Iowa Public Television


Ed Fallon

posted on February 1, 2008

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Henderson: An incumbent Congressman rarely gets challenged by someone in his own party but that is what's happening this year in Iowa's Third Congressional District. Ed Fallon is in a primary battle with incumbent Leonard Boswell. We discuss the campaign of 2008 with the challenger, Ed Fallon, on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation; The Iowa Bankers Association for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals; and by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure; by Policy Works, a public and government affairs firm offering lobbying, grassroots and advocacy services to help you meet your strategic public policy needs. Information is available on the Web at; by Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities, where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, February 1st edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.

Henderson: When we last checked in with Ed Fallon he was seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor in a three-way race with State Economic Development Director Michael Blouin and Chet Culver who is now our Governor. That was in 2005 and 2006. Fallon set up a respectable campaign organization and he garnered 26% of the primary vote. Today Fallon is in another primary battle and this one is for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives against a fellow Democrat, Congressman Leonard Boswell. The race will be settled in voting in June when Democrats vote in the third district primary. Fallon is no stranger to politics having served 14 years in the Iowa House as a state representative. Ed Fallon, we welcome you again to Iowa Public Television and to the Iowa Press table.

Henderson: With us here as well are Charlotte Eby, Capitol Bureau Chief with the Lee Newspapers and Jeneane Beck, Iowa's Statehouse Reporter for Iowa Public Radio.

Beck: Mr. Fallon, you're running against an incumbent and as the lead intro said that's a rare thing to do. Why are you challenging an incumbent at this time?

Fallon: Well, Washington D.C. is in desperate need of change. People elected the Democratic Congress two years ago in the expectation of more boldness, of more vision, of more change and it's not happening and it's not happening in large part because we've got about 30 Congressional Democrats who are voting too often with George Bush and too often against the priorities of what most people want. And those are priorities that I have been fighting for since 1992. I mean, I talked about campaign finance reform in '92, about universal healthcare, about doing more for our environment, about greater fiscal responsibility. I've been talking about those kind of changes for a long time and they're finally really coming into their own. And I think voters made it really clear in the caucuses that they want change and this is a good time for me to be running because people are ready for my message and Washington D.C. desperately needs more members of Congress who really embrace change.

Beck: Fourteen years in the Iowa legislature, a run for Governor, now a run for Congress. Are you becoming a career politician?

Fallon: Well, I don't think so because I don't see myself doing this forever. And, you know, to me my career is public service. I'm focused on doing -- I want to be where I can make the biggest difference and I think I can make a big difference in Washington, D.C. If I should find that I can make a bigger difference in the world through working with a non-profit or some other means I'll do that. But right now this seems to be the place where I can have the greatest impact on our state and on our country.

Eby: Mr. Fallon, I've talked to many Democrats who say they like your policies, they admire your positions on the issues but they can't see themselves voting against a member of Congress who has earned a level of seniority. What is your case to those voters?

Fallon: Well, first of all, I'm not sure how much longer Leonard Boswell is going to be serving in the U.S. Congress. I mean, I think he's going to get beat this year but let's assume that he doesn't or didn't have a challenger. I mean, is he going to serve past 2012? In 2012 we lose a district, Iowa goes from five to four. It'd be really good to have a Democrat in this seat with some incumbency who could be prepared in 2012 to run against Steve King or Tom Latham because it's very possible that much of the third district will get thrown in with one of those two Republicans. So, he may have some seniority but that won't be for much longer even if I weren't running. So, I think people need to be thinking in the long haul. We're going to lose a district, we're going to want a Democrat in this district with some capacity to build a base in preparation for 2012 and beyond.

Beck: So, are you actually saying that Leonard Boswell is harming a Democrat's chance at keeping this by not stepping down and allowing a fresh face in?

Fallon: Yes, I think it's time to move on. I mean, he said he would only serve six years, it's already been twelve and now he's running again. You know, I bring a whole new level of energy and passion to this job that I think is needed. Again, I've had some odds with the status quo and I think a lot of Iowans and a lot of Americans have some concerns about the status quo and they want to see change and I'd bring that change. And I think that is not only good for this district and good for the Democratic Party but it's going to be good for the future when we start talking about losing a Congressional seat.

Henderson: As you know, Governor Culver has endorsed Leonard Boswell's bid for re-election and he says he's earned the right to serve as long as he sees fit, that is a direct quote. Why is that wrong?

Fallon: Well, why has Governor Culver endorsed him?

Henderson: Why is it wrong that he has earned the right to serve as long as he sees fit?

Fallon: Well, really he's earned the right to serve as long as voters see fit and that is the great thing about our system is maybe we don't need term limits because we have a process that allows a candidate to challenge someone in a primary. And, again, my argument is that if Leonard Boswell as voting more with the Democrats and less with President Bush he probably wouldn’t' have a challenger. I mean, if I was happy with the job he was doing I wouldn't be challenging him. But, again, he voted for the war in Iraq, he voted for the Patriot Act, he's voted for increased surveillance, he voted for $14 billion in tax breaks for oil companies and gas companies. Those aren't votes that are consistent with what most Iowans want, they certainly aren't votes that are consistent with what the Democratic platform states. So, yeah, I think it's a fair question. You know, if you have a certain position, a certain philosophy and that is inconsistent with where most people are at, yeah, it's time for a primary challenge and if people want to move on and have new representation they'll make that decision. And if not they'll keep Leonard Boswell. And if they do I'll support him.

Eby: Mr. Fallon, your Democratic rivals always point to your support in the 2000 presidential race of Ralph Nader. Is that a decision you've come to regret?

Fallon: Oh yeah, it was not the best decision. I mean, I was very, very frustrated with Al Gore's campaign and then he went ahead and chose Joe Lieberman who is no longer even a Democrat. But yeah, that was a decision made in frustration and it was probably my worst political decision. Again, I've apologized for that but I'd like to see the discussion based on issues. I've worked hard, when Chet Culver beat me I ended up supporting him, I worked hard for him last time. I've worked hard for John Edwards this year. I've worked hard for 30 or 40 Senate and House Democratic candidates over the years. So, I know my detractors like to find that one thing that they can kind of hang their hat on but the truth is my commitment to issues has been very consistent with what most Iowans want and certainly what most Democrats want and I think that's where this campaign needs to focus. Let's talk about the issues and how Leonard Boswell and I differ significantly on those issues.

Henderson: Well, you're going to be asking Democrats to vote in the primary and the Democrats that Charlotte mentioned and some of the notable Democrats who have been talking publicly about endorsing Leonard Boswell say that you're not a team player and they'd point specifically to the Nader endorsement and let's do a little Tim Russert and read something that you said back in 2000 and explain to Democrats why it was good to say this and in turn help George Bush be elected for eight years. You said back in 2000, 'this year the choice is between George W. Bush and a Democrat who is to the right of Bill Clinton.' You said you planned to vote for Nader, 'if I had three hands,' you said, 'maybe I could hold my nose, my gut and my mouth and vote for Al Gore but in good conscience I can't, I won't and you shouldn't either.'

Fallon: Yeah, again, as I just said to Charlotte it wasn't my best decision but the frustration behind that decision is real and still valid. There are too many in the Democratic Party, too many -- there's a very few that just happen to have a lot of power and they'd like to see us continue to be the second party of big business, of special interest, of corporate power and we don't need that. We need a Democratic Party that lines up with the people. And, again, not my best decision made in utter frustration and I point to the fact that a big part of that was based on Al Gore's choice of Joe Lieberman who is not a Democrat, who just endorsed McCain. So, let's move beyond that mistake and talk about other mistakes like voting for the war in Iraq. I would not have made that mistake like Leonard Boswell did.

Henderson: Well, you picked John Edwards and he voted for the war in Iraq.

Fallon: John Edwards at least realized it was a mistake. He didn't vote for continued funding like Leonard Boswell did, funding that was not attached to a timetable. So, I can deal with someone who makes a mistake and then says, yeah, I shouldn't have done that. You know, politics, all of us whether we're in politics or not make mistakes. So, let's look at the big picture. I mean, the big picture shows that I'm committed to a more progressive vision of how this district should be represented and that goes beyond the war in Iraq, it goes to the bankruptcy bill. I mean, here you have credit card companies dropping $100 million into lobbying for a bill that is bad for average working people, bad for the consumers and Leonard Boswell supported that bill. I would not have supported that bill, I wouldn't have supported this fall the amendment to the FISA bill that allowed warrantless searches, surveillance of Americans. I would not have supported that and in fact the other two Democratic Congressmen in Iowa, Braley and Loebsack didn't support it. Boswell joined King and Latham in supporting that bill. So, that to me is what this discussion should be about.

Beck: Well, let's talk a little bit about your record as well though. When you were a member of the Iowa House you were known for being a prolific filer of legislation, you filed a lot of bills and a lot of ideas but how many of those became law? I mean, how many have your fingerprints on them that we're now living under today?

Fallon: Well, first of all, that was mostly my first term. I went in there with both guns blazing and it seemed to be the right approach, it wasn't. You can file too many bills and I did my first year. That's a mistake I made only my first year. I tried to narrow it down to bills that I thought either needed some discussion or had a chance to pass. I ended up, I mean, I was in the minority the whole time so minority party members don't have their name on a lot of bills and you know that. But what you do is you find ways of working with the majority party and I did that extensively. I remember in my first year working with Dotty Carpenter who was chairing the state government committee and we found a way to work together to change a snag in the law that was preventing spouses of deceased state employees from maintaining the healthcare coverage that that employee had had in retirement. I mean, I can give you example after example. I've been able to work with Republicans to accomplish changes that didn't necessarily involve filing a bill, often it meant working in committee or working through the amendment process. But, you know, again, my first year I came in with such enthusiasm that I was a bit over the top in how many bills I thought I should file but I learned from that and moved on.

Eby: Your critics at the Statehouse say you talk a good game but weren't necessarily involved in heavily shaping policy. What do you say to them?

Fallon: Well, they're wrong. I'll stack my record against anybody's. And, again, understand that critics tend to be those in the status quo, they tend to be those who are in the establishment who are very comfortable with the idea of a Democratic Party that is cozy with big business, that is cozy with corporations, that is cozy with big government. That is not my vision of how government should be working. Government should be about basic services, it should be about staying out of people's private affairs and personal decisions, it should focus on maintaining a free market economy that is not, you know, distorted by all these big business handouts and giveaways, again, like the $14 billion that Boswell supported for oil and gas companies. So, I think my critics are those who have a very different perspective on what the Democratic Party should be and what government should be and sure, they're going to find things to criticize me on but when you look at my record, again, I can go through pages and pages of things I've been able to do as a legislator, a lot of that involves working with Republicans because they were in the majority.

Henderson: Let's talk about that oil company money that you just mentioned. Barack Obama as I recall voted for it as did Senator Tom Harkin. Is Tom Harkin not representing the interests of Iowans?

Fallon: Well, again, I think that was a mistake. I get along with Tom Harkin pretty well but there's certainly votes that I think he was wrong on as well and that's one. I just don't know how you justify $14.5 billion in tax breaks to the oil companies when they just made over $7 billion in profits that quarter, it just doesn't make sense.

Henderson: Well, this is one of the knocks about you at the Statehouse that you were an all or nothing kind of legislator, that you weren't willing to compromise and Tom Harkin and perhaps Barack Obama would say I voted for that bill because it was a compromise.

Fallon: See, and I disagree with that too. I'm always willing to compromise on the details of a proposal. When I worked with Republicans to increase the funding for the transitional childcare program we compromised on the amount that we thought was needed. I thought we could have done more, they thought less, we came to an agreement. That is very reasonable, I'm always willing to do that. But what I'm not willing to compromise on is a principle and to me in principle government should not be doling out big tax breaks to wealthy corporations and these very corporations are the ones that are funding campaigns and that's why we need campaign finance reform and, again, compromising on principle, you won't find me doing that.

Beck: One of the things you wouldn't compromise on was the Iowa Values Fund and money for businesses to recruit or retain workers in Iowa. And you several times already in this show said that this should not be the party of big business. But you're running in a district which supports a lot of large corporations. How do you fit in this district?

Fallon: I'm happy to have those jobs in this district. They don't need government handouts to survive. They may want them, they may try hard to get them because they've got lobbyists and because they're giving campaign contributions to politicians who will accept those contributions and I won't but the truth is they don't need the taxpayer's help to do well. If we really believe in the free market system, and I do, government should be focused on trying to create a playing field that is beneficial to all people, all businesses. We ought to be focusing on Main Street, on downtown, on neighborhood commercial districts, on jobs and businesses that can add value to Iowa's agricultural base, to our energy base. The business right now that opened up in southeast Iowa making wind turbines, that's a great idea, let's do more of that. Businesses like that that will stay in Iowa, that aren't going to move to Mexico or Southeast Asia, that don't need a big handout from government. To me that is not the role of government and, again, yeah I was against the Iowa Values Fund because I was against it on principle. It did not make sense to me as a condition of how government should be operating.

Eby: Your vote against the Values Fund was one of those many votes that you took in the legislature that was against the mainstream, you also voted against a number of crime measures. Do you think you've given Republicans a lot of ammunition if you were to win this primary?

Fallon: There was a bipartisan group of us who were working against the Values Fund just as there were a bipartisan group of us working for reform of the eminent domain laws. And that to me is a great example of success, our last vote was to help muster the troops to override the Governor's veto of a bill that I thought brought some fairness to the whole eminent domain process. I mean, I just think it's wrong for, again, developers and big government to come in and take people's land when there are plenty of options. And so, yeah, I don't know who is going to use that against -- the truth is I think I'm going to have a lot of Republican support and a lot of Independent support, I did when I ran for Governor, I don't see why I won't have that again this time around.

Beck: Talking about your race for Governor did you lay the ground work in the third district? Talk about that win and how you see that playing out then for running for Congress.

Fallon: That totally wasn't what I was planning to do, I didn't decide to run for Congress until just last fall. But I did win in the Third Congressional District, I won Polk County by over ten percentage points and I won Poweshiek County and I did well in the rest, I think I won the whole district by maybe a percentage point or two. So, yeah, I think that is probably why the status quo Democrats are worried, they don't -- whether you're a status quo Democrat or Republican you don't like a maverick. There are mavericks in both parties. Jim Leach was a maverick, I have a lot of respect for Jim Leach, I mean, I'm happy to have a Democratic Congressman from eastern Iowa. But that kind of politician gives fits to the establishment types in the party. And so I don't mind taking on that element, I've always taken on that element and, yeah, they're not going to be happy with my candidacy and if I win the nomination I'm sure they'll get behind me, most of them, but I don't -- I have a different vision for what the Democratic Party should stand for.

Beck: Well, you know, talk about that though, if you win and there are Democrats who say that you have a real shot in the third district because you won that district when you ran for Governor, if you win have you made it easier though for Republicans who have long looked at this seat thinking it might be one that they could pick up because now it's not got an incumbent in it?

Fallon: No, I've made it easier for Democrats to hold the seat. If you look at Leonard Boswell's performance, I mean, Culver was new in '06, Boswell was an incumbent and yet Boswell his margin of victory was half of what Culver won this district by. He should be doing better than that. In 2002 Harkin won by a margin of I think five or six thousand votes more than Boswell won by. Boswell should be doing better in this district and, again, I think a Democrat who is progressive, who is a populist, who can appeal to the Independents and Republicans, again, because of my stand on the role of the government in the economy, because of my stand on reforming the ear mark process, because of my stand on getting big money out of politics, those are things that appeal to people across the board, again, especially Independents and some disgruntled Republicans. So, I think if Democrats want to hold this seat it's good to elect a nominated candidate that is more progressive.

Eby: Mr. Fallon, the third district encompasses a number of rural counties. How do you make the case to them that you're not this ultra liberal from Des Moines?

Fallon: Well, I did really well in those rural counties, by the way, when I ran for Governor and I didn't win all of them but I won one of them and I got second in many of them. I will also point out that either Obama or John Edwards won every one of the counties in my district, in this district. So, I think there is a strong, again, a lot of those people voting for Obama and Edwards weren't Democrats until they came to the polls that night or to the caucuses that night and changed their registration. I think there is a strong sense in rural Iowa as there is in other parts of the state that we need change desperately, we need a new level of energy and passion in Washington, D.C. and I think one reason I did well in those rural counties was because I represent that change and people are hungry for that change. They're tired of seeing government just roll over them. I mean, I talked about eminent domain, that's one example and there are places in the district where rural people have tried to stop either airports or highways from coming through their farm ground and Congressman Boswell has not stood with them. I stood with them even though I wasn't in Congress at the time, even though I was pretty busy with the Governors campaign and that is something that I would continue to fight for as a Congressman was to see that they had a voice in that process.

Henderson: Earlier in the program you mentioned that Boswell had said he'd serve six years and now he's served far beyond that. Is his age in your mind an issue in this campaign?

Fallon: I would never make an issue of age but I do make an issue of the fact that you said one thing, you said one thing and he's done another. I mean, Tom Vilsack, to his credit, said he'd serve eight years and he served eight years and I respect that.

Beck: Have you set a limit for yourself?

Fallon: I wouldn't but I can tell you I think it would be really unlikely that I would be there for as long as Boswell has been there. I mean, I think it's good -- I don't support having a term limit law because I think, again, voters tend to make that decision and I think they're going to make that decision in June in this Congressional seat. But I think it's a mistake to say exactly how long I'd serve but I know I'm not going to be there when I'm 74. I have plenty of other things I'd like to do in my life.

Beck: You have mentioned your support for publicly financed campaigns and clean elections and things like that. How much money will you raise and spend in this race?

Fallon: We have an ambitious budget, we're hoping to raise $700,000. We've raised, just in the first 25 days of this campaign we've raised $60,000. Again, no pack money, no money from Washington, D.C. lobbyists just like John Edwards, just like Barack Obama. That's not a new position for me, that's a position I've had since 1992. In fact, there are only two of us in the Iowa House that don't take money from packs, that was me and Pam Yocum but to me it's really important for me to preserve my independence and to make ...

Beck: Can you win that way? I mean, John Edwards it didn't work for, so far it's worked pretty well for Obama.

Fallon: Sure, and it worked pretty well for me for fourteen years. I mean, I got outspent twice two to one and I still won by nearly a two to one margin. So, I don't mind being outspent. First of all, I'm really frugal with how I spend money. I have a very frugal voting record when it came to budget bills and I've run very frugal campaigns. I mean, most people when they run for Governor they've got debt at the end of that campaign, I didn't. We were in the black the day after the primary in 2006. So, yeah, I think I'll raise enough money, we've already got a staff of fourteen, we've got two office spaces, we've got all the furniture and computers we need, we've got 200 people who have already committed to volunteering so I'm confident that a good grassroots campaign with maybe a smaller than usual but still a strong TV campaign I can do very well.

Henderson: Is this because you think turnout will be low in June during the primary?

Fallon: I'm hoping turnout is high. I always get excited for democracy when turnout is high. Democracy depends on high turnout and we saw that for the caucuses and I think the caucuses may translate into a higher than expected turnout in June.

Henderson: How so? I mean, historically there aren't very many contests this time around for Democrats. I mean, you are kind of it in the third district.

Fallon: Historically that's true but who predicted we'd have 239,000 Democrats turning out for the caucuses? I think a lot of those folks are engaged, they're fired up, they're eager for change, they want to see a new direction and I think our grassroots campaign will empower them to stay involved and to turn out on June 3rd to vote.

Henderson: We haven't much time left, who is the better top of the ticket nominee for Democrats for folks to run for Congress, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Fallon: Obama hands down.

Henderson: Why?

Fallon: Again, he represents change. Hillary Clinton represents the status quo. And that was the candidate that Boswell endorsed, of course, and she did not do well in the third district. I think, obviously I was an Edwards guy but I've become as of two days ago an Obama guy and I hope he does well on Super Tuesday and I think if he's our nominee he will win and I think he will pull a lot more people out to vote in November than Hillary Clinton will.

Beck: Should he make her his vice presidential nominee if he should win the nomination?

Fallon: No.

Beck: Do you have a better selection?

Fallon: There's be a long list but we don’t really have time to go into that do we?

Henderson: Thanks for your time.

Fallon: Thank you.

Henderson: I appreciate your appearance here at the table.

Fallon: You're welcome.

Henderson: Next time on Iowa Public Television we are going to be talking about the campaign of 2008. On our next edition of Iowa Press we turn to higher education and to the new President of the University of Iowa. Joining us will be Dr. Sally Mason who this past August was installed as the University of Iowa's 20th President. We'll discuss the state of academic affairs in Iowa City and the work of the Board of Regents as well. We hope you will join us next weekend on our Iowa Press airtimes on Friday at 7:30p.m. and Sunday morning at 11:30. I'm O. Kay Henderson with Radio Iowa sitting in for Dean Borg on this edition of Iowa Press. Thanks for joining us here on statewide Iowa Public Television.

Archived editions of Iowa Press can be accessed on the World Wide Web. Audio and video streaming is available as are transcripts at

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation; The Iowa Bankers Association for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals; and by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure; by Policy Works, a public and government affairs firm offering lobbying, grassroots and advocacy services to help you meet your strategic public policy needs. Information is available on the Web at; by Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities, where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

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