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ANKENY — 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.

Hubbell accused Reynolds of failing to make necessary changes to Medicaid. Reynolds accused Hubbell of promising more than he could deliver.

They faced off on the Des Moines Area Community College campus in the first of three televised debates.

Reynolds aggressively challenged Hubbell, interrupting him and moderators several times to get her points across. 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.

Hubbell criticized Reynolds for sticking with private management of the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program, which serves roughly 600,000 disabled and low-income Iowans.

Former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, in 2016 handed off management of the health care program to private companies.

Many disabled patients and their family members have said private management has reduced the quality of care. Providers say they are not reimbursed sufficiently or in a timely fashion.

Reynolds has said private management remains the best course while acknowledging changes are needed.

During the debate, Hubbell said Reynolds has not made those changes.

“It is not working, and it is in fact getting worse. So we need to do something much different,” said Hubbell, who told stories of Iowans who have had issues with the Medicaid program. He then said to Reynolds, “You’re promising more of the same.”

Reynolds said “the bulk” of Medicaid patients are getting the services they need, but acknowledged improvements could be made.

Reynolds accused Hubbell of pledging to reform Medicaid without saying how the state would pay if costs increase.

“And you’re telling everybody what they want to hear and not talking about how you’re going to fund the system moving forward,” Reynolds said to Hubbell. “You have no details or no answers about how you’re going to fund the system.”

Hubbell said he would take Medicaid back to a system where the state has control, not the private companies.

While Hubbell highlighted Medicaid, Reynolds challenged him to release more of his tax returns.

Reynolds released 10 years of full tax returns; Hubbell released just cover sheets from one year’s worth of returns, from 2017 —- the same year he announced his campaign for governor.

“I don’t know what you’re embarrassed of or what you’re hiding,” Reynolds said to Hubbell.

Hubbell said the information he released included total income, deductions, and charitable contributions. Hubbell also said the tax information he released included sources of income — from various boards and investments, but not which specific boards and investments.

“All of the information is out there,” Hubbell said, comparing his level of transparency to former Republican Gov. Robert Ray.

Reynolds said if elected she would examine the state’s myriad tax credit programs and consider reducing the corporate tax rate, which she said would make Iowa businesses more competitive.

Hubbell called tax cuts implemented this year by Reynolds and the GOP-led Iowa Legislature “fiscally irresponsible.”

“The governor wants to take more money out of taxes. That means more money out of education, more money out of health care, more money out of infrastructure,” Hubbell said.

After the debate, Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said he gave Reynolds the edge but would not call her the winner.

“The main response would be — to be continued,” Goldford said.

Goldford said Reynolds was much more aggressive in her approach, and Hubbell struggled to make his case in the face of that aggressiveness.

“If you look at her campaign ads, she’s been running as everybody’s Iowa kid sister, and tonight it became evident that Iowa’s kid sister knows how to use a knife and a baseball bat,” Goldford said. “She was very aggressive, at times rudely so — interrupting — but very well-rehearsed, very well-prepared.”

Hubbell was strongest when he responded to her claims about his wealthy background by saying he’s not seeking to be governor for the money but rather to make things better for all Iowans, Goldford said.

“A challenger has got to make the case that, No. 1, something’s wrong with the way that things are run and, No. 2, I’m the person that can fix that,” Goldford said. “While he’s got a different laundry list of things, his focus is her fiscal mismanagement. He needs to emphasize that a lot more I think, a lot more sharply.”

But there were times, Goldford said, that Hubbell had “a deer in the headlights” look.

“She came out flipping a knife and swinging a baseball bat and so in that sense I think she somewhat more dominated the theatrics of the debate,” Goldford concluded.

Reynolds and Hubbell will debate again Oct. 17 in Sioux City, and a third time Oct. 21 in Davenport.

Election Day is Nov. 6. Early voting in Iowa is underway.

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State house reporter for The Courier/Lee Enterprises.

Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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