Two competing pearls of wisdom come to mind when assessing the opening salvos of Iowa’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign: “What goes around comes around” and “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
In the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney faced repeated attacks focusing on his experience at Bain Capital, a company he helped found and led for several years prior to 1999 when he was put in charge of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Bain is a private equity firm that serves a variety of functions. It invests in startup companies believed to have potential for further growth. It raises the funds necessary for rapid growth and expansion, helping these firms realize their potential. In some cases, it purchases existing companies at bargain prices — firms that would likely fail otherwise — hoping to re-organize them and return them to profitability.
Needless to say, this is a risky business. Some new companies don’t have so much potential after all. Some older companies simply can’t be saved even with a new and better management team. Bain’s overall record was outstanding. If there was a hall of fame for such entities, the company and Mitt Romney would certainly be in it. However, there are exceptions to every rule. If the plan doesn’t work, then what happens? Companies close their doors and go out of business, workers lose their jobs and benefits and communities suffer. At best, some of these firms can be broken down into their component parts; the profitable ones sold off, thus cutting Bain’s losses. Good for Bain, not good for employees of those components that don’t make the cut.
It is obvious Gov. Kim Reynolds’ campaign is using a variation on this theme to attack Democratic candidate Fred Hubbell. Hubbell, as Younkers CEO from 1985 to 1992, closed stores in Spencer, Newton and Ottumwa while making a good deal of money, including substantial yearly raises even as he pulled the plug on stores in these cities. Reynolds’ first wave of ads focus on the victims — the communities that lost a valuable retail asset and the employees whose lives were disrupted when the stores were shut down. When this happens, there are always victims ready to tell their stories. To Democrats’ squawking about these ads, you should remember what goes around comes around.
Like the Romney ads, much of this is unfair. Hubbell, while no Romney, was by most accounts a pretty fair CEO. The company made money; overall, the number of stores did not decline in Hubbell’s tenure. Furthermore, the preservation of any particular job in a growing economy need not be our highest priority. What would we do with all those livery stable jobs from a couple centuries ago if it was?
One way of looking at it is we’re lucky to have Hubbell in the race. He’s not one of their crazies. Our choice could have been the Kennedyesque Sen. Nate Boulton or the radical nurse who wanted “free” pretty much everything except our tax bill. So citing the wisdom of “two wrongs don’t make a right,” I’m going to give Hubbell the benefit of the doubt on this one. There are plenty of reasons to vote for Reynolds — as I surely will — but Hubbell’s record at Younkers many decades ago isn’t one of them.