Governor Chet Culver held a town hall meeting of sorts yesterday morning at the Cub Club at Principal Park in Des Moines. The event, called “Coffee & Conversation with Governor Chet Culver,” was an informal meet and greet event in which Governor Culver worked the room while attendees sipped on coffee and juice and enjoyed a muffin or fresh fruit.
The meeting was not supposed to be a campaign event. It was organized, staffed, and paid for with taxpayer money. Governor Culver was escorted around the room by an aide and Jim Larew, Culver’s Chief Legal Counsel, who also seems to serve as the governor’s political lawyer.
When Governor Culver came to my table, I asked him when the books for Fiscal Year 2009 would be closed and how the state’s financial picture looked. As you recall, when fiscal year 2009 ended on June 30th, the Legislative Services Agency report showed an actual deficit of $161 million. Culver stated that the Department of Management will meet on October 7th to officially close the books, and he doesn’t foresee any problems. Culver continued to stress Iowa’s AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s, which he touted as a sign of his administration’s good financial management.
In a follow up question, I asked Governor Culver if that meant he wouldn’t have to increase taxes or cut programs. Culver pledged “I will absolutely not raise taxes.” Culver the touted his position opposing the gas tax, and then he launched into an attack on former Governor Terry Branstad. Culver said, “I will not raise taxes like Governor Branstad did when he was governor. Branstad raised sales taxes by 67%.”
Sandy Greiner, a former legislator who started a Draft Branstad movement this week said, “I’m not surprised to see Governor Culver taking a cheap shot at one of Iowa’s most popular Governors in our state’s history. Governor Culver should be focused on getting his fiscal house in order. Tax receipts are down for the seventh month, more Iowans are unemployed, and our state is facing a record deficit.”
Greiner added, “During his tenure, Terry Branstad cut income taxes by 10%, eliminated inheritance taxes for lineal descendents, and cut property taxes, all while the state saw budget surpluses. This is not the time for political cheap shots; this is the time for experienced leadership.”
Governor Culver and his re-election team are obviously very concerned about a potential challenge from former Governor Branstad. While one would expect an answer like the one he gave this morning at a campaign event, I was disappointed that he felt the need to inject politics into the discussion at a state-sponsored town hall meeting. It is also very telling that Culver is lashing out against Branstad even before the former Governor lets his intentions be known.
If Culver can’t answer a simple question about the financial situation of our state without going into attack mode, how can we as Iowans expect him to steer us out of the budget mess he is responsible for creating?
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