The two major party candidates competing for the open U.S. House seat in Iowa’s first congressional district were together on stage tonight at Coe College in Cedar Rapids for their first debate, offered differing views on topics like the Keystone pipeline, climate change and even whether U.S. police departments should be “militarized.”
The two covered familiar ground on issues like Social Security, immigration and the minimum wage and each used the occasion to present himself as a uniter rather than a divider. The Democratic candidate, Pat Murphy of Dubuque, is a former Democratic leader in the Iowa House.
“I’ve worked in the legislature for the past 25 years, working with Republicans and Democrats across party lines to get things done,” Murphy said.
Republican Rod Blum is a businessman from Dubuque who sought the GOP’s nomination in the district two years ago, then succeeded this year in securing a spot on the fall ballot.
“Actually I don’t want to get into politics,” Blum said. “I don’t like politics, quite frankly. I’m doing this because I love the country. I love Americans and I know we can do much better.”
Both candidates expressed concern about the military gear police in Ferguson, Missouri, used to deal with rioters reacting to a police shooting there, but Murphy said police have been using that kind of equipment since the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s.
“What I think we need to focus on is giving the tools through the federal government, quite frankly probably putting more cops on the street and showing how those pieces of equipment should be used and when they should be used,” Murphy said. “But I don’t think it’s something that we should just get rid of completely.”
Blum said cops have a very tough job, but he’s worried about some officers who seem to be “shooting first and asking questions later.”
“I’m kind of old-fashioned, but I believe in civil liberties and I believe in freedoms and I believe in due process and I think you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty in a court of law,” Blum said.
As for “militarized” local police, Blum said that’s for states and cities to decide, but he says some of the military equipment in use in U.S. cities today is “beyond the pale.”
“What now looks like a CIA covert operation,” Blum said.
The two disagree over whether the Keystone Pipeline should be built. Murphy opposes it for “environmental reasons: because it would cut across the aquifer in Nebraska. Blum supports it because of the “shovel ready” construction jobs that would be created. Both said if it is built, most of the oil should be kept for U.S. consumption. Both were asked about “climate change” and Murphy said reducing “our carbon footprint” should be a goal.
“I believe climate change is real,” Murphy said. “I believe that some of it is man-made and we need to address those issues.”
Blum said climate science is being used as a scare tactic, and Blum says back in the 1970s, scientists were warning about an ice age.
“I think scientists would even agree that they don’t understand, obviously, how the planet can heal itself,” Blum said.
Both candidates bristled about the subject matter in attack ads. Murphy has run an ad that mentions the settlement Blum made with some of his former employees who claimed they were owed overtime pay. Blum said they were highly paid, college-educated software sales people and the decision was based on an antiquated 76-year-old federal law.
“So the Department of Labor said either you can estimate what you owe them in back-pay or we can go to court, because that’s the way it is,” Blum said.
Murphy shot back.
“It’s the law of the land. Employers need to respect their workers,” Murphy said. “…When we send somebody to congress, we need somebody that will play by the rules.”
Blum has run an ad that calls Murphy an “angry career politician” and features Murphy yelling at Republicans in the Iowa House for shutting off the phone system.
“I’m passionate. I’m passionate about protecting the middle class,” Murphy said when asked about the ad. “…It was wrong for them not to listen to the people of the state of Iowa.”
Blum suggested Murphy has been a “hyper-partisan” legislator.
“People are sick and tired of politics as usual,” Blum said.
The debate was broadcast on KCRG-TVs 9.2 channel from 7-8 p.m. and co-sponsored by The Cedar Rapids Gazette.
The two candidates are vying for the seat currently held by Congressman Bruce Braley, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year.