The announcement of the candidate forum between Republican Cindy Golding and Democrat Liz Mathis in State Senate District 18 was late in coming, so I watched the debate on television rather than at Linn-Mar High School Auditorium in Marion. A high school sporting event conflicted with the time chosen by KCRG-TV 9 and the Gazette and contributed to sparse attendance. As the television camera panned the audience, there were a lot of empty seats, but a few familiar faces, including Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Bob Dvorsky. The fact that the forum was televised at all is evidence of how important the political parties and news media believe this race is.
What was surprising was that the candidates actually debated. We are used to formulaic exchanges with strict rules about interaction and speaking time in most other political forums. For the first 20 minutes, the candidates freely exchanged ideas in a civil manner. Each made their points and by the end of the hour, it was clear where each one stood.
Mathis was articulate, positive and willing to agree with some of Governor Branstad’s initiatives regarding education. Like many, I have been watching Liz Mathis on television for decades and it was surprising to see and hear her outside this context. She established herself as her own person, referencing her broadcasting career briefly, but focusing on her work with Four Oaks, knowledge about her husband’s small business, her work as a faculty member and regent at Wartburg College, and her work lobbying the Iowa Legislature on behalf of organizations with whom she associates. Mathis said at least twice that she would take guidance from residents of the district in forming her opinions about which legislation to support, not from her political party. She came across as confident and knowledgeable about issues like the gas tax and education. She was aggressive in countering things her opponent has said and done in the campaign, which put Republican Cindy Golding on the defensive.
Golding came across as pro-business, a doctrinaire Republican and a bit of a whiner. She complained that Iowa had changed for the worse since she and her family moved here from Illinois and she seeks to help regain what had been lost if elected to the Iowa Senate. When questioned about the “brain drain” in Iowa, her view of Iowa children was that not everyone should attend college, so we should celebrate those who seek to become hairdressers and mechanics after high school. Her approach to resolving the brain drain would be to create an environment to attract business investment in Iowa. Her personal situation is telling. Her children had all become engineers by attending Iowa State University. The engineering jobs available in Iowa and specifically at Rockwell in Cedar Rapids were not good enough for them, so they left the state. This begs the question of what Iowa would look like if Golding’s agenda were to advance. It did not appear to support the very things she said had deteriorated since she arrived. Golding said, before the government spends more money on education, we should change our attitude and do positive things that don’t cost money. She would fit in well with the austerity crowd in Des Moines.
Golding said she would not be a rubber stamp for Governor Branstad, but she also said she felt the Iowa Senate was blocking bills that would favor business in Iowa. She would rubber stamp some of those bills, which indicated that she wants it both ways. Interpretation: when the conservative agenda is being advanced, she will cooperate, when a moderate agenda is being advanced she will obstruct. In contrast, Mathis reminded us that people are tired of the gridlock in politics, and expressed willingness to work with other Senators and the Governor to solve long standing problems like making needed infrastructure repairs and improving education.
One hopes that the sparse attendance at the forum last night was due to the sporting event and not a lack of interest in the November 8 special election. The results will decide whether Democrats will retain control of the Iowa Senate or whether there will be shared power between the parties. Each would present a different dynamic for the conclusion of the 84th Iowa General Assembly, more evidence that elections matter.
~ Paul Deaton is a regular contributor to Blog for Iowa and lives in rural Iowa.