IA-Gov: Final Branstad-Hatch debate liveblog and discussion thread

Governor Terry Branstad and State Senator Jack Hatch debate for the third and final time tonight, starting at 7:00 pm. The candidates are meeting in Sioux City’s Orpheum Theater. KTIV will live-stream here. I’ll be liveblogging after the jump and will also update later with reaction to the debate. C-SPAN does not appear to be televising.

Any comments about the governor’s race are welcome in this thread. It’s been a discouraging couple of months for Democrats, as Hatch had to pull his television advertising in late September for lack of funds. Meanwhile, Branstad’s campaign has been advertising statewide almost continuously since early June. For a lot of this year, polling indicated that there was an opening for a challenger to make a case against Branstad. The governor’s re-elect numbers were below 50 percent in many polls, despite decent approval ratings–indicating that quite a few Iowans who liked Branstad questioned whether he deserved another term. I liked Hatch’s commercial that hammered on the theme of Branstad being around too long, but he wasn’t able to follow up with other spots to raise his profile and highlight the incumbent’s failures. Most recent polls have shown Branstad ahead of Hatch by 15 to 20 points. I wish money were not so influential in our campaigns and elections.  

Tonight’s moderators are Matt Breen of KTIV in Sioux City and Ron Steele of KWWL in Waterloo. Sioux City Journal Editor Chris Coates and Charlie Stone of KSCJ will be the panelists.

Opening statements: Hatch hammering on Branstad’s broken promises. We can’t afford four more years and his promises kept or broken. A Hatch-Vernon administration will expand preschool and will have economic policy focused on local issues

Branstad: Four years ago I was brought in to lead Iowa’s comeback. Unemployment was at the highest level in 25 years. Mentions Debi Durham of Sioux City, whom he picked to run economic development agency. She’s doing a great job. Iowa’s unemployment rate has dropped by nearly 30 percent. Our budget is balanced. We’ve restored money previous administration took from cash reserve.

[my live-stream went out on my computer, will have to fill in gap later]

Q to Branstad: South Dakota has no corporate or individual income tax. What can you do to level the playing field?

Branstad says Debi Durham has competed successfully with SD for 15 years in Sioux City. He put her in charge of whole state, she’s doing a great job. Touts commercial property tax reduction that passed in 2013 for helping business.

Q to Hatch: Middle-class working families are important to people of this state. We need to focus on that rather than reducing corporate taxes and CEO taxes. My plan would lower taxes for 95% of people in this state. We’ve done a lot for corporations but not very much for people who work for them. That will be the focus of my administration.

Branstad says State Senator Rick Bertrand of Sioux City is in audience. He helped do the commercial property tax cut. It’s making a real difference. A lot of small businesses have benefited.

Hatch says he was an original author of the property tax reform. Governor’s first proposal would have tilted more to big corporations. Senate insisted on measures to help small businesses and middle class.

Follow-up Q to Hatch: He says he voted against Branstad’s original bill because it didn’t go far enough, didn’t help small businesses enough. That’s why in 2013 he joined colleagues in passing the property tax reform.

Q to Branstad: can more be done besides that bill? Absolutely. This is just the first year. This will save Iowans $4.4 billion over next decade. Will make Iowa more competitive with other states. We passed it with bipartisan support.

Q to Hatch: How should we pay for transportation infrastructure–fuel tax increase? Hatch says we reviewed this thoroughly, most of us agree we need to raise gas tax. Governor’s own commission recommended this. The problem was no leadership, so senators didn’t want to pass it. Hatch wants to raise gas tax 2 cents a year for five years. State of bridges is real threat–ambulances and fire trucks lose precious minutes having to go around structurally deficient bridges.

Branstad doesn’t think the old-fashioned gas tax is the way. Maybe combination of different user fees. Praises Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino’s record. He will work on bipartisan basis with legislature to solve this problem. We will do it again in 2015.

Hatch says Branstad gave same proposal in 2011, 2012. This is a promise broken. You can’t collect enough fees. He’s broken his promises. You ask for a formal proposal and he says next year.

Branstad says he makes outlandish accusations but people of NW Iowa know they can count on me. I’ve said I want to work on bipartisan basis.

Next Q is about completion of Highway 20 in NW Iowa. It hasn’t happened. What is the problem? How do you make it happen?

Branstad says we’ve been working on it for a long time, only 45 miles left. We need to get it done. I want to accomplish that quickly. Names someone from Sioux City on a transportation commission. We need to make that a priority. Maybe Steve King can get help from federal level.

Hatch says there’s no better example of Gov Branstad’s broken promises than Highway 20. I don’t know what he can do that he hasn’t done in four years. This takes leadership. Iowans need reliable road system throughout state. Says Branstad has had a problem before with wishful thinking, no follow-up. We need to go out and have a conversation with Iowans about the gas tax.

Follow-up to Branstad: what can you do? Mentions combination of fees and taxes–fees for heavier loads, maybe also excise tax or sales tax. Problem with gas tax hike is that people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, so gas tax doesn’t provide as much revenue anymore. You can’t blame them for that.

Hatch: You have to make a commitment that you’ll have a major funding source to allow the conversation to proceed. 20% of gas tax comes from out of state. Whereas a sales tax is regressive, mainly hits Iowans. Hatch isn’t against combination of fees but the gas tax will be the major part.

Q to Hatch, say something you admire about your opponent: In Branstad’s first administration he had good people working for him. We got a lot done during his first 16 years working with Democratic legislature. Today is different. We both had mustaches.

Branstad admires that Hatch is willing to put his name on the ballot, go to the people of Iowa. [very short answer]

Hatch adds that one thing Dems and Repubs have in common is we all put our names on the ballot, understand we have to do people’s business. That’s the attitude that we will take in next administration. Respect that we all love this state and want to do best we can.

Branstad agrees on that. When election is over, we all need to work together. Most of the time he’s been governor, Dems have controlled legislature. We’ve gotten more done with a split legislature than Congress has.

Next Q is about Common Core education curriculum [my internet connection went out, will have to fill in gap later]

Hatch: we have to start with early childhood education. I’ve proposed universal pre-K, which Branstad’s team tried to cut. This is a difference between governor and myself. He came in looking to cut opportunities for young children. Cut $47 million from early childhood education in 2011.

Q to Hatch on Chris Godfrey, Iowa’s Workers Comp Commissioner. Iowa was ranked number 1 in country for its workers’ comp system. Godfrey has filed lawsuit against governor and five other people. You say governor has played politics to delay his deposition in this case. What are you saying? Hatch says two positions have 6-year terms: insurance commissioner and workers’ comp commissioner. That’s to keep them out of partisan politics. Godfrey was doing a good job, was in the middle of his term, workers’ comp costs were going down. He sued, and it’s been in court for two years. He’s trying to delay this case.

Governor, why the delay if the charges were false? I treat everyone with dignity. I didn’t know about him being a gay person. I heard a lot of complaints about him when I was campaigning. Workers comp system in Iowa used to be best, but not anymore. Costs have been going up. I asked him to resign, he didn’t do that. I reduced his salary based on his performance. That was within my rights. I can’t comment on the lawsuit but we have reached agreement on dates for depositions.

Q to Hatch: why didn’t Iowa Senate pass the law to release employment information so we could look at Godfrey’s job performance? Hatch would be supportive of a law like that as long as it didn’t violate collective bargaining contracts.

Branstad says he heard from employers all over the state that workers comp commissioner was unfair to employers. My attorney has said I should not comment on the lawsuit. I am committed to open, honest government. I want to see personnel files opened. I support it, House passed it, Senate Democrats killed it.

Hatch says we have to realize that when governor says he asked Godfrey to accept lower salary because he wasn’t doing a good job, the reality was the opposite. Costs were going down in Iowa. Godfrey was doing a good job, just left for federal position as chief judge in this area. Iowa lost a good public servant. This was an ugly case. Partisanship has to be avoided at all costs.

Branstad repeats that Godfrey wasn’t being fair to employers. He heard that from many people. We have interim commissioner now and are looking for a replacement.

Q to Branstad: How important are mega-sites to economic development, and how can we make it happen in Woodbury County? It’s very important, when you have a big project employers want to know you can make it happen. Again mentions Debi Durham’s tremendous record on economic development. She wants to add this concept to our toolchest, we’re looking forward to having mega-sites. We’re excited about great work being done.

Hatch says he’s proud to have Monica Vernon as running mate.Local knowledge is so important to our economy. Trust local leaders and stakeholders. They can pull together the package. They don’t need approval from Des Moines. Wants to divide Iowa into four economic development regions, empower the local communities. Think of the possibilities if you didn’t have to wait for state approval, had regional economic development authority to back you up.

Branstad says this is a partnership. Durham came from local level. Mentions various projects going on in Sioux City area. Doesn’t support dividing pot into four pieces and having different parts of the state competing with each other.

Hatch says Debi Durham might be good for Woodbury Co but maybe not for Linn Co, Dubuque, etc. My lieutenant governor candidate and I are both entrepreneurs. What’s wrong with competition?

Q to Hatch: Who might think you are beholden to them, and who do you think you are beholden to? Hatch says he’s beholden to the people of Iowa. 95 percent of contributions came from individuals. Wasn’t able to raise money for 5 years like the incumbent. Difficult to run against an incumbent governor. I’m not beholden to anyone. The people are contributing to my campaign. Little guy, middle-class guy. I’m not beholden to large corporations or PACs, they’re not contributing to my campaign.

Branstad says he’s not beholden to anyone but people of Iowa. He came bak and beat an incumbent gov because he wasn’t doing a good job. Unemployment was highest in 25 years. He’s leading a comeback. Goes back to Debi Durham, she’s doing a great job. He’s proud that his campaign set all-time record for individual contributions in state of Iowa.

Follow-up Q: what about groups that have endorsed you? Hatch says groups that endorsed him liked his policies. He wants to correct what governor says. He says he inherited a mess. He was left with a balanced budget, $400 mil in cash reserves, AAA bond rating, Iowa third-best managed state.

Branstad is proud of endorsements. Mentions Bill Knapp, lifelong Democrat who is supporting his campaign this time. knows I love state of Iowa, likes our property tax reform, skills training.

Q to Branstad: How many jobs have you created, and what’s average salary? 150,900 jobs created in three and a half years. Previous administration lost jobs. We’re not done yet, we have more to do. I have set ambitious goals, strong team on econ devel, led by Debi Durham. We want to reduce tax and regulatory  environment.

Sen Hatch, how do you create jobs? Hatch says every state was losing jobs during Great Recession. We’re in a national recovery, and Iowa has always been strong. We had one of the lowest unemployment rates when he came back in. He has not created 155,000 jobs. He has created less than 80,000 jobs. Even a fifth-grader knows that you have to subtract jobs that were lost.

Branstad response: pass and go on to other things. The people of Iowa know the difference. [he never answered the question about the average salary of new jobs created during his administration]

Hatch says Iowans don’t know this. He’s been going all over state saying Iowa had $900 mil debt when he came in. That’s not true, he’s saying it on tv.

Q to Hatch about minimum wage. He says it should be increased. No family should be living in poverty and working 40 hours a week. We can raise it to $10.10 and help hundreds of thousands of Iowans. We understand that we have many dual-income families working 50-60 hours a week. Supporting a minimum wage hike will help those families provide for them. Will lift many out of poverty.

Branstad points out that Hatch served on committee that killed minimum wage hike in Iowa Senate this year. He has signed a minimum wage increase before, he reserves judgment on issue to see what bill looks like. Talks about workforce training, skills development, STEM education. Focus needs to be on good-paying jobs. Debi Durham has led that effort. Iowa is fifth-highest state in terms of income growth.

Hatch: unfortunate that governor won’t answer Q of why he won’t raise minimum wage. The bill got out of committee. It didn’t pass on floor because Senate Rs and governor didn’t support it.

Branstad rebuttal: Our focus is on bringing good-paying jobs to Iowa. Senate controlled by the senator’s party didn’t pass this bill. They didn’t pass it. They passed other bills that House didn’t take up. That speaks to the priorities.

Closing statements: Hatch gets two minutes. Thanks debate hosts. This election isn’t about governor’s past, should be about Iowa’s future. I want to represent all Iowans, not just powerful and well-connected. My whole career I’ve worked for people, not powerful. Organized first Hunger Hike in state of Iowa. I served 22 years in legislature. Passed bills on water quality, education, mental health reform, we have more children covered by health insurance than any other state. I’m fighting for everyday Iowans. I want every child to have access to preschool. I want middle-class tax cut for 93 percent of families. I want bottom-up economic development, local communities. Education is most important aspect of state govt, I want to fully fund it. Monica Vernon and I want Iowa to have a fresh start and are asking for your vote.

Branstad also thanks debate hosts. He is proud to serve as governor. Grew up poor on a farm, learned hard work at young age, got great Iowa education. Has a great team, mentions Lt. Gov Kim Reynolds, Debi Durham. We go to every county every year. People of Iowa see state is going in right direction while country is going in wrong direction. We’re not done yet, we have more to do, good jobs, grow economy, make Iowa the healthiest state.

[internet connection went out, so I missed the end of the closing statement. Will fill in gaps later]

I have to agree with Des Moines Register politics editor Carol Hunter that Debi Durham was a winner tonight. Branstad mentioned her way more often than he mentioned Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. By the way, although Branstad has said he is determined to have Reynolds succeed him as governor, his campaign did not agree to let her debate Hatch’s running mate, Monica Vernon.

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