Iowa gubernatorial candidates Kim Reynolds and Fred Hubbell sparred in a third and final debate in Davenport Sunday morning. The Republican incumbent and Democratic challenger Hubbell talked mental health, education, immigration and sexual harassment. But much of the debate came down to the economy, tax policy and the state’s funding priorities.
With a little over two weeks until Election Day, Gov. Reynolds is fighting to be elected to the position she was first appointed to in 2017. The former state senator and county treasurer was named to the post after President Donald Trump tapped Gov. Terry Branstad to be the U.S. Ambassador to China.
Businessman and son of a wealthy and philanthropic Iowa family, Fred Hubbell is asking voters to put him in elected office for the first time. Libertarian candidate Jake Porter and Clear Water Party candidate Gary Siegwarth did not qualify for the debate, based on the organizers' requirements that candiates raise at least $250,000 and / or garner at least 10 percent voter support statewide.
Early on in the debate, put on by KWQC-TV6, KCRG-TV and the Quad City Times, moderators turned the questioning towards tax policy and the candidates’ state funding priorities. With the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country and positive job growth, it can be said that Iowa’s economy has regained some of its footing since the Great Recession.
Gov. Reynolds believes those improvements are due to state tax cuts and corporate incentives aimed at attracting new businesses to the state.
“The Iowa Business Council, the top 23 employers in the state say this is the best economy they’ve seen in 10 years. This is an economy that’s growing and it’s because we’re reducing taxes and helping Iowans keep more of their hard-earned money,” Reynolds said, adding that even marginal tax cuts amounting to a few hundred dollars can make a difference for Iowa families.
But Democratic challenger Hubbell says he sees Iowa’s economy in a starkly different light.
“I want to build an economy in our state that supports all Iowans. Because we don’t have that today," he said. "Almost half of our young people in our state go to school in the morning on free and reduced price lunch. We’re supposed to feed the world and we can’t even feed our own kids. The economy is not working for a lot of people.”
Both candidates agreed further investments in public education, public health and public safety are necessary and worthwhile. The difference lies in how the state can get there. Hubbell says the cost-saving measures and the rollback of corporate tax cuts will free up adequate funding without having to raise taxes on Iowa families.
“How do you do that? You change the priorities of state government. You stop throwing wasteful tax giveaways out the window and instead you invest in education, job training all across the state,” he said. “You invest in healthcare so people are healthy.”
But Reynolds says the numbers don’t quite add up, arguing that Hubbell’s plans will only work if taxes are raised.
“More scare tactics, more scare tactics, money, money, money,” Reynolds quipped. “I have no idea except for to raise your taxes how Fred is going to even come close to paying for all of the promises he’s made. That’s his answer to everything: it’s more government and it’s more money. And I am telling you, Iowa taxpayers cannot afford Fred Hubbell.”
The candidates also faced a line of questioning about the #MeToo movement and sexual misconduct in Iowa state government and politics. Earlier this year Reynolds fired Iowa Finance Authority Executive Director David Jamison after employees alleged he sexually harassed them and fostered a hostile work environment. Reynolds said she acted quickly and decisively to oust Jamison, who was a personal friend.
“I have a zero tolerance policy and if that policy is violated, you will be heard and action will be taken. And I did that,” Reynolds said. “When that policy was violated, I took action.”
She also noted Iowa democrats have not forced the resignation of former democratic gubernatorial candidate and current state Sen. Nate Boulton, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct.
But Hubbell says the current reporting process for state employees relies too much on internal investigations, which could be clouded by bias and personal connections within departments. He says he wants to see independent investigations in order to prevent workplace retaliation.
“We need a whistleblower process in our state,” Hubbell said. “That allows people, if they see a grievance or they feel they’ve been aggrieved in a workplace they can raise the issue outside the H.R. channel, outside their…respective person they report to. It goes to an independent third party.”
An independent review by the Weinhardt Law Firm into the Jamison allegations and the state’s response found Iowa’s existing reporting process “fell short of its intended goals” and recommended state leaders consider developing an independent, confidential process.
Hubbell also criticized Republicans’ privatization of the state’s Medicaid system, which was implemented by Gov. Bransted, when Reynolds was serving as lieutenant governor. Since the health insurance program for Iowans with disabilities or limited income, patients and families have reported cuts in needed services and higher costs. He also took a shot at changes and rollbacks in the state’s mental health services, which he says diverts Iowans’ needs to teachers, emergency room doctors and law enforcement officers.
“I met with some school teachers in central Iowa recently. They told me in the elementary school they teach in the mental health and substance abuse issues in elementary school are just going out of the roof the last four years,” Hubbell said.
But Reynolds points to legislation she signed this year creating “mental health access centers” across the state and efforts to work with private companies to fund more available psychiatric beds for mental health patients.
“The fact of the matter is you’re talking about stuff and we’re getting things done,” Reynolds said.
The debate comes towards the end of what politicos and analysts say is an increasingly competitive race. On Friday, the site fivethirtyeight.com projected Hubbell to win the race by eight points. Other ratings by Real Clear Politics and the Cook Political Report show the contest as a toss-up.
The last day to pre-register to vote is October 27th, though Iowans can register up to Election Day, which is Tuesday November 6th.