The current and former governor debate

Lee Enterprises and Citadel Communications are sponsoring tonight’s debate, which starts at 7 p.m.  It’s being staged at the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, airing live on TV stations KCAU in Sioux City, WOI in Des Moines and WHBF in the Quad Cities.   Iowa Public Television will rebroadcast the debate at 8 p.m. tonight.

KCAU’s Larry Wentz and WOI’s Amanda Krenz are the moderators.  They’re on the screen as I type, standing in front of the two candidates.  Governor Chet Culver, the Democrat, is on the left of the screen and former Governor Terry Branstad, the Republican, is on the right.

A panel of reporters/editors will ask the questions.  They are Mike Gors of The Sioux City Journal; Josh Nelson of The Waterloo Courier; Ed Tibbetts of The Quad City Times and Arian Schuessler of The Mason City Globe Gazette.

Both candidates are wearing red ties!  What follows are my notes, a sort of live blog of the event.

First question goes to Branstad.  Kors cites statistics of Branstad’s 16-year tenure as governor, then asks if his criticism of Culver is just the “pot calling the kettle black.”

Branstad: If you look at the totality of the record…I left the state is a strong fiscal position…(There is now) a projected budget deficit of one million dollars.

Culver begins with thanks to sponsors, mentions the venue.  Stresses that “Terry Branstad has been misleading Iowans.”

Moderator starts to turn it over to Tibetts, but Branstad jumps in and asks about the rules. 

Tibbetts asks about I-JOBS.

Culver:  Again, Terry Branstad has been misleading Iowans about the facts.  We’ve bonded for $800 million…In July, 7000 people were working on I-JOBS .  The fact is, when he was governor he bonded for four times as much money.  He bonded…just to pay the bills during a time when he was keeping two sets of books. 

Branstad: I’m not going to resort to the personal attacks.  I’m going to stick to the record…I believe in a pay as you go system…He believes in doing it with debt financing…Enron and Lehman Brothers got the same triple A bond rating Iowa has now.

Follow-up question:  how do you deal with unemployment?

Branstad:  mentions getting rid of DED. 

Next question, to Branstad, about judicial selection.

Branstad: Unfortunately, 12 Democrats are on the judicial nominating commission now. If you don’t have a balanced board, then you need to change the system.  Make sure the board is balanced…Now have a very partisan situation.  Many people are very upset with this…I did not look at the party situation for the people up for appointment…doing it without regard to politics, strictly on merit.

Culver:  I believe as a former government teacher in the independence of judiciary.  When he was governor for 16 years he liked the current system — suddenly now as a candidate for a fifth term he doesn’t.  “It’s time for Terry Branstad to be honest with people…He kept two sets of books; he was cooking the books….so there is really a Terry versus Terry campaign going on here.”

Next question about Smithfield’s closure of Morrell plant. 

Culver:  I came here quickly to meet with those displaced workers. Culver mentions Debi Durham, the GOP nominee for governor in 2002….mentions unemployment benefit extension…workforce development office has worked extremely hard…services to 250,000 Iowans…created 16,000 new jobs since December in Iowa. “I will fight for those who have lost their jobs.”

Branstad:  The workers at John Morrell are not the only people where Governor Culver made unrealistic promises and never delivered…a pattern of big promises and they didn’t follow through…I will work day in and day out to revitalize the Siouxland economy and that all across the state of Iowa.

How would you bring these jobs back?

Branstad responds, mentioning Debi Durham, twice.

Candidate to candidate question:  Branstad to Culver.  What were your three biggest mistakes?

Culver:  Well, Terry…we’ve made our fair share of mistakes, but the difference is we’ve taken responsibility.  You had 20 different scandals in 12 different agencies….You attack day after day after day and I think it’s important tomight (to ask) what happened during your administration…at agency after agency.  Go to for a list.  We’ve taken responsiblity.  Like most humans, I’ve made my fair mistakes….said Branstad has “never owned up to his.”

Branstad response:  Governor Culver just launched an attack on my administration.  I think he’s made some huge mistakes…huge budget…and then doing a massive across-the-board cut which led to property tax increases…and then also pushing through this massive bonding plan…(I-JOBS is an) ill-fated program.  I believe in doing things on a pay as you go basis.

Culver gets to ask a question of Branstad, starts with a response. “You didn’t believe in pay as you go when you bonded for $4.2 billion, Terry.”…You know (I-JOBS) is not adding debt to the people of Iowa…Tonight, will you admit in front of all the voters that 100 percent of those bonds are being paid off by gaming revenue?

Branstad:  those would have gone to the gaming fund. Those receipts would have gone for good projects all around the state of Iowa…and we could have had twice as much work done over the next 23 years….The debt load has increased three times since I left office…Yes, we’re still low, but we’re going in the wrong direction.

Culver:  So the answer in a long-winded way is yes…only if you go to a casino in Iowa will you pay one penny for the I-JOBS projects.  You promised (job creation).  You came up 470,000 jobs short in unfilled promises…so why should we believe your promises in 2010?

Branstad:  While I was governor we created 300,000; while you’ve been governor we’ve lost jobs. 

Culver:  did you fulfill your promise?

Branstad:  Quit interrupting.

Gors poses a question from a reader.  Why has the alcohol (beer) tax not been raised?

Branstad:  I don’t think we ought to be raising any taxes…We ought to be reducing the size of government.

Culver: Another perfect example of a promise that Terry Branstad did not fulfill.  When he ran for the first time for governor in 1982, he promised the people of Iowa he would not raise your taxes.  The first bill he signed in 1983 was the sales tax.  He has raised taxes 60 times on hard-working families…Bob Vander Plaats and I do not agree on a lot, but we agree he’s not being forthcoming on his record on taxes….he will continue to resort to tax increases, something I have resisted during four years as governor.

Tibbetts asks a reader’s question:  short-term and long-term goals for early education?

Culver:  This could be the defining issue in this race.  (Preschool funding)

Branstad:  There he goes again making another promise he can’t keep.

Next question: What would you have done differently about the floods?

Branstad:  I would have had somebody in charge…We did it without borrowing money.  

Culver:  General Ron Dardis has been put in charge.  He’s a three-star general from right here in Sioux City.  He has done precisely what you described.

Next question is about fair share, prevailing wage, expansion of collective bargaining — union-backed proposals.

Culver:  I have said since my first condition of the state speech in 2007 that I believe a governor’s responsibility is to try to bring labor and management together…so I’ve always encouraged dialogue and discussion…I believe we can find common ground…reform our labor laws…something Terry Branstad has said unequivocally…is dead on arrival.  That’s a very narrow view for a governor.

Branstad:  “We don’t need these kind of job killing ideas.”

Follow-up to Culver: Do you feel obligated to big labor because they support you? Culver says he’s obligated to Iowans.

Next question is about egg recall, about whether Branstad’s proposal to streamline ag regulations is a good idea.

Branstad:  I think this Jack DeCoster is an outlaw and we had an habitual violator law and we were in the process of putting him out of business.  Branstad brings up $10,000 DeCoster donation to Tom Miller, the DeCoster’s donation to Democratic Governors Association, which he says went to Culver.

Culver interjects: not true.

Branstad continues. I believe that is absolutely wrong.  Those people that violate the law should be put out of business….They are bad actors.  They’ve been trouble from the beginning and they seem to get off more than other people because they give money to Democrats…We’ve had too much of this pay for play going on.

Culver: The facts are getting in the way of the truth.  Terry Branstad calls him an outlaw.  It was during his administration in 1987 that DeCoster came to Iowa.  His former economic development director Jack Bailey wined and dined DeCoster and testified…about what a great guy Jack DeCoster was.  It’s been so long ago, you don’t remember. Your former chief of staff represented DeCoster in getting a permit and we’ve got the record to prove it.

Branstad: not true.

Next question was about Race to the Top, followed by a question about Branstad’s plan to eliminate the D.E.D.

Culver touts job creation in past three years.  “Instead of a brain drain we’re going to have a brain suck,” he says.

Branstad, in answering DED question: “I don’t know what fantasy land Governor Culver lives in.”

Final question is about the campaign ads.

Final statements: 

Branstad:  thanks sponsors.  This is a wonderful city.  This is a wonderful state.  We’re facing some challenging times now…We’ve had all kinds of problems within state govt but I think Iowans are much better than the government we have.

Culver can be heard chuckling.

“I want to lead a revitalization of this state and I have set ambitious goals…I want to create 200,000 new jobs.  I want to see family incomes increase by 25 percent and you know, today, last year, the NAEP scores came out and (Iowa’s scores were) terrible.  I want to get us back to a leadership role in education…I’m proud of this state and I’m proud to have the opportunity to serve again.:”

Culver:  “This election, like all elections, needs to be about the future…We don’t want to go back to the past with Terry Branstad….I am for health care for all of our children….embryonic stem cell research…becoming the renewable energy capital of America…I’m for our veterans and our troops…Our thoughts and prayers are with the troops in Afghanistan…I belief in Iowa and I believe in our future…The choice on November 2 is to go back to the past…He’s against women’s rights…he’s against civil rights.

Branstad begins to laugh.

“I am also here tonight to humbly ask for your support….We have lived through some troubling times…but Iowa is coming back strong.  We are growing again…and our best days are ahead of us and I ask for your vote.”

Debate over.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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