During a televised debate tonight, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle blasted the record of current Democrat Governor Tom Vilsack, while Chet Culver, the Democrat who wants to succeed Vilsack, criticized Nussle’s record in congress.
Nussle opened the debate by criticizing Vilsack’s record on hiring minorities. Nussle’s critique of Vilsack wasn’t limited to state government hiring practices, though, and expanded to Vilsack’s handling of the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay controversy. “We have not paid attention to the weeds in the garden. We need leaders who are willing to step forward and take personal responsbility and not shift the blame, not pass the buck, not try and pass it off to somebody else but stand up and say ‘I’m responsible for it,'” Nussle said. “Yes, maybe other people need to be responsble, too, but that executive leadership needs to start at the top. It wasn’t there.”
Culver said he is “troubled” by charges of hiring discrimination in the state’s Workforce Development agency, but then jumped to defend his fellow Democrat, the current governor. “I think the governor has stepped up to the plate,” Culver said. “…He personally reviewed every single one of the claims and he called for a 90 day analysis and a study of hiring practices at Workforce Development.”
Culver also applauded the governor for firing the top two administrators in that agency this past spring when an audit revealed the agency had let managers of a central Iowa job training agency collect lavish salaries. “Congressman Nussle tonight has been talking a lot about responsibility. Well, I wish they had that same focus on responsbility in Washington, D.C.,” Culver said. “…I wish you would have spent the last 16 years focused on those scandals out there as opposed to how we’re doing things here in Des Moines.”
Nussle directly questioned Governor Vilsack’s response to last November’s prison break from the state’s maximum security prison in Fort Madison. “Not only does the Department of Corrections director get a bonus of $35,000, but we hear that the only way to solve this problem is to build a new prison,” Nussle says. “…In Iowa, we already incarcerate so many people, including some of the highest percentages of African Americans that you can find anywhere in the country and yet instead of building a new prison, what we ought to do is ensure that we have the training, we ought to have the treatment, we ought to have the education, we ought to have the back-up and the safety in our prisons to get that job done.”
Culver, in turn, criticized Nussle’s record as leader of the House Budget Committee. “His budgets are not only unbalanced, we have the largest budget deficit in the history of our country,” Culver said. “He managed as budget chairman to take this country from a $260 billion surplus to a $250 billion deficit.”
Nussle ended the debate by saying the next governor would be saddled with the “hot potato” Governor Vilsack created by failing to enforce fair hiring practices in state government. “It’s fine to do a study now on diversity. It’s fine to do a study now to say ‘Why is it that people are being discriminated (against)?’ Like you woke up one day and discovered that it was magically happening,” Nussle said. “It takes leadership from the start of an administration to root this out.”
Tonight’s debate was organized by the “Brown Black Coalition” which represents Iowa minorities. The debate was broadcast on Iowa Public Television.