Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad is defending his plan to get rid of the Iowa Department of Economic Development. The former governor has proposed a new public-private partnership to replace the agency. Last week Branstad touted a similar effort in Indiana that Branstad said took “the best knowledge and experience of business leadership” in Indiana and partnered it with state government.

But Governor Culver’s campaign cites problems with that Indiana program. Job creation claims were exaggerated and, in one case, a factory was empty and padlocks were on the gates despite claims there were 1,400 new jobs created at the facility.

Branstad is still touting his public-private partnership idea this week, however, saying it has worked elsewhere, including in Indiana as that state has seen “real” job growth. “We’ve seen some other models in other states where they partnered with businesses in those states and with professional developers and where it’s been very successful,” Branstad said yesterday in Pella.

The Culver campaign suggests there are significant questions about secrecy in a quasi-government agency that would be “partnered” with private sector groups, but Branstad says he would ensure his “Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress” would be “open and transparent.”

Branstad, however, joked about how he was a bit too transparent at the beginning of his 16-year run as governor, and wound up skuttling some potential business deals. “People would ask me a question and I’d give them an honest answer,” Branstad said. “But sometimes I’ve learned to say, ‘Well, I really can’t talk about that yet.'”

Branstad says if he’s elected to a fifth term as governor this November, he’ll lead a new effort to lure former Iowans back to the state, particularly former Iowans who work in advanced manufacturing, value-added agriculture, biotechnology, insurance and financial services businesses.