Today, Radio Iowa offers the second of three profiles of the leading Democrats in the race for governor. Chet Culver was born 40 years ago when his father, John Culver, was a member of Congress. Many Iowa Democrats credit John Culver, who served five terms in the House and one term in the Senate, with trailblazing a path for Democrats in a state long dominated by Republicans. But it’s been years since the elder Culver left the political stage. In 1980 then-U.S. Senator John Culver lost his reelection bid to Republican Charles Grassley. Chet Culver — identified as Chester John Culver on his birth certificate — grew up in both Washington, D.C. and McGregor, Iowa, then attended Virginia Tech, where he played on the football team. His first job was as an aide to former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Ed Campbell who worked as a statehouse lobbyist. It’s that job which has cropped up as an issue in the race, with rival Mike Blouin accusing Culver of lobbying for meatpacking giant IBP during that time period. It’s an accusation Culver denies. “I never lobbied for Iowa Beef,” Culver says. “This campaign really needs to be about the future. It needs to be about ideas and vision and energy.” Culver next worked for Campbell’s wife, Bonnie Campbell, who was serving as the state’s Attorney General. But Culver left government and politics in the mid-90s, getting a master’s degree from Drake and becoming a teacher and coach at Hoover High School on the northwest side of Des Moines. In 1998, Culver got back into politics and won a statewide election to become Iowa’s Secretary of State. He won re-election in 2002. The Secretary of State’s office is a repository for a wealth of business and corporate records, as well as the state office that administers statewide elections. Culver came under fire in 2004 for refusing to rule that President Bush had carried the state of Iowa. He waited until several days after the election before “calling” the state for Bush. On the campaign trail this year, Culver emphasizes his work as Secretary of State to encourage more Iowans, especially young Iowans, to exercise their right to vote. And Culver rejects critics who have questioned his intellect and who say he is too young and too inexperienced. “I have more executive branch experience — eight years in the executive branch — than any governor in recent Iowa history. I’m the same age as Governor Ray, I’m the same age as Harold Hughes when they were elected,” Culver says. “I am prepared. I am ready to lead this state.” Culver has the support of key party insiders, like long-time Democratic contributor Bill Knapp of Des Moines, and Culver has positioned himself as a more moderate Democrat, opposing “civil unions” for gay couples and supporting the death penalty for what he calls “heinous” crimes. “I personally believe — as the father of two kids under the age of five — that the death penalty is warranted in limited situations including abduction and murder of a child, the murder of a police officer in the line of duty for example,” Culver says. Culver, though, says reinstating the death penalty won’t be his top priority if elected governor. Instead, Culver says implementing his $100 million “Iowa Power Fund” to spur renewable fuel development is at the top of his priority list. “I want to build on our strengths in education, in agriculture and manufacturing to create good jobs with good benefits in every corner of this state,” Culver says. “I have a plan to do that.” Culver also emphasizes his support for abortion rights, a key issue for many Democratic voters.
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