ANKENY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell traded barbs Wednesday over the state budget and privatization of the Medicaid program as they met on a debate stage for the first time.
Reynolds aggressively challenged Hubbell, interrupting him and moderators several times to get her points across during the debate held at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny. She also defended her legislative record, saying the economy is growing with more Iowans working at higher wages. That helped close out the budget with a $127 million surplus, Reynolds added.
Hubbell, however, cited recent reports indicating 40 percent of working Iowa residents can't pay for basic food and shelter needs, an indication that the economy isn't improving for everyone.
Another disagreement came with Hubbell's criticism of Reynolds' continuation of a privatized Medicaid program that has resulted in providers not getting paid and complaints that residents are getting inadequate care that's hurting Iowa's most vulnerable citizens.
"All I hear is it's working fine, and we don't need to make any changes," he said.
Reynolds said Hubbell's plan to put the state back in charge won't work.
"We can't go back to the old system, it's not sustainable," she said, indicating that she's made changes to improve the system with new management and actuaries reviewing spending.
In the end, Hubbell argued that Reynolds "promises more of the same, I promise change," while Reynolds countered that Hubbell's ideas would take the state backward.
Reynolds, the Republican incumbent, is working to earn her first full term after ascending from lieutenant governor last year when then-Gov. Terry Branstad left to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Hubbell, a business executive with a law degree who comes from a wealthy Des Moines family, hopes to convince voters that Iowa needs to change direction after its sharp shift two years ago to a conservative-led government.
Reynolds claimed credit for the 2.5 percent unemployment rate, one of the lowest in the country, job training programs and signing a tax cut bill that reduced state revenues by $2.1 billion over six fiscal years.
But Hubbell blamed Reynolds for stripping state workers of collective bargaining rights, defunding Planned Parenthood, underfunding education while approving wasteful tax giveaways, and continuing the privatized Medicaid program.
Reynolds campaigns on her small-town Iowa roots and values. She tells voters that although she was alongside Branstad since 2010, she can manage the office on her own.
"The experienced pilot bailed out and left the plane in the control of the co-pilot and so the question is do people have confidence that the co-pilot has the experience and knowledge necessary to fly the plane? That's the question for her," said Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford.
Hubbell, on the other hand, must present a vision for Iowa that voters see as a better option, Goldford said.
The most recent Iowa Poll conducted last month for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom indicated Hubbell with a slight lead.