At the very beginning of Wednesday night’s debate between Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democratic Fred Hubbell at Morningside College in Sioux City, there was a small but telling moment. Reynolds started her opening remarks by thanking Morningside for hosting the debate, then added, “Go Mustangs, number one in the country.”
Like most of what Reynolds said during the debate, it’s a statement in need of an asterisk.
Morningside’s football team, the Mustangs, is currently ranked number one in the weekly poll of coaches in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, a league for small colleges. Most people in the auditorium at Morningside probably knew about the NAIA and its poll, but the rest of us could have used a few words of context or explanation.
It wasn’t important, of course — just one those throw-away lines politicians use to get applause, though this bit of pandering fell flat, and no one applauded.
Other asterisk-worthy statements by Reynolds were actually important.
“Unemployment is at 2.5 percent, Fred,” Reynolds said in response to a question about the economy. “We’re seeing our economy grow, we’re seeing wages increase. The last three quarters we’ve seen wage growth.”
“Iowa has historically had a low unemployment rate because, quite frankly, the nature of our economy doesn’t support a lot of slack in it,” Iowa State University research economist Dave Swenson explained to U.S. News and World Report earlier this year. “If you can’t find work where you are, then you move out, and you find some place where you can find work.”
Swenson also published a review of statistics on Iowa economy on Bleeding Heartland on Tuesday.
According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa ranked 47th among all states in job creation between 2011 and 2017. In terms of economic growth, “Iowa has grown slower than all neighboring states, even perpetually beleaguered Illinois” since 2011, Swenson noted. And average wages in Iowa are lower than the average of wages in neighboring states. Iowans were only making on average 92 percent of the average wage for the entire Plains area (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota).
When Hubbell addressed economy during the debate, he chose to emphasize the human side of Iowa’s current economy with what was probably the most memorable line of the night.
“This is a state where we say we want to feed the world, but we can’t feed our own kids,” he said, pointing out that almost half of the state’s schoolkids qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.
“This economy is not working,” Hubbell added. “Almost all the benefits of economy go to big corporations at the expense of small businesses, and to wealthy individuals at the expense of everybody else.”
An especially big asterisk for Reynolds’ statement on the impact of Republican policies on women’s health care in Iowa appeared in Thursday’s Des Moines Register.
During the debate, Reynolds referred to the state’s new family planning program, which was created when Republicans in the state legislature voted during the last session to ban any state funds from going to all clinics that are part of organizations which provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood.
“I am expanding healthcare for Iowans and that’s why I signed legislation last year that would provide [sic] bring more providers into the healthcare fund that we put in place,” Reynolds said, after explaining that signing the so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill — the most restrictive abortion law in the country, passed by the legislature this year — was one of her proudest achievements.
But the Register reported a 73 percent decline in family planning services provided in Iowa from April to June compared to the same period last year, according to data from the state’s Department of Human Services.
Hubbell earned the only applause during the debate, when it was his turn to discuss women’s health issues.
“I’m an unabashed supporter of Roe v. Wade, and I have been for a long time,” Hubbell said, as some members of audience started clapping.
This was the second of three debates. The final meeting between the candidates will be in Davenport at 8 a.m. on Sunday.