Televised debates mostly attract viewers who already support one of the candidates. But Iowans who are on the fence between Governor Kim Reynolds and Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell could learn a lot from watching their October 17 debate.
Matt Breen of KTIV in Sioux City, Tom Overlie of KTTC in Rochester, Minnesota, and Ron Steele of KWWL in Waterloo asked the candidates tightly focused questions about topics affecting large numbers of Iowans. The followed up when necessary, if candidates evaded the question. They kept control of the clock and did not allow Reynolds to grab more time or the last word when it wasn't her turn, as repeatedly happened during the first debate.
No single moment or exchange stood out.
Neither candidate said anything likely to alter the dynamic of this race or change minds of voters who were already leaning toward Reynolds or Hubbell. Both drove home their key points several times. (Reynolds: Iowa's moving in the right direction and Hubbell would take us backwards. Hubbell: "We need to stop throwing money out the window on wasteful corporate tax giveaways that prevent us from investing in our people.")
While some answers were misleading or evasive, I didn't hear any gaffes. I enclose below my detailed notes paraphrasing the opening statements, responses to each question, and closing statements.
The contrast was clear.
If you think things are going well, Reynolds is the one to keep Iowa government on the same track. If you think Iowa can do better, Hubbell will change state government's priorities. Specifically:
Hubbell improved compared to the first debate.
With years more experience delivering scripted answers, Reynolds seemed better prepared for the first debate than her opponent. Hubbell stepped up his game and spoke more clearly last night. Both candidates occasionally ran out of time, especially during rebuttals that were limited to 30 seconds.
Hubbell had a better demeanor than Reynolds.
Hubbell has a measured, calm speaking style, while Reynolds tends to project more energy. Last night she overdid it at times, coming across as sarcastic or sneering.
As during the first debate, she called her opponent "Fred" rather than using his surname, which has positive connotations for many Iowans. Her tactic wasn't respectful, but if Hubbell was annoyed, he didn't show it. He continued to refer to his opponent as "the governor" or "Governor Reynolds," even when sharply criticizing her record and policies. Republicans looking for an angle to accuse him of sexism were left with nothing.
A few other points of interest:
Libertarian candidate for governor Jake Porter deserved to be included in last night's debate, but he was poorly treated by KTIV and KWWL. KTIV rescinded an invitation to Porter after Reynolds refused to participate in any debate including him. He spoke to the Sioux City Journal about priorities he would have emphasized on the stage: reducing corporate welfare and enacting criminal justice reform. KTIV interviewed Porter before the debate, and you can watch that segment here.
FiveThirtyEight.com released its forecast for governor's races on October 17, giving Hubbell a 6 in 7 chance of winning what they call a "likely Democratic" contest. The site projects that the Democrat will receive 52.4 percent of the vote to 44.4 percent for Reynolds. I don't know any Iowa Democrat who is that confident about Hubbell winning. I could make a case for calling this race lean Democratic, but to me it feels like a toss-up, and I would be surprised if either candidate won by as much as 8 points.
NBC's Vaughn Hillyard reported from Jasper County on Trump voters now leaning toward Hubbell. The clip is worth your time.
Notes on the October 17 debate between Governor Kim Reynolds and Fred Hubbell in Sioux City
My feed kept cutting out during the debate, so I took these notes while watching the replay later.
Hubbell opening statement: 5th generation Iowan. I love our state and I'm running for governor to change its direction by putting people first. For me it's about all Iowans. Briefly summarizes story of Tucker, a quadriplegic who lost in-home care and
now lives in a nursing home. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: Tucker did have to sell his home and move into assisted living, but he eventually got out of the nursing home and moved closer to family.] We can do better for Jolene, a teacher who just wants her students to reach her full potential. This administration's cuts to education put that in jeopardy. It's about the 40 percent of Iowans who work hard but struggle to make ends meet because wages are low and incomes are flat. Let's work together to put people first. Governor Reynolds promises more of the same, but our sons and daughters and friends and neighbors all want change. Finishes within time limit.
Reynolds opening statement: Thanks debate hosts, shout out to Morningside College Mustangs. "Fred, I look forward to the discussion this evening." Incredible honor to serve as governor of this great state. 5th generation Iowan, and I chose to live, work and raise a family in the state I love. if you work hard and dream big anything is possible. My story is the Iowa story, reflective of opportunities that exist within our borders. Small-town girl, daughter of factory worker, farmer, stay at home mom. Someone who waited tables and checked groceries and who never gave up on her dream of getting a college degree is now governor of our great state. I understand the challenges that everyday Iowans face, because I faced them myself. When Kevin and I were raising our three girls, he worked days and I worked nights and weekends to make ends meet. That's why as governor I have led on cutting taxes for working families while maintaining priorities of education, health care, public safety. Working hard to grow jobs and wages and expand opportunities to every corner of the state. It's why we're investing in education. She runs out of time.
First Q from Matt Breen is to Reynolds on tax cuts: she has said "we're not done" and has promised corporate tax cuts. What is her plan on spending? She is proud to say economy is growing, budget is balanced and we have $127 million surplus. We're focused every day on helping Iowans keep their dollars, claims almost every Iowan will see taxes go down. We are going to look at tax credits holistically and we are going to work to bring down corporate tax rates to be competitive. While we do that we are going to maintain our priorities of education, health care, public safety. We have growing economy, incomes rising, and it's a reflection of cutting taxes and reasonable regulations. [editor's note]
Q to Hubbell: in last week's debate, you said you supported tax cut for middle and low-income Iowans. If elected, are you prepared to repeal the tax cuts for wealthier people and keep only the tax cuts you mentioned? Also, what are your plans for spending to offset tax cuts you want to keep in place? Hubbell says that's a very good question, thank you. One of the most important jobs a governor has is to produce a balanced, predictable budget. Schools, families businesses, want predictable state budget. We haven't had that. We have had a budget like a yo-yo. A few years ago we had a $900 million surplus. It's all gone. She borrowed $145 million from reserve funds, two years in a row of massive budget cuts in the mid-year, now she has a surplus she can't explain.
When I'm governor I'm going to sit down and figure out the impact of these tariffs--we know it's $2 billion, could be more later--and see what kind of tax cut we can afford. If we can have a tax cut and be fiscally responsible we are going to give tax cut to working families.
Reynolds rebuttal: I want to reduce taxes, he wants to raise taxes. He's made that very clear. Budget is balanced, $127 million surplus, cash reserves full. Says when she took office in 2011 there was a $900 million budget deficit [editor's note--that is false]. They had taken out credit card, borrowed $700 million for bonding scheme that created no jobs [She means the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding]. Economy is growing, wages increasing and I'm excited to keep it going.
Hubbell rebuttal: About 40 percent of Iowans work hard, sometimes multiple jobs, but have trouble making ends meet. almost half children in public schools qualify for free or reduced cost lunch. We say we want to feed the world and we can't feed our own kids. This economy is not working. Almost all the benefits in our economy go to big corporations at expense of small businesses and to wealthy individuals at expense of everyone else. If we're going to lower taxes, let's put more fairness in the system. Time runs out.
Follow up Q from Matt Breen: he didn't hear specificity from Reynolds on spending cuts. Biggest parts of budget are Medicare [he means Medicaid], wages and benefits, and education. Will you seek to cut any of those areas, or is it possible to make cuts from other 10 percent to make room for tax cuts you want? Reynolds says we didn't cut education, especially K-12 budget. [false] 80 percent of state budget is Department of Human Services and education, we will invest in our priorities. We're 4th in K-12 education in the country, 8th in teacher salaries [that was before Republicans destroyed collective bargaining].
Follow up to Hubbell: Can he commit that he will push for tax cuts only for lower income and middle income but also push to repeal tax cuts for wealthier people? If we're going to have a balanced budget, show me your budget and I'll show you your priorities. This governor talks about education, health care, public safety, but she has cut those every year as governor and most years as lieutenant governor. That's not the priority because they are not budgeted. I will stop wasteful tax giveaways in income tax code, that's over $100 million every year. It's like throwing money out the window. This governor keeps doing that.
Next Q is from Ron Steele on Medicaid privatization: Hubbell has promised to reverse it starting on day one. Can he name two specific things he would implement immediately to make sure Iowans get health care they need, and how in the world are you going to pay for it?
Starts with recognizing that Medicaid privatization is a disaster. Until we recognize it we're not going to do anything about it, it will be more of the same. I know it's a disaster, I hear from Iowans all over the state. 40,000 Iowans have had benefits reduced over past two years. Providers have closed because MCOs aren't paying them. Costs for managed care today are rising faster than before privatization. So it's not working. We need to put state back in control. That doesn't mean fee for service, it means state has to control data and decisions: when providers get paid and how much they get paid, what are decisions about care. We need to change emphasis away from profits for managed care and for quality of care, balanced with cost.
Steele asks Reynolds: you've said previous Medicaid wasn't sustainable, move to privatization was right decision. But many Iowans are telling a different story. Do you still believe it was the right decision and what changes need to be made right now so Iowa families get services they need and deserve? Thank you for question. Those stories were unacceptable and I need to be able to look families in the eye and promise the system is sustainable. That wasn't the case under old system. 39 other states have transitioned to managed care. I've led in making changes over last 17 months. I brought in new leadership, we have a new actuary, we are putting new funding into the system. We put financial penalties into negotiations to make sure providers are getting paid.
Hubbell rebuttal: notes Reynolds recently fired man who was talking about problems and threw him off the [Medicaid] advisory board. Starts to say that she brought in the man who ran Kansas program into the ground to run our program but runs out of time.
Reynolds demands rebuttal: This isn't about politics and not about taking advantage of people. It's about making sure we have system that's sustainable. She has sat down with David [Hudson] and she wants to continue to hear from him and his wife. She wants them to hold system accountable. We're working every single day to make changes. You haven't told us how you are going to pay for what you want to do.
Tom Overlie of KTTC brings up farmers and challenges they are facing. It's been a good bumper crop but China tariffs and new trade deals, lots of Qs. Q to Reynolds: what do you think of direction president is going with tariffs? How do you respond when farmers ask you what they are going to do with corn and soybeans? Reynolds says two things are equally true: no one wins a trade war, trade is critical for Iowa. But also true, China has been sticking it to us for years. We cannot continue to have theft of intellectual property and technology transfer. I talk to farmers and they understand that. They are willing to put up with some short-term pain but they want to see progress. I'm proud that we have NAFTA, E-15 year-round, bilateral talks with Japan, talking with Europe. We can't continue to let China steal our technology as cost of doing business.
Same Q to Hubbell: We need a governor who's going to stand up for Iowans, not a governor who is dependent on her party and who's in DC. I don't care who is in DC, I will stand up for Iowans, to help Iowans be successful. We could have gone to war with China with different partners, but instead the president supported by our governor took on Europe, Mexico, Canada, strong long-term partners. There were other ways to do that rather than fight war on back of Iowa farmers. What's happened over last several years: 36 workforce development offices closed in rural Iowa, many schools have consolidated, 13 health care providers closed in rural Iowa. That's not helping rural Iowa or farm community.
Reynolds rebuttal: I was born and raised in rural Iowa and I have been fighting for Iowa farmers. Unemployment is at 2.5 percent, Fred. We've seen wage growth, rattles off statistics. We can't continue to let bad actors run what we are trying to do.
Hubbell rebuttal: I referred to those wasteful tax credits. I sat on panel in 2009 and we identified good tax credits and wasteful ones. Imagine if we had cut the wasteful ones, we'd have $50, $75, $100, $125 million a year invested in rural Iowa to improve schools, health care, and keep workforce offices open, for better job training and better communities. Instead we've closed them all.
Reynolds rebuttal: hypocrisy of Fred Hubbell on tax credits is ridiculous. He has been taking advantage of them for four decades. As recently as a month ago his family has taken advantage of them. When he wasn't taking them he was handing them out and sometimes for projects he was invested in and didn't recuse himself. I looked at your tax credit report and you were going to eliminate tax credit for businesses that hired disabled Iowans but you kept the enterprise zone and high-quality job tax credit that you benefited from.
Hubbell rebuttal: Interesting that governor refers to disabled Iowans tax credit. It's been on the books for 16 years, never used, not once. Why keep it on the books? Not helping anyone, makes tax code more complicated. What's going on, she accuses me of doing things in Power Fund for my benefit. I followed all rules, did everything according to rules, with advice from ethics board, just like governor did when she took all those flights from people who contributed to their campaign.
Next Q from Breen refers to Targeted Jobs Tax program that helps Sioux City area compete with South Dakota that has no tax. Expires next year. Will you commit to extend it? Reynolds says she would have a tendency to extend it but we will look at all taxes holistically. Back to Fred's question: we can only take his word because I released ten years of my taxes but he hasn't released his, so we will never know what he's hiding or what he is embarrassed about. He doesn't have enough confidence in Iowans to release his tax statements.
Hubbell follow up: I've fully complied with all state ethics requirements and disclosure rules. Everything else governor is saying is just misleading talk. I complied exactly with rules. Just like she says she did when she gave contracts to contributors who flew her around the state. We need to make sure border areas are competitive. We need to give close consideration to that tax credit, that's important to allow business to be competitive. Breen presses for yes or no answer, Hubbell says yes.
Steele asks next Q: Many believe jobs created by companies like Apple or Facebook are more important than incentives state gives away. How do you recruit companies like that without giving them some kind of tax break or incentive? Do you want them going to Illinois or Minnesota? Hubbell says that's a very good question. Let's remember the SE Iowa fertilizer plant, Gov Branstad gave more than $100 million in state tax credits. A similar one was built in Illinois around the same time for zero state tax credits. It can be done. Apple didn't come to Iowa for state tax credits. They came because Waukee was giving them $190 million in local property tax credits, plus low-cost energy and renewable energy. They would have come here for those reasons alone. We could have given $120 million in tax credits for data centers around Des Moines. All of that money created about 650 jobs around Des Moines. We could have used that money to extend high-speed internet to every corner of our states.
Reynolds in sarcastic tone: When he's not for the tax credits he's handing out the tax credits. She rattles off some companies that benefited from tax credits and it's a tool in the toolbox that keeps us competitive with other states. It's about growing the economy and bringing jobs to Iowa.
Hubbell rebuttal: in 2009 I was asked to run Department of Economic Development because of film tax credits. You can't compete on tax credits. You need to compete on quality of life, highly trained, educated workforce, and infrastructure to support growth of your business.
Reynolds, smirking: Yep, when you came in to save the film tax credit, your recommendation was to transfer them to programs that your family was able to personally take advantage of.
Next Q from Overlie cites his local sheriff who says he wishes society would fund law enforcement training and staffing as seriously as they take our schools having the best football fields and workout rooms. To Hubbell first: what can we do to improve police safety and reduce crime and civilian deaths? That's a very important question. Public safety is one of the most important jobs of a governor. Governor has cut that every year. Park rangers and state troopers cut. We're not funding it properly. It shows up in our jails, which handle people with mental illness and substance abuse. If we funded counselors in schools and public health services the sheriff could get back to focusing on public safety.
Reynolds: I'm so proud of the comprehensive mental health care reform that was signed, every legislator voted for it. It built on progress we started in 2013. Law enforcement was part of the stakeholder group. Law force academies are on board. Again, Fred, he promises everybody everything, I'm not sure how he's going to fund it, we have a limited budget and have to live within our means. Telling everyone who asks that you're going to give them more money isn't the answer. His answer is going to be to raise your taxes.
Q to Hubbell: are you promising everyone everything? I'm promising to stop throwing money out the window every year with those wasteful corporate tax giveaways. That's over $100 million the governor is just throwing out the window, getting very little value back. Eight sheriffs are supporting me in counties with over a million people. We need to pass a bill that's more than a political band-aid. The bill has nice language, sounds nice but there's no money in it, no action, no results.
Reynolds rebuttal: Every single legislator voted for it, including your running mate. We are proud of what we've done. Mental health is included in the [Medicaid] managed-care negotiations. We are making a difference to Iowans.
Breen Q refers to 1% increase in K-12 education funding the last two years. Reynolds is so proud of the historic investment in education. She's a mom, grandmother, mother of a teacher. We're 4th in country in amount we've invested in K-12 education, we're eighth in teacher salaries. It's a priority and will continue to be a priority. We can't fall into trap of measuring quality of education just by dollars. I love the innovative things like Sioux City Career Academy, rattles off more statistics.
Hubbell response: Wants to return to previous question. In January of this year, 73% of Iowans polled said mental health/substance abuse is a crisis. A couple of months later, government cut funding for DHS, which oversees mental health. So there's a crisis but she cut funding. That's not a priority. Regarding schools. All over the state people remind me we used to be proud of our schools, but we're not as proud anymore. We're pretty average. Education Week says we are a C-rated education state today. We need to make it a priority. Not by saying it's a priority, but by putting the dollars behind it. Average increase is 1.3 percent--runs out of time.
Reynolds response, talking quickly, sounds memorized: Number 1 in high school graduation, more kids taking community college classes, that helps keep college costs down. Lots of opportunities. We are investing in education, Fred. I'm proud of that investment. $765 million of new money, $3.2 billion for K-12 out of a $7 billion budget.Runs out of time.
Hubbell rebuttal: For last 3 years this administration has cut budget for regents schools, cut budget for community colleges. Tuition keeps going up, student debt going up. Harder for students to go to those schools, but we talk about Future Ready and STEM. How are we going to get kids to go to those schools if the tuition keeps going up. We're not managing the budget properly or stopping wasteful corporate giveaways. Runs out of time.
Steele asks next Q about Nate Boulton and David Jamison, sexual misconduct, and state paid nearly $2 million to Kirsten Anderson. What will Hubbell do to end toxic work environment for women in state government? Hubbell says it's a very serious issue. It was happening while governor was state senator and when she's been LG and governor. It's not any better. It's fine to say people should be treated with dignity but the governor has to do something. We need to put in place a whistleblower process. Every major company has this system. People can file their grievance, not just harassment but also mismanagement of money or fraud. It goes outside HR so people don't have to fear intimidation which was rampant in Iowa Finance Authority. Someone outside government investigates. Put action behind words.
Reynolds: Talk about lack of action--Senator Boulton is still serving. [Editor's note: I agree that Boulton should have resigned from the legislature, but that is outside Hubbell's control.] I said in the Condition of State that you can lead by example. We have zero tolerance policy and I took that action. It's about changing culture. I let girls sit in my chair when they come to my office. It's also about bringing more women into leadership positions. My cabinet has strong bold women leading. When you were on [corporate] boards you had only one woman.
Hubbell rebuttal: How long does it take to change the culture? She was in Senate for two years and was LG or governor for eight years. Why did it take so long? We need whistleblower process. We just now found out about years of sexual harassment at IFA.
Reynolds: And Dave Jamison is gone but Nate Boulton is still serving as a senator. Lack of action.
Next Q from Overlie is about opioid crisis. Reynolds cites legislation passed in 2017 aiming to reduce number of opioids prescribed. We need to eliminate stigma. I've lived the life of addiction and know the impact it has on family. I believe in second chances. We have led on mental health reform. We need integrated health care system, coordinated. Cites teenage suicide prevention bill.
Hubbell says Reynolds referred to his board experience but the last board he was on, which he helped form, was one of most gender-balanced in the country. As for substance abuse: 73% said it was a crisis in January poll but governor cut budget for DHS. That's why sheriffs are supporting me all over the state. We need to property fund it. Also, Polk and Johnson and Story counties have mobile crisis units and jail diversion programs. They are saving money in their communities. We need to be smarter.
Reynolds rebuttal: We are providing integrated health care system, law enforcement was part of working group on mental health, we passed standing order for Naloxone.
Hubbell rebuttal: We've recently learned that crime is rising in rural Iowa because of rising substance abuse and administration has cut public safety funding. We need to invest in prevention. 70% of those with mental health/substance abuse issues are on Medicaid.
Breen Q is about medical cannabis. 3% THC won't be enough to address some people's pain. Would you support a bill that raises cap on THC in medical cannabis. Hubbell would sign that. We need to do everything we can to increase people's access to health care. A lot of senior citizens tell him they don't want to take opioids, they would rather have medical marijuana. Let's increase percentages and broaden definition of illnesses qualifying.
Reynolds would support process in place, including a state board that would deal with those issues, with qualified individuals. Medicaid program does cover some people dealing with tough issues. Purpose of managed care is to help them through a complex system. Make sure they are getting physicals, taking medications.
Hubbell rebuttal: we need to be clear. If we want to help people get access to better health care, not be dependent on opioids, let's expand the percentage of medical cannais, expand conditions and train doctors properly. Let's talk about purpose of Medicaid privatization. It was supposed to reduce costs, improve services and take care of providers. We have 40,000 people --runs out of time.
Reynolds: It is saving money. We need to have a sustainable program. I don't know how he is going to pay for what he talks about. Every answer is more money, more money, more money. That is code for raising taxes on Iowans. There is no other way he can pay for it. Most of population are getting services they need.
Next Q is from Steele, about "heartbeat bill" (abortion ban). Opponent says you want to reduce access to women's health care. How would you protect unborn while giving women access to health care? Reynolds says there are passionate views on both sides, she is proud to be pro-life and she believes a beating heart indicates life. She's expanding health care for Iowans. What's extreme is Fred's position where taxpayer dollars fund late-term abortions, abortion on demand, partial-birth abortion [Editor's note: that is false.] He said he would veto bill prohibiting sale of fetal body parts. Promises to sign bill that makes birth control pills available at pharmacies. Runs out of time.
Hubbell: Governor keeps saying I want to spend more money. He wants to be fiscally responsible. We're not making smart decisions, throwing money out the window. We shouldn't raise taxes
Let's talk about fetal heartbeat bill. Our campaign is about improving health care. It's an extreme anti-women bill. Will hurt OB-GYN capabilities in this state. OB in Sioux City told him last night it will hurt her career and her ability to recruit doctors to work with her.
Reynolds rebuttal: Extreme. Georgetown University doesn't do abortion training but they can still train doctors in OB-GYN. Fred, you talk about being fiscally responsible but when you were CEO of Younkers and it went public, --she ran out of time. Tried to keep talking.
Hubbell: I'm an unabashed supporter of Roe v Wade and I have been for a long time. I don't support the other procedures she talks about. She knows that, she's willing to say just about anything to get elected. She knows I don't support those. Let's talk about family planning. Visits are down 50% in our state.
Reynolds starts to answer but there is no further rebuttal.
Hubbell closing statement:You've heard a lot about what we want to do. I want to tell you more about who I am. Discusses hostage situation. I was there for 13 days. I sat there and thought and prayed about what I would do differently if I got a second chance. I wake up most mornings with that memory but also Governor Reynolds promises a third Branstad term, more of the same. But you know and I know that we need change. We need balanced, predictable budget that funds priorities. Education funding. We need to stop disastrous privatization of Medicaid. All Iowans deserve better. We need to stop throwing money out the window on wasteful corporate tax giveaways that prevent us from investing in our people. I ask for your vote on November 6. If we work together we can address challenges so state government is just as good and decent as our people.
Reynolds closing statement: Thanks hosts. I've been very blessed. As governor I've had the honor of traveling state and world talking about amazing things happening in our state. That hasn't always been case. Eight years ago, Iowans were struggling, high unemployment, budget was a mess, we had a $900 million budget deficit [false], debt, education and schools were cut by governor Fred served with. We can't go backwards and that's where Fred wants to take us. He wants to stop momentum and progress. Iowa is going in the right direction. We've been recognized as best state in country. Wages rise, taxes go down, budget is balanced and $127 million surplus. Iowa is working and we're moving in the right direction. It's been the honor of a lifetime to serve as governor and I humbly ask for your vote on November 6. We want to lower taxes and help Iowans keep more of their money. It's been an honor to serve, thanks for the opportunity.
Top image: Screen shot from KTIV's video of the October 17 debate, posted on Facebook.