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October 18th, 2010

Cedar Rapids Gazette: Branstad for Governor

Iowa’s race for governor has been a hard-fought, at times nasty, struggle. Its leading contenders, Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and former four-term Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, have hammered one another for months against the backdrop of a state slowly recovering from a deep economic downturn.

That downturn left more than 100,000 Iowans unemployed, while pushing many business owners to hunker down amid continued uncertainty, rather than add workers and expand. Hard times also sapped tax revenues that fund state government, and despite some recent, positive signs, a significant budget shortfall must be filled in 2011.

The hopefuls have argued over many issues, but we believe the race centers on who will do the most to boost Iowa’s economy and restrain the state’s hunger for more and more spending beyond its means. And after sitting down with the candidates, we believe Branstad is the best choice.

Branstad has outlined an economic development agenda we believe has promise. It’s focused on making Iowa’s tax structure more appealing to businesses through reductions in corporate tax rates and by seeking to slice property taxes assessed on commercial buildings. Property tax reform has long eluded Statehouse leaders — Culver promised reform in 2006 and failed to deliver — but we’re optimistic that Branstad can take a significant step forward.

We agree with Branstad’s desire to provide a state push for entrepreneurs and startup firms. We also agree, as Branstad does, that it’s time for a thorough review of the state’s “toolbox” of development initiatives as part of a remake of the Department of Economic Development.

On the budget, we think Branstad will be more likely to cast a critical eye on state spending than Culver, who disregarded warnings in 2009 from this board and others that the economy would not bear the sort of spending he championed. Later that year, Culver was forced to make the biggest across-the-board cut in history when revenues plunged. This binge-purge budgeting is not responsible or good for Iowa.

Culver deserves the gratitude of Cedar Rapids residents for his part in providing critical funding for flood recovery efforts, including several much-needed grants from his I-JOBS bonding program. Culver’s efforts will make a permanent, positive mark on this community.

But we’ve been troubled again and again by his administration’s struggles with oversight — including misused film industry tax credits, frivolous spending in the Alcoholic Beverages Division and misguided efforts to keep an ombudsman charged with watching out for seniors from commenting on legislation affecting older Iowans.

Branstad is not a perfect choice, by any means. We urge him to reconsider his desire to take civil rights away from gay and lesbian Iowans, and to take a stand against the political assault on Iowa’s courts. We also hope he learns more about Iowa’s need for comprehensive watershed management. His answers to our questions suggest that he’s not up to speed on this critical issue.

Still, at a time when job creation is job one, Branstad is our choice.

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