The two Republican candidates for governor spoke at this weekend’s Iowans for Tax Relief annual meeting, and made it clear the gloves are off and the campaign’s in full swing.
Bob Vander Plaats spoke first, and promised to junk the state’s “complicated” income tax system and replace it with a five-percent “flat tax” with NO exemptions. He also repeated his call for cutting property taxes by using state taxes, instead, to run Iowa schools. Vander Plaats then attacked his opponent, Congressman Jim Nussle, who is chairman of the U-S House Budget Committee. Nussle recently proposed a two percent cut in domestic federal spending in order to pay for a portion of hurricane relief. “A decision to make across the board cuts is not leadership,” Vander Plaats said. “Across the board cuts are really a symbol of laziness. You need to attack, you need to decide what are your priorities. Where’s the focus going to be? That’s what a leader does in times of crisis.”
Afterwards while speaking to reporters, Vander Plaats continued to hammer at the across-the-board cut. “That doesn’t take any intellectual firepower,” Vander Plaats said. During his speech, Vander Plaats pledged to promote the use of E-85 — the highest blend of ethanol, and he ridiculed Nussle’s call for requiring Iowa gas stations to sell only ethanol-blended fuels because Vander Plaats said it’s focused on the lowest-concentration, the 10 percent ethanol blend. Vander Plaats said Nussle’s proposal is a “meaningless” mandate that’ll bring “mediocre results.”
And finally, Vander Plaats suggested if Republicans pick Congressman Nussle as their nominee, the party will lose like it did in 1998 when then-Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot lost to a then-little-known Democrat, Tom Vilsack. “In 1998, all of us learned a very valuable lesson and that lesson was this: if you don’t win, you don’t govern,” Vander Plaats said. Vander Plaats suggested he’d have an easier time in 2008 because he has no record in elected office that Democrats would be able to “slice and dice.” Vander Plaats said Democrats could mold the “best of records” into something voters will fear. “My record is of excellence in business and industry, creating jobs…signing the front of paychecks not just the back of paychecks,” Vander Plaats said.
Nussle was second to speak, and started with this salvo. “I came to talk about Iowa. I didn’t come to talk about the other fellow either directly or through inuendo,” Nussle said. “I want to talk about the future.” Nussle promised to appoint a bi-partisan, “blue ribbon” commission to make recommendations on which tax reforms the state should enact. And Nussle said elderly Iowans should not be taxed on their Social Security benefits or their pensions. But Nussle also appeared to attack the property tax reform ideas Vander Plaats advanced. “Tax reform should be thoughful, not a reckless attempt to try and grab headlines or one that pulls the rug out from under local services or education for our kids or merely shifts the tax or increases it on taxpayers elsewhere,” Nussle said. He went on to call it “sound bite tax policy” that would be “devastating in action.”
Yet afterwards, Nussle told reporters he wasn’t attacking Vander Plaats, then veered into attack mode. “I’m not familiar with his plan. I don’t want to see anybody, because I know we’ve done that in the past, anybody who just puts a tax plan on the table without thought,” Nussle said. Vander Plaats had attacked Nussle’s decisions as chairman of the House Budget Committee, and during his speech, Nussle defended his record. “I understand…I can get hit…but I am going to stay the fight that reducing taxes, growing our economy and reforming government is the right policy for America and it’s also the right policy for Iowa,” Nussle said.
Afterwards, in speaking to reporters, Vander Plaats continued to pick, saying Nussle was “using a butter knife around the edges” rather than offering bold ideas to reform Iowa’s tax system. Nussle, likewise, said Vander Plaats was a “desperate” candidate looking for ways to attack because he’s “so far behind” Nussle in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The primary to choose the party nominee will be held in June of next year.