Democratic candidates for governor address marijuana and core values at final joint appearance

Video still from Democratic candidates joint appearance on May 30, 2018. (Left to Right) John Norris, Fred Hubbell, Ross Wilburn, Cathy Glasson and Andy McGuire.

What the legal status of marijuana should be stood out as a rare point of disagreement among the five remaining Democrats in the race of governor during a televised joint appearance at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines on Wednesday night. It was the final such event of the primary campaign, and even though the sponsors, KCCI-TV and the Des Moines Register, called it a debate, the rules of the event didn’t allow the candidates to question each other.

For the most part, the candidates didn’t even mention each other and no one but Cathy Glasson attempted to single themselves out as a better choice than the others. In her opening statement, Glasson said, “Unlike some of my opponents here tonight, I am not a millionaire businessman, I’m not an attorney, I’ve also never worked for a health insurance company,” clearly referencing Fred Hubbell, John Norris and Andy McGuire, respectively.

Only Ross Wilburn, the former mayor of Iowa City, wasn’t referenced in Glasson’s list. Wilburn is perhaps the least likely among the candidates to win the primary, since he has consistently ranked last in both polls and fundraising.

Glasson’s second attempt to draw a distinction between herself and the others generated some pushback from Norris. As part of her response to a question about whether there are any Nate Boulton-like surprises in her background, Glasson pointed out that she has marched in protests at the state capitol and said, “Honestly, I don’t recall my fellow opponents standing on this stage being there with me.”

“I don’t know what march I missed, but I don’t think you can measure someone’s commitment by missing a march,” Norris said, when it was his turn to speak. “But I’ll tell you 30 years ago this month, I was marching with Cesar Chavez in California for environmental justice for migrant workers. And 20 years ago, I was marching in the Battle in Seattle with Sen. Paul Wellstone against the WTO [World Trade Organization], and how it hurt workers in our country and family farmers.”

The questions from the moderators largely elicited responses showing how closely in step with each other the candidates are on major issues. The only real exception was on the issue of marijuana.

All the candidates are in favor of expanding the use of medical marijuana in Iowa, but responding to a question about taxes early in the event, Glasson said, “I think we need to consider looking at other generations [sic] of revenue for the state, such as legalizing personal marijuana –personal use marijuana. We know there are other states in this country, particularly Oregon, that generated $85 million by doing that, and they fund public education and they fund health care with that.”

(Under Oregon law, tax revenue generated by marijuana sales is divided between the state school fund (40 percent), various health care services (25 percent) and the state police (15 percent). The legislature can direct how the remaining 20 percent is spent.)

Glasson has only started speaking about legalizing and taxing marijuana recently. She didn’t mention the topic when she declared her candidacy in September.

None of the other candidates talked about marijuana when they responded to the question about taxes, but the final question of the evening was about whether the candidates favored decriminalizing marijuana.

Norris responded with one word, “Yes.” Wilburn offered qualified support: “Yes, reduce the schedule that allows some experimentation, exploration, research and further research to be done.”

Because the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — the category for the most dangerous narcotics — there are severe restrictions on using it in research projects. The governor of Iowa doesn’t have the power to change the schedule of a drug.

McGuire was even more cautious than Wilburn in her response. “I would certainly look into it,” she said. “I think it’s, right now, hurting people of color, incarcerating them at a higher level, so I would certainly look into it.”

In contrast to the others, Hubbell offered a qualified no in response. “Not yet,” he said. “I think we need to see how it work in other states for a long period of time first.”

The moderators didn’t ask Glasson, since she had already come out in favor of legalization. “And for your listeners, there’s a distinction between legalization and decriminalization,” Norris said, after all the other candidates had answered the decriminalization question.

Decriminalization means making marijuana possession a civil infraction, like a parking violation, instead of a crime. In order to regulate production and sale of marijuana, and collect sale and excise taxes, it would have to be legalized.

The current Iowa Democratic Party Platform, adopted in 2016, calls for not just “legalizing cannabis/hemp,” but also “legalizing all drugs.”

Only one other question really highlighted the differences between the candidates. During a rapid answer round, the candidates were asked to name one issue they would not compromise on. (The candidates’ full answers are below, in the order in which they were given.)

Norris: “I’ll lose this election over advocating for welcoming new Iowans, before I’ll compromise on that.”

Hubbell: “Fixing the budget and put it behind the right priorities, so we put people first in our state.”

Wilburn: “Civil rights. The civil rights movement is not over, we see that from our leadership in Washington D.C., or lack thereof.”

Glasson: “Universal single-payer health care.”

McGuire: “Health care and making sure patients are at the center.”

The primary election is June 5. If none of the candidates get at least 35 percent of the vote, the Democratic candidate for governor will be selected at the state party convention on June 16.

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