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Democratic Candidates for Iowa Governor Face Off in Primary Debate

democratic debate
Katarina Sostaric
Democratic candidates for Iowa Governor appear at an Iowa Public Television debate Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

The six Democratic candidates for Iowa governor had some heated exchanges Wednesday at a debate at the Iowa Public TV studios in Johnston. It was the first time voters saw the six candidates directly address each other and attack their opponents’ records.

All of the candidates said they want to decrease state tax credits given to businesses because they see them as hurting Iowa’s revenue growth and leading to budget cuts for education and state agencies.

Des Moines Senator and labor lawyer Nate Boulton said Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell facilitated tax credits for businesses during a short stint as director of Iowa’s economic development agency.

“I think we have to have somebody that has not shown that they’re willing to engage in this coupon economic system that is failing our state right now,” Boulton said.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Hubbell replied. “I mean, he didn’t name a particular project or location.”

Hubbell said he helped save the state millions of dollars, and state money was not given to projects that didn’t help grow wages.

John Norris, who has worked under prominent Democratic politicians including former Gov. Tom Vilsack, jumped in.

“He gave out $29 million in tax credits over those four months,” Norris said. “I think that’s probably what Nate’s referring to.”

These three candidates were joined by Cathy Glasson, Ross Wilburn and Andy McGuire.

Hubbell, Boulton and Glasson are considered the frontrunners in the primary. Hubbell’s campaign has spent the most, by far, on TV ads. The winner of the primary election will face Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in the November general election.

All of the Democratic candidates criticized the Republican tax plan passed by the Iowa Legislature in early May, which is now awaiting Gov. Reynolds’ signature. 

“Repeal it, put a more progressive system in place,” saidRoss Wilburn, ISU Extension diversity officer and former Iowa City mayor.

Hubbell did not call for a repeal of the tax cuts.

“I’m not ready to say that it should be repealed yet,” Hubbell said. “But what I am ready to say [is] let’s attack the corporate tax giveaways, let’s take back the commercial property tax break.”

The six candidates said they would reverse the state’s handover of its Medicaid program to private companies.

“This is unstable right now,” said Andy McGuire, former Iowa Democratic Party chairand medical doctor. “You have patients who are at risk. So you have to bring this back into the state.”

All six candidates also said they would also repeal the fetal heartbeat abortion law if elected.

But Cathy Glasson, a nurse and union leader from Coralville, criticized Hubbell for donating to the campaign of Republican Rep. Peter Cownie, who voted for the fetal heartbeat law.

“I want to be clear that if you’re up here talking about women’s reproductive health and safe, legal abortions, you’d better be walking the walk and not talking the talk,” Glasson said.

Hubbell said he’s known the Cownie family for 30 years.

“It’s a very close, strong family relationship. So when we had an opportunity to support Peter, of course we did,” Hubbell said. “Did I like his vote? No. Did I like the vote of anybody else who voted for it? No. If I had been governor would I have vetoed it? Yes.”

Glasson also called for a $15 minimum wage and staked out her position on the left side of the Democratic field.

“I still don’t know where my opponents stand on actually making sure that Iowans have affordable, quality health care. I don’t know what that means,” Glasson said. “I’m still proud to be the only candidate talking about universal, single-payer health care.”

Glasson said she’s not too liberal to win in the general election, and said centrist Democratic candidates haven’t been successful in Iowa recently. 

The primary election is June 5, and early and absentee voting are underway.

Watch the full Iowa Public Television debate here.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter