our third round of de-appropriation and budget cuts because of this fiscal mismanagement that’s come about from these overextensions on corporate tax cuts and extensions.”
The forum’s hosts also allowed for some more interesting topics to be brought up. What Black Lives Matter meant to each candidate produced some noteworthy responses.
“I’m a mom, and I don’t worry about my child when they go off in their car,” McGuire admitted in her answer, noting she’d had many discussions on the topic with black mothers. “But black women worry about their sons and daughters when they leave the house … That’s all of our responsibility, isn’t it? We all have to look at what we’re doing and what we can do to lift everyone up … The biggest thing it’s about is talking to people and listening to people.”
Many of the candidates had personal ways in which they’d dealt with racism in their communities. Prichard spoke of the “Be the Bridge” program he helped create as a county prosecutor that encouraged communication between Charles City’s law enforcement and minority communities. Boulton noted how he’d defended workers wrongly terminated from jobs over their race. Neiderbach laid out a need for better policing practices in Iowa.
And Matson explained what steps he took as a Davenport alderman to combat racism locally.
“We need to look at each other like human beings,” Matson said. “You first need to understand and talk to people and listen to folks on their turf. In Davenport, we were the first in the state to commission a traffic study, volunteered to take it on, and see if our police are stopping folks ahead of other folks. We’ve used that data to determine if we need change.”
Matters of race extended to other topics of discussion, most notably the recently-enacted Voter ID law.
“Let’s make no mistake about it – this voter ID law is a Trumped-up fictitious claim of voter fraud,” Norris said. “I don’t use this term lightly, but it’s racist. It’s based on discrimination. It is so counter to Iowa values. If we aren’t as ticked off about this piece of legislation as we are everything else, we’re missing the point. Votes are the ultimate currency in democracy. They passed legislation to keep people from participating in democracy.”
Glasson suggested that Iowa look to how Oregon allows its voters to register online.
However, a separate section that addressed Hispanic Iowans’ concerns in particular didn’t get that great or insightful of responses from the candidates. They could probably all brush up on their talking points on those issues.
The forum was held a day after Trump had visited Iowa, and several of the candidates had rallied with protesters outside event. The President’s criticism of wind energy was an easy target.
“I think we had a lot of wind energy in Cedar Rapids yesterday with Donald Trump blowing some hot air,” joked Glasson. “We have to start at the source. We have to hold corporate polluters, we have to hold corporations that dump bad things into our air and water accountable.”
Norris took it as a chance to pitch economic opportunity for rural Iowa.
“Renewable energy is key to Iowa’s future, particularly rural Iowa,” Norris said. “When Trump pulled out of the Climate Accord, he also dealt a serious blow to Iowa farmers and our conservation efforts. Because there’s opportunity for carbon payments for changing farming practices to sequester carbon that we now are in jeopardy of not being eligible for in the U.S … If Governor Reynolds is not Trump-lite, she will stand up to him and say it’s wrong.”
What makes up a strong, sustainable economy was a big focus for the Democrats. The collective bargaining law changes was a major point of concern.
“If you think that a teacher who you give your children to does not deserve some sort of say in collective bargaining or their benefit package, then your value system is screwed up,” Matson said. “I see the kids every day. Some come to school driving a BMW, some come to school not knowing whether they’ll eat. The teachers every day, doesn’t matter what their issue is, say how can I help this child?”
The Republican Legislature’s moves to roll back minimum wage increases also were a source of frustration.
“I stand on raising the minimum wage to 15/hour, nothing less will be tolerated from me as a candidate in this campaign,” Glasson explained. “That puts money in the pockets of Iowans to put back in their local economies and put families back on the track to economic justice.”
Boulton said he’d propose a $10.75/hour wage by 2019 and $15/hour by 2024.
Iowa’s quickly vanishing healthcare options were addressed as well.
“Every human being has a right to have affordable, accessible healthcare,” McGuire noted. “What we’re doing right now with Medicaid is a mess. There are moms who have disabled kids and they cannot get access to healthcare for their children.”
Part of that discussion revolved around medicinal marijuana, which Republicans have opposed further use of in the Legislature.
“This is a drug like any other drug,” McGuire said. “As a doctor you should be able to prescribe it for the diseases for which it works because of the research.”
The moderators brought up Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ particular focus on restricting state’s abilities to choose their own handling of cannabis oil.
“Obviously, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is wrong about this and a host of other things,” said Prichard. “It just makes sense. It’s the compassionate, moral thing to do. It’s a medicine, treat it like a medicine … I have friends in Charles City, parents who have a daughter same age as my oldest daughter – she has epilepsy. This drug was proven to be effective to her. Her seizures went from a handful an hour to a handful a week. It gave this family their life back.”
by Pat Rynard