Candidates in Iowa’s SD 18 election face off in debate
MARION — If voters in Iowa Senate District 18 were hoping to hear anything new from the candidates, they were likely disappointed when Democrat Liz Mathis and Republican Cindy Golding provided a rare joint appearance at local school Wednesday night.
The debate, organized and jointly hosted by KCRG-TV and The Gazette, was an opportunity for side-by-side comparisons of the candidates — something that hasn’t been freely available during this whirlwind special election to replace Democrat Swati Dandekar who vacated the seat in order to accept a gubernatorial appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board.
Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/liz_mathis_125.jpgLiz Mathis
Mathis, a former TV news anchor who currently works with a nonprofit agency that advocates for child welfare and co-owns a business with her husband, pressed hard for education reforms, noting that quality education was a key to economic prosperity.
Golding, co-owner of four businesses with her husband and co-chairwoman of the Linn County GOP, largely advocated for business interests across a wide range of fiscal topics ranging from property tax reform to education funding.
The positions taken by each of the candidates varied very little, if at all, from multiple direct mailers that have been sent to residents in the eastern Iowa Senate District. While there were a few moments in which a candidate directly addressed the position or perceived position of her opponent, the event could hardly be described as fiery.
A key point of contention regarding the race for Iowa and the nation is narrow one-seat majority currently held by Iowa Democrats in the chamber. Replacing Democrat Dandekar with Republican Golding would create a Senate with an equal number of lawmakers on either side of the aisle, a situation the chamber has faced previously. Electing Democrat Mathis would maintain the slim Democratic majority.
Although either scenario is unlikely to create a significant shift that would tilt power toward one party or the other, regional and national groups have latched on to this election as pivotal in the future for civil marriage for gays and lesbians. Save for one question regarding the candidates’ view of government in citizens’ lives, there was no discussion of social issues at the Wednesday night debate. And, even in answering that one open-ended question, both candidates maintained talking points related to business, job creation and education.
Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/cindy_golding_125.jpgCindy Golding
As for the tone of the debate, Golding was clearly placed on the offensive by Mathis. Golding came into the event with talking points or sound bites. For instance, the Republican noted several times during the debate that the Iowa House had passed business-friendly legislation that was not debated in the Iowa Senate, implying that an evenly divided chamber might dissolve such impasses. Numerous times throughout the evening Golding charged that government needed to “get out of the way” of business interests in terms of taxation and regulation.
Although the discussion of stalled House bills opened the door for Mathis to discuss Senate bills that were set aside by the Republicans in the other chamber, she missed the opportunity. Her focus, it seemed, was to extract direct answers from Golding regarding her relationship with Gov. Terry Branstad and state Republicans, and the origins of Golding’s first television ad that labeled Mathis a “celebrity” and showed footage of a rally for President Obama. After the ad aired for several days, and after local residents objected to its content, Golding asked the state GOP to remove it.
As for her relationship with the governor and other Republicans, Golding said she sometimes agrees with Branstad and sometimes does not. Specifically regarding the Branstad administration’s education reform roll out, Golding said she was “appalled” that state leaders would continue to ask for more money from taxpayers for education, including the state’s contentious universal and voluntary preschool, when they had not yet exhausted all cost-free options for improving education, like allowing teachers to place children at various reading levels into groups according to their ability.
“It does matter how much money you put into a sinking ship,” Golding said, “if you don’t plug the holes, it still sinks.”
When it comes to the state’s preschool program, Mathis says she views it as an “investment” in Iowa’s economic future, while Golding chided leaders for asking taxpayers to “dig deeper” for preschool funding when parents can teach early literacy skills at home.
Both candidates attempted to promote themselves as independent thinkers, or people who would not go to Des Moines for the sole purpose of towing a political party’s line. It’s an important distinction because, as The Iowa Independent has previously noted, voters in Senate District 18 have historically given the nod to politicians who do not necessarily fit a party-only mold. Further, voter registrations between the two parties are roughly the same in SD 18; the largest voting segment being individuals who have chosen not to register with a party. The Linn County Auditor’s Office reports that more than 8,000 absentee ballot requests have been received as of Thursday.
KCRG plans to re-air the debate on its 9.2 channel at 1 p.m. on Monday and 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
The candidates will meet again Thursday night during a 7 p.m. League of Women Voters forum at the Kirkwood Training and Outreach Center on Armar Drive. The candidates’ most recent fundraising reports show Mathis with an advantage.