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Democrat senate hopefuls turn attacks to each other
CEDAR RAPIDS — Not many attending the 2010 Linn County Democrats’ Hall of Fame Saturday were expecting bickering between Democratic candidates, but that’s exactly what was on the menu when the party’s three candidates for U.S. Senate took the stage.
Tom Fiegen, a Cedar Rapids bankruptcy attorney, began his remarks by attacking the incumbent he’s hoping to unseat this fall, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, but it didn’t take long for him to turn his attention to the primary frontrunner, Roxanne Conlin.
“One of the things about Chuck Grassley is that his stock and trade has been his honesty, his trust. The reason he is vulnerable this year is because he has broken trust with us,” said Fiegen, who said he was deviating from his typical stump speech to speak about something “more important than issues.”
As proof that Grassley had misrepresented himself to voters, Fiegen noted a letter Grassley wrote to The Gazette, in response to an earlier letter-to-the-editor, in which he said he “never spoke of ‘death panels.’” Fiegen pointed to statements the Republican senator has made, such as the now infamous “pull the plug on grandma” line from a town hall meeting in Winterset last August, as evidence that Grassley is trying to rewrite history.
“So, the thing that makes Chuck Grassley vulnerable is the fact that we now know he is a liar. … The way we are going to beat him is that we are going to prove as a party and as a candidate that we can be trusted,” said Fiegen, who then called into question Conlin’s trustworthiness.
“[I]f somebody says, ‘I will debate my opponents after we are all qualified for the ballot,’ and then refuses to debate, is that person trustworthy?” Fiegen said. “If somebody says, ‘I will take no money from lobbyists,’ but then says, ‘I will take no money from federal lobbyists,’ and then says, ‘I will not take money from federal lobbyists except my friends,’ are they trustworthy? And then, if somebody criticizes Goldman Sachs, and yet they have the blood of Goldman Sachs on their hands and they own Goldman Sachs stock, are they trustworthy?”
The litany comprised most of Fiegen’s short remarks before county party activists, and ranged from allegations that Conlin previously used tax shelters to an assertion that farmers in South Dakota — where both Conlin and Fiegen were born — told Fiegen they “will never buy a bail of hay or a bull from Roxanne.”
“The question I’m asking you Democrats is if you can beat a liar with someone who, by their actions, has proven that they are not trustworthy and, in 28 years of public life, has broken trust by saying one thing and doing another,” he said.
Conlin, who had been randomly selected earlier in the evening to speak immediately following Fiegen, wrote off all of Fiegen’s comments as untrue and launched a mild stab of her own against another Democratic senate candidate, Bob Krause.
“All of what you heard is plainly not true, and I’m shocked that here tonight we would hear such falsehoods from a candidate for the United States Senate,” she said. “At first I thought it was Bob Krause that had refused to debate, because I have accepted two opportunities to debate.
“Why in the world do you think I would be afraid to debate? I spent my life debating in the courtrooms of this state and I certainly welcome the opportunity to put before you my qualifications, my attitudes, my issues and the things that I care about.”
A spokesman for Conlin confirmed with The Iowa Independent that they are scheduled for multi-candidate events hosted by The Des Moines Register/WHO-TV and Iowa Press, and that the campaign is considering a third opportunity. Fiegen told The Iowa Independent that initially he also agreed to the May 28 Iowa Press debate on Iowa Public Television because he was told it would be a debate. He was informed Monday, however, that the format has changed and that event would be done as a joint interview/candidate forum.
Both Krause and Fiegen initially accepted a debate offering from the Johnson County League of Women voters scheduled for May 18. Fiegen stipulated that he would only debate if all three candidates attended. When the League informed Krause and Fiegen just days before the Linn County event that Conlin would not be attending, Fiegen withdrew his support and, it seems, decided to publicly register his disappointment.
The North Iowa Area Community College Young Democrats also attempted to host a debate in early March, but once again Fiegen would not attend if Conlin did not. When Conlin declined the invitation, Fiegen withdrew and Krause remained the only candidate who would attend.
“The speeches given by my opponents in Cedar Rapids … were troubling for several reasons,” Krause noted in a prepared statement after the event. “First, the accusation of lying was cast by Mr. Fiegen against Ms. Conlin in a public place during an event honoring others; second, because of the apparent misunderstanding of what did actually occur in the effort to scheduled a debate; and third, because Ms. Conlin alleged that I had refused to debate — which is completely untrue.
“Having said that, we as candidates need to put this controversy behind us and move forward to test our positions and proposals with the voters in a positive fashion. In this spirit, I ask Ms. Conlin to publicly affirm her intent — expressed at the Linn County dinner — to participate in two debates.”
Krause noted that he believes the three should debate at the proposed League event in Iowa City.
“Iowa’s own great suffragette, Carrie Chapman Catt, founded the League of Women Voters. The Johnson County Chapter of the LWV is an ideal organization to host such a significant event. Without open public debate years ago, there would be no suffrage for women today,” he said.
Although the attacks in Cedar Rapids are hardly the first that has been launched against Conlin’s campaign, it was one of the few times the attack came in person instead of via press release or social networking. In fact, the rift between the candidates was largely sparked by Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan when he, while refusing to name names, expressed his excitement about a new big name candidate that would give Grassley “the race of his life.” At the time of Kiernan’s statement both Fiegen and Krause, a military veteran and former Iowa House member, had already committed to the race and, needless to say, took exception to the IDP spokesman’s dismissal.
“I call upon all Democrats to listen to their higher self and not allow king-maker politics to engulf the party,” Krause said at the time.