Nettlesome, vexing, irritating…

Get in your way-back machine and dredge up your memories of September, 2000.  The political class was chattering away about the upcoming presidential debates, about how then-Vice President Al Gore would have an advantage over then-Texas Governor George W. Bush.  Then came the sighs that were heard around the world.  As a Wall Street Journal editorial put it, Gore’s “theatrical sighs” while Bush was answering questions during the debate showed bad manners.

Fast forward to Saturday, May 1, 2010.  You’re in a hotel ballroom in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, watching the three Republican candidates for governor “debate.”  On two different occasions you see and hear former Governor Terry Branstad jump into the time rival Bob Vander Plaats has been given to answer a question/make his point. 

The first “butting in” moment came when Vander Plaats was accusing Branstad of being something less than a “team player” when he endorsed Democrat Ben Nelson, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, in 2000.  This wasn’t a new charge.  Vander Plaats had made this complaint public in 2009.

“I believe Governor Branstad, you did endorse Ben Nelson who helped give us socialized medicine when you skipped the river into Nebraska when we could have won that…” Vander Plaats said.

Branstad cut in (and if you listen to the exchange, you can hear he is exasperated).  “I never went to Nebraska,” Branstad said. 

“But you did endorse Ben Nelson, is that correct?” Vander Plaats asked.

Branstad took the bait. “He’s a long time friend and I was out of office at the time,” Branstad said, for some reason stressing that “out of office” part.

Vander Plaats continued, using the “we” instead of “you” in reference to Branstad.  “But we still endorsed a Democrat,” Vander Plaats said.

Branstad slapped back. “I know, but this is supposed to be on the subject,” Branstad said. (The question had been whether each would back the party’s nominee if they lose in June.)

“This is the on the subject,” Vander Plaats said.  He was interrupted by moderator Bob Fisher, who advised Vander Plaats that he was running ouf of time so he needed to “finish up your answer.

Vander Plaats concluded: “It’s about it being a team player.”

The second incident happened a few minutes later as Vander Plaats was (mistakenly) talking about Congressman Steve King suing former Governor Tom Vilsack over a 2005 executive order that gave some convicted felons who’d completed their sentences and probation the right to vote.   Branstad knew King’s lawsuit was actually over another executive order Vilsack issued in 1999 that extended civil rights protections to gay, lesbian and transgender state workers.  Branstad couldn’t contain himself to a mere Gore-esque sigh to punctuate the airspace.  He talked out loud.

“You’re wrong in what you’re saying,” Branstad told Vander Plaats when he made the mistaken assertion during Saturday’s debate.

Vander Plaats argued it was his turn to talk:  “I think I’m right with my time.”

Branstad was undeterred and shot back:  “Go ahead and look it up.” 

Immediately after the debate was over, Branstad kept pestering Vander Plaats on stage, telling Vander Plaats loudly to “look it up” to see that he was wrong.  (I double-checked with Congressman King late Saturday and he confirmed Vander Plaats was wrong. I was afraid King had signed onto the first lawsuit in 1999 and the second lawsuit in 2005, but King did not sign onto that second lawsuit about felon voting rights.)

As for the headline of this post, Branstad is clearly nettled by Vander Plaats and it showed on Saturday.  The third and final “debate” among the three candidates will be Thursday, May 20. It will be interesting to see whether Branstad can contain himself within the time he is allotted to speak or if he will be driven to “step on” the time Vander Plaats is given to answer the questions.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About O.Kay Henderson

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