Iowa Democratic gubernatorial candidates come down on labor's side at event

Gubernatorial hopefuls pledge to restore collective bargaining

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ALTOONA — Democrats running for governor told union leaders and rank-and-file members that restoring public employee bargaining rights would be a priority for them if elected.

Some of those seeking the endorsement of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO promised to take executive action to roll back changes made by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year.

John Norris warned that it likely will take a change in control of the Legislature to restore bargaining rights to where they were before.

“This is not a 16-month campaign for governor (but) a three-year campaign to get back control of our state,” he told about 170 delegates at the Iowa Fed’s annual convention Thursday in Altoona.

Overall, the 10-candidate event was civil, with no one launching personal attacks, other than Coralville nurse and union president Cathy Glasson calling former Gov. Terry Branstad and current Gov. Kim Reynolds “goofballs.”

All candidates for governor were invited. Reynolds and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, likely contenders for the Republican nomination, had scheduling conflicts.

Highlights of the candidates’ remarks included:

• Nate Boulton, 37, a state senator from Des Moines, has sold himself as the labor candidate and received a standing ovation upon entering the ballroom. He noted he has been endorsed by 23 labor organizations. He said that while there is a difference between having a Democrat and Republican as governor, there also is a difference between having “any Democrat and a labor Democrat.”

• Glasson, 58, a nurse and union president from Coralville, called for Iowans to “rise up for a big, bold progressive” agenda that included raising Iowa’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and making it easier for workers to join unions and improve workplace standards.

• Retired businessman and state agency director Fred Hubbell, 66, emphasized his experience in the private sector and state government and said “Iowa needs a governor with experience making decisions.” He said he supports paying more than prevailing wages on state contracts, and he proposed moving state jobs out of Des Moines to communities around the state where jobs are needed. “Why not? Government doesn’t all need to be in Des Moines.”

• Andy McGuire, former Democratic state party chairwoman, focused on changes to the state’s workers’ compensation law, saying the government should not come between a worker and his or her doctor. Like other candidates, McGuire, 61, said Democrats’ economic message must include rural Iowa, and she criticized the current administration’s approval of tax incentives for large corporations.

• Norris, 58, said his campaign is about investing in people and the infrastructure needed to improve economic opportunity. That happens only if Democrats win “and win back votes from rural Iowa,” the former aide to Sen. Tom Harkin and Gov. Tom Vilsack said.

• Jon Neiderbach, a former state employee and Des Moines school board member, called tax breaks for huge corporations “very wrong” when other needs are going unfunded by the state. Neiderbach, 60, called for modernizing K-12 curriculum and delivery methods for education and opposed tuition hikes proposed at state universities.

• Ross Wilburn, 52, a diversity officer and associate director of a community economic development program at Iowa State University, called for livable wages and benefits for workers, safe workplaces, equal pay for equal work and improving water quality.

• Jake Porter, 29, a business consultant and Libertarian, said he sees the GOP using the state budget as a weapon to pay for corporate welfare, and then cutting “domestic violence shelters, mental health facilities and they cost local government when they do this.”

• Steven Ray, 46, of Boone, a Republican, broke with his party and said he does not support removing collective bargaining rights for public workers. “I’ve seen how it has affected our public employees since that (new law) came through,” said Ray, who’s worked in public safety for nearly three decades. “They felt like their state government let them down.”

• Brent Roske, 42, an independent, said “government doesn’t work as well as it should.” The quickest way to get back on track, he said, would be to put policy over process and elect an independent.

Rod Boshart, Erin Murphy and James Q. Lynch contributed to this story

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