By Brent Hoffman
While activists may debate the credentials of the Republican candidates for Governor, it seems “conservative values voters” are the focus of the candidates in advance of the primary. At the most recent debate, held in Sioux City on October 27th, the four candidates emphasized their conservative credentials before a large and engaging crowd of 250 to 300 people.
Candidates Christian Fong, Rob Roberts, Chris Rants and Bob Vander Plaats impressed many in the crowd with their professionalism and grasp of the issues. Said Linda Holub, a well-known conservative activist, “I was very impressed with all of the candidates. All four gentlemen present a stark contrast to Governor Culver, and I was pleased they championed conservative values that resonate with voters.” Indeed, all candidates focused on their conservative credentials, both in their introductory and concluding comments. Several attendees wondered if this focus may be motivated by an appeal to conservative, Western Iowa voters in advance of the primary, but none questioned the commitment of the candidates and there didn’t appear to be large differences on issues.
Many of the comments and criticisms were directed towards Governor Culver, and all seemed in agreement that his across-the-board cuts were a “dumb and lazy” approach to budgeting. Mr. Roberts noted that the budget growth was largely a problem of personnel costs, and hoped “state employees would be willing to take a minimal reduction in salary and forego an increase in salary increases…we could save hundreds of state employees’ jobs.” Mr. Fong earned applause by highlighting Governor Culver’s flawed approach to the economy and said “We not only have to stop growth of government, we have to actively shrink the size of government.” On this issue, Mr. Vander Plaats emphasized leadership and noted that Governor Culver had previously ignored warning signs and “buried his head in the sand.” Of the four candidates, many audience members agreed that Mr. Rants was the most specific in his response on this issue. He identified several specific areas to make cuts, saying “the state preschool program has to go” and highlighting some of his “99 ideas.”
On the six-month anniversary of the State Supreme Court decision legalizing gay “marriage,” all four candidates took exception with the decision and spoke of their record in defending marriage. All candidates agreed the issue should be decided by voters via Constitutional Amendment, though they offered different strategies or ideas. Mr. Vander Plaats again stressed he would sign an executive order to “set aside the decision until the people of Iowa have the opportunity to vote upon it.” There has been a well-documented disagreement with Mr. Rants on this point, but he stressed that it was a difference of opinion or legal interpretation, and “I don’t doubt Bob’s motivation,” Rants said.
The candidates were next asked for their position on taxes, as it was noted that Iowa has an “archaic and burdensome property tax system” and income taxes that make Sioux City less competitive than it’s neighbors in South Dakota. In their responses, both Roberts and Vander Plaats identified wasteful government incentive programs and addressed the need for lowering or eliminating corporate income taxes. Although Mr. Fong also stressed the need to reducing all taxes, he said he would focus on “phasing out personal income taxes.” Mr. Rants was the only candidate to emphasize property taxes, and he argued strongly for property tax reform and reducing administrative spending in cities and counties.
Many attendees stayed until well after the debate to visit with the candidates or discuss the merits or performance of each candidate. Among attendees, several noted that Mr. Roberts had statesmanlike” qualities and were impressed with his grasp of issues and what one influential Republican leader called an “uncanny ability” to stay on message and on-time. Many attendees also seemed pleasantly surprised by Mr. Fong. Though he appears young and the least experienced, he was described as “very bright” and seemed to pick-up a number of new supporters. Mr. Vander Plaat’s experience showed, as he continually emphasized his leadership background and called-upon talking points from his stump speech. Of Mr. Rants, several attendees commented he “returned to his combative style” and the largely conservative audience seemed to appreciate it, as he emphasized his conservative record and showed a strong grasp of the issues.
Little mention was made of those who were not in attendance, Jerry Behn and Terry Branstad. To audience applause, it was said that “we should not draw attention to controversy, non-issues or who’s not here…but simply appreciate these four gentlemen who are here.”
Given the local party has been plagued by struggles between moderates and conservatives in recent years, the Republicans in attendance seemed pleased with the both the organization of the event and the caliber of the candidates. It was one of the most successful events in recent memory. Woodbury County GOP Chair Brian Rosener credited the hard work of the Central Committee. “I was very pleased with the event. The candidates all did a great job, and the audience was engaged and appreciative.” He noted the stark contrast with Governor Culver and the Democratic leadership, saying “the Republicans have a unique opportunity to earn the trust of Iowans by simply focusing on conservative values and competency.” Amen to that.
Brent Hoffman is an Independent Conservative. He serves on the City Council in Sioux City and has been honored as “Best Politician” every year in office. He’s a former military officer and is a Pentagon 9/11 Survivor.
Photos by Dave Davidson
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