Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democratic candidate for governor Fred Hubbell took questions on a wide range of issues in their first debate Wednesday, sponsored by KCCI-TV and the Des Moines Register. They weren’t shy about challenging each other’s positions and moderators had some trouble keeping the crowd out of the debate.
Excitement ran high outside the debate venue on the Ankeny Campus of Des Moines Area Community College, where competing crowds chanted in favor of Hubbell and Reynolds. James Stauch of West Des Moines had this advice for the Democratic challenger.
“Just talk about the issues that you believe in strongly,” Stauch said, “and he has quite a few.”
So does Gov. Reynolds, and the 60-minute debate covered education, the economy, taxes, and health care, after first a general assessment of how the state is doing.
“U.S. News and World Report says we're number one, but I say we're just getting started,” Reynolds said, citing low unemployment, growing wages, and a recent Iowa Business Council assessment that the economy is the best it’s been in the last ten years.
Not surprisingly, the democratic challenger cited a different statistic, a recent survey showing as many as 40 percent of Iowans struggle to meet basic needs.
“Because our wages are low and incomes are stagnant,” Hubbell said. “For Gov. Reynolds it’s more of the same but for all Iowans it’s time for a change.”
One of the testiest exchanges came on health care policy, specifically Iowa’s privatized Medicaid program. Hubbell said the state’s most vulnerable residents are suffering from the change. And the new system is costing more, not less.
“Member costs are going up more than before, and you're promising more of the same,” Hubbell said. “I'm quite worried listening to you.”
“You're telling everybody what they want to hear,” Reynolds replied. “You have no details on how you're going to fund the system.”
Reynolds came down even harder on her opponent for his failure to release full tax returns.
“Why don't you release your tax statement so Iowans can see maybe what you're hiding or what you're embarrassed of?” Reynolds asked.
“We released the tax information with our total income, our deductions, our charitable contributions and taxes paid,” Hubbell replied. “We've released all of our sources of income and financial disclosures.”
Hubbell added that his disclosures match those of former Gov. Robert Ray, who was recently honored by Reynolds.
“Your party is saying they don't know why you're not releasing your tax returns,” Reynolds countered, to raucous response from the crowd.
“I think the governor is questioning my motivation to run for governor,” Hubbell replied. “It’s never been about the money.”
Candidates were asked about declining aid for Iowa’s regents universities. Reynolds downplayed the cuts she approved this year and pointed instead to 10 percent cuts to education in the Chet Culver administration. Hubbell said there would be more money for the universities if the state would quit giving money away to wealthy companies like Apple. Both candidates declined to say what specific policies they might promote on abortion and gun control.
The two candidates are locked in a tight race. Drake University Political Science Professor Dennis Goldford questioned what effect the debate could have, but he gave Gov. Reynolds a slight edge for her preparation, her aggressiveness, and her comfort with reciting aspects of state government.
“Gov. Reynolds is running as everybody’s kid sister,” Goldford said. “The kid sister knows how to use a baseball bat and a knife.
“She was very well-prepared, well-rehearsed, very aggressive,” Goldford added.
Goldford said Hubbell made his strongest point when he said he’s not running for governor for the money.
“He could fashion a more focused campaign message around that,” Goldford advised.
A campaign aide said he wasn’t aware of when Reynolds had participated in a debate before Wednesday night, while Hubbell had the democratic primary debates under his belt. The candidates meet again next Wednesday in Sioux City.