By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, Oct. 15, 2018 – The truth is that Fred Hubbell should have run for governor of Iowa a dozen years ago, or maybe in 2010 or 2014.
But thank goodness he’s running now, right when Iowa really needs him. This state needs a reboot. And Hubbell – one of our best and brightest ever – has the vision, credibility, gumption and consensus-building skills to get it done.
So, despite my opposition to him on one key issue – abortion – he’s earned my endorsement and support.
As most of you know by now in this campaign, Hubbell is a 67-year-old Democrat and a wealthy, retired business executive from Des Moines. He comes from one of the founding families of Iowa, the builders of the Younkers department store chain and Equitable Life Insurance Company of Iowa. For generations the Hubbells have been business investors, generous philanthropists and community leaders in Des Moines and across the state.
Fred Hubbell campaigning in Jefferson last April.
He is challenging Gov. Kim Reynolds, a 59-year-old Republican from Osceola.
Reynolds is a former county treasurer and for two years a state senator. She was a surprise pick by former Gov. Terry Branstad to be his lieutenant governor running mate in 2010, they won and were re-elected in 2014. When Branstad resigned as governor in May of 2017 to accept an appointment by President Donald Trump to be U.S. Ambassador to China, Reynolds became governor.
Kim Reynolds is a nice person, probably nicer than Fred Hubbell.
I described her last spring, leading up to the primary election, as “a walking, talking story of personal redemption,” in her recovery from alcoholism. “She meets the public very well, and people like her,” I added.
Of course, I like her pro-life position and her committed leadership on the abortion issue. I’m right with her and the Republican Party in supporting the “fetal heartbeat” bill and the de-funding of Planned Parenthood.
But there is a whole lot more to governing this state than just that one important issue.
Here’s where I think Reynolds has failed, and why we should elect Hubbell for the essential reboot:
— Her biggest political mistake has been that she didn’t step out of Branstad’s shadow, especially after he went to China. She should have shown us she is going to make her own way as governor, and not just be Branstad 3.0. She should have announced some big, positive, uniquely-“Reynolds” program that could be embraced by all Iowans. Or, is that what the “Empower Rural Iowa” initiative she launched in July is supposed to be? Starting it less than four months before the election seemed presumptuous. What happens to it all if she loses? It’s questionable whether there’s any funding available for it, and besides, it’s not something likely to excite the huge majority of our population now living in larger towns, suburbs and cities.
–Her biggest governing mistake has been that she has continued – actually even escalated – what seems almost a war against state government that Branstad started. Nobody supported him more than I did in his first four terms, from 1983-’99, and nobody objected more than I did when he announced he was thinking of running again in 2010. Such forced comebacks rarely end well, and Branstad’s isn’t, either. In six years back in office, he cut more than 2,000 state employees and destroyed morale. Then Reynolds took over and presided over the gutting of Iowa’s highly-praised collective bargaining with public employees. Education is being underfunded, especially for the community colleges and higher education. Everyone wonders if the IPERS public employment retirement system is now being targeted. The Medicaid privatization has been a disaster. Maintenance of highways, rest-stops, state parks and public buildings has slipped. The most puzzling part of all this is that we’ve been witnessing an attack on government led by Terry Branstad and now Kim Reynolds, and you can’t be more “government” than those two are!
–I think all of the above are indicators that 1) she doesn’t yet have a good grasp of what most Iowans want and expect from their state government, and thus 2) she’s not really ready to be governor. Look back at the state government that Bob Ray, Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack built from the 1970s into the new century. Many of the smartest people in Iowa worked in state government. Our public schools and universities were the envy of the nation. Our infrastructure was vastly improved over those decades. Social, health and retirement services from state government were exceptional. And state government led us in helping with humanitarian needs around the world. More often than not, we were unified, too. That’s not how state government seems anymore in Iowa, and I don’t think Reynolds can get us back to that.
—Finally, a smaller but still noteworthy failing by her in this campaign: Reynolds declined to be interviewed by the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, my former employer. Some probably think that made her look strong and confident. I think it made her look afraid to answer tough questions. Either way, it was a political mistake. Even if she didn’t think she could win their endorsement, she would have won big points with her base by going in there and arguing her positions. She did well enough in her first debate with Hubbell that I’ll bet there’s now some regret among her campaign staff that she didn’t say yes to the ed board opportunity.
Hubbell’s crowds have been impressive from the very start of his campaign. This one was on a weekday noon hour in Jefferson last spring.
Why Fred Hubbell?
He has had educational and professional experience that Reynolds simply cannot match, across the nation and around the world. He doesn’t brag about it. In fact, he is often too understated about what he’s accomplished.
He has an admirable record for working with people with whom he has differences, for a greater good. I think he can rally Democrats and Republicans in Iowa for the bipartisan reboot we need. Reynolds has already been too rabidly partisan to be able to do that herself.
Hubbell would be smart to tell the public, “Look, I’m already retired, I’m 67 years old and I don’t intend to die in office. I think I can get a whole lot done in turning Iowa back around in the next four years. I will promise you I’m not going to quit in two years and turn it over to Lt. Gov. Rita Hart. But if I’m satisfied with where we are in four years, I’ll bow out. Running for re-election at 71 years old, which I would be then, doesn’t sound like much fun anyway, and if I leave then, it’d be a nice way to open the door for the next generations. Of course, if you don’t work with me the next four years, you might have me serving into my crotchety old age, too.”
Back during the primary campaign, when I was supporting Democrat John Norris, I wrote that there were at least three reasons I should be supporting Hubbell: 1) He is a very smart, visionary and good person. 2) Our little town of Cooper is named after Hubbell’s great-great-grandfather Isaac Cooper, and in 1981, young Fred and his wife Charlotte Hubbell rode in the Cooper Centennial parade as grand marshals. And 3) in 2006, when we were celebrating Cooper’s quasquicentennial, I talked Fred and his brother Jamie Hubbell into splitting the $3,000 cost to bring the “Celebration Iowa Singers & Jazz Band” to Cooper as our featured performers. Proof that the Hubbells have never forgotten their roots!
But I expected if Hubbell beat Norris in the primary, I’d probably wind up supporting Reynolds in the general election.
However, as pleased as I’ve been with her courageous stand on the abortion issue, her ineffective other governance has lost me. I’m feeling right at home with Fred Hubbell.
Fred Hubbell “has the vision, credibility, gumption and consensus-building skills to get it done.”
You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.