Story by Austin Cannon
The Maytag Auditorium at the Iowa Public Television (IPTV) facility in Johnston, Iowa, played host to the Iowa’s initial Republican senate candidate debate on Thursday evening.
Dean Borg, host of IPTV’s “Iowa Press,” moderated the amicable debate between the five candidates: state Senator Joni Ernst; businessman Mark Jacobs; sales professional Scott Schaben; former United States Attorney Matt Whitaker; and Sam Clovis, a Morningside College professor and radio host.
Over the 90-minute debate, the candidates fielded questions on everything from job growth to immigration to the Affordable Care Act.
Early in the debate, the discussion of job growth and a higher minimum wage shifted to tax reform and the conservative ideal of small government, a theme that would remain constant throughout the debate.
Along with supporting the closure of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Clovis thought the elimination of corporate taxes would help everyday Americans.
“Well, if you get rid of corporate taxes then you have the opportunity to repatriate trillions of dollars that is housed overseas, brought back to this country for capital investment,” Clovis said. “Capital investment then comes in the very heart of exactly what you’re talking about, and that is manufacturing, the blue collar sector of this nation where most of those jobs have been exported because of the confiscatory tax policy of this government.”
Whitaker agreed with his opponent.
“I think we have seen time and time again where the IRS is turning into a massive, clunky, bureaucratic organization that is targeting taxpayers. It’s our worst nightmare, and it is time for it to go,” Whitaker said.
Jacobs was quick to agree with the others on a new, simplified tax code, but he was noncommittal on the closure of the IRS.
“You know, I think that’s something I continue to look at for an intermediate and longer term perspective,” Jacobs said.
The IRS wasn’t the only government agency that the candidates discussed eliminating.
To cut federal spending, Sen. Ernst agreed with ditching the IRS and went even further, mentioning the possible closure of the Education Department.
“Closing the doors to the Department of Education at the federal level, and not just because it would save taxpayer dollars, but because I do believe that our children are better educated when it’s coming from the state and the localities,” Ernst said.
She wasn’t done.
“Another area that we need to look at is the Environmental Protection Agency,” Ernst said. “When we talk about the rules and regulations that are burdening business owners, whether it is in ag(riculture), whether it is in industry here in the state of Iowa. Let’s shut down the federal EPA and focus on those issues here in the state where the state knows best how to protect resources.”
Jacobs, who has contributed $1.65 million of his own money toward his campaign, had experience with the EPA during his time as the CEO of Reliant Energy.
He acknowledged problems with all regulatory industries and proposed a solution.
“I advocate doing what we have done with the Congressional Budget Office. That’s an independent group that does a cost-benefit analysis of any new legislation, and we need that same concept for regulation because today that is housed within each regulatory agency,” Jacobs said. “And I can tell you firsthand when the EPA does a cost benefit analysis, it is done to support their point of view and not done honestly.”
After Clovis and Whitaker weighed in, each welcoming the closure of the Education Department, Schaben spoke, saying that closing federal agencies alone won’t balance the federal budget.
“You could eliminate every nickel of non-defense discretionary spending. You could eliminate the EPA, the Department of Education. You could add onto that the NSA, the TSA, the FDA … You can get rid of all of them. The fact of the matter is you get rid of every nickel of that, and you still don’t have a balanced budget,” Schaben said.
It was the candidates’ first joint appearance before the June 3 Republican primary.
The winner will face Congressman Bruce Braley in the November general election.
In a recent poll conducted by Suffolk University April 3-8, 25 percent of respondents said they would vote for Ernst in the primary.
Jacobs trailed by less than three points at 22.77 percent.
Clovis, Whitaker and Schaben all came in under 10 percent. 40.9 percent of those polled were undecided.
In the same poll, all the candidates were projected to finish behind Braley in November, so, naturally, his name made several appearances Thursday night.
While the candidates rarely disagreed with each other, they didn’t hesitate to attack Braley.
Sen. Ernst, the only candidate with a legislative voting record, compared her success lowering spending in Iowa to Braley’s lack thereof in Washington.
Jacobs criticized Braley’s record of voting with Democratic leaders like President Obama, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid. He even had a cute name for them, “the Braley bunch.”
Whitaker was quick to place the nation’s economic woes at Braley’s feet.
“It’s slow and it has been slow for many years. It is because of the policies of Bruce Braley has voted for,” Whitaker said. “It’s Obamacare. It’s bailouts It’s TARP. It’s stimulus, Cash for Clunkers. It’s all of those things.”
When all was said and done, nothing stuck out, at least to some.
Friday on “Iowa Press,” Craig Robinson, the editor of TheIowaRepublican.com, thought the candidates each wasted a chance to separate from the pack.
“I didn’t see any candidate really do that in the debate,” Robinson said. “This is an open seat. This is a huge prize. And yet, I see five candidates on the stage who are very content with just being — just providing answers to the questions that are asked to them. They’re not doing anything to separate themselves politically.”
However, there was one comment, courtesy of Sen. Ernst, that did stand out.
When Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson asked Ernst about her farm background in relation to the Affordable Care Act, Ernst emulated her now famous campaign advertisement.
“You come from the same rural area that I do,” Ernst said. “So, have you castrated hogs?”
Henderson declined to comment.