What the fuck was that?
The six Democratic candidates vying for their party’s gubernatorial nomination faced off this evening in Davenport for their first “debate.” Well, we were told this would be a debate, anyway. I put that word in quotations because tonight’s gathering was anything but.
At the start of the program, which was hosted by KWQC and the Quad Cities Times, the moderator told the audience that the candidates would not interact with each other. If you’ve been following the race at all up to this point, you didn’t learn anything new from what followed in the subsequent hour and a half. It was essentially a forum with 60 and 30-second answers, something we’ve seen countless times throughout this race.
Sure, as this was the first candidate event to be televised on major Iowa stations, there may have been some voters who tuned in to see all these candidates for the first time. But is there really that many who even knew this was happening or watched it on a Sunday evening on Mother’s Day?
And moreso to the point, why can’t you have both things? Why couldn’t the moderators asked the candidates to compare their specific plans with each other, and allowed for the Democrats to disagree or defend themselves? That also would have been interesting and useful for first-time viewers.
Is it probably difficult to come up with interactive debate rules for a six-person field? Yeah. But you know who else did it? The news outlets covering the Republican presidential debate in 2016 when there were 10 people on stage at once. The back-and-forth between Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush was illuminating. We got no such thing tonight.
Instead, it was simply a rehashing of their basic positions on the issues that have been discussed ad-infinitum throughout the past year.
Why is that problematic, even if new viewers got to see that part of the candidates? Because we’re about three weeks away from the primary and we have yet to see how any of the candidates are able to stand up to criticism. There are only two chances left. We have got vague inferences at best out of the likes of Cathy Glasson and John Norris as to why the other candidates may not be the best to go up against Kim Reynolds.
We haven’t seen any Democrat defend their record under attack. That’s an important thing to witness. The party was frustrated with how Bruce Braley performed against Joni Ernst after facing no primary opposition himself in 2014. And yet we still don’t know how this group would respond under fire, something that whoever wins the June 5 primary will immediately face on June 6 from a massive, coordinated Republican effort to immediately define them.
Hell, you don’t even need to have the candidates do it if you’re queasy about the notion of Democrats disagreeing. The moderators themselves could have pressed each one with a question about their biggest weakness.
The other issue is that this primary has not received a huge amount of attention by the general voting public in large part because of how quiet it’s been. The governor’s race is do-or-die for the Democratic Party (and Iowa for that matter) in 2018. Candidates actually disagreeing with one another generates more press, which generates more interest and more involvement.
And there are differences. In profiles and stances on the issues. Glasson in particular should be able to stand out in a huge way in these things if she challenges other candidates to explain why they’re not for her $15/hour wage in three years or for her single-payer healthcare plan.
Furthermore, Fred Hubbell has a significant lead in this primary and has a good shot of winning more than 35% on primary day. Whether you believe that he’s ahead by as much as the poll last week said or not, it’s very clear he has a large advantage in the contest. The other candidates may as well wave a white flag of surrender in the next debates if they fail to challenge him.
Anyway, here’s some of each candidate’s better moments from the night since I was writing them down anyway:
Several of the candidates’ strongest responses came when answering a question about sexual harassment scandals in state government.
Ross Wilburn worked in his direct experience on the topic from having worked as the diversity officer at the Iowa City community school district.
“It is a civil right, it is not just a question about morality,” Wilburn said. “Part of my job was to not only investigate claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying, but also to educate staff, parents, everyone in the system, that it’s a civil right and you shouldn’t feel bad about coming forward and making a claim.”
Fred Hubbell previewed a strong, direct criticism on Reynolds’ leadership on the issue, one he could easily use in an one-on-one debate with the governor.
“If you’re an elected official in the state like our governor, you need to be accountable and you need to be transparent. Both are lacking in this situation,” Hubbell said. “She’s been hiding information from us that only comes out when she’s prompted by newspaper organizations. She’s not really holding the people accountable that are responsible for these acts.”
Andy McGuire related some of her own experiences as a woman in the workplace.
“I’ve certainly felt the sting of sexual harassment. I was one of ten [female] medical students out of 110 in my class,” she said. “It isn’t just about women. It’s about anyone who is devalued at their job. And Kim Reynolds has not done a good job of taking care of women or any of her employees. We had the $1.75 million settlement that taxpayers are paying for – I didn’t do anything wrong, did you? – and yet we’re paying for it. We had shenanigans that went on.”
In a different section on immigration, John Norris looked to the camera and directly challenged Reynolds to dump Steve King as her campaign co-chair.
“Governor Reynolds, you should know by fall, I expect you to have gotten rid of Steve King as your campaign co-chair before the general election,” Norris said. “That is an outrageous statement by you of who we are as a state and his racist comments. It’s damaging to our state. The growth that we’re having in rural populations is coming from immigrants … So many decent Iowans recognize our values of caring for each other and being a welcoming state.”
Nate Boulton also laid out a line of attack he could use against Reynolds, tying together both rural outreach and opposition to wasteful tax credits.
“When we look at the quality of life in rural Iowa, you look at the way these tax credits, exemptions and giveaways have benefited some of our largest communities,” he said. “The benefit that was given to Apple, the wealthiest corporation on the planet, to develop a suburban data center was $20 million in tax coupons. That same $20 million could have funded over 260 Main Street Iowa grants.”
And I felt the candidate with one of the strongest closing statements was Cathy Glasson, thanks to her effort to clearly separate herself from the rest of the field.
“Unlike my opponents here this evening, I believe it’s time to reject politics as usual that tells us what we should settle for. Instead, we need to demand what we really need,” Glasson said. “It’s time to stand up and fight for what we care about. Which is ensuring every Iowan has access and a quality, affordable healthcare through a universal, single-payer healthcare plan … The time for half-measures and incrementalism is over. Because it hasn’t worked in the past and it isn’t going to work now.”
The next Democratic debate is on Wednesday evening with IPTV.
by Pat Rynard