Iowa Public Television

 

Iowa Senator Mike Gronstal

posted on June 21, 2005

Yepsen: THE FIRST SESSION OF IOWA'S 81ST GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS HISTORY, BUT THE POLICY IMPLICATIONS CONTINUE TO BE ANALYZED. WE DISCUSS THE 2005 SESSION WITH SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER MIKE GRONSTAL ON THIS EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS."

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS," THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION... BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA; AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996.

ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS THE FRIDAY, JUNE 17 EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS." HERE IS DAVID YEPSEN.

Yepsen: THE BUDGET FOR FISCAL 2006 WAS THE FRONT-AND-CENTER ISSUE AT THE NOW-ADJOURNED LEGISLATIVE SESSION OF 2005, AND THE NEW STATE BUDGET WAS A MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT. THAT BUDGET GOES INTO EFFECT IN TWO WEEKS ON JULY 1, AND ASSESSMENTS ON ITS POLICY PRIORITIES CONTINUE. ALSO, MOST STATEHOUSE OBSERVERS HAVE NOTED THAT A NUMBER OF HIGH-PROFILE ITEMS REMAINED ON TABLE AT ADJOURNMENT. AND THOSE ISSUES WILL PROVIDE THE BASIS FOR THE 2006 LEGISLATIVE SESSION. WELL, SENATOR MIKE GRONSTAL IS ON THE FRONT LINES OF IT ALL AS COLEADER OF THE EVENLY DIVIDED IOWA SENATE, 25 DEMOCRATS AND 25 REPUBLICANS, AND HE HAD A LOT TO SAY ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED, SO WE INVITED HIM BACK TO TALK ABOUT IT. SENATOR GRONSTAL, WELCOME BACK TO "IOWA PRESS."

Gronstal: THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Yepsen: GOOD TO HAVE YOU WITH US. ALSO WITH US AT THE "IOWA PRESS" TABLE ARE JENEANE BECK, IOWA STATEHOUSE REPORTER WITH KUNI PUBLIC RADIO, AND MIKE GLOVER, SENIOR POLITICAL AND LEGISLATIVE REPORTER WITH THE "ASSOCIATED PRESS."

Glover: SENATOR GRONSTAL, AS THE LEGISLATURE ADJOURNED, YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO SPEND THE SUMMER LOOKING AT THE POSSIBILITY OF RUNNING FOR THE DEMOCRATIC GUBERNATORIAL NOMINATION. YOU HAVE TAKEN SOME OFFICIAL STEPS WITH THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE PEOPLE. WHERE ARE YOU IN THAT WHOLE QUEST?

Gronstal: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, I'D SAY I'VE BEEN OUT TO A LOT OF COMMUNITIES IN IOWA. I'M GOING TO A LOT OF DEMOCRATIC GROUPS. I HAVE A PRETTY FULL SCHEDULE THIS SUMMER, AND I'M WORKING ON THAT. I'M ENJOYING THAT AND I'M GETTING GOOD RECEPTION TO THE PLACES I GO. SO AT THIS POINT, I'D SAY I'M VERY ENCOURAGED BY THE DIRECTION THIS IS GOING.

Glover: IS IT MORE LIKELY YOU'LL RUN THAN NOT?

Gronstal: I CONTINUE TO TELL PEOPLE THIS IS A 50/50 PROPOSITION FOR ME. I'M GOING TO DO IT WITH DUE DELIBERATION. I'M GOING TO MAKE A CAREFUL DECISION. AND I HOPE THE PRIMARY VOTERS AND, IF AND WHEN THAT TIME COMES, THE GENERAL ELECTION VOTERS ARE RECEPTIVE TO MY MESSAGE. I THINK WE DID GREAT -- I THINK WE DID GOOD THINGS THIS YEAR. WE MOVED FORWARD ON THE ISSUES WE TOLD IOWANS WE'D MOVE FORWARD ON. I SAW IN THAT RESPECT, I THINK WE HAD A PRETTY SUCCESSFUL SESSION IN A DIFFICULT ATMOSPHERE THAT MANY OF -- MANY OF YOU FOLKS, BEFORE THE SESSION STARTED, SAID THIS WOULD BE A SESSION OF GRIDLOCK. IN THE END IT WASN'T A SESSION OF GRIDLOCK. SIGNIFICANT STEPS FORWARD IN EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE, JOBS, PUBLIC SAFETY.

Glover: GOVERNOR IS NOT THE ONLY ELECTION THAT'S COMING UP. THERE'S ALSO GOING TO BE A BIG FIGHT OVER CONTROL OF THE STATE SENATE WHICH, AS DAVID MENTIONED, IS TIED 25 TO 25. IS IT AN EITHER/OR FOR YOU: YOU EITHER RUN FOR GOVERNOR AND YOU CAN'T BE INVOLVED IN THE LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS; OR YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP THE IDEA OF RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR TO TRY AND TO ELECT A MAJORITY IN THE SENATE?

Gronstal: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, I THINK THE SENATE, WITH OR WITHOUT ME, IS -- THE DEMOCRATS IN THE IOWA SENATE ARE INCREDIBLE WELL POSITIONED TO TAKE OVER IN THE NEXT ELECTION. WE HAVE -- WE FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT THE SEATS WE HAVE TO DEFEND AND THE PEOPLE WE HAVE IN THOSE SEATS. WE FEEL EXCELLENT ABOUT OUR OPPORTUNITIES TO PICK UP IN SIX OR SEVEN TARGETED REPUBLICAN SEATS. SO I THINK WE'RE INCREDIBLY WELL POSITIONED WHETHER OR NOT I'M THE LEADER OR NOT. I DO BELIEVE THAT IF I DECIDE TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR, I'VE GOT TO PRETTY MUCH SAY TO MY COLLEAGUES IN THE SENATE, YOU FOLKS ARE ON YOUR OWN, YOU NEED TO MOVE FORWARD WITHOUT ME. I DON'T THINK I CAN HAVE ONE FOOT ON THE SECOND FLOOR OF THE CAPITOL AND ANOTHER FOOT ATTEMPTING TO BE ON THE FIRST FLOOR OF THE CAPITOL. THAT'S A BIG STRETCH.

Glover: YOU'LL KEEP THE YOUR SEAT?

Gronstal: I'LL KEEP MY SEAT.

Beck: THAT BEING SAID, THEN, WHAT'S YOUR TIMETABLE FOR MAKING THAT DECISION?

Gronstal: I'VE TOLD PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, SOMETIME IN THE SUMMER AND -- I MEAN IT DEPENDS A LITTLE BIT ON HOW THIS GOES AND WHAT THE REACTION OF PEOPLE IS. I DON'T ANTICIPATE WAITING MUCH BEYOND SEPTEMBER 1. I MIGHT MAKE THE DECISION BEFORE THAT, BUT I DON'T -- I DON'T INTEND TO DRAG THIS OUT. IT'S A DECISION THAT MY CAUCUS, THE SENATE DEMOCRATS NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE DECISION IS SO THAT THEY CAN PROCEED IF THE DECISION IS I'M GOING TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR. SO I LOOK FORWARD TO THE SUMMER. IT IS GOOD FOR ME TO BE OUT AS THE DEMOCRATIC LEADER IN THE SENATE, WHETHER I'M RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR AND DELIVERING A DEMOCRATIC MESSAGE AS A CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR THIS SUMMER OR WHETHER I'M GOING TO DECIDE IN THE END TO BE THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER. EITHER WAY, IT'S GOOD FOR ME TO BE REACHING OUT TO IOWANS ACROSS THE STATE.

Beck: IS PART OF YOUR DECISION WHAT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR MIKE BLOUIN DECIDES? WE'VE HEARD RUMORS THAT THERE'S AN AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU THAT ONLY ONE OF YOU WILL MAKE THE DECISION TO RUN AND ONE OF YOU WILL NOT. IS THERE SUCH AN AGREEMENT OR COULD YOU BOTH GET IN?

Gronstal: OF COURSE THERE'S NO AGREEMENT LIKE THAT. IT'S A GREAT -- YOU KNOW, IT'S GREAT FODDER BECAUSE -- FOR PEOPLE TO TALK ABOUT, BUT WE ARE GREAT FRIENDS. I LIKE MIKE BLOUIN. I THINK HE'S DONE A GREAT JOB AT D.E.D. WE'RE UP TO OVER 18,000 JOBS, THE AVERAGE WAGE OF OVER $39,000 A YEAR. HE'S DONE A GREAT JOB ON THAT ISSUE. I THINK I BRING TO THIS RACE A KNOWLEDGE OF A HOST OF ISSUES ACROSS THE BOARD. I'VE BEEN INVOLVED IN ALMOST EVERYTHING IN STATE GOVERNMENT. I UNDERSTAND HOW STATE GOVERNMENT OPERATES. I UNDERSTAND HOW THE SWIRLING POLITICAL INFLUENCES IN THIS STATE OPERATE. I THINK I'M ABLE TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER. I THINK THIS SESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE SHOWED THAT. YOU KNOW, THERE'S A LOT OF FOLKS OUT THERE THAT SAY, YOU KNOW, JIM NUSSLE IS GOING TO BE BETTER FINANCED AND HE'S THE PROHIBITIVE FAVORITE FOR THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION AND THE PROHIBITIVE FAVORITE NEXT FALL. THAT'S NONSENSE. JIM -- EIGHT YEARS AGO TODAY, JIM ROSS LIGHTFOOT WAS THE 800-POUND GORILLA AND NONE OF YOU GUYS -- THAT'S AN OVERSTATEMENT -- BUT BARELY KNEW TOM VILSACK'S NAME. MOST IOWANS CERTAINLY DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT. AND TOM VILSACK CAME INTO THAT RACE AND TALKED ABOUT ISSUES IOWANS CARED ABOUT AND SHOWED JIM ROSS LIGHTFOOT'S RECORD. I THINK WHEN PEOPLE SEE JIM NUSSLE'S RECORD -- I MEAN A RECORD THAT, WHEN IOWA WAS HAVING THE HUGE FLOOD PROBLEMS IN THIS STATE IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER BACK IN 1993, JIM NUSSLE WAS VOTING AGAINST -- VOTING AGAINST DISASTER AID FOR THE STATE OF IOWA. I MEAN THERE ARE A HOST OF ISSUES OUT THERE. MEDICAID -- HE'S PREPARED TO DISMANTLE MEDICAID. HIS DEFICIT RECORD --

Yepsen: WELL, YOU'RE ASSUMING THAT JIM NUSSLE BEATS BOB VANDER PLAATS IN THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARY.

Gronstal: THAT'S CORRECT. THAT'S CORRECT. AND THAT'S -- I MEAN LOOK BACK EIGHT YEARS. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED WITH JIM ROSS LIGHTFOOT. EVERYBODY SAID HE'S THE PROHIBITIVE FAVORITE IN THE PRIMARY. HE WON THE PRIMARY. EVERYBODY SAID HE WAS GOING TO BLOW EVERYBODY OUT IN THE GENERAL ELECTION, AND HE LOST IN THE END BECAUSE IOWANS DIDN'T LIKE HIS RECORD. HE HAD LOST TOUCH WITH IOWA WHEN HE WAS IN WASHINGTON.

Glover: AND WE HAVE PLENTY OF TIME TO SETTLE THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 2006. LET'S DEAL WITH THE PRIMARY FOR RIGHT NOW. THERE'S A MECHANICAL PROBLEM THAT YOU MAY FACE. I SEE ABOUT SIX POTENTIAL DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES. LET'S SAY FOUR OR FIVE OF THEM GET IN IT. HOW DOES ANYBODY GET TO THE 35-PERCENT THRESHOLD NEEDED TO GET THE NOMINATION? IF YOU HAVE THAT MANY CANDIDATES, DON'T YOU END UP WITH A CONVENTION?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S HARD TO TELL AT THIS POINT. FIRST OF ALL, WE DON'T KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO FILE PAPERS -- NOMINATION PAPERS NEXT MARCH. WE HAVE A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT ARE EXPLORING THIS, AND I THINK THAT'S HEALTHY. THEY'RE ALL GOOD PEOPLE. I THINK EVERY ONE OF THEM WOULD BE A BETTER GOVERNOR THAN NUSSLE. SO I THINK THERE'S -- I THINK THE EXCITEMENT AND THE INTEREST IN THIS RACE IS A SIGN THAT IOWA DEMOCRATS FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT OUR OPPORTUNITY TO HANG ONTO THE GOVERNOR'S SEAT WHEN VILSACK LEAVES.

Yepsen: WHAT'S IT SAY THAT THERE ARE SO MANY DEMOCRATS INTERESTED? IS IT JUST A LOT OF AMBITION, OR ARE DEMOCRATS HAVING A HARD TIME FINDING THE PERFECT CANDIDATE?

Gronstal: I THINK -- I THINK DEMOCRATS -- PART OF IT IS WHAT WE DO IN THE CAUCUSES -- IN THE PRESIDENTIAL CAUCUSES. IOWA DEMOCRATS ARE TRAINED NOT TO MAKE UP THEIR DECISION -- MAKE THEIR DECISION TOO EARLY IN THIS PROCESS, TO GIVE EVERYBODY A CHANCE TO COME AND MAKE THEIR CASE, AND THEN START TO -- THEN START TO MAKE THEIR CHOICES PRETTY LATE IN THE PROCESS. YOU SAW THAT LAST YEAR WHERE THE POLLS HAD PEOPLE PLACED AND, IN THE END, I WON A FEW BETS WITH A FEW STAFF MEMBERS ON THE BASIS OF JOHN KERRY COMING FROM BEHIND AND WINNING IT AND EDWARDS COMING IN SECOND.

Yepsen: LET'S SWITCH GEARS, SENATOR, AND FOCUS ON THE LEGISLATURE IN THE SESSION. LOOK INTO YOUR CRYSTAL BALL FOR ME AND LOOK AHEAD. WE'VE TALKED A LOT ABOUT '05, AND WE'LL TALK MORE ABOUT IT HERE TODAY. BUT I WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES THAT ARE GOING TO FACE THE 2006 GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

Gronstal: I THINK THE ISSUES THAT FACE IOWA ARE A SET OF BOTH SHORT- AND LONG-TERM ISSUES. I THINK EDUCATION HAS A COUPLE COMPONENTS. ONE IS SHORT TERM. I THINK TEACHER SALARIES ARE A REAL PROBLEM IN THIS STATE. AND I'M HOPEFUL THAT WE'VE MADE ENOUGH PROGRESS THAT WE'RE NOT GOING TO LOSE GROUND THIS YEAR IN THAT, BUT I THINK WE HAVE TO DO A BETTER JOB ON TEACHER SALARIES IN THIS STATE. WE'RE LOSING -- MANY OF OUR BEST AND BRIGHTEST ARE GOING, WELL, HECK, I CAN MAKE 5-, 10,000 MORE GOING JUST TO A NEIGHBORING STATE. SO I THINK WE REALLY HAVE TO TAKE A -- TAKE A LOOK AT THAT. WE HAVE TO WORK ON IMPROVING OUR SCHOOLS, GETTING BETTER GRADUATION RATES, GETTING BETTER RESULTS. THEN I THINK THERE ARE ALSO SOME LONG-TERM ISSUES. I THINK WE NEED TO BUILD OUR COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM. IT IS THE -- IT IS A KEY TO ECONOMIC GROWTH IN MOST OF OUR COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE STATE OF IOWA, AND IF WE DON'T HAVE A STRONG COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM THAT'S THERE TO TRAIN THE WORKERS -- YOU KNOW, WHETHER IT'S THE -- WHETHER IT'S THE 22-YEAR-OLD KID THAT DECIDES HIS LIFE DOESN'T LIE IN MINIMUM WAGE JOBS AND HE'S GOING TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL AND GET A TWO-YEAR DEGREE OF SOME KIND OR WHETHER IT'S THE 30-YEAR-OLD MOTHER WITH TWO KIDS AND WITHOUT A HUSBAND THAT WANTS TO BUILD A LITTLE BETTER LIFE FOR HER KID OR THE 50-YEAR-OLD FACTORY WORKER THAT HIS FACTORY HAS CLOSED AND HE NOW NEEDS TO GET TRAINED FOR A NEW CAREER, OUR COMMUNITY COLLEGES I THINK HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANTLY NEGLECTED OVER THE LAST TWENTY YEARS. SO I'D SAY EDUCATION IS THE BIGGEST ISSUE THAT WE NEED TO DEAL WITH. I THINK THERE ARE ECONOMIC ISSUES AROUND HEALTH CARE, THAT WE'VE GOT TO DO A BETTER JOB OF PROVIDING ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE. BOTH THE STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DO A LOUSY JOB OF PAYING FOR INDIGENT PATIENTS THAT WE SAY WE'RE GOING TO COVER, AND THAT FORCES UP EVERYBODY ELSE'S HEALTH INSURANCE RATES.

Beck: ALL OF THE THREE THINGS THAT YOU'VE JUST MENTIONED THERE TAKE FINANCING: TEACHER SALARIES, BUILDING UP THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM, ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE. THE LAST SESSION, 2005, YOU APPROVED A 7-PERCENT BUDGET INCREASE. CAN YOU SUSTAIN THAT? YOU CERTAINLY CAN'T --

Gronstal: FIRST OF ALL, 7 PERCENT IS A COMPLETELY BOGUS NUMBER. THERE -- WHEN REPUBLICANS PASSED THE BUDGET LAST YEAR ON MEDICAID, IT WAS UNDERFUNDED BY $85 MILLION. I MEAN THERE'S 2 PERCENT OF YOUR 7 PERCENT THERE. THEY APPROVED THAT BUDGET LAST YEAR KNOWING THAT THERE WAS A 2-PERCENT GAP.

Yepsen: WELL, YOU'VE UNDERFUNDED MEDICAID THIS YEAR AS WELL.

Gronstal: CERTAINLY NOT NEARLY AS SIGNIFICANTLY AS THEY DID LAST YEAR. BUT -- BUT THERE WERE -- THERE WERE PENT-UP DEMANDS IN IOWA AND PENT-UP PROBLEMS. WE HAD LAID OFF 9 PERCENT OF THE STATE WORK FORCE. BUT LET ME ALSO TELL YOU WE DID A BETTER JOB THIS YEAR. WE STARTED TO REPAY THE SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND. WE ADDED ABOUT 79 -- ABOUT $80 MILLION TO OUR CASH RESERVE. IT WENT UP FROM $220 MILLION TO ABOUT 300 MILLION. WE'RE MAKING PROGRESS ON THE FISCAL SIDE OF THIS. WE'RE NOT GOING TO GET IT ALL DONE AT ONCE BECAUSE -- BECAUSE THE ECONOMY THE LAST FEW YEARS WAS THE WORST IN THE HISTORY OF THE STATE OF IOWA. BUT WE MADE PROGRESS ON THOSE ISSUES OF FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AND, AT THE SAME TIME, MADE MAJOR INVESTMENTS IN EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE, PUBLIC SAFETY, AND JOBS.

Beck: BUT HAVE YOU CREATED A PROBLEM FOR YOURSELF THAT YOU CAN'T BUILD ON THIS, THAT THERE MAY NOT BE FINANCES ABOVE AND BEYOND THIS INCREASE FOR NEXT YEAR AS YOU MOVE INTO AN ELECTION YEAR AND WANT TO GIVE PEOPLE MONEY.

Gronstal: AND I THINK -- I THINK ALL OF THAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN. WE WILL SET OUR BUDGET. WHEN WE COME IN HERE NEXT JANUARY, WE'LL LOOK AT THE DECEMBER REVENUE ESTIMATE AND WE'LL BEGIN TO FIGURE OUT WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO ON THE BUDGET. BUT OVERALL, I DON'T THINK IT'S REALLY A MATTER OF FINANCING. I THINK IT'S A MATTER OF WILL POWER OF SAYING -- AND I WON'T TELL YOU WE'RE GOING TO GET TO THE NATIONAL AVERAGE ON TEACHER SALARIES NEXT YEAR. I'M NOT GOING TO PROMISE ANYBODY THAT, BUT I AM SAYING THAT OUGHT TO BE A GOAL THAT WE CONTINUE TO MAKE PROGRESS ON. THE SAME THING ON COMMUNITY COLLEGES. GETTING THEIR FUNDING TO A LEVEL THAT DOESN'T LEAVE US WITH THE HIGHEST COMMUNITY COLLEGE TUITIONS IN THE COUNTRY I THINK MAKES SENSE. AND WHETHER IT TAKES THREE YEARS OR FIVE YEARS, YOU KNOW, THAT'S -- IT'S A QUESTION OF WILL POWER AS TO WHETHER WE'RE GOING TO DO IT.

Yepsen: WILL YOU HAVE TO RAISE THE SALES -- WILL YOU HAVE TO RAISE THE CIGARETTE TAX NEXT YEAR?

Gronstal: I DON'T -- I THINK THE CIGARETTE TAX ON -- I'M NOT CONVINCED WE'LL NEED TO RAISE IT NEXT YEAR, BUT I AM CONVINCED IT'S THE RIGHT PUBLIC HEALTH THING TO DO TO DISCOURAGE YOUNG PEOPLE FROM STARTING SMOKING. AS A FORMER SMOKER MYSELF, I KNOW HOW ADDICTIVE THIS STUFF IS. AN EFFORT TO STOP KIDS FROM SMOKING AS A PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURE MAKES A LOT OF SENSE.

Glover: JUST THIS PAST WEEK THE GOVERNOR COMPLETED ACTION ON THE BILLS THAT THIS LEGISLATURE SENT TO HIM, AND HE ISSUED THE FEWEST NUMBER OF VETOES OF HIS -- DURING HIS TENURE AS GOVERNOR. ONLY THREE BILLS THIS YEAR WERE TENURED. WHAT CAUSED THAT AND WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THE REPUBLICAN CHARGE THAT THAT SHOWS THAT A LOT OF ISSUES JUST WEREN'T ADDRESSED?

Gronstal: WELL, TO THE CHARGE A LOT OF ISSUES WEREN'T ADDRESSED, REPUBLICANS DID BLOCK A NUMBER OF ISSUES THIS YEAR. THEY BLOCKED THE PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURE IN THE IOWA HOUSE ON RAISING CIGARETTE TAXES.

Glover: AND YOU BLOCKED SOME MEASURES TOO.

Gronstal: THEY -- THEY BLOCKED -- THEY BLOCKED THAT MEASURE. THEY BLOCKED A BULLYING BILL, A BILL TO CRACK DOWN ON BULLYING IN THIS STATE IN OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS. SO --

Glover: AND YOU BLOCKED THE DEATH SENTENCE.

Gronstal: YOU'RE RIGHT. YOU'RE RIGHT. WE BLOCKED STUFF. THEY BLOCKED STUFF. WHAT DID WE DO, THOUGH? JUST ABOUT EVERYBODY THAT'S OBSERVED THIS SESSION SAID WE MADE PROGRESS ON EDUCATION. WE MADE PROGRESS ON HEALTH CARE, PRETTY SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS ON HEALTH CARE, MAYBE 35,000 MORE IOWANS COVERED, AND THAT'S GOOD NEWS FOR EVERYBODY -- NOT ONLY IS THAT THE RIGHT THING TO DO, TO MAKE SURE POOR PEOPLE HAVE ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE, BUT IT'S ALSO THE RIGHT THING TO DO FOR THE REST OF US BECAUSE IT'S THE SECOND BIGGEST DRIVER OF HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUM INCREASES IS THE STATE UNDERFUNDING OF COVERAGE FOR INDIGENT PATIENTS. SO MAJOR STEPS FORWARD IN EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE. WE DEALT WITH SOME PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUES THIS YEAR. AND A LOT OF PEOPLE SAID LET'S JUST ABSORB THAT IN EXISTING BUDGET, AND THAT WOULD HAVE FORCED LAYOFFS. WE PUT REAL DOLLARS BEHIND THOSE EFFORTS ON METHAMPHETAMINE AND SEX OFFENDERS. WE PUT REAL DOLLARS BEHIND THAT AND WE COMMITTED TO A TEN-YEAR IOWA VALUES FUND THAT, AS I SAID, HAS ALREADY CREATED 18,000. AND WE DIDN'T HOLD IT HOSTAGE. WE SET THE ISSUES WE DISAGREE ON, THAT WE HAVE STRONG PARTISAN FEELINGS ON, AND WE STILL THINK THEY'RE THE RIGHT -- WE SET THOSE ISSUES ASIDE. AND AS I SAID LAST NOVEMBER THE DAY AFTER THE ELECTION, I SAID IT'S TIME TO SET ASIDE THE ISSUES WE DISAGREE ON AND PURSUE THE ISSUES WE TOLD THE VOTERS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL WE WOULD DEAL WITH. AND BOTH PARTIES SAID EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE, PUBLIC SAFETY, AND JOBS. AND THAT'S WHAT THIS SESSION MOVED FORWARD ON. WE WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE MOVED FURTHER FORWARD, BUT WE MOVED FORWARD ON ALL FOUR OF THOSE AREAS.

Glover: YOU MENTIONED A TEN-YEAR IOWA VALUES FUND FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PURPOSES. DOES APPROVAL OF THAT MEASURE EFFECTIVELY END THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DEBATE IN THIS STATE FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS? HAVE WE ADDRESSED ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, AND NOW IT'S THE SETTLE ISSUE?

Gronstal: NO. I THINK WE -- I THINK WE HAVE -- I THINK WE HAVE A SET OF FUNDS AND MECHANISMS OUT THERE, BUT I THINK YOU CONTINUE TO HAVE TO FOCUS THOSE EFFORTS JUST AS -- JUST AS THIS SESSION WE TOOK A LOOK AT A NASCAR TRACK AND SAID -- THAT WASN'T PART OF THE MIX WHEN WE STARTED HERE, BUT WE TOOK A LOOK AT THAT AND SAID THAT MAKES SENSE FOR IOWA AND WE PUT TOGETHER SOMETHING THAT WILL HELP MAKE THAT HAPPEN. SO I THINK YOU HAVE TO CONTINUE TO BE VIGILANT ON THOSE KINDS OF THINGS. WE PASSED A PORT AUTHORITY BILL THAT PROBABLY WASN'T PART OF ANYBODY'S COLLECTIVE AGENDA WHEN WE STARTED THIS SESSION, BUT A PORT AUTHORITY BILL KIND OF DESIGNED FOR SOUTHEAST IOWA. THERE ARE REAL ECONOMIC ISSUES IN COMMUNITIES LIKE SIOUX CITY AND COMPETITIVE ISSUES, AND I THINK YOU HAVE TO STAY VIGILANT ON THOSE THINGS AND CONTINUE TO WORK AND REFINE AND REDESIGN.

Beck: YOU DID GET THINGS DONE. A LOT OF IT OCCURRED IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS OF THE SESSION. YOU HAD TO GO THREE WEEKS OVER. WHEN I LOOK AT NEXT SESSION, I SEE A LOT OF PEOPLE RUNNING FOR HIGHER OFFICE. YOU'VE GOT THE CHAIR OF THE HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE, BILL DIX, LOOKING AT A RUN FOR CONGRESS. YOU'VE GOT YOUR COLEADER IN THE SENATE, JEFF LAMBERTI, LOOKING AT A RUN FOR CONGRESS AS WELL. YOU'RE LOOKING AT A RUN FOR GOVERNOR. HOW DO YOU GET ANYTHING DONE NEXT YEAR WHEN EVERYONE HAS AN EYE ON A HIGHER PRIZE AND YOU'VE GOT TO PLAY TO YOUR POLITICAL BASE?

Gronstal: WELL, THE ONE PREDICTION I WOULD MAKE IS THAT WITH ALL THOSE PEOPLE SEEKING THAT, WE MIGHT GET DONE A LITTLE EARLIER NEXT YEAR.

Beck: TO HIT THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL?

Gronstal: THAT'S THE ONE -- THAT'S THE ONE PREDICTION I WOULD MAKE. THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED MANY YEARS AGO WHEN DON AVENSON RAN FOR GOVERNOR. HE BASICALLY GOT US OUT OF THERE IN ABOUT 70 DAYS THAT YEAR. THERE WILL BE SOME INTEREST FOR THOSE OF US PURSUING HIGHER OFFICE IN GETTING DONE SOONER.

Yepsen: SO YOU'RE SAYING -- YOU'RE PROMISING A 70-DAY SESSION NEXT YEAR?

Gronstal: YOU KNOW, DAVID, YOU ALWAYS TRY AND PUT WORDS IN MY MOUTH. I DIDN'T PROMISE ANYTHING. I HAVEN'T EVEN DECIDED WHETHER I'M ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR, SO UNTIL THAT DECISION IS MADE --

Beck: BUT CAN YOU GET ANYTHING DONE IN THAT SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME? I MEAN MAYBE THE SESSION IS SHORTER, BUT IS IT EVEN MORE CONTENTIOUS THAN THIS YEAR?

Gronstal: READ -- WHAT'S FUNNY IS WE ALL SEND OUT THESE NEWSLETTERS. YOU KNOW, BOTH PARTIES -- MEMBERS OF BOTH PARTIES SEND OUT THESE NEWSLETTERS AND SO WE, OF COURSE, ALL GET A HOLD OF OTHER PEOPLE'S NEWSLETTERS. MOST OF THE NEWSLETTERS THAT WENT OUT THIS YEAR CELEBRATED THIS SESSION. THE PARTISANSHIP DROPPED DRAMATICALLY, PEOPLE FOCUSED ON SOLVING PROBLEMS, AND PEOPLE FEEL GOOD -- BOTH PARTIES FEEL GOOD ABOUT WHAT WE ACCOMPLISHED THIS SESSION. I THINK IOWANS ARE READY FOR THAT, ARE READY FOR US TO SET ASIDE OUR PARTISAN WEAPONS AND PURSUE THE ISSUES WE TOLD VOTERS WE'D PURSUE. SO PEOPLE I THINK ENDED UP HAPPY WITH THE SESSION THAT INVOLVED A NUMBER OF COMPROMISES, A LOT OF GIVE AND TAKE. NOBODY GAVE UP THEIR PRINCIPLES, BUT PEOPLE WORKED OUT THEIR DISAGREEMENTS. AND WE WERE ABLE TO PASS A TEACHER QUALITY EFFORT WITH ALMOST $25 MILLION THAT'S GOING TO -- THAT'S GOING TO PROVIDE MORE MONEY FOR SALARIES, MORE MONEY FOR STAFF DEVELOPMENT. I THINK PEOPLE ARE PRETTY HAPPY THAT THAT'S MOVING US IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

Glover: ALSO THIS PAST WEEK THE IOWA SUPREME COURT ACTED IN A WOODBURY COUNTY CASE WHERE A LOCAL JUDGE HAD DISSOLVED A CIVIL UNION. SOME SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES HAD SOUGHT TO INTERVENE IN THAT CASE SAYING IT AMOUNTED TO THE STATE SANCTIONING CIVIL UNIONS BETWEEN GAY PEOPLE. DOES THAT DECISION -- THE HIGH COURT REFUSED TO INTERVENE IN THAT, ALLOWED THE DISSOLUTION TO STAND. DOES THAT MAKE A DEBATE OVER A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON GAY MARRIAGE INEVITABLE IN THE NEXT SESSION?

Gronstal: I THINK IT'S PRETTY UNLIKELY WE'LL HAVE A DEBATE ON THAT. WE ALREADY HAVE A STATE LAW THAT OUTLAWS GAY MARRIAGE.

Glover: AND CONSERVATIVES WILL ARGUE THAT THIS COURT DECISION MEANS THAT A STATE LAW IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Gronstal: AND A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ISN'T GOING TO CHANGE FEDERAL LAW, AND THAT'S THE MISTAKE THEY MAKE. A STATE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT DOESN'T CHANGE FEDERAL LAW. THIS WAS A CASE THAT WAS ABOUT, IN ESSENCE, A CONTRACT BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE FROM ANOTHER STATE, AND SOME JUDGE HAD TO DEAL WITH THAT CONTRACT AND DISPOSE OF IT ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. I KIND OF QUITE -- CAN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY'RE AFTER. FIRST -- FIRST THEY DON'T WANT THEM TO GET MARRIED. AND THEN THEY REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET THEM MARRIED BECAUSE -- SO THEY'RE GOING TO PUT IT IN THE CONSTITUTION. AND THEN IF THEY ACTUALLY GET MARRIED AND THEY DECIDE THEY DON'T WANT TO BE MARRIED, THEY'RE NOT GOING TO LET THEM GET DIVORCED. I DON'T KIND OF GET WHAT THEIR CONCERN IS.

Glover: AND WILL YOU USE YOUR POSITION AS LEADER OF AN EVENLY DIVIDED SENATE TO BLOCK THE DISCUSSION OF A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON GAY MARRIAGE?

Gronstal: WE'LL SEE WHAT COMES UP WHEN IT COMES UP. BUT LET ME REPEAT, WE DEALT WITH THAT A YEAR AGO --

Glover: MM-HMM.

Gronstal: -- IN A NONDIVIDED SENATE, 29 REPUBLICANS, 21 DEMOCRATS, AND WE DEFEATED THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THERE. IT'S ONE OF THOSE ISSUES THAT I DON'T SEE THE VOTES ARE THERE TO PASS IT.

Beck: ONE OF THE THINGS YOU BLOCKED THIS SESSION AND MAY HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO AGAIN NEXT SESSION IS A VOTE ON THE DEATH PENALTY. AT THE LAST MINUTE REPUBLICANS AGREED NOT TO BRING THAT UP AND ASKED MAYBE FOR A STUDY --

Gronstal: NO, REPUBLICANS DIDN'T AGREE. REPUBLICANS DIDN'T HAVE THE POWER TO BRING THAT UP.

Beck: OKAY. REGARDLESS, THEY ASKED TO STUDY THE ISSUE. SO DO YOU SUSPECT THEY'LL COME BACK NEXT SESSION AND ASK FOR AT LEAST A LIMITED DEATH PENALTY, AND WILL YOU ALLOW THAT TO BE DEBATED?

Gronstal: NO, I WILL NOT. I -- I DEBATED THIS ISSUE IN THE MID '90S. I VOTED AGAINST IT. I'VE BEEN THROUGH -- I'VE BEEN THROUGH THREE ELECTIONS SINCE THEN. MY MORAL VALUES DON'T CHANGE. THEY HAVEN'T CHANGED SINCE I WAS ELECTED. I KNOW PEOPLE DISAGREE WITH ME ON THIS ISSUE. I KNOW DEMOCRATS DISAGREE WITH ME ON THIS ISSUE. BUT I'M NOT GOING TO ALLOW DEBATE ON THE DEATH PENALTY, ONE, FOR THAT SIMPLE MORAL REASON BUT, TWO, BECAUSE THE VOTES AREN'T THERE IN THE SENATE. THE REPUBLICANS KNOW THAT. THE VOTES AREN'T THERE IN THE HOUSE. REPUBLICANS KNOW THAT. AND THE VOTES -- AND THE VOTE OF THE GOVERNOR ISN'T THERE. HE WOULD VETO IT. IT IS PURE POLITICS FOR REPUBLICANS. I MEAN JUST TAKE A LOOK AT SENATOR MCKIBBEN, THE BIGGEST PROPONENT OF THIS. HE WAS FOR IT IN '96 WHEN HE WAS RUNNING AGAINST ONE OF OUR GUYS THAT HAD VOTED AGAINST IT. HE WAS AGAINST IT IN 2004 WHEN HE ANSWERED THE IOWA CATHOLIC CONFERENCE QUESTIONNAIRE ON THE ISSUE. HE SAID HE WAS AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY. IN 2005 HE'S FOR IT. THIS IS POLITICS FOR REPUBLICANS. THAT'S ALL IT IS.

Glover: IT'S POLITICS FOR DEMOCRATS TOO BECAUSE YOU SAY SOME DEMOCRATS DISAGREE WITH YOU, AND SOME OF THOSE DEMOCRATS INCLUDE SOME OF YOUR POTENTIAL GUBERNATORIAL RIVALS. HOW BIG AN ISSUE WILL THIS BE IN THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY?

Gronstal: I THINK IT DEPENDS ON WHAT THE REACTION OF THE DEMOCRATS THAT VOTE IN THE PRIMARY ARE GOING TO BE TO THAT ISSUE.

Yepsen: WHY -- EXCUSE ME.

Gronstal: GO AHEAD.

Yepsen: WELL, WHY NOT -- IF THE VOTES AREN'T THERE, WHY NOT LET IT COME UP FOR DEBATE AND KNOCK IT DOWN?

Gronstal: IF IT'S PURE POLITICS -- IF THAT'S ALL IT'S ABOUT IS SCORING POINTS FOR THE 2006 ELECTIONS, I DON'T KNOW WHY WE SHOULD WASTE OUR TIME. THIS IOWA SENATE IS EVENLY DIVIDED.

Beck: BUT POLITICS ARE ABOUT SCORING POINTS. YOU GUYS USED TO BRING UP AMENDMENTS TO TRY TO SCORE POINTS AND TO PROVE POINTS THAT YOU FELT STRONGLY ABOUT. SO DO YOU NOT WIN POLITICALLY IF YOU ALLOW IT UP FOR DEBATE? I MEAN IS THAT --

Gronstal: MY FOCUS FOR THIS YEAR -- AND THAT FOCUS WAS DECIDED AT 1:30 IN THE MORNING ON WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, THE DAY AFTER THE ELECTION, EARLY IN THE MORNING. MY FOCUS ON THIS SESSION WAS TO SET ASIDE THE PARTISAN ISSUES THAT DIVIDE US AND TO FOCUS ON THE ISSUES THAT IOWANS WANT US TO FOCUS ON, THAT WE TOLD THEM WE WOULD FOCUS ON ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL. THAT WAS JOBS, EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE, AND PUBLIC SAFETY. AND WE HAVE DEALT WITH THOSE ISSUES AND I THINK DEALT WITH THEM WELL THIS SESSION.

Yepsen: SO THE MESSAGE, SENATOR, IS IF IOWANS WANT A DEATH PENALTY, THEY HAVE TO VOTE AGAINST DEMOCRATIC STATE SENATORS?

Gronstal: I DON'T -- I DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU GET THAT.

Yepsen: IF YOU WANT A DEATH PENALTY IN IOWA AND YOU AS THE DEMOCRATIC LEADER ARE BLOCKING IT, THE ONLY WAY TO GET A DEATH PENALTY IN IOWA IS TO REMOVE YOU AS COLEADER, MAKE YOU MINORITY LEADER AGAIN.

Gronstal: AND SOME PEOPLE MAY ATTEMPT TO MAKE THAT CASE. SOME PEOPLE -- AND IT'S A SERIOUS ISSUE AND WE'VE HAD A SERIOUS DEBATE ABOUT IT. AND I CERTAINLY -- I MEAN IN PAST YEARS HAVE AND SOMEWHAT OF A SERIOUS DEBATE ABOUT IT THIS YEAR AS WELL. IT'S AN ISSUE THAT I CERTAINLY -- THAT'S MY INSTINCTS. WHEN I HEARD ABOUT THAT CASE ON THE RADIO, THAT WAS MY FIRST GUT INSTINCT IS WE OUGHT TO KILL THAT -- THAT GUY. WE OUGHT TO JUST KILL HIM. WE OUGHT TO HAVE A DEATH PENALTY. WE OUGHT TO GET RID OF HIM. WHEN PEOPLE -- BUT WHEN YOU GO THROUGH THE PROCESS OF LOOKING AT THIS THING, WHEN YOU FIND OUT -- THE FISCAL NOTE IN 1995 SAID IT COST $55 MILLION BEFORE WE EXECUTE. IT WOULD BE A DOZEN YEARS AND $55 MILLION THAT WE WOULD HAVE SPENT BEFORE WE EXECUTED OUR FIRST PERSON NET. THAT'S AFTER LOCKING THEM UP IN PRISON.

Glover: WE'VE GOT LESS THAN A MINUTE, SENATOR GRONSTAL.

Gronstal: SURE.

Glover: IT'S LOST IN THE MIX NOW, BUT THE GOVERNOR ASKED THIS LEGISLATURE FOR A SIGNIFICANT TAX REFORM PACKAGE ELIMINATING FEDERAL DEDUCTABILITY, USING THAT MONEY TO PLOW DOWN RATES, IN OTHER WORDS, REVAMPING THE STATE'S INCOME TAX SYSTEM. IT DIDN'T HAPPEN AND IT DIDN'T GET SERIOUS DEBATE IN A NONELECTION YEAR. WILL IT GET DEBATE IN AN ELECTION YEAR?

Gronstal: I THINK THE INCOME TAX REFORM EFFORTS ARE -- I THINK THERE ARE STILL POSSIBLES THERE, BUT IT'S A DIFFICULT FUND TO DO WITHOUT SOME SPARE REVENUE TO MOLLIFY THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS THAT SOME PEOPLE GET WHEN YOU MAKE THOSE CHANGES. I THINK THERE'S MORE OPPORTUNITY ON THE PROPERTY TAX SIDE FOR REFORM EFFORTS. I THINK THERE REALLY IS A LITTLE MORE OPPORTUNITY THERE. WE DIDN'T QUITE GET THROUGH THAT.

Yepsen: AND I'M NOT GOING TO ALLOW YOU TO FINISH YOUR ANSWER BECAUSE WE'RE OUT OF TIME, SENATOR. THANKS FOR BEING WITH US. WE APPRECIATE YOU BEING HERE. NOW, ON OUR NEXT EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS," WE CONTINUE OUR REVIEW OF THE SESSION AND WE MOVE ACROSS THE AISLE. JOINING US IS SENATOR JEFF LAMBERTI, A REPUBLICAN FROM ANKENY WHO SERVES AS COPRESIDENT OF THE IOWA SENATE, AND WE'LL GET HIS PERSPECTIVE ON THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION OF 2005. WE RETURN NEXT WEEKEND AT OUR REGULAR AIRTIMES: FRIDAY AT 7:30 AND SUNDAY AT NOON. THAT'S IT FOR THIS WEEKEND'S EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS." I'M DAVID YEPSEN OF "THE DES MOINES REGISTER." THANKS FOR JOINING US HERE ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS," THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA; AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996.

Tags: Iowa