Iowa Governor Chet Culver formally announced his re-election campaign today. Culver made his announcement from the Hoover High School auditorium, the school at which he taught in Des Moines. Media reports indicate that the event left a lot to be desired. Apparently, if you removed the union supporters and the High School students, the auditorium would have been nearly empty.
The theme of Culver’s re-election campaign is, “Choosing a Brighter Future.” I don’t know if that’s an appropriate theme for an incumbent like Culver. Frankly, polls have indicated that most Iowans agree that the state needs new leadership and are unsatisfied with how Culver has led the state for the past four years. Culver’s first four years in office have been anything but bright.
The first full month that Chet Culver was in office, Iowa’s unemployment rate stood at 3.6% with 59,200 Iowans looking for work. Less than four years later, the state’s unemployment rate stands at 6.8%, with a staggering 114,600 Iowans looking for work. Governor Culver and Iowa Democrats are quick to point out that that they are not at fault for the additional 55,400 Iowans who are out of work. Instead, they blame the market collapse in the fall of 2008.
While it is true that Iowa’s economy was impacted by the national and global economies, Governor Culver and the Democrats failed to do anything that would have helped Iowa weather the storm of financial uncertainties in 2009. Culver and the Democrats did nothing for Iowa businesses. In fact, they attempted to pass legislation that would have been destructive to Iowa’s economy.
Culver and most Democrats attempted to repeal Iowa’s right to work laws, pass a prevailing wage bill, pass an open-scope bargaining bill, and tried to drastically overhaul Iowa’s workers compensations benefits. All of these proposals would dramatically increase the costs of public projects, force local and state governments to scale back their building plans, and put small Iowa contractors at a competitive disadvantage to large out-of-state contractors. These proposals didn’t have Iowan’s best interest in mind and only would have benefitted the big labor unions.
Culver and the Democrats didn’t just target business owners in Iowa, they also didn’t have Iowans’ best interests in mind when they proposed the elimination of federal deductibility or borrowing a billion dollars for Culver’s I-Jobs plan that the next generation will have to pay back.
What will really cost Iowans for the foreseeable future is Culver’s inability to manage the state budget. After taking control of all branches of the government, Culver and the Democrats increased spending by more than a billion dollars. It became obvious that the state couldn’t sustain that level of spending when Culver faced a billion dollar budget gap in 2009 and 2010.
The dire budget situation forced Culver to recklessly cut state spending by 10% across the board. The cuts had two major consequences. First, local communities were forced to raise property taxes, essentially making it more difficult for communities to rebound from the sour economy. Second, school districts were forced to fire teachers, jeopardizing the quality of education Iowa kids receive in state-run schools.
Culver has failed in other areas, too. After campaigning in 2006 stating that he believed that marriage was between one man and one woman, Culver and the Democratic controlled legislature allowed the Iowa Supreme Court to redefine marriage. When it became obvious that he lacked solid support from the Democratic base, he placated the GLTB lobby and fully backed gay marriage.
The worst indictment of Culver’s first term as governor is his inability to surround himself with qualified, capable people. Instead of hiring people who wake up every morning and want to make Iowa a better place, Culver surrounded himself with people who wanted to advance their own agendas.
There is no better example of this than his former Chief of Staff John Frew, who worked for the governor for about seven months and negotiated a contract with the City of Cedar Rapids to oversee the new events center. Frew’s firm will pocket over $4 million from the project, a far better rate than other government projects have been paying for similar services.
Culver says that he’s not to blame for Frew’s actions and points out that Ron Corbett, the moderate Republican Mayor of Cedar Rapids, made the decision to hire Frew. While it’s true that Corbett is the one who hired Frew away from the governor’s staff, Culver allowed the top government staffer in the state to focus on landing a lucrative contract for his own business instead of working for the people of Iowa.
Frew’s actions are likely to become a theme in this fall’s general election. The Iowa Progress Project released a new radio ad yesterday that mentions Frew.
It’s not the first time that Frew used an influential government position for his own personal gain. In the 1990’s, Frew was the Chief of Staff for Senator Tim Wirth, who was the Chair of the Senate’s Major League Baseball Expansion Task Force. As he did in Iowa earlier this year, Frew left his government position in order to profit from the new stadium that was built to bring major league baseball to Denver.
Frew isn’t the only one who Culver hired that didn’t have the best interests of Iowans in mind. The Department of Economic Development was littered with incompetent people. The Film Office fiasco was a government program at its worst. There was no accountability, and no records were kept. The only thing at which the program was successful was writing checks.
Governor Culver’s first term in office has been a disaster. He has proven that he is incapable of leading the state during these difficult times. What is sad is that it is likely that someone else will be forced to clean up the mess that he has made out of our state budget.
Indeed, Iowans should choose a brighter future. That begins with a competent governor who will work with business owners to create jobs. Iowa also needs a governor who the people can trust to do the right thing, whether it’s popular or not. Finally, Iowan’s need a governor who will surround himself with the best and brightest people, not individuals who are looking to advance their own personal agendas.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The light that Iowans can now see is Election Day this fall. Governor Culver has had his chance and has failed. It’s time for new leadership in Iowa.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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