Five Republicans who say they intend to run for governor gathered in Des Moines for an hour-long forum late this afternoon and the group differed on only a few of the issues that were raised.
Each of the G.O.P. candidates had a minute to respond to a series of questions on a wide range of issues in the forum organized by IowaPolitics.com. All five said state spending was out of control and agreed the budget must be cut. State Representative Christopher Rants of Sioux City called for renegotiating the union contract for state worker pay.
"The fact is that Iowa taxpayers can’t afford the level of growth that we see in the public sector right now. We have a 28 percent disparity between private sector jobs and public sector jobs," Rants said. "And public sector jobs today — the AFSCME contract — is the fastest-growing part of our state budget."
Christian Fong, a Cedar Rapids businessman, promised that he’d cut the budget by five percent in his first year in office.
"State government is putting a burden on Iowa’s families…beyond what Iowa’s families should have to bear," Fong said. "This has happened not just this year, but in the past we’ve had governors and legislators that have chronically passed budgets that have not been in strict compliance with the 99 percent spending limit." State law restricts spending to 99 percent of available state tax revenue.
All five candidates said they don’t like the statewide ban on smoking, but none of them promised to repeal it if elected. Four of the five candidates said they would support reinstating the death penalty in Iowa, but State Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll, an ordained minister, said he opposes capital punishment.
"In Iowa, we have life in prison without chance of parole for first degree murder," Roberts said. "I’ve been to Fort Madison, toured the penitentiary there and if you’re convicted and you’re sentenced to Fort Madison, that is not a pleasant place to be. Life in prison without chance of parole is a serious punishment."
All five said they oppose gay marriage and all five oppose efforts to allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. State Senator Jerry Behn of Boone warned that today’s marijuana is much more potent and more dangerous.
"Some of the latest research shows that the new marijuana is up to five-times stronger than the old stuff that I think some of us older folks in the crowd may have memories of, that used to think that it was a fun thing," Behn said, as some in the crowd began to giggle. "Now, not me. I’m just telling you what I heard." The crowd erupted in laughter.
The forum’s limited time for candidate answers didn’t give the men much time to share biographical information with the crowd, although Bob Vander Plaats, a business consultant from Sioux City, did offer a bit of family news while lamenting the "brain drain" which sees many young Iowans leave the state after college.
"My oldest son’s in New York City on an internship right now; just got accepted to study at Oxford University. He’s a bright kid — takes after his mom," Vander Plaats said. "…In order for him to come back to Iowa, we need leadership that produces or creates an environment where businesses can develop, thrive and succeed."
Read a "live blog" of the event . Click on the audio links below to listen to the forum. Due to equipment failure, it’s presented in two parts — the first six minutes of the forum and the second file contains the forums’ last 53 minutes.