DAVENPORT — The top two candidates for Iowa’s chief executive post shared starkly different views of the state’s trajectory Sunday during their third and final televised debate, with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds touting the state’s economic condition as Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell sought to portray a need for new leadership.
The opponents met for the last head-to-head match-up before the Nov. 6 election. As they answered questions from reporters, the candidates attacked each other on the different approaches they would take to govern the state if elected next month.
In one exchange, the governor warned Hubbell would bring “the economy to a screeching halt” if he takes office. In another, Hubbell accused Reynolds of doing too little to address a “toxic” environment of sexual harassment in state government.
The amped-up rhetoric from both sides underscored a close race heating up as Election Day draws near. Pollsters have rated the contest as a tossup: A survey conducted last month by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom had Hubbell leading Reynolds by 2 percentage points, a figure within the poll’s margin of error. Libertarian candidate Jake Porter, who has not been allowed to participate in any of the televised debates, came in at 7 percent.
Reynolds, who previously served as Iowa’s lieutenant governor, is seeking election to the office for the first time. She was appointed governor in May 2017 after Gov. Terry Branstad became U.S. ambassador to China. Hubbell, a wealthy former CEO of the Younkers retail chain and member of a prominent Iowa family, has never held elected office.
The debate focused on policy issues that have dominated the conversation from both sides this election cycle: health care, abortion, taxes and funding for public education.
With majority Republican control in the Senate and House, Iowa lawmakers passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country along partisan lines, a measure Reynolds signed into law this May. The policy, dubbed the Fetal Heartbeat Law because it criminalizes abortions after about six weeks into pregnancy, is under review in federal court after abortion rights advocacy groups filed suit to keep it from being enacted.
Reynolds pointed to her personal beliefs on abortion in her reasoning for signing the legislation, saying she will “never stop fighting on behalf of the unborn.” She also recognized there are “passionate and strong” feelings on both sides of the issue, but sought to paint Hubbell’s position on abortion as “extreme.”
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Hubbell, who previously sat on a board of directors for the state’s Planned Parenthood organization, compared Reynolds’ approval of the law to what he describes as a pattern of “reducing access to health care.”
“I’ve worked a lot of my life trying to help all Iowans get access to quality health care and this governor just keeps reducing access to health care” through legislation like the Fetal Heartbeat law, Hubbell said.
Iowa lawmakers this year approved a massive tax cut that reduces the state’s revenues by an estimated $2 billion over the course of six years, a measure Democrats labeled as financially irresponsible and a handout to corporations and the wealthy.
Reynolds, who approved the plan in May and has championed the reform on the campaign trail, said the cuts are contributing to a growing economy and increases in wages, and allow everyday Iowans to keep more of their paychecks. She also challenged Hubbell’s position on the cuts, saying he “wants to raise taxes on hardworking Iowans and families and small businesses.”
For his part, Hubbell downplayed the governor’s contention that the tax cuts will assist the average family, saying the plan put “all the money into the hands of big corporations and wealthy Iowans.”
“They don’t need the tax cuts. They already have the lowest tax rates in our state. It’s not fair,” Hubbell said, adding that he would not raise taxes for low- and middle-income Iowans and would instead stop “wasteful corporate tax giveaways.”
A central conversation piece during the governor’s race has been the state’s privately managed system for Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for low-income and disabled adults. The state shifted administrative control of the program to private companies during Branstad’s administration, and the program has received heightened scrutiny following reports questioning its quality of care and cost.
Hubbell has repeatedly gone after Reynolds over Medicaid, frequently describing it as a “disaster.” Reynolds, meanwhile, has defended the shift. She has acknowledged problems in the new system exist, but says the previous state-run program was financially unsustainable.
Asked how he would pay for increases to state mental health resources, Hubbell said Iowa needs “stop putting people into jails” to save money and “be smarter about what we’re doing.”
To the same point, Reynolds referenced recent legislation that aims to reform the state’s mental health care, saying “we are moving in the right direction” to address the need.
Funding for schools, safety
Responding to a question about school safety, Hubbell criticized Reynolds over the level of funding provided to K-12 schools generally, saying an increase in the state’s budget would allow more experienced school personnel to be on hand at schools across the state.
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“We need to properly fund our schools, and if we properly fund our schools we could have counselors in every school building as well as nurses and people who have mental health experience,” Hubbell said.
Reynolds countered that the state is “properly funding our schools” and said lawmakers would “continue to do better” under her leadership.
“We’re working hard to grow the economy; we’re seeing incomes rise, and with a growing economy we’re going to be able to continue to invest in our young people,” the governor said.
The debate was televised live from KWQC in Davenport. Quad-City Times was a co-sponsor.