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Fertilizer Plant a Focus in Iowa Gubernatorial Debate

Sep 22, 2014

The latest debate between Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) and State Sen. Jack Hatch (D-Des Moines) focused on economic development and job creation, with just enough scandal and accusations to keep it interesting.

State Sen. Jack Hatch (L) and Gov. Terry Branstad square off before a crowd of 500 in Burlington over the weekend
Credit The Burlington Hawkeye

The crowd of roughly 500 in the Edward Stone Middle School auditorium in Burlington was told prior to the debate to hold all applause, cheers and jeers until the end.

The audience members did pretty well, minus the occasional cough or chuckle, during the first 30 minutes, but after a scheduled commercial break, the topic of accountability and leadership was raised during a series of questions.

The candidates traded barbs over lawsuits and investigations surrounding Branstad and Hatch’s use of tax credits as a real estate developer.

Hatch eventually called out the Governor over his campaign ads.

"Governor, I would like to ask that you take a cue from one of your political heroes, Ronald Reagan, you stop lying about me and I will stop telling the truth about you."

Supporters cheered after Hatch delivered the line, but not as much as the rest of the room did after Branstad responded to Hatch's call for an open and honest governor.

"This is Iowa, not Illinois," said Branstad.  "Most of the former governors in Illinois are in prison.  I am back in office because the people of Iowa trust me.  They know me (and) they know I am honest.  I have been totally open and tranparant.”

The moderator, Gary Metivier of KWQC-TV, was eventually able to regain control of the debate, asking the crowd to again hold all reaction until the end.

State Sen. Jack Hatch (L) and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad embrace in Burlington Saturday night.
Credit The Burlington Hawkeye

The topic of leadership and accountability was the most heated of the night, but it was far from the only time the differences between the candidates came to light.

Hatch used the first question of the evening to lay out his plan for economic development: a community-up approach instead of a top-down approach where Des Moines, as he says, chooses winners and losers.

“My plan is to have an economic development authority, not one to cover the entire state but regionally, four of them," said Hatch.  "So each congressional district would be able to match the state’s priorities with national priorities that would be funded by our congressmen and women and also the local communities that spend so much time and effort like Davenport, Muscatine and Burlington to be able to create jobs on their own.”

Branstad countered, saying his approach of a statewide economic development effort is what brought Iowa Fertilizer Company to southeast Iowa.

“I think it would be a big mistake to divide the state into four regions. You would not have enough resources when you have a great opportunity like this.  I am really proud of what we have accomplished, but we are not done.”

Branstad says Iowa Fertilizer Company’s announcement that it is not done investing in Iowa is an example of how the state continues to succeed when it comes to job growth.

In fact, the plant being built near Wever was brought up many times during the first half of the debate with Branstad also defending the decision to offer tax incentives to bring the plant to Lee County.

“If it had not located here, we wouldn’t get those additional tax revenues and we would not have the 1,900 construction jobs, the 400 more (jobs) that are going to be added, nor would we have the permanent jobs," said Branstad.  "[We would also not be able to help] farmers benefit from the $740-million reduction in nitrogen fertilizer costs.”

Branstad questioned how his opponent could object to a project that is helping so many people in Iowa.

Hatch said he is not objecting to the jobs created or the benefits to the farmers.  He is objecting to how the project came to be a reality.

“It was a reckless deal," said Hatch.  "It was a bad deal.  It was a terrible deal.  [The Governor] was able to engage $110-million dollars of state money to create 165 jobs, which is equal to... $700,000 per job."

Iowa Fertilizer Company has since said there would be 240 permanent jobs, which reduces Hatch's calculation to around $480,000 per job.

The candidates also sparred over property taxes, the gasoline tax and the minimum wage during the hour-long debate in Burlington.  They will do it all again on Oct. 14 in Sioux City.