The Cedar Rapids debate: gambling a key topic

The Cedar Rapids Gazette and KCRG-TV are hosting a debate this evening at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.  The “debaters” are Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat who is seeking a second term, and Terry Branstad, a Republican who was Iowa’s governor from January of 1983 through January of 1999 and who is seeking a fifth term.  What follows is a live blog of the event.  (UPDATE: The testiest exchange came after the question about gambling. I transcribed much of what the two men said during that portion of the debate.  Here’s the Radio Iowa story about tonight’s event.)

The first question:  how would you eliminate projected budget shortfall for FY12 and still provide essential services?

Branstad blamed Culver and Democratic legislators. “It was caused one-time money for on-going expenses,” he said.  Branstad pledged to “thoughtfully and sustematically reduce” the size of govt. He proposed selling the state vehicle fleet and leasing vehicles instead; combining state govt email systems into one; eliminating state govt positions funded, but not filled.

Culver said: “We will balance the budget just like we have for four years in a row…We have proven we can govern…during challenging times.”  Cited former Republican State Auditor Dick Johnson’s criticism of Branstad’s previous tenure as governor, adding there were “budget gaps” when Branstad was governor, too. 

Branstad said “you almost get a whip-lash” while listening to Culver talk about the state budget.  ” They passed the biggest budget in history, over the objections of Republicans in the legislature,” he said.  Branstad noted tomorrow is the anniversary of the day Culver ordered an across-the-board cut of 10 percent in the state budget.

Culver said Branstad “has broken his promise time and time again to Iowans by not telling the truth.”  Culver cited tax increases Branstad signed as governor and said Branstad continued to increase the state budget he was governor — “between 1990 and 1999 he added $1 billion in spending.”

Next Question:  Arizona immigration law; Postville immigration raid.

Culver: “I have always believed that illegal means illegal and the federal govt has the primary responsibility.  We desperately need the federal govt to step up to the plate.”  Culver criticized Branstad’s position on the issue, saying he’d “fill up the (county) jails” with detained illegal immigrations, at a cost of $100 a night to detain someone.  “He knows better than proposing what he has in terms of this reform.”

Branstad said he believes “local law enforcement ought to enforce the laws…(Immigrants) should have to produce identification just like our citizens do.”  Branstad said it’s the federal govt’s responsibility to deport and he accused Culver of mischaracterizing his position.  Branstad said: “It’s wrong for the federal government to be attacking states like Arizona.”

Culver, when given an opportunity for rebuttal, merely said: “We both agree that it’s primarily a federal responsibliity.”

Next question was about flood recovery, specifically dedicating growth in sales tax collections in Linn County for the next decade to flood-related projects.

Branstad: the idea “seems to have some merit…I’m very interested in working with Ron Corbett on this idea.”  He decried state, federal govt “run-around” in getting flood aid out, said it was a “tragedy” for businesses and homeowners.

Culver: “It’s interesting, in about 72 hours Terry Branstad has changed his position once again.”  Culver said he had been in “lockstep…for two solid years”  with Cedar Rapids officials and flood victims.  He talked about the 63 flood recovery projects in Cedar Rapids that were financed by I-JOBS.  Culver said it was “our duty to help those homeowners, businessowners.”  Culver said it took “12 years to close the books on the 1993 flood.”

Branstad called Culver’s answer “pretty amazing” and said Culver had “totally mischaracterized” his views. “I’m opposed to raising taxes,” Branstad said, saying his opposition was to Mayor Ron Corbett’s proposal to raise the hotel/motel tax rather than funneling growth in sale tax collections in Linn County into an account for flood recovery projects. 

There was a video question,  about jobs.

Culver said he had ‘worked tirelessly” and businesses like IBM and “green” industries have created 21,000 new jobs during his tenure.

Branstad said there are 114,000 people out of work in Iowa and “the fact is, his policies have been a failure.”

Culver shot back that Branstad was a “serial promise maker and an habitual promise breaker when it comes to jobs.”

Branstad replied: “My record speaks for itself and Governor Culver’s record speaks for itself. ”  Branstad said he wasn’t “going to spend (his) time calling him names or berating him” during the debate.

The next question was about property taxes.  Neither proposed anything new.  When Culver was offered a chance to give a rebuttal to Branstad, he declined.  Some in the crowd applauded.

There was a tiny verbal dust-up at this point (to be eclipsed later).  Branstad’s three word shot into this first skirmish: “We’re cutting taxes.”

Question was, basically, about Branstad’s call to cut state financing for preschool.  This topic has been covered by both candidates and they said nothing new about it, but Culver did use his time to accuse Branstad of “adding $2 billion in new spending” with the totality of his 2010 campaign proposals.

Some of the Branstad people in the crowd booed.  (That, by the way, is not what they were told to do.  The entire crowd was told beforehand to be quiet.)

Branstad, in his next turn to speak, called Culver’s across-the-board cut in the state budget a “meat-axe approach…that made no sense.”

Culver said “hard-working Iowa families can’t afford to send their children to preschool” and that’s why he wants to expand pre-K.

Branstad replied: “I do understand that some people can’t afford it, but Governor Culver’s plan makes it free.” Branstad said some parents can afford to pay for pre-K.

The next question was about education.  Neither made a huge, new policy statement on this.  Branstad criticized the project-labor agreements for state projects and complained that an Illinois firm had been awarded the contract to build the new state prison in Fort Madison.

“Now we now know what I-JOBS is,” Branstad said. “It’s Illinois jobs.” 

The Branstad people in the crowd laughed.

Branstad continued: “Iowa taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay.  It’s Illinois jobs.  It’s wrong and I will correct it on my first day in office.”

Culver countered: “Terry Branstad’s not telling the truth with respect to the prison project.” Culver said the “overwhelming” number of jobs would go to Iowans “and I’m glad they’re getting a prevailing wage.”

The Culver people in the crowd erupted in applause.

Next question: eliminating DED.  No new ground here; plowed same ground about DeCoster that was plowed during Sioux City debate.

Culver asked for a chance for rebuttal.  The moderator said he wasn’t scheduled to have one.  Branstad sniped: “Follow the rules for a change.  That would be nice.”

Next, a video question about helping state become “greener” — asked for bold steps. Nothing really here, newswise.

Next question, though, generated news and I went back and transcribed huge parts of it.  The candidates were asked if Iowa has reached saturation point in terms of casinos, gamling.

Culver began by saying he wanted to talk about the I-JOBS program. Some Branstad people in the crowd booed.  Culver continued, saying the I-JOBS bonds are being repaid with “revenues from the 17 gaming casinos.”  Culver then talked about his support for granting new casino licenses to Fort Dodge and Ottumwa.

Branstad, when it was his turn, said:  “I’m going to answer the question.” 

Branstad people in the crowd applauded.  Branstad said the state Racing & Gaming Commission was “wise to reject Governor Culver’s letter that insisted they add new casinos.”  Then Branstad addressed I-JOBS, saying the gambling tax money “was supposed to go for the rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.” 

Branstad then berated Culver on another:  “You know there’s a DCI investigation going on now about the people in Fort Dodge who were involved in promoting this gaming facility who then also gave their money to the Culver campaign.  Now, I understand he’s given it to charity, but I’ll tell ya, it doesn’t look good…We should not have the governor involved in trying to influence the Racing & Gaming Commission.”

Culver replied: “You don’t practice what you preach, Terry.  You came over here to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and promised the people here a dog track, and then you went back to Des Moines when you were governor and you urged the Racing & Gaming Commission to give them a license here.  Number two: your largest donor owns two casinos in Iowa.  He’s given you more than $100,000, so we don’t need to hear about any integrity issues coming from you with respect to casinos.”

Branstad:  “I think the people of Iowa know that when I was governor I signed the law because we had, first of all, I felt that it was, the majority of Iowans wanted this but we needed to build in the integrity to make sure we had a Racing & Gaming Commission. First of all, nobody with any criminal background can have a license. All the licenses are held by non-profits and the number one responsibility, I told the commission, is protect the integrity of the state, not promoting gambling.”

The next question was about the Vision Iowa fund, then there was a question about same-sex marriage.

Culver: “It has not had an effect on the state of Iowa…I respect an independent judiciary…Terry Branstad is oversimplifying this issue…Does that mean we should let the people vote on every single decision?”

Some in the crowd applauded when Culver said he didn’t want to write “discrimination into constitution.”

Branstad: “I believe the people have the right to vote on an issue of this magnitude.”

Branstad people in the crowd applauded.

Branstad said the Democratic-controlled legislature had blocked the process of getting a constitutional amendment on gay marriage on the statewide ballot.  Branstad then said: “Governor Culver has switched his position on supporting one-man, one-woman marriage.”

A protestor yelled something; I can’t tell what.

Branstad said it was time for a “change in leadership.”

Branstad people in the crowd applauded.

Culver got to speak again on the topic: “Terry Branstad is trying to have it both ways. H e appointed the judge who wrote the decision.”

Culver people in the crowd applauded.

Branstad said the judicial nomination process has become partisan — or “skewed” — with 12 Democrats and only two Republicans serving on the nominating commission today.  “I don’t think that’s right.  I don’t think that’s fair.”

One last question, with short answers:  what has been your greatest accomplishment as governor?

Branstad said it was leading Iowa out of the Farm Crisis; Culver said it was leading Iowa out of the current recession.

They both delivered closing statements and the debate was over.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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


  1. Linda Yanney says

    The comment on same-sex marriage from the audience was a suggestion that we vote on everybody’s marriage, including Branstad’s.