Staff Columnist

Who's afraid of who in Iowa governor debate?

Four candidates are on the ballot in gubernatorial race. They could easily fit on a stage together.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State Address to a joint assembly of the of state legislature at th
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State Address to a joint assembly of the of state legislature at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Candidates for governor all say they’re looking forward to debating the issues before this November’s election. But when, where — and even with whom — still is up for debate.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell both announced this week three debate invitations they accepted. However, only one of the dates and locations listed matched up. Hubbell complicated the situation further when he made a Twitter post later the same day saying he’s challenging both Reynolds and Libertarian candidate Jake Porter to three debates. Reynolds’ statements made no reference to Porter.

Porter has accused Reynolds of “colluding with the media” to exclude him from the debates. He shared a letter from KTIV, inviting his campaign to participate in “a televised debate involving all three gubernatorial candidates.” However, the station posted a news story this week announcing the event with only Reynolds and Hubbell.

A Reynolds campaign spokesman declined to clarify directly whether Reynolds is willing to debate Porter, saying only that debate hosts set the criteria for participation. It was a convenient cop out.

The question of whether to include third-party candidates in debates was recharged when the Libertarian Party earned major party status following Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s performance in the 2016 general election in Iowa. Porter has little chance of becoming governor, but he represents a real political party under Iowa law. He says he stands ready to participate in any and all debates, but told me this week he’s not sure whether he’ll be invited.

“We’re not for certain what will happen with any of these. We don’t know if they will have criteria. … We were initially invited to KTIV, and now we don’t know where that stands,” Porter said.

Conventional wisdom holds Libertarian candidates will siphon more votes from Republicans than from Democrats. Libertarianism has historically been seen as a right-wing ideology in American politics,. The few small-L libertarians in elected office are Republicans.


It’s reasonable to assume that calculation plays into the Reynolds campaign’s debate maneuvering. But don’t be fooled into thinking Hubbell deserves credit for standing up for third-party candidates in general. He has said nothing about the fourth candidate in the race, independent Gary Siegwarth, who is running a campaign focused on protecting natural resources, potentially drawing supporters who typically support Democrats.

If a candidate has made the effort to get on the ballot, no small feat for a statewide no-party candidate, they deserve to be heard in the debates. Even before the Libertarians earned official party status in 2016, Libertarian candidates including Porter made the case they deserved to be included in debates and forums. In a show of political integrity, Porter told me this week Siegwarth should be allowed to participate in the debates as well.

Iowans have to wonder what Hubbell and Reynolds — who have more name recognition and money than their alternative competitors could dream of — are afraid of. Good ideas?

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