Culver-Branstad final debate discussion thread

Share any reactions to today’s debate between Democratic Governor Chet Culver and Republican Terry Branstad in this thread. My thoughts are after the jump.

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UPDATE: Watched the whole debate on Iowa Public television, which has posted the video on the web. To my mind, this was Culver’s strongest performance, and he probably helped himself with people who once supported him but weren’t sold on a second term yet. Branstad didn’t make any huge mistakes, but he evaded several questions and came across as hesitant at times. I doubt any Branstad supporters would change their minds based on the debate, though. More specific comments about each candidate’s strong and weak moments are at the bottom of this post.

A power outage prevented me from live-blogging the debate, but I picked up the coverage when the electricity came back on around 12:45.

The question relates to whether Iowa should always accept the lowest bid for a construction project or whether in-state firms should have a preference.

Branstad bashed Culver for allowing an Illinois firm to win the bid for building a new prison in southeast Iowa.

Culver defended the process for selecting that contractor and criticized Branstad for opposing the project and then trying to tell them who should be hired for the project.

Next question: what if you have to cut the budget by 10 percent again?

Culver says they just did a big government reorganization that will save taxpayers $250 million in the current budget year.

Branstad says results speak for themselves, the status quo not good enough for Iowans. He says Culver doesn’t conduct budget hearings and doesn’t know the details. He promises to reduce the cost and size of government by at least 15 percent [again he gives no specifics].

Culver says Branstad’s been making that promise for 8 months and with 2 weeks left in the campaign, we’re still wondering how he’s going to cut $800 million (15% of budget). Says one of the few things Branstad has said he’ll do is cut preschool.

Branstad says he does want to provide preschool but on a needs basis.

Next question: how would you reinvent yourself?

Culver says he’s proud that coming out of floods and worst recession since Great Depression, Iowa is the third-best managed state in the country. Budget today is balanced, Branstad’s not telling the truth. In fact, budget today is smaller than the 1999 budget.

Branstad: I’ve already reinvented myself several times; talks about his experience at Des Moines University, wants to take that experience back into state government.

Next question: what caricature bothers him?

Culver: I’m a proud father, teacher, coach, I am hard-working and honest and committed; Dean Borg wants to know what caricature bothers him, Culver says I can’t control all of that.

Branstad: Duffy always makes me look really short. Says he’s been nominated for award because of his mustache, so that doesn’t bother him.

Closing statement: Culver thanks hosts of debate, also thanks Branstad for agreeing to three debates, which doesn’t always happen. We have choice: go forward or turn back. We don’t want to turn back the clock permanently, I ask respectfully for your vote.

Branstad thanks debate hosts, I love Iowa, lifelong Iowan, grew up in Winnebag Ambitious goals: 200,000 more jobs, raising family incomes by 25 percent, leadership in education, reducing size of state budget. Asks for vote.

The video hasn’t been posted yet at Iowa Public Television, but I’ll update later once I’ve had a chance to see the whole video. I can tell from the Des Moines Register bloggers’ livestream that Branstad had no specific answers on where he would cut the state budget.

It bothers me that Branstad keeps blaming Culver for education cuts. Budget cuts and teacher layoffs would have been far worse without the federal stimulus funds Branstad says Democrats shouldn’t have been used to supplement the state budget. When he keeps saying he will “enforce” the 99 percent spending limitation, he means he won’t spend additional federal fiscal aid to support education and Medicaid.

UPDATE: I see from Todd Dorman’s liveblog that the candidates were asked a bunch of yes or no questions. Both said they are against medical marijuana and changing Iowa’s redistricting process. Both said they support banning smoking in casinos, which received an exemption in the public smoking ban adopted in 2008. On local government tax flexibility, Culver said yes, Branstad no. On whether Iowa should have a film office, Branstad said yes, Culver No. Branstad refused to say whether he supports retaining the Iowa Supreme Court judges; Culver said he’s voting yes. Branstad again said he would like to change Iowa’s judicial nominating procedures; Culver said no. Branstad also refused to say whether he’s voting for the Iowa Water and Land Legacy constitutional amendment; Culver is voting yes.

LATER UPDATE: Strong moments for Culver included: citing many specific accomplishments; great answer on rural development (explaining how infrastructure is needed, including bridges, roads, water and sewer projects); good defense of I-JOBS as short-term job creation and long-term economic development; pointing out that Branstad’s call for corporate tax cuts would benefit out of state companies like Wal-Mart; good answer on marriage equality question; emphasis on renewable energy, benefits of Power Fund; pointing out that Branstad still won’t tell us how he’ll cut the budget by 15 percent; saying governors have to lead when answering questions about how he’ll vote on ballot measures, judicial retentions.

Weak moments for Culver: sometimes a bit too many lists when answering questions; didn’t answer a couple of questions (even if some were stupid like what caricature about yourself really bugs you).

Strong moments for Branstad: Skipping rebuttal when question didn’t play to a strong issue for him; repeating line, “you’ve tried, but the results speak for themselves”; better answer on caricature question (a few jokes never hurt); successfully dodging question on Power Fund by saying he would review all such programs to see if they are cost-effective. That sounds a lot more reasonable than his call in the spring to eliminate the Power Fund.

I learned one new thing about Branstad that I liked during the debate: he wants to expand the Main Street program. Culver didn’t mention it, but he doubled Main Street funding his first year in office. Tom Vilsack never made that program a priority.

Weak moments for Branstad: not answering a few questions, most notably his stands on the ballot measures and how he would cut the budget by 10 percent; stumbling over answer to lesbian couple’s question about why he wants to invalidate their marriage; getting it wrong on why the Marshalltown coal-fired power plant was shelved.

A lot of things Branstad said made me mad, but probably helped him with his base (e.g. saying churches shouldn’t lose tax-exempt status even if clergy tell people how to vote).  

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  • Budgeting

    I don’t see why Branstad would chicken out on the water issue, just say No, it only helps his street cred with the base.  I guess his respect for Governor Ray may stop him from answering the judge question honestly.  

    Chet did well, but he’s not fierce enough at firing back at Branstad on these budget matters.  Explain why you do things the way you do Chet, don’t just hide in a corner.  I asked Chet back in 2006 what specifically was he going to do different budget wise that would be different in comparison to Mike Blouin at a stop in Fort Madison.  He just talked about streamlining.  He needs to be fierce and exact, sometimes you have to talk over people’s heads and use some of the inside baseball terms, but he’s too afraid to do that it seems.