Senate District 18 Forum

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So state Senate District 18 hopefuls Cindy Golding, Republican, and Liz Mathis, Democrat, had their first debate/forum tonight at Linn Mar-High school. I was on the questionineering panel with KCRG'-TV 9's  Chris Earl.

I figured Golding and Mathis would come to their first joint appearance with talking points to stress and a stay-positive-no-mistakes strategy.

I was wrong. They mixed it up.

Now, admittedly, the moderator's table is about the worst vantage point for these kind of things. I'm taking notes, flipping through question cards, wondering whether I look appropriately interested. And at one point, I could not manage to spit out "Wapsipinicon."

But even I could make out the body language. Exasperation was evident, especially for Golding when Mathis' said something she disagreed with, which was often. It wasn't dislike or animosity. Just aggressive competitiveness. I think the enormous pressure on these candidates, with control of the Iowa Senate hinging on the Nov. 8 special election, was on display.

Golding opened by taking a shot at Senate Democrats for blocking job-creation bills that passed the GOP House, a theme she would return to often during the hour-long forum. Mathis' opening included a shot at her opponent.

" I think she looks at Iowa's future and sees one of limited opportunities and short resources," Mathis said.

"I'm the only one who meets payroll," Golding shot back when her turn came, explaining how "regulatory red tape" hurts businesses. "Good intentions will not change the nature of the Senate."

"I would hope that we'd reach across the aisle," Mathis said in her next turn, a gridlock-is- bad theme that she returned to repeatedly during the debate.

Mathis hit Golding for a TV ad that depicted Mathis, a former TV anchor, as a "celebrity" candidate. Golding said it was the Republican Party of Iowa who ran the ad and she had no control over it. Golding has said she tried and eventually succeeded in having the ad stopped.

Golding said Democrats believe "government is the solution" before criticizing a DOT regulation on the number of hours an auto business must be open, a rule on the nursing ratio in hospitals and a human services regulation she says puts the "distance from school" ahead of a child's needs.

Mathis labeled them "minutiae" "You know Cindy, this is a real drill-down," Mathis said, before arguing that it's big picture issues that voters care about more.

"The devil's in the details," Golding said at her next crack, talking about property taxes. "You can fly up above in theory."

Mathis accused Golding of favoring Gov. Terry Branstad's proposal for cutting corporate income taxes. Golding said then, and earlier in the forum, that she doesn't always agree with Branstad. "Maybe you have't been listening," Golding said.

When the subject turned to stopping the Brain drain, Golding lamented that her children, who are engineers, did not stay in Iowa. Mathis then curiously questioned why they didn't go to work at Rockwell Collins when it was hiring. "They got better jobs elsewhere," Golding said.

Agree on the need for state-funded preschool? Not so much. Mathis for, Golding no.

On the gas tax, agreement! They both say the time is not right to raise it, with the economy still lousy.

Golding seemed much more sure-footed on her core issues -- cutting business regulation, reducing/reforming taxes and breaking what Republicans see as a logjam in the Senate. Her victory would create a 25-25 tie which she contends will force the parties to work together.

Mathis was much less sure footed, and seemed to sense at times that she wasn't doing well. I asked a question from the audience about eliminating Iowans' ability to deduct federal taxes from their state taxes, "federal deductability," and she clearly didn't understand what I was talking about. And when I asked about watershed management, she talked about Palo being a small town that had a rough time, then seemed to lose her train of thought.

On Watershed management, Golding said we have programs in place, which can be reviewed. But it's not a sound-bite issues and one size does not fit all. Yeah, so I got totally skunked on watershed management. What's new?

I think Golding's weakest performance was on education, which she said Iowa schools would be improved by "an attitude change," but not necessarily new funding. She complained that elementary schools no longer group kids by skill level for reading instruction. They do that at my kids' school, a block from the site of the debate.

Golding distanced herself at times from Branstad, but at no point did Mathis turn to Golding and say I'm not Mike Gronstal. He's not running here. I am. I think that was a mistake.

When it was over, a guy in the audience started yelling bout gay marriage and why we didn't ask about it. It was mostly because we ran out of time. I didn't get to ask even a third of the questions I brought. And among the audience questions we got, not one was on the marriage issue.

Mathis has said before she agrees with the Iowa Supreme Court ruling on marriage and Golding thinks Iowans should get to vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions.

The candidates meet again at a League of Women Voters forum at 7 p.m. tomorrow night (Thursday) at the Kirkwood Training and Outreach Service, 3375 Armar Dr., Marion.

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