Iowa Public Television


New GOP Leaders, Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman

posted on July 25, 2008

Borg: New perspectives. Iowa Republican Party leadership changes are raising eyebrows. We'll question newly elected Republican National Committee members Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman on this edition of Iowa Press.

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On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, July 25th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Internal dynamics, sometimes intensely abrasive and natural in politics, so Iowa's Republican Party turnover this past summer isn't surprising but the implications are intriguing. Here's what happened. At their state convention earlier this month Republicans replaced their representatives on the party's National Committee. Committeewoman Phyllis Kelly wasn't on the ballot. Nevertheless, Iowa Republicans may be making a statement by replacing her with Right to Life organization leader Kim Lehman. The other seat held for the past 20 years by Des Moines Attorney Steve Roberts went to Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler. Mrs. Lehman, Mr. Scheffler, welcome to Iowa Press, nice to have you here.

Lehman: Thank you very much.

Scheffler: Thank you.

Borg: And across the table Des Moines Register Political Columnist David Yepsen and Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover.

Glover: Mr. Scheffler, let's start with you. What message do you think the Republican Party was sending when it decided to replace Steve Roberts with you on the Republican National Committee?

Scheffler: Well, first of all let me just say that Steve Roberts has done a commendable service for the Republican Party for the last several years, I've known him for about 30 years. But I think the message that it was sending was that Republicans in the grassroots are frustrated and they want leadership that is going to take it to the Democrats and to annunciate those differences between the two parties, where they stand so that the base is motivated to go out and work for those candidates, do all the things that they need to do whether it's put up yard signs or make phone calls or whatever you need to do, all the little details of getting candidates elected.

Glover: And was the frustration about the message of the party? The organization of the party? The mechanics of the party? What was the frustration?

Scheffler: I think one thing is the message. When you look at the Democrat side their leaders whether it be Barney Frank or Hillary Clinton or Mr. Obama or whoever those leaders are aggressively pushing their agenda and so they do those things that they need to do to get their base motivated. But many times I think Republican leaders, especially at the national level, do a poor job in annunciating those differences and so the messages become kind of all blended together and so they don't really know what Republicans stand for. And so they want people who are willing to take those stands and annunciate the differences in a positive way.

Glover: Mrs. Lehman, same question to you. What sort of a shift do you think Republican activists were signaling when they elected you to the Republican National Committee? They want a different message? They want a different party structure? What message do you take from your election?

Lehman: Well, the first thing I want to point out is that most Republicans are pro-life and so are the candidates and so is our candidate, John McCain. And I believe when I was elected it was just a confirmation that we are a pro-life party, we're the party of family values and I've worked in the grassroots and I've helped organize to get people to vote and to help candidates and I think it was a good fit.

Yepsen: Mrs. Lehman, some of the moderates are feeling left out, they're feeling defeated. How do you get party moderates back in the tent now?

Lehman: I didn't know that they left.

Yepsen: Well, Joy Corning, for example, the former Lieutenant Governor has a letter out that she's upset the direction the party has taken. How do you attract them?

Lehman: I don't know that the party is taking a new direction. All of the conservatives that are pro-life, pro-family are very fiscally conservative as well. I don't think that the party has changed its view or the platform has changed its view. I think starting with Ronald Reagan the party became very pro-life, pro-family and nothing has really changed. The fact of the matter is that we were elected by Republicans at a convention and these are the people that go out and door knock and are involved in the Republican Party. So, I haven't heard anybody talking about kicking anybody out or that people left the party. According to what I understand is Joy Corning is still a Republican.

Yepsen: Mr. Scheffler, same question to you. How do you reach out to party moderates at this point?

Scheffler: Well, I think actions speak a lot louder than words. I think Kim and I will show that we're inclusive but we also want our party based on common principles that we find in our state and our national platform. But I think those that know us best, have known and worked with us over the years whether it be through our organizations or through or grassroots activities know that we are inclusive people even though we're people with strongly held beliefs and I think it's fair to say that anybody that gets involved politically has a political agenda in terms that there's issues that are important to them. And so whether they be fiscal conservatives or whether they be social conservatives and what issues are there that they're excited about we want to do everything we can to get them involved and when we're 80% together on the issues that makes us allies not enemies.

Borg: Mrs. Lehman, Mr. Scheffler said initially here, used the word frustration and motivating the base. How is that going to enhance fundraising? What are you going to do differently?

Lehman: Well, first of all, I'm not the party chair and I wasn't elected as the chair of the Republican Party nor am I the fundraiser of the Republican Party. I'm the National Committeewoman and my role and my job is to represent Iowa on the Republican National Committee to ensure that we are first in the nation because it's a valuable asset to Iowa that we are first in the nation. It helps our economics and that's my job. Now as far as the fundraising for the Republican Party, of course, I think that as I work in an organization that is trying to get people to donate to our mission and our vision I think the Republican Party is best served if the public, the grassroots and those that are Republicans understand what our true vision and our mission is and that we push forward with that agenda and people will fund that. And that, again, isn't my role in the Republican Party.

Borg: It may not be your role either, Mr. Scheffler, but it does make a statement, the election of you two to the National Committee makes a statement. And you admitted first off that you were trying to make a change. So, how is that going to affect fundraising? What are you going to do differently?

Scheffler: Well, first of all I think we have to activate a broader base of Republicans who are going to gather around our message and our platform to become givers to the Republican Party. By and large we've all probably done not a real good job of reaching out to a broad spectrum of people to give to the Republican Party and I think, again, it goes back to being based on the actions of Kim and I and not our words, will be comforting to those people that might be suspicious of our motives. So, I have no doubt in my mind that when they see that we're going to work hard and we're going to be fully engaged not only with the grassroots but reaching out to them that they know we have a common goal and that we're going to help elect Republicans.

Yepsen: Are you worried about moderate donors not giving the party any money? There's been some talk that some of the larger donors who are moderate are saying I'm not in this game any more.

Scheffler: I guess, David, I'm not concerned. Sure we have to be concerned that people that have given in the past are going to continue to do that in the future but, again, I think based on our actions that that's not going to be a problem at all down the road.

Glover: Mrs. Lehman, let's look at something that is something you have to deal with. John McCain is the presumptive nominee at the Republican Party. In your view is he the best candidate to carry the Republican Party's message this year?

Lehman: I would like that question at the primary. This is not the primary and he is the candidate that we're supporting. He is a pro-life candidate and he is the Republican candidate and we need to get him elected so we're going to work very hard for that.

Glover: But does he excite people in your wing of the Republican Party? He's had some tensions with the more conservative wing of the party.

Lehman: Well, I'm going to be working to excite them because we need him to win and we support him and he does a very good job and I think that as far as being a president he fits the role much better than Obama does and he represents the family values and I think that message needs to get to the grassroots and we need to get out to vote for him.

Glover: Mr. Scheffler, same question to you. Mr. McCain is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. He's had some tensions with your wing of the party. Can you get past that? Can you get your wing of the party excited? And what sort of a message could he send with the running mate? What would you like to see there?

Scheffler: First of all, your first question absolutely he can get them excited. As we get closer and closer to the election now with less than four months away I think people are going to begin to put in focus exactly the big huge differences between these two candidates whether it be on national security, whether it be on the life issue, whether it be the kind of judges that they would appoint to the Supreme Court, there's huge differences and I think as he begins to annunciate and as Kim and I and others in the grassroots begin to really make the base and make all Republicans understand what's at stake here that they are going to get excited. So, I don't have any question that that's going to happen. It's going to take a little time but we're going to get there and that's going to happen.

Glover: And what sort of a message could he send with the running mate? Who would you like to see? Who could he name that would give increased comfort to your wing of the party?

Scheffler: Well, first of all, I read human events every week and they've been running a profile week by week of potential '08 candidates. There's a huge range from Haley Barber to the Governor of Minnesota to the Governor of Alaska to the Governor of South Carolina, the list goes on and on, Rob Portman of Ohio and so there's a whole wide range of running mates that would be very acceptable and would get the base excited.

Yepsen: Who do you think it's going to be?

Scheffler: I have no idea. I saw on Fox 17 news that they were talking about the Governor of Minnesota but, again, who knows. We may be surprised.

Yepsen: Mrs. Lehman, same question to you. Who do you want or who do you think it's going to be?

Lehman: I really don't know. The only thing I can do is hope that it will be a candidate that is part of the entire Republican platform which is fiscally conservative, concerned about reducing government, pro-life, pro-family. These are the things that matter to the Republicans.

Yepsen: Let me put a fire point on Mike's question, particularly about stem cell research. That is one of the issues where John McCain's position has caused a lot of heartburn among social conservatives. So, Mrs. Lehman, what do you say to one of your followers who says, you know, I like him but for that.

Lehman: Right, that is an issue that every candidate is faced with. There isn't a 100% on any candidate and we all have to accept that. Same thing with not every Republican has exactly the same values. But as a whole John McCain is very pro-life and that is the issue that is important to the pro-life people. So, as far as stem cell research goes I know that he also supports adult stem cell research which is very successful and is the research that is helping to heal people. And so we can't have a perfect candidate. We all know that, it has never happened. So, we support him.

Yepsen: Mr. Scheffler, don't social conservatives understand that John McCain's nominees at the Supreme Court are going to be better than Barack Obama's to them from their point of view?

Scheffler: I think so but they just have to be reminded. When we had a wide range of candidates running in the primaries and the caucuses you had a lot of choices to pick from. And so now people are trying to get past that and now we need to focus on the general election. So, I think they understand that but now as we get closer and closer they need to be reminded again and again and again and I think that's going to happen.

Yepsen: Look at this from a broader perspective though. It is true that John McCain lost, finished fourth place, Mike Huckabee won. So, do you have a unity problem that goes beyond just who's a social conservative and who isn't? The guy who won is not the nominee. Are the Huckabee people coming on board? Are the Romney people coming on board?

Scheffler: Absolutely. Again, you have these little inter-party contests and stuff and it takes a while for that to heal up but I have no doubt that's going to happen, you bet.

Yepsen: Mrs. Lehman, I want to go back to your role as a leader of the anti-abortion movement in Iowa. Now you're a party leader as well. What do you say when a pro-choice Republican comes to you and says I want to run for the legislature, I need your help?

Lehman: Real simple -- every candidate has an opportunity to explain their position to their district. And what I think is important that every candidate does is to explain whether or not they are pro-life or not pro-life and that they hold to whatever their position was when they get elected. So, again, most Republicans are pro-life, of course. All Republicans aren't pro-life and same thing in the Democratic Party. Some of the Democrats are very pro-life and so therefore they get elected and their public that elected them knows that and they are consistent when they get into the legislature and they vote that way.

Yepsen: But that did cause a lot of consternation inside the Democratic Party when they went out and recruited pro-life Democrats to run for the legislature. Now, they took control of the legislature with that. The flip side of the question is, are you in a position now to have to recruit pro-choice Republicans in order to get the Iowa House back from the Democrats?

Lehman: I think I'm going to continue to hold to the Republican principles that we stand on and the Republican principles are based upon the platform and the party, the majority of the party. I accept the fact that not everyone in the party is pro-life. That is just a reality and that's the way it is and so if they are elected those are the Republicans that I can say this, those Republicans typically run on the fiscal issues to reduce government and I would say hang your hat on that and let's go for it because I totally agree that we need to be fiscally conservative in the legislature.

Glover: Mr. Scheffler, let's turn to you're now a member of the Republican National Committee and look at the health of the Republican Party in Iowa. There are a lot of people who say the party here faces some challenges. Democrats have built a significant edge in registered voters, the biggest candidate on the ballot this year is Senator Tom Harkin, you're not fielding a big name candidate against him. What is the health of the Republican Party in this state?

Scheffler: Well, like any political parties we go through cycles, ups and downs, and there's no doubt that the Republican Party in Iowa needs to re-energize itself and to get its message back in gear. And so this is going to happen, we have to work together and we are going to work together and we're going to be a united party and we have to go out and win elections. But like any other party you go through up and down cycles and we're going to get our candidates elected this fall and Senator McCain is going to carry the state and then beyond that we're going to build a Republican Party and in 2010 we're going to become invincible. You bet.

Glover: Mrs. Lehman, same question to you. What is the health of the Republican Party in the state given the evidence that Democrats have made gains?

Lehman: I think that this is an opportunity for the Republican Party to rebuild. I think that we always go through different times that Republicans are down, the Republicans are up and now this is our opportunity to rebuild the party, to organize the party, to get our message out to the people. I really believe strongly that this country needs the Republicans. With the gas prices that we're faced with and the dollar only representing 40 cents that this government needs to reduce its spending, it needs to get involved in being fiscally conservative. And so the Republicans are very important to this country.

Glover: And you mentioned it earlier, Mrs. Lehman, the caucuses, the role that Iowa plays in the presidential nominating cycle. Once again, like every four years there will be a challenge to it. What do you do to keep Iowa first?

Lehman: Well, one of the things I think we have to do is let the people in the RNC and also the press know how important it is for Iowa politics. In a way we don't have a tourism. This is economically important to Iowa. I think it's between $50 to $60 million that we benefit from being first in the nation. So, I think it's important that we stay that way.

Glover: Mr. Scheffler, same question to you. Everybody agrees that Iowa benefits by being first in the nation but what can you do on the Republican National Committee to keep Iowa first and how do you work with Democrats to accomplish that?

Scheffler: Well, first of all, I have actually had a meeting with Steve Roberts yesterday and I'm going to rely on his experience from being on the rules committee I think ever since he was a National Committee man 20 years ago. So, Kim and I will be relying on his experience and Phyllis' experience about the techniques and tactics we need to take to make relationships with other committee members and to make sure that Iowa remains first and I can guarantee that Kim and I are going to be very aggressive advocates in that regard.

Glover: Are you going to succeed? Bottom line, are you going to keep Iowa first?

Scheffler: I believe that's absolutely going to happen. You bet.

Yepsen: What is your assessment, Mr. Scheffler, of how this vote is going to go at the National Convention? Before you even take office on the National Committee the Republican National Convention in St. Paul will be addressing this issue. There is a proposal that has Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada at the head of the ticket, at the head of the line just as the Democrats do. Give me your assessment. Do you think your party will vote to do that?

Scheffler: You bet. After speaking with Steve Roberts yesterday and kind of understanding the whole dynamic I believe that the RNC's rules committee is going to make that recommendation and then the whole convention is going to make that recommendation and the convention as a whole will endorse that idea and we will remain first. So, I feel very, very confident that that is going to happen.

Yepsen: Same question to you, is that your assessment too?

Lehman: That is my assessment, David, and I'll be meeting with Phyllis Kelly as well, the current sitting National Committeewoman, but I do think that's the case and I've spoken to a few RNC members around the country and there isn't evidence that they are trying to strip Iowa from its first in the nation so we're comfortable with that.

Glover: Won't you have to reach out to Democrats to make this accomplished? How do you work with Democrats, Mrs. Lehman?

Lehman: Well, I know that the Democratic Party is just as interested as the Republican Party to keep us first in the nation. Even going back to the very beginning they were responsible for being the first. So, I think that both the parties understand the value as Iowa first in the nation. We'll be having to work definitely to accomplish that.

Yepsen: So, for 2012 this could get locked down and Iowa could be, at least on the Republican side it will be locked down within the next six weeks?

Lehman: That's right. It will be locked down.

Yepsen: Mr. Scheffler, I want to go back to this question of social issues. You're both social conservatives. Are those issues really that relevant to a lot of voters in this election? I looked at some polling the other day of Iowa voters. 40% say it's the economy, another high percentage in double digits say it's gasoline, Mrs. Lehman has mentioned fiscal issues here. Only eight percent of them say cultural issues are that important. Are the issues that your organizations champion really that important to most voters in this election?

Scheffler: Well, first of all, I think you have to look at the whole coalition that you put together to elect a candidate whether it be a Republican or Democratic candidate. And those coalitions are all important to have on board whether they're hot button issues or social issues or economic issues and so we need all those coalitions working in sync to making sure that their base of supporters are motivated to go. So, yes it is important. All of them working together hand-in-hand and getting the Republicans elected is very, very important. You bet.

Yepsen: Mrs. Lehman, is abortion or pro-life, pro-choice, is that going to turn many voters in an election where people care about the economy, the dollar and gas prices?

Lehman: Well, even using the Register's own polling data from I think 2006 30% of the people in the Republican Party go to vote on that issue, the pro-life issue. 70% of Republicans are pro-life leaving 30% that are not. Now, granted this is an issue that is important to people along with, and this is what I think is important for the public to realize, people like myself and Steve Scheffler understand fiscal issues are very important as well as the pro-life issue. So, our candidate represents both of those and people will go to the polls for all of these issues.

Glover: Mr. Scheffler, let's turn to a mechanical issue if we could. Right now there are a few thousand people running around this state doing organizational work and knocking on doors for Barack Obama. Senator McCain has a much less intense profile in the state. How do you deal with that organizational edge? Sort of mechanically how do you get back in that game?

Scheffler: Well, first of all, few people thought McCain would even win the nomination. He was declared dead I think last summer and he kind of resurrected politically. And so I'm a great believer that as we begin to activate those people sure there's challenges and I think the last poll showed that McCain was down eight to ten percentage points. But I believe once we begin to clarify the differences between our two parties and the candidates' stand on the issues that we will get them motivated and we will overcome those obstacles and we will win. It's a matter of motivating them and getting them to go out and do all the hard work.

Glover: Mrs. Lehman, just sort of a technical question here. We're at the end of July, there's an election coming up pretty quick now. Do you have time to put this organizational thing together in just the next two or three months?

Lehman: I think I am not currently sitting National Committeewoman and I don't become National Committeewoman until the end of the convention which is September 5th. So, one of the things that we have already been working toward is to organize just because I'm one of those people in the party that want to win. So, I'll do what I can just like anyone else is and organize as best as I can.

Glover: But you have time you think?

Lehman: Well, we have to make time.

Borg: Following up on that line of thinking toward the component of the voting electorate that is in the younger age group Obama has been credited with really motivating that age demographic group. What is going to be your appeal as Republicans? What message can you use to motivate that younger group to vote Republican? You've used the word opportunity to rebuild here a few minutes ago. So, what is the opportunity to rebuild with the younger group?

Lehman: What I've noticed why people don't get involved in politics is they don't understand it and there are a lot of people in this country that do want to get involved and I think the first item of business is to help people to realize their role and their part. And the younger generation is very interested in becoming a part of the process. Now, Obama has been driving people to support them and it's almost as if they don't know what he's standing for but they're supporting him. So, I think it's important for Republicans to give their message and I think it's important to include the younger generation so that they can be the next generation that is running this government.

Borg: What is the message that you would direct to them?

Scheffler: I think what Kim said is very true but also I think if you look, if we can begin to educate people, as an example, where Republicans and Democrats are on fiscal issues in terms of the future so in the future their pocketbooks in terms of what they're going to have as expendable income that they're going to understand that the Democrats are all about dependency, they're all about the same old system whereas Republicans want choice and whether it's mitigal savings accounts ...

Borg: Will that ring with the younger generation, an eighteen year old, a twenty-one year old person?

Scheffler: I think so and if those issues are annunciated clearly again and again and again but it can't be just repeated once. We have to say those messages again and again and repeat it until the American people and young people get it. And when they understand that there's a huge difference in who has got their security, their future security clear through to the end of their lifetime that they will respond to the Republican message. You bet.

Yepsen: Mr. Scheffler, in some places around the country we talk about Evangelicals and social conservatives as if you were all a monolith and obviously there are different points of view here. In some parts of the country we're seeing alliances between religious conservatives and liberals on the issue of the environment and that younger social conservatives are really into the environment as an issue because it's a form of protecting God's creation. Why don't we see that here in Iowa? Am I missing something.

Scheffler: Well, I think from working on several campaigns as a volunteer staffer the one thing I've learned is this isn't a monolithic group, they don't just follow somebody over the cliff even if they respect you. But there are some issues that bind us together by and large. There's issues like the life issue, the marriage issue, spending constraints, reforming Social Security so there's a lot of things that bind us and we're naturally going to have differences. I don't agree with my wife on every single issue.

Yepsen: Mrs. Lehman, do you see the social conservatives in Iowa broadening their base in order to appeal to a younger electorate? I realize you're involved in the pro-life movement but what about the pro-environment movement? Is that a way to recruit younger voters to your cause?

Lehman: I always found it interesting that it isn't related to the Republican Party even though the very conservative people are just as interested in the environment as the non-conservative Democrats. So, I think that number one what's important to the younger generation is when they fill up that gas tank that they're not spending $50 like they are. That is what's going to drive people to get involved. They are interested in being able to afford living.

Glover: Mr. Scheffler, you will become a member of the Republican National Committee at the conclusion of your party's National Convention. One of the people who will not be a delegate to that convention is Senator Charles Grassley, arguably the most successful Republican politician in the state. There have been suggestions that was retribution for his investigations in church groups. Is there anything to that?

Scheffler: Let me say categorically here that is absolutely nonsense, it's untrue, no facts behind it whatsoever. We're all going to go to the convention, we're all going to be united, we're all going to be on the convention floor and we're all going to come mobilize back to get Senator McCain elected and in addition to that take back the Iowa House and keep our seats in the Senate and elect people from the courthouse to the White House.

Glover: Mrs. Lehman, the same question to you. Was there a snub here when a sitting United States Senator, a 30 year politician was not a delegate?

Lehman: I think that was made up by the press personally because I haven't seen that in my circles and we all know that Senator Grassley is going to the convention and he has floor rights and, in fact, we all love Senator Grassley, he's one of our favorites. So, I really have never seen that.

Yepsen: Mrs. Lehman, we've got less than a minute left here. I want to talk about women in the Republican Party. Will you be doing anything special to recruit more women to become candidates?

Lehman: I don't really look at whether it's a woman or a man. I think that I'm always looking for the best candidate that can do the job. I think it's wonderful that women are getting involved, I'm involved. I don't differentiate the difference between the two and I am involved in women organizations and so we just go forward with what we do.

Yepsen: And could we see you run for office someday?

Lehman: I don't think so.

Borg: Mrs. Lehman, Mr. Scheffler, thanks so much for spending time with us today.

Lehman: Thank you for having us.

Borg: Today's program is the last during this broadcast season. We'll be taking a five week hiatus now returning just after Labor Day and that will be September 5th beginning our 38th season on Iowa Public Television. We'll be starting the new broadcast year with a Reporters' Roundtable at that time catching up on the just completed Republican and Democratic National Conventions. In the meantime, best wishes from us to you for a pleasant summer. We'll be back on September 5th. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

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