Government

Democrats deflect campaign criticisms

Five gubernatorial hopefuls debate last time before primary

The five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor are shown before their Wednesday evening debate in Des Moines. They are (from left) John Norris, Fred Hubbell, Ross Wilburn, Cathy Glasson and Andy McGuire. The debate was sponsored by KCCI-TV and the Des Moines Register. The primary is Tuesday. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
The five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor are shown before their Wednesday evening debate in Des Moines. They are (from left) John Norris, Fred Hubbell, Ross Wilburn, Cathy Glasson and Andy McGuire. The debate was sponsored by KCCI-TV and the Des Moines Register. The primary is Tuesday. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Fred Hubbell insisted Iowa voters do not care that he is a wealthy businessman from a wealthy Des Moines family.

Cathy Glasson said she does not need to move to the political center to win a general election.

John Norris said his experience in the nation’s capital is a strength, not a weakness.

Andy McGuire said she is proud of her work as state party chairwoman despite the disastrous 2016 election outcomes for Democrats.

And Ross Wilburn said his anemic fundraising would not be an issue going into a matchup this fall against Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The five Democrats left in the race to become their party’s nominee for governor addressed current and potential criticisms of their candidacies Wednesday during the third and final gubernatorial debate before Tuesday’s primary.

It also marked the first debate without candidate Nate Boulton, a Des Moines state senator who dropped out of the race last after three women accused him of sexual misconduct in the past in a report in the Des Moines Register.

The five remaining candidates were asked if there were any similar incidents in their pasts that would embarrass themselves or the party.

They all said no.

The debate, hosted by the Des Moines Register and KCCI-TV, was held at the State Historical Building here.

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The Democratic winner will face Reynolds and a Libertarian candidate, also to be determined in a primary, in November’s election.

Hubbell, a Des Moines businessman who this year has plugged $2 million into his campaign, said voters will not pay attention to attacks that portray him as out-of-touch with those living paycheck to paycheck.

Such attacks have already started. Immediately after the debate, the Republican Party of Iowa issued a statement calling it “a final coronation for Sir Frederick Hubbell” and labeling him “an elitist, out of touch candidate.”

Said Hubbell at the forum: “I don’t think Iowans care what your background is. I think what Iowans want to know about is do you care about them, do you listen to them, and are you going to improve their lives?”

Glasson, a nurse and labor leader from Coralville, said she would not have to shift positions in the general election after campaigning on some of the most progressive themes during the primary, including universal, single-payer health care and a $15 an hour minimum wage.

“I don’t think we need to move to the center at all,” Glasson said. “I think that’s why Democrats have lost 11 of the last 14 governor’s races in this state.”

Norris defended his time in Washington, D.C., where he served under former President Barack Obama and federal agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, and pushed back against any suggestion that made him a “Washington insider.” Norris now lives in Des Moines.

“If I’m a Washington insider, it’s because we went to Washington to serve Iowans. That’s why we left,” he said. “I think those experiences I had add to my ability to be governor of this state.”

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McGuire, a physician from Des Moines, said she and state party workers did everything in their power to elect Democrats in 2016, but were overcome by a national wave for Republicans.

“I’m proud of what we did,” McGuire said. “When a national wave comes over the top, there’s not much you can do about it.”

Wilburn, a former Iowa City mayor, said his lack of fundraising should not concern Democrats because the party will unify after the primary and support the candidate. He has raised just $13,718 during the campaign, according to state records.

Reynolds, on the other hand, has more than $4 million in the bank.

“There have been Democrats that have been out-funded in the past,” Wilburn said. “And we’ve had winners and losers.”

Earlier Wednesday, Reynolds signed into law a package of state tax cuts that, pending a defined rate of economic growth, are projected to cut Iowa individual and business taxes by nearly $3 billion over six years and reduce state revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Glasson said she would like to redraw the state’s tax structure to make it “progressive and not regressive” and “so the wealthy are paying their fair share.” She also broached the idea of legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana.

Hubbell said he would have vetoed the bill that Reynolds signed into law, but now that it’s on the books he would not advocate a complete repeal. He said he would keep some elements, like taxing online businesses to level the playing field with brick-and-mortar stores, eliminating federal deductibility and having a panel review the state’s myriad tax credit and incentive programs.

Each of the candidates has supported returning to state management Iowa’s $5 billion Medicaid program. Former Gov. Terry Branstad shifted management to private companies, and Reynolds has supported the controversial move.

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The candidates gave various timelines for such a transition. Norris said it could take up to two years to rehire state staff and ensure the safe transition of patients. Hubbell said he expected the transition could be completed within a year of taking office.

l Comments: (515) 422-9061; erin.murphy@lee.net

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