Eight revealing exchanges from the Reynolds/DeJear debate

You have to hand it to Deidre DeJear.

Governor Kim Reynolds has all the advantages of incumbency. She has spent most of the year avoiding unscripted questions and taking credit for projects that President Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress made possible. While the challenger has struggled to get her message in front of voters, Reynolds enjoys free media coverage almost daily and has blanketed the state with (sometimes racist) television commercials for the past six weeks.

The day before the only scheduled debate between the candidates for governor—Reynolds would not agree to the traditional three—the Des Moines Register published a new Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co showing the incumbent ahead by 52 percent to 35 percent among likely voters.

In other words, the odds facing DeJear could hardly be longer.

Nevertheless, the challenger spoke with clarity and confidence throughout the hour-long “Iowa Press” appearance, using facts and personal stories to great effect. She refused to take the bait when Reynolds fell back on divisive talking points about what “they” (Democrats) supposedly want to do.

I hope voters will take the time to watch the whole program, or read the transcript on the Iowa PBS site. Eight exchanges struck me as particularly revealing.

A quick word about the moderators: O.Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa, Erin Murphy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Dave Price of WHO-TV. They were too passive, not fact-checking Reynolds in real time and repeatedly allowing her to barge in and get the last word.

On the plus side, the panel didn’t waste time on trivial questions and allowed both candidates to develop their thoughts, rather than rushing through a long list of topics, as happened during last week’s second Congressional district debate on KCRG-TV.


Early in the debate, Reynolds claimed Republican tax cuts produced the state budget surplus, which reached $1.2 billion at the end of fiscal year 2021 and set a new record of $1.9 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30. (In reality, most states have had record surpluses recently, due to the massive influx of federal funds during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

DeJear emphasized the unmet needs of Iowans: stronger public education, access to health care and especially mental health, affordable housing, and child care. “That surplus is evidence that the Iowa taxpayer dollar is not going to work, it’s just being hoarded.”

When I’m talking to small business owners, they’re having challenges keeping their employees because of the lack of child care that is accessible. When I’m in rural Iowa talking to manufacturers, they’re having challenges getting people to stay at work because of the lack of housing. And so I want to invest the taxpayer dollar and not just hoard the resources in a surplus.

Reynolds defended the investments her administration has made in housing, broadband, child care, and mental health. DeJear kept bringing the conversation back to what Iowans need to solve the workforce crisis.

My only critique is that DeJear could have pointed out how much the governor has relied on federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan (which Reynolds denounced last year as a “blue state bailout”).


State legislative candidates have often told me that mental health is one of the issues they hear about most often on the doors. Almost every Iowan knows a family that has struggled to get the care a loved one desperately needs.

The moderators let Reynolds talk for more than three minutes about everything her administration has done in this area.

When she could finally get a word in, DeJear responded, “So, I think it’s one thing to talk about what we’ve done. But I think it’s another thing to talk about the effectiveness of what we’ve done. And mental health care is a challenge that we hear many Iowans talk about all over this state.”

The Democrat recounted hearing from elementary school students and college students who face long waits for mental health care.

And this is something that is very, very important to me, because my mother died when I was eight years old, just three days after my little sister was born, and it turned my life upside down.

But I am able to sit here today because my father gave me access to mental health care workers and social workers in my school. And when I think about the pressing need of Iowans all across this state, I’m not just looking at the work that has been done, I’m looking at the efficacy of the work that has been done.

DeJear went on to recall her conversation with a father in Dubuque. His teenager was preoccupied with thoughts of self-harm, but when they went to the ER, the doctor said it would be a six-month wait to see a psychiatrist, because Iowa has fewer than 30 child psychiatrists to serve more than half a million kids. The family was also offered a bed in a Sioux City facility (on the other side of the state), or a chance for the teen to see a psychologist in two months.

All of those options were “unreasonable,” DeJear added, “the reason being is that we have less than 750 beds in this state and we also are 45th in the nation in mental health care worker availability.”

The moderators were ready to move on, but Reynolds demanded a rebuttal and launched into 45 more seconds of talking points about children’s mental health—without expressing any sympathy to her opponent.

I can’t imagine hearing about someone’s family tragedy and not even having the humanity to say, I’m sorry to hear you went through that. (Granted, I am sensitive about this topic, because my mother’s death greatly impacted my own childhood.)


Price gave DeJear a chance to talk about her proposal for universal preschool, so that “every three and four year old in this state has access to at least 30 hours of early childhood education.” She noted that “kindergarten teachers are telling us children are coming in less and less prepared and that is impacting our third grade reading scores across this state.”

While such a program is “not going to happen overnight,” it’s a goal to work towards.

Reynolds jumped in with an us vs. them frame on the topic, leading to this back-and-forth.

Reynolds: It’s the same tax policies, that’s what they’re talking about. So every time they talk about a new government program that means more money coming from taxpayers. But one of the things that we’re working on —

DeJear: It doesn’t not mean more money coming from taxpayers, it means utilizing the taxpayer dollars that are already there, the ones that are being hoarded by our existing government.

Reynolds: You have to be able to sustain that. It’s not a one-time funding, you have to be able to sustain that going forward.

DeJear: Absolutely, absolutely.

Minutes after bragging about the big surplus, Reynolds implied there’s no money for universal preschool.

Also notable: the governor doesn’t hesitate to use a temporary surplus to justify permanent tax cuts, which will starve the state of revenue once American Rescue Plan funds run out. Yet she won’t use surplus funds to expand worthwhile services like early childhood education.


When the moderators turned to “school choice,” they let Reynolds go on a long detour to describe how she was “adamant” about getting kids back to school during the pandemic. She found her way back to the topic at hand, saying, “This is not a zero sum game. There is an opportunity to help all kids and to make our school stronger. And I just fundamentally believe that that choice should not only go to kids and families that have the resources. If education truly is the great equalizer then everybody should have that choice.”

Reynolds added, “We have great schools across the state. Most parents are going to want to keep their kids in that environment, but if your child is in a failing school or they’re not getting what they need, then they should have the option to put that child in a different environment.”

DeJear responded with a unifying message.

Again, this is an area in education that our state has had a history of excelling in under both Republican and Democratic leadership. And when it comes down to school choice, it shouldn’t be a matter of a parent choosing from an excelling school or a failing school. All of our schools throughout this state need to be set up for success in every single district.

DeJear has called for an influx of $300 million to public school districts, which serve more than 90 percent of K-12 students, to make up for years of funding increases that lagged behind inflation. She pointed out that instead of pushing for “robust legislation to invest in our schools and get the districts what they needed,” the governor tried to divert $55 million of taxpayer money to help 2 percent of Iowa students attend private schools.

Reynolds bragged about increasing state funding for public schools “year over year”—not mentioning that several of those years, state aid increased by 2 percent or less.


Turning next to the Biden administration’s student loan debt initiative, Murphy asked Reynolds, “why is it okay to use taxpayer funding in your view to help students go to a private school, but it’s not okay for the government to provide some relief to college students with loan debt?”

As she’s been doing since August, Reynolds seized the chance to pit Iowans against each other, as if some Americans will be billed directly for debt forgiveness.

It does nothing but encourage bad borrowing practices. And if you’re the truck driver or machinist or a nurse or a person that decided not to seek a college education, why should you be responsible in paying somebody else’s off, especially when they often make more than you do? It’s not right, it’s not fair.

The governor went on to describe how she and her husband repaid their loans, and their daughters worked throughout college to take on less debt. As for Biden’s plan,

It just honestly encourages more borrowing because why wouldn’t you go out and borrow if you think the government is going to come in and pay it off? And if you or a truck driver or a waitress made a decision not to go to work but decided to go right into the workforce, why should you be responsible in paying somebody else’s loan?

DeJear jumped in: “Just to quickly respond, I know truck drivers with student loans, I know wait staff with student loans, I know nurses with student loans.” This program, capped at $20,000 for individuals, could help nearly 405,000 Iowans.

In addition, the federal government has said states can’t tax the amount of student loan forgiveness. The lawsuit Reynolds joined is based on the idea that states will lose future revenue from not being able to collect those taxes.

So “our governor talks a great deal of putting dollars back into people’s pockets,” DeJear observed, but wants to keep 405,000 Iowans from benefiting from this tax break.


Asked about the proposed carbon dioxide pipelines, which have aroused strong opposition in many rural counties, Reynolds said (disingenuously) that “eminent domain should only be used as a last resort.” She pivoted to talking about the importance of agriculture and what she’s done to promote biofuels.

DeJear is on record opposing the pipelines and said she would have “championed” legislative efforts to limit eminent domain for this kind of project.

Price followed up: would DeJear pass a policy that allows the landowner to say the pipeline’s not coming through their property?

“Yes, sir. I believe that the landowner should have power in this situation because they put their blood, sweat and tears into their land.”

DeJear’s campaign should put some money behind getting that message on small-town radio and in weekly newspapers.


Near the end of the debate, Henderson asked whether Reynolds would push for tougher abortion restrictions than the 2018 bill she signed, which would ban most abortions after about six weeks. The governor said she’s focused on getting the courts to reinstate that 2018 law. She touted some other initiatives that supposedly will improve maternal health and dodged a follow-up about whether she would push for a total abortion ban.

When it was DeJear’s turn, she acknowledged “very, very strong opinions on both sides” but was clear about her stance.

As the next governor I am not going to criminalize women, I am not going to criminalize nurses, I’m not going to criminalize doctors, women for getting access to the care that they need and doctors and nurses for providing that care. […]

My mother, again, died three days after my little sister was born. The science that we have now if used back then could have kept my mother and my little sister alive. I believe that it is undemocratic and irresponsible for us to try to dictate in black and white this situation that has infinite variables as it relates to pregnancy.

And so I want to codify Roe in our state, because that had the reasonable restrictions with exceptions that most of America agreed upon. And I realize that again now that the fight is in the state’s hands and so we have to defend it right here in the state.

Inexcusably, the moderators abdicated their role by letting Reynolds interrupt to ask her opponent the next question: “Well, do you believe then that a woman can abort a baby right up until it’s born? Do you believe in late-term abortion?”

DeJear handled it well.

That’s a really good question. And what I believe is that my personal belief has no space in a woman’s doctor’s appointment. When she goes into that doctor to make a decision that is within her best interest that that is her decision and my personal belief should not be in that room and no other politician’s opinion should be in that room. And I’m coming as a woman of faith, I’m coming as a woman of faith and they say in the Bible that the prudent act with knowledge.

She shared a horrifying story about when she was a high school student tutoring a third grader in an after-school program. One day, the girl could not button her pants.

And so here I was, trying to help her button her pants, and as I felt her belly, it was tight. And I went to my mama and said, “Mama, I think she’s pregnant.”

And my mama took her to the nurse’s office, come to find out, that little third grader was three months pregnant.

With extremities and trying to dictate and regulate pregnancy in black and white the way that our governor chooses to do, that little girl has minimal options, if any at all, and we cannot put Iowans in those types of situations.

My faith teaches me to trust people, and I trust women to make that decision.

Again, Reynolds showed no empathy. “So it’s late-term abortions, they believe that you can abort a baby right up until the moment it’s born.”

“That’s not what you just heard from me,” DeJear objected.

But Reynolds stuck with this year’s Republican playbook: accusing Democrats of wanting to kill babies at eight months gestation, or even after birth. The moderators let her go on talking about that “disgusting and horrifying” and “extreme” position, which has no relationship to reality.

I would have called the governor a liar, but DeJear reacted to the diatribe calmly—perhaps wanting to avoid being pegged as the stereotypical “angry Black woman.”

And as we see, the governor is very, very passionate personally about this issue, and her crusade against choice has not only minimized access to abortion care in this state, but it’s limited access to routine reproductive health care. Mamas in more than 80 counties in our state do not have access to an OB/GYN.

DeJear recalled meeting a woman in northeastern Iowa who couldn’t get in to see an OB/GYN, five months into her pregnancy, despite having health insurance.


The Des Moines Register’s editorial board commented this weekend that DeJear has outlined an “inclusive and forward-looking” vision for Iowa, while Reynolds “neglects Iowa’s real problems” and “has forsaken her obligation to serve all Iowans in favor of making some of us ‘the other.'”

The contrast was apparent in the closing moments of the debate, when Henderson asked each candidate about their plans if elected.

Reynolds went first, saying in part, “I am proud of my record. I’m proud of the contrast to what we see coming out of the Biden administration and the fact that Democrats in Iowa want to bring that tax and spend policy, woke ideology, and indoctrination of our children into the state of Iowa.”

What would DeJear do with the job?

It would be time to get to work. Iowans are hardworking people, and we see time and time again how Iowans all over this state are making do with what they have.

As I said earlier, Iowans are not short of vision. They just need leadership who is willing to turn the lights on for them.

This election cycle is not about the R behind our name or the D behind our name, folks. As we’re talking about the issues—rural revitalization, access to education and health care—all of these things mean something to people regardless of their political identity.

It’s about the I behind our name and that stands for Iowans, and I’m running for all of Iowa so that we can work collectively together to move all 99 counties forward the way that we have done before, but we need leadership to help us do it again.

UPDATE: Doug Lane calculated the candidates’ speaking times and kept notes on the discussion flow. He found that Reynolds interrupted eleven times, and DeJear interrupted six times (the first after Reynolds had already broken in four times and the moderators did nothing). Total speaking time: 28 minutes, eight seconds for the Republican and 22 minutes, 52 seconds for the Democrat.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Time Differential

    Do you know the time differential between the candidates?
    You praised the moderators for letting Reynolds and DeJear develop their thoughts, but it seemed to me at one point they let Reynolds speak for what seemed like 5 straight minutes. She went on and on about different programs in the state on the subject of education.

    I would not be surprised if the time between the candidates was 60% to 40% in Reynolds’ favor.

    • I just updated the post

      Doug Lane did the calculations (and showed me his time sheet so I know it’s legit). Total speaking time for Reynolds was 28:08, about 20 percent more than DeJear’s speaking time of 22:52.

  • IGOV debate

    More than the 29-23 min. differential. Reynolds acted entitled to speak last. DeJear was so good that she overcame the media panel’s leniency with giving Reynolds extra time. Reynolds came off as mean spirited-she was caught surprised by DeJear’s calm demeanor, leadership persona and concise policy narratives. I hope social media spreads the debate and the analyses. DeJear is not the same candidate as she was 4 years ago. She exuded vision and called upon Iowans and their basic good instincts. . Reynolds is the same candidate, exuding lack of decency–see response to DeJear’s life story. Reynolds, called upon a playbook of distortion and lies, as with abortion, gaslighting (e.g. use of wok–is that even a word in Iowa anymore), and stereotyping unemployed Iowans. Gov. Reynolds suggested when discussing flow of $ to private schools — which has 2%? of all students–people should get up and move to where private schools are located. For the first time in my life, under R and D governors, I can no longer encourage people to move to Iowa. People may move–but out of state.


    I used to watch IOWA PRESS every week, and watched IOWA PRESS debates as well. I don’t know whether the program has changed or I have. But I don’t watch the show or the debates anymore, and only occasionally skim the transcripts.

    I became increasingly dissatisfied with watching guests say pretty much whatever they wanted without on-target followup. I got tired of yelling questions at the TV that I thought should have been asked by the IOWA PRESS hosts.

    Maybe my real problem is that the guests and the general political tone of Iowa have changed since this state really started The Reddening. But in any case, finding out that Reynolds was given significantly more time than DeJear does not make me want to start watching again.

    • in general, the show suffers

      from a lack of follow-up. The panelists are often eager to move to the next topic because time is so limited. That rewards politicians who lie and filibuster, as the governor often does.

  • Perception

    I listened to the debate on Iowa Pubic Radio. I thought Reynolds took charge of the conversation from the beginning. I thought her comments highlighted accomplishments, effectiveness, and caring. I thought Reynolds did a good job of describing DeJear as someone who wanted to do far more (than necessary) and raise taxes to do it. I felt as though DeJear was needing to introduce herself with only three weeks left in the election cycle. DeJear had some good points, but in the debate format, she did not have time to explain the reasoning behind the comments. If I were to vote based on what I hear, I would vote Republican on a frequent basis. However, I vote based on what I research, so I vote Democrat. DeJear has demonstrated an understanding of many issues in the lives of Iowans. Unfortunately, I have not observed the same level of awareness from other Democrats. As PrairieFan noted, media in Iowa are not pushing back on Republican talking points. I would add that elected Democrats and party officials are not pushing back, either. I think DeJear would have had a much better debate had there already been a widely spread counter message to Reynolds’ policies over the past four years. For example, I have noted previously that Reynolds’ latest tax cut will not benefit lower income Iowans for years. DeJear alluded to that, but then did not pursue it when Reynolds hit back that Iowans would like to have $55 a month to pay for food and gas. What could DeJear reply? The Democrats were silent about the tax cuts timing when the bills were in the legislature, now their gubernatorial candidate is crying foul?

    • Outlier' observations

      Outlier (see above). Points well taken that state and national messages have been absent. I will make some notes and then ask for your opinion on others. There is some media that pushes back, like Bleeding Heartland. I will accept that as an outlier of an oversight (sorry for the play on words). Again, DeJear needed a coordinated counter message–many have been arguing for this through past several campaign cycles. Our megaphones are not loud enough, just like DeJear’s will be limited. If you saw DeJear 4 years ago and compared her to the debate, you will see how she has grown.. You note how she has made good points. But a political megaphone without funding and institutional power is muted. Re: taxes –it is okay for a D candidate to yell foul and some legislators did yell foul. And I would like to hear what Reynolds says about Vilsacks debt relief–is it throwing money at a problem and how is it different from her criticism of student debt relief. thank you for your thoughtful comments–but I do read bleeding heartland for its insightful constructive criticism.