Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and his Republican opponent, Brenna Findley, squared off at their first debate yesterday afternoon. The debate was held at the University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City. The debate will air on Mediacom Channel 22 on October 26th at 2 p.m. and again at 11 a.m. on Sunday, October 31st.
From the moment that Findley walked into Levitt Auditorium to the applause from her supporters, Findley dominated Miller, one of the most senior Attorneys General in the country. While Miller at times seemed awkward, Findley was calm, cool, collected, and confident in her abilities.
Findley also proved to be the most aggressive in the debate. From her opening statement to her closing remarks, Findley repeatedly forced Miller to answer questions that she posed to him, or attempt to expound on the allegations that she levied against him. If this debate was a boxing match, the referee would have called the contest after the fifth round because Miller was bleeding so badly.
Findley pressed him on agreeing to two additional debates before Election Day in her opening statement, Miller agreed. While the students of the law school provided the questions that were asked, Findley masterfully controlled the debate and steered to the issues that she wanted to focus on.
To illustrate how well Findley did, Miller didn’t get an opportunity to talk about consumer protection, his bread and butter issue, until 50 minutes had elapsed in the hour-long debate. Miller also made it obvious that he wasn’t willing to spend any more time debating Findley than was absolutely required.
At the 50-minute mark, the debate’s moderator, William G. Buss, pondered how many more questions he could ask the two candidates. He stated that the candidates both still needed to ask each other a direct question, so he said that he thought there was time for two more questions. Miller then blurted out that there was only ten more minutes remaining in the debate and reminded Buss that they needed time for closing statements. It was obvious that Findley had gotten to Miller.
The two candidates were at completely different ends of the spectrum when it came to the Obama administration’s healthcare reform package. Findley cited two U.S. Supreme Court cases that set a precedent for the proposition that the federal government cannot force individuals to purchase a certain type of health insurance, which she called an unconstitutional power grab. She also asked Miller to cite just one Supreme Court case that provides the federal government with such sweeping powers.
Miller admitted that there was no previous case on which to base his opinion. However, he did say that Obamacare is constitutional even if there isn’t a case to cite because there are a set of principles which are applied that make it constitutional. Miller based his opinion on the interstate commerce clause, noting that an uninsured individual from one state creates a burden on another state’s healthcare system if they hospitalized.
In addition to their differences on Obamacare, Findley landed a number of direct attacks on Miller throughout the debate. She criticized him for not defending Iowa’s Defense of Marriage law when it was challenged in the Supreme Court. She also criticized him for how he handled the county recorders after the Varnum decision was announced. Findley believes that the recorders were caught in the political crossfire due to Miller’s actions.
When Miller tried to claim that Findley was opposed to any regulations, Findley slammed him for cozying up to the DeCoster family and accepting a $10,000 contribution from them for his campaign. Miller tried to save face but struggled mightily. He admitted that he had a face-to-face meeting with Jack DeCoster and warned him that Miller never wanting to see him in court again. When pressed about the contribution, Miller admitted that it was wrong for him to have taken it, so he gave it back, albeit years after receiving it.
Findley also continued to criticize Miller for letting two sexual predators walk free because the Attorney General’s office missed an important deadline. Miller made an attempt to explain away the situation. He admitted that his office missed the deadline, but said that the appellate court sided with his office, which would have allowed the state to keep them in custody.
Miller then placed blame on the Iowa Supreme Court for overturning the lower court’s decision, which allowed the two sexual predators to walk free. Miller said that Findley was misleading Iowans because one of the men is currently incarcerated. Findley noted that the state lost any jurisdiction over the two men when they were let go. The state of Nebraska has since incarcerated one of them due to a different conviction. Later in the debate, Miller said that everyone makes mistakes from time-to-time.
Miller’s main criticism of Findley was based one her background and lack of experience even though the two of them have remarkably similar pasts. Both were 34 years old when they first ran for Attorney General, and both have worked for Iowa congressmen. Miller also claimed that Findley is too ideologically driven and comes from an overly partisan environment (Congressman King’s office).
In one of the two questions Miller posed to Findley, he surmised that she is obviously an admirer of Congressman Steve King, and considers him a mentor. Miller wanted his opponent to provide three examples of where she disagrees with King.
Findley chastised Miller for asking that type of question. She stated that she is proud of the work that she has done for King, but reminded Miller that Steve King is not running for Attorney General, she is. She then turned around and blasted Miller for giving preferential treatment to Governor Culver.
She citied Miller’s handling of the Film Office Tax Credit scandal. She pointed out that Miller appointed a special independent counsel to investigate the contributions Culver received from a group of Fort Dodge casino backers, but Miller picked an attorney who had donated to Culver’s campaign. Findley was also critical about Miller’s office stonewalling the media’s request for information about the Iowa School Board Association scandal.
Maybe the oddest moment in the debate was when Miller asked Findley how she was going to vote on the retention of the judges. Findley clearly stated that it would be inappropriate for her to comment because in two months, she will be trying cases in front of the Court as Iowa’s Attorney General.
From start to finish, Findley dominated Miller in the debate. If Findley will be as strong an advocate for Iowa as she was for herself in yesterday’s debate, there is no doubt that she’s up to the job. Miller’s arguments that his opponent isn’t qualified and is too ideologically driven fell flat. It was actually Miller who looked overly partisan and not as sharp as his challenger.
You can see how Findley flawlessly debated Miller in the videos that will be posted below later this morning.
Photos by Dave Davidson
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