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In Cedar Falls, Rob Sand presents centrist message, mulling run for governor

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CEDAR FALLS -- As state Auditor Rob Sand arrived Thursday, apologizing for being 15 minutes late, he was immediately asked if he'll run for governor.

"I haven't decided either way," Sand said, calling it a "complex decision."

It was a response the Democrat reiterated after his town hall at Overman Park, where a couple of dozen people gathered to ask him questions, mostly about times he's challenged Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican.

"I care a lot about the work that we're doing in the office that I'm in and the people that are in it, and I do think that we're making a difference in the auditor's office," Sand said. "And yet, at the same time, a lot of the stuff that we talked about here has to do with partisanship and getting back to our basics and checks and balances, and that's a lot to weigh, too.

"It's just a big decision," he continued. "In the meantime, I have a job that I can focus on, and maybe the clouds part at a certain point and the decision becomes easier."

It was the latest leg in Sand's "100 county seat tour" of Iowa's 99 counties -- Lee County has two county seats, the result of antebellum disagreement. He made such a tour in 2019, when he was first elected, and virtually in 2020. He brushed off suggestions his stop was only meant to test the waters for a gubernatorial campaign.

"I just think that this is a piece of democracy: If you are in statewide office, you should be going to all the people that you represent and giving them a chance to ask you questions," he said.

He fielded questions for about an hour in the muggy heat. He was asked about his audit of the governor's no-bid contract with Utah companies to provide coronavirus testing, whether his office would investigate Reynolds' sending nearly 30 Iowa State Patrol troopers to the Texas-Mexico border, and an upcoming audit of the state's decision to privatize Medicaid.

Sand said having political parties at each other's throats wasn't what the Founding Fathers envisioned. He said adopting open primaries and ranked-choice voting could convince politicians to listen to all sides, bringing "responsiveness" and "dignity" back to the political process.

"When I talk about a lack of responsiveness in the state of Iowa, it's not because it happens to be Republicans controlling it right now, it's because our system is broken," he said. "It doesn't serve people anymore: It serves insiders, it serves politicians, it serves parties. It doesn't serve the public."

That message was challenged by some in the Democrat-friendly crowd. One woman told Sand she didn't "recognize the GOP anymore. They're not the same people I grew up with." Sand said a more open system would help people move away from extremes and back toward the middle.

"If we have a system where people have to be more responsive to the whole population as opposed to just a party, we're gonna see them quit driving misinformation," he said. "They won't have to be responsive to it, and they won't have to push it, because they won't be relying on fear and intimidation to scare people into voting for them."

City Councilor Frank Darrah and former councilor and current Cedar Falls mayoral candidate Tom Blanford came to hear Sand, though neither said whether they want him to run for governor.

"I appreciate him being willing to come to towns across the state and talk. We don't get a lot of elected officials that'll do that," Blanford said.


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