During the first debate of the primary season, the three Republican candidates for governor offered opposing views of the kind of experience it will take to be the next governor.
The three candidates gathered at KTIV studios in Sioux City for the hour-long debate. Former Governor Terry Branstad started by touting his own 16-year record as governor and questioning rival Bob Vander Plaats, who has never held elected office. “Iowans want a leader not only that talks about things, but somebody that gets results,” Branstad said in his opening statement. “Results over rhetoric, that’s what this is all about.”
Vander Plaats, in turn, said the state’s budget woes hadn’t started with current Governor Chet Culver but dated all the way back past Culver and former Governor Tom Vilsack to Branstad himself. “We do have a budget problem and it’s the result of bad habits, bad practices and bad mindsets for governor after governor after governor,” Vander Plaats said. “We’ve constantly grown government on steroids.”
At one point, Vander Plaats suggested Branstad’s record on gambling was suspect, too, and guided by the flawed notion that it’s economic development. “(Branstad) oversaw the construction of 15 casinos and the state lottery and parimutual betting,” Vander Plaats said.
Branstad replied: “I believe that we’ve got enough gambling in Iowa and we should not be expanding it…Iowans do support the gambling we have, but they do not want to see an expansion of it.”
A few moments later, Vander Plaats suggested Branstad wasn’t being “honest” about his record on gambling, taxes and gay marriage. “Governor Branstad, you know some of (your) results are raising taxes not once but twice, increasing fees 30 times, bringing in gambling — parimutuel betting, the state lottery. I mean, growing the size of government two-and-a-half times,” Vander Plaats said. “Those are also results we need to be honest with the people of Iowa about.”
The moderator of the debate asked Branstad if he’d like to respond to that. “I’m not going to join in the attack/counter-attack,” Branstad replied.
State Representative Rod Roberts touted his experience as a state legislator. “Economic growth and job creation has to be a priority in state government and it will be with me as governor of the State of Iowa,” Roberts said. “This is where rhetoric needs to be replaced with ideas and concrete proposals.”
Roberts touted his own call last year for complete elimination of the state income tax on corporations, contrasting it with Branstad’s promise, issued this past Monday, to reduce the corporate income tax but not eliminate it.
Roberts closed the debate by saying any of the three Republican candidates would do a better job as governor than Chet Culver has. “Under Governor Culver, too many Iowans have lost their jobs and I believe it’s time Chet Culver loses his,” Roberts said.
The three candidates discussed gay marriage during the debate, but restated previous positions rather than breaking new ground on the issue.
The primary election will be held on Tuesday, June 8th and one of the three candidates must win at least 35 percent of the vote to secure the G.O.P. nomination. If none of the three cross that threshold, the Republican Party of Iowa will choose a candidate at a special nominating convention.
(This story was updated at 3:54 p.m.)