Editorial: Keep Iowa on its trajectory

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Iowa is at another turning point, like our friends to the south were in 1982, when Republican Gov.

Robert D. Ray decided to call it quits after 3 1/2 terms. The voters elected Republican Gov.

Terry E. Branstad. The Lake Mills resident became the longest-serving governor, opting to not seek re-election in 1998. Voters this time picked Democrat Tom Vilsack. He&8217;s hanging up his hat after eight years.

The trend is clear. Iowans like sending incumbents back to Terrace Hill, the historic 1869 18,000-square-foot governor&8217;s mansion at 2300 Grand Avenue in Des Moines.

That makes this year&8217;s gubernatorial election between Republican Jim Nussle and Democrat Chet Culver particularly important. Culver, a former teacher, is the secretary of state. Nussle, a lawyer, is the 1st District of Iowa congressman.

The race is close.

Culver is a likable, jocular, honest man, with an &8220;aw shucks&8221; appeal. Nussle seems trustworthy and knows how to speak to Iowans, but voters aren&8217;t that warm to D.C. Republicans these days.

Iowa tends to pick governors from its state politicians, not its delegates in Washington.

Nussle had a slight lead in the polls until a Des Moines Register poll Sunday stated Culver had a 7-point lead.

Our endorsement goes to Culver.

Iowa has done well under Vilsack. He is leaving the state with a budget surplus and has taken care of farmers and manufacturers. What&8217;s known is that Culver will be more likely to maintain or even build on Vilsack&8217;s positive trajectory. Nussle &8212; a smart, articulate man who has more political experience than Culver &8212; seems ready to fix something that might need a few patches but is not as broken as he makes it sound.

Culver has made renewable energy the spearhead of his campaign. He rightly points out the need to open the ethanol market in his state. It can be hard to find E-85 pumps in Iowa. Culver wants to make Iowa more attractive for ethanol manufacturers. He wants to establish incentives &8212; such as a subsidy for the energy sector &8212; and seek more federal funds to develop Iowa as an energy market, not just a place to grow corn.

Culver has a corner on the tuition issue. He didn&8217;t just talk. He signed a pledge to fully fund operating expenses at the three state universities. We have to admire that.

And he simply has a clearer plan for helping Iowans with affordable health insurance and helping drive down the price of prescription drugs.

As a congressman, Nussle voted to cut student loans. He is wise to suggest the removal of the state law that forbids local governments from enacting smoking bans. That said, he spends too much time with attacking Culver and not enough on his issues.

Remember 1998 candidate Jim Ross Lightfoot, whose TV ad said if Vilsack were elected there would be strip joints on every corner? He lost. Iowans don&8217;t appreciate attack ads. Culver is the right choice.