Fiesty debate in Davenport

Tonight’s gubernatorial debate featured a feisty Jim Nussle (the Republican in the race).  Nussle opened by directly questioning whether rival Chet Culver (the Democrat) has what it takes to be governor.  Culver, in turn, repeatedly mentioned that Nussle was a Republican congressman.  (Nussle himself asked the organizers of their last debate NOT to refer to him as congressman.  It made for a really awkward opening introduction in which Culver was introduced as "Secretary of State Chet Culver" and Nussle was simply introduced as "Jim Nussle.")

What follows is a wrap-up of my notes (you will see as you scroll down that there are more direct quotes as the exchanges grew sharper and sharper — and the candidates’ closing statements are transcribed in their entirety):

Nussle was first to speak.  He said "there is a gap of leadership experience" in the race.  Nussle mentioned Culver’s work as a teacher and a coach and as Secretary of State.  "He also has a pretty famous political name."  Then Nussle said the Sec of State office should be abolished.  Nussle cited Culver’s posting of Social Security numbers on the SOS’s public website and said Culver had "presided over an election that was an embassment."  Nussle: "I, on the other hand, have proven experience."  Nussle said it came down to whether you want rhetoric or results.

Culver’s opening statement.  "Tonight, I hope we can have a thoughtful conversation."  Culver said the race boils down to whether Iowa would be better off if we ran things here in Iowa the way Jim Nussle and George Bush have in Washington, or whether Iowa needs a governor with Iowa experience.  "I’m running for governor because I want to lead the state I love to the greatness we all know is possible," he said (an often-used line).  "I’m proud of my experience of 20 years in Iowa" as a teacher, coach, in the attorney general’s office and as secretary of state.

The first question was about abortion and stem cell research.

Culver: "the abortion issue is a very difficult one."  Right now in Iowa we have the appropriate balance, Culver suggested.  He said he favors the restriction on third trimester abortions and parental noficiation.  On stem cells, "I believe it’s time to give hope and opportunity to countless Iowans out there who are struggling" with diseases, injuries.  He said he’s for "lifting the restrictive ban" on stem cell research.  He said 80 Nobel laureates, Nancy Reagan and Bill Frist do, too.  He talked about a Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Iowa — and putting up $10 million dollar in state money for stem cell research.
Nussle:  "This is pretty interesting, because my opponent has never favored any restriction."  He favors third trimester abortion restrictions?  "That’s brand new.  Up until now he’s favored no restriction on abortion."  Nussle said he favors restrictions on abortion "because we should support a culture of life in Iowa."  Nussle also said there are no facts to support the notion that stem cell research on embryos are leading to breakthroughs.  He said the research that’s breaking ground is on adult stem cells. 

Culver got a rebuttal:  "Congressman Nussle, I have not diverted."  Culer said he has "consistently" said he supports current law.  That ban on third trimester abortion is state law.  "You need to check your facts, Congressman Nussle."

Nussle got the final word:  "That’s a change.  According to his quotes every single time he favored no restrictions."   Then, "I’m not exactly sure who he’s trying to appeal to."  Nussle ended by saying Culver had supported "no restriction, not even for a teenage girl in the ninth month of the pregnancy."

Then came the candidate-to-candidate questions.  Nussle was first up.

Nussle said Culver’s spending plans now top $1 billion, a 20 percent increase in Iowa’s current budget.  Nussle also said Culver would be raiding the pension fund and repealing tax cuts.  "How are you going to pay for $1 billion in new spending?"

Culver response:  Culver said he "will not mess with IPERS…I am IPERS person myself."  Culver then said he was "glad" that the Congressman gave him the opportunity to tell Iowans he would make IPERS solvent.  "I am very proud of the record I have demonstrated in the Secretary of State’s office."  Culver said he was "very confident" his record as Sec of State would compare favorably to Nussle’s record in congress.  Then, Culver criticized Nussle’s handling of the national budget as chairman of the House Budget Committee.  "I have a plan to pay for every proposal that I have rolled out in this campaign," Culver said.

Next up, Culver asked Nussle a question.  "Unlike Congressman Nussle, I’d like to take my question tonight and take the opportunity to not talk about the negative aspects of this campaign, not to take time to make a personal attack.  I think Iowans deserve better."  Culver then asked Nussle to "tell the voters something they might not know about you, congressman."  (The crowd started to laugh and some applauded.  They were all chided by the host to keep quiet.)

Nussle: "I think at this critical junction in Iowa’s history and certainly meeting the challenges of the future I think you could probably think of a more profound question than that, maybe on education, maybe on economic growth, maybe on health care policy.  I mean there is a leadership gap…. You talk about me making a personal attack by asking you to explain your plan…I did the math right here…That’s the problem we have in Des Moines is that too many people use that money and think it is their own…They spend it wildly."  Nussle talked about the need to "grow" Iowa, to reduce taxes, to stop senior citizens and young people from leaving. He closed by mentioning again that the Secretary of State’s office "couldn’t even call the last election."

The next question came from the moderator and asked how the men would deal with the so-called "brain drain."

Nussle said people are being "chased out of our state."  It’s not just the young people we’re losing, Nussle said, citing again the exodus of seniors who leave for lower tax states. "You can’t keep anyone where they don’t want to be, but you can make Iowa more attractive so that they’ll start or they’ll come back."  He talked about making Iowa an "education destination."  He mentioned ethanol, biodiesel and small businesses who he said were  being "strangled" by high taxes and regulations.  Nussle said "to hear my opponent talk about even higher taxes makes them run even faster."  Nussle said Iowa’s quality of life is the most important trade mark that we have.  He mentioned ensuring public safety, too.

Culver said one of the reasons he’s running is because he’s "very concerned" about so many young people leaving.  "You wanted solutions and here are two of them."  Culver said college has to be more affordable and he talked about making Iowa a renewable energy leader — the "silicon valley of midwest."

Nussle had this response:  "Let me start by saying you can’t create great jobs if you don’t have a great business climate…Iowa has one of the worst business climates in fact we’re last in new business starts."
Culver had the final rebuttal:  "This isn’t the first time the congressman has not gotten it quite right."  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the Iowa business climate fifth best in the country, according to Culver.   Culver said Governor Vilsack had managed things well.  "I will continue to be the fiscal conservative.  That’s the type of governor people are looking for in Iowa."

The next question was about illegal immigration.

Culver:  "the bottom line on immigration is illegal is illegal."  As governor of the state, Culver said he’s enforce the law and hold corporations accountable for bringing immigrants to this country.  He said the Bush Administration and Congressman Nussle "have failed to protect our borders."  Congressman Nussle voted against going after businesses that hire illegals, according to Culver.  Culver said the feds are 500 border agents short,  5000 detention beds short.  "Perhaps with a new congress and some new leadership" the illegal immigration problem might be solved, Culver suggested.

Nussle:  "If you’re here in Iowa legally, we want you to stay…But if you’re here illegally" Nussle said as governor he will seize and deport illegal immigrants.  "It is disingenuous to suggest that Republicans have been standing in the way of enforcement," Nussle said.  Nussle said it has been the Democrats in Senate who’ve stood in the way of immigration reform — "some of the same buddies you have out campaigning for you" Nussle said to Culver.

Culver:  "Cognressman Nussle has gotten his facts wrong."  Culver cited the same statistics he cited above.  "The record, not the rhetoric, is what Iowans are looking for," Culver closed.

Nussle:  "It’s simply not true," Nussle said.  "Republicans have done a good job" at protecting the border and "Democrats have stood in the way."  Nussle closed by pointing out that Culver is in favor of repealing English as the official language in Iowa. 

The next question was about gay marriage.

Nussle:  "I believe that marriage ought to be between one man and one woman" but he said activist judges are trying to rewrite the law.  "We need to make sure the definition is clear."  Nussle said he supports a constitutional amendment at federal level and at state level.  Nussle suggested the Culver, who has said before that he supports current law, is giving an inadequate response because "current law that is under attack."

Culver:  "I also believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman."  He started talking about his own 13-year marriage to Mari and his two children. "I have said throughout the course of this campaign that we do not need to change the marriage laws in Iowa."  Culver said there were other things that could be done — a law barring discrimination in the workplace and a law requiring anti-bullying rules in Iowa schools.  "Iowa has always been an open and welcoming state and I will keep that way as governor."

Nussle had another turn at this:  "Unfortunately we have judges that are discriminating against marriage and we have politicians that have even passed taxes on marriage so I believe there’s a lot of assault out there on marriage."

Culver had one more turn to speak about the gay marriage issue, but turned it down:  "I don’t have anything more to add on this."

Then, it was another candidate-to-candidate question:

Nussle asked Culver:  "Let me go back to some of the challenges we face…There’s going to be some that are unexpected…so what specific experience do you have in your public life with regard to health care, tax policy, economic policy, immigration policy?  What experience do you have — outside being a coach and a teacher and being the Sec of State — to deal with some of these unexpected challenges that Iowa may face?
Culver:  "Thank you very much, congressman, for your question.  I have eight years of executive branch experience.  My runningmate, Patty Judge… also brings eight years of executive branch experience, so combined we have 16 years of experience, congressman, at state level and we will take that experience and those values that are rooted here in Iowa versus your 16 years of experience in Washington any day and I’m proud of my record.  You haven’t been talking about your 16 year record as a member of congress for the last year and a half."  He talked about being a teacher and he talked about being the chairman of the state insurance committee that manages the health care plan for 70,000 state employees and their families. 

Nussle:  "I think it’s interesting that I asked for specifics and what I got was again more, you’ve been a consumer advocate.  You were a non-lawyer in the Attorney General’s office. You were a teacher and a coach which I certainly respect but that in and of itself is not a qualification to be governor.  There are many good teachers and coaches out there and all of them would even want to be governor let alone necessarily could be governor but I think the difference here in this race is a leadership gap."  Nussle talked about working on ethanol policy, tax policy, health care policy.

Culver then asked Nussle a question: "In 1992, you said ‘If we cannot balance the budget, we ought to have our pay cut."…Culver said Nussle has taken four pay raises during his tenure in congress.  "You’re now making $165,000 — what made you change your mind?"
Nussle:  "I took as many pay raises as you took.  There’s probably a few cost of living increases to go around.  Nussle said he had lived up to that statement.  "We balanced the budget in 1997, three years faster than anyone ever predicted."  He credited tax cuts with spurring job creation.  Nussle said what happened on 9/11 "devastated the country and it certainlly changed the budget picture for many years to come."  Nussle said Democrats now complain about the same deficit they helped create.  Nussle closed by saying: "I’m proud of my record as the chairman of the budget committee."

Culver:  "You didn’t answer the question.  You didn’t say in 1992 that you meant ‘if I balance the budget once’ I won’t take a pay cut.  We now have the biggest deficit in our country, congressman."  Culver said more than half the deficit has nothing to do with 9/11.  He said Nussle had been given an F by the Club for Growth.  "It’s the record, not the rhetoric that counts and it’s the facts that Iowans look at and your record speaks very clearly on your inability to balance the budget."

The next question, from the moderator, had to do with jobs and wages and Maytag and other economic concerns.

Culver said his "heart goes out" to those who lost their jobs at Maytag, Amana and other manufacturing facilities.  As governor, he said he’d offer laid off workers transitional assistance.  He said he’d use the Iowa Values Fund to allow companies to grow and to expand and to encourage them and give them incentives to create jobs. He promises to create an office of small business within the Department of Economic Development and promises to double the size of the Main Street Iowa program to help rural Iowa. 

Nussle:  "Why do we need all of that?  I mean the Chamber of Commerce says we have the fifth best economy of any state in the country.  I mean why in the world would we do all of that.  The governor did a good job we heard tonight."

Culver:  "Because we want to do better."

Nussle:  "Oh, I see, now all of a sudden we want to do better.  We’re not fifth.  Tell that to Rubbermaid.  Tell that to Maytag.  Tell that to Electrolux.  Tell that to Bluebird.  Tell that to hundreds of jobs and people who have left our state…My opponent talks about renewable energy like he knew something about it.  The difference is that we created renewable energy in Iowa by changing the tax code.  I did that, together with Senator Grassley, at the federal level."

Culver:  "Well, actually the record is a little bit different, congressman.  According to Jim Ross Lightfoot, a congressman from Iowa, he said that you ‘sold out the ethanol industry when they needed you the most’ so again, your rhetoric is not quite fitting the record."

Nussle:  "I’d like to respond to that.  In the middle of the third inning on the ethanol debate Jim Ross Lightfoot did say that but he was just frustrated like the rest of us that he couldn’t get a bill through the House of Representatives in order to make sure that ethanol was there for Iowa and for America.  The difference is that I didn’t follow plan A which was frustrating Jim and so many other people.  We created plan G  and what we did was instead of coming in through the front door we came in through the back window and we passed the ethanol tax credit."


Culver:  "Well again thank you very much to the host and sponsors.  Thanks to all of you who have joined us here tonight…and i want to thank Congressman Nussle as well for not only participating tonight but for his 16 years of service as a congressman in this district, in fact.  I said at the outset tonight that this race really boils down to one question:  would you be better off with a governor who’s been in Washington, D.C. running things along with his Bush Administration, that has been a member of congress for 16 years, or with a governor with Iowa experience who is rooted in our Iowa values. Well,  I hope after tonight’s debate the answer is clear.  I believe this is no time to slow down, to stop, or retreat.  It’s time for a governor with energy and ideas and vision. It’s time for a governor who has the courage to stand up for our Iowa values and it’s time for a governor who has a plan to lead Iowa forward.  My plan involves building on our strengths in education, in agriculture, in manufacturing, to create jobs in every corner of this state.  We can become the national leader in renewable energy and alternative fuels and keep our kids here and create the jobs of the future at the same time and I’m very proud of my experience for nearly 20 years, as a teacher and coach, as a consumer and environmental advocate and for the last eight years as the Secretary of State.  I would bring as much executive branch experience to this job than we’ve had in more than 30 years.  Governor Ray had no executive branch experience.  Harold Hughes had very little executive branch experience.  I am ready to lead this state that I love to the greatness that we all know is possible…(Eleanor Roosevelt quote)  I ask you to stand with me on Tuesday, November 7th if you believe we should raise the minimum wage and give 257,000 hardworking Iowans an increase in the minimum wage.  I ask you to stand with me if you want to restore excellent to education and get teacher pay to the national average.  I ask you to stand with me if you want to lift the ban on embryonic stem cell research because together we can lock arms, apply a little Iowa common sense and work in a bipartisan way to achieve the greatness that we all know is possible here in Iowa.  I ask for your vote on Tuesday, November 7th.

Nussle:  "Well thank you and I thank the hosts for hosting this debate.  Elections are about choices and I have to say having executive leadership as a Secretary of State, an office which frankly ought to be abolished, one that as he presided as the Secretary of State couldn’t call an election for two weeks after the election was done using brand new machines.  I don’t think that’s election leadership or executive leadership that we need for our state.  I think you need to understand in this election there is a leadership gap.  Now, I can understand why Secretary Culver wants to bash Washington but I don’t understand it from the fact that he was born there and he grew up there and he went to school there.  It’s interesting now that he bashes Washington — what kind of values did he grow up with?  I think in this instance we need to recognize that this is not about what the value is that my opponent talks about but rather what your experience is because frankly in this election we’re going to talk about issues.  We’re going to debate all sorts of challenges but we’re not going to touch on something that is going to face the next governor the way it did for the governor of Hawaii just yesterday with an earthquake, the way it did for the governors of Louisiana and Missisippi waking up and having to deal with losing their entire coastline and their biggest cities, the way Governor Pataki had to deal with September 11th in his biggest city.  You know, governors have to lead.  They have to have experience not only for the issues that we talk about in debates and for the hot button issues that are discussed in a campaign but also during those times of challenge that our states face in the future.  I want Iowa to have a world class education.  I want it to grow from within and from the ground up.  We’re not growing.  We’re not fifth in the nation when it comes to our economy.  We need access to world class health care and to make sure that’s available throughout our state.  We need to ensure that in Iowa we set the standard when it comes to quality of life.  That’s our trademark and we need to reform government top to bottom.  I believe Iowa is a great state filled with wonderful people and it needs leadership right now.  It needs leadership to do what it can do best and that is be the best place to live, raise a family, grow a business and retire that I think the country has ever seen. That requires leadership and so I ask for your support and consideration in this election and I ask for your vote on November 7th.  Thank you."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.