CEDAR FALLS — In their first head-to-head meeting, Democrat Abby Finkenauer and Republican Rod Blum answered questions Friday night about their own political missteps and whether they thought the Nov. 6 midterm election was a referendum on President Donald Trump.
It was the first of two debates planned between the two, who are seeking to represent northeast Iowa’s 1st District, which includes Linn County, in the U.S. House.
The campaign, to date, has mostly played out through television ads.
But for an hour Friday night, Blum, 63, the Republican incumbent from Dubuque, and Finkenauer, 29, a state representative from Dubuque, fielded questions from KWWL news anchors Ron Steele and Abby Turpin.
Finkenauer was questioned about failing to disclose — as required by state House ethics rules — that she had been hired in September 2015 as state director for Make It Work and continued in that position during the 2016 legislative session. The national nonprofit advocates for economic policies such as equal pay, affordable day care, paid family leave and earned sick days.
“I had a public job that I actually reported in the newspaper when we got it,” she said. “I’m proud of that job. It was for a nonprofit. We fought for equal pay, family leave, affordable child care, working family issues, and I got to tell you, the second I found there was a new way or new requirement to report the employment to the Iowa House, I did so.”
Finkenauer went on to attack Blum’s record.
The House Ethics Committee has taken up an inquiry into whether Blum failed to disclose his involvement in Tin Moon, a Dubuque firm that claims it can bury derogatory information about businesses in online search results. The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the case to the committee in mid-July, with a decision expected before Dec. 17.
“This is a $1,000 company, it started with $700 investment from myself, and $300 from another partner, that has resulted in $2 million of attack ads,” Blum said. “I forgot to list on my disclosure report that I was on the board of directors of a $700 company. I apologized and I self-reported as soon as I found out about it.”
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Finkenauer then asked Blum about why his congressional chief of staff made a fake testimonial about working for one of his companies.
“I work probably about 70 to 80 hours a week being a congressional representative,” Blum said. “I don’t have time to run the companies that I’m involved in, and I own a few companies.”
The candidates also answered questions about whether they support tariffs and the new NAFTA deal called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“The NAFTA deal is a good deal, the new NAFTA deal,” Blum said. The United States was being taken advantage of in the old NAFTA, he said, and Trump “broke Canada, and we will break China.”
Finkenauer was less than enthusiastic about the patience required before any good in the plan hits Iowa. She said farmers are concerned about tariffs resulting from the trade war with China.
Blum disagreed, saying he believes Iowa will see a 20-year period of prosperity for farmers starting next year.
The crowd was vocal throughout the debate, with Steele asking the crowd several times to remain silent.
Before the debate, supporters for both the candidates held rallies outside the University of Northern Iowa’s Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, site of the debate, shouting slogans and chants at each other while holding signs endorsing their candidate.
The second debate will be Oct. 16, hosted by KGAN and KXEL, at the KGAN studio in Cedar Rapids.