Iowa Public Television


Hat in the Ring: Bob Vander Plaats (R-Sioux City)

posted on March 13, 2009

Borg: A hat in the wind. Republican Bob Vander Plaats is the first to officially announce that he'd like to be on the November 2010 ballot for Governor of Iowa. We're questioning Bob Vander Plaats 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 Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities ... enrolling 25% of the total Iowa higher education enrollment and conferring 44% of the baccalaureate and 40% of the graduate degrees in the state. More information is available at The Iowa Hospital Association ... supporting the missions and visions of Iowa's 117 community hospitals. The Iowa Hospital Association ... we care about Iowa's health.


On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, March 13th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.


Borg: Bob Vander Plaats knows what he's getting into. The Sioux City businessman went after the republican gubernatorial nomination in 2002. He was on the republican ticket for lieutenant governor when Jim Nussle was the party's gubernatorial nominee against the eventual winner, democrat Chet Culver. And it's a given that now incumbent Chet Culver will be seeking another four years. But Bob Vander Plaats first has to win the republican nomination although who else might be running for that nomination isn't yet clear. Welcome back to Iowa Press.

Vander Plaats: It's a pleasure to be here, Dean.

Borg: And across the table people that you know from politics around Iowa ... Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson and Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover.

Glover: Mr. Vander Plaats, you've made it clear that you're going to run for republican nomination. Let's give you your commercial up front. Make the case for Bob Vander Plaats, why he should get the republican nomination for governor.

Vander Plaats: Well, I believe, Mike, it's because I can win. I've said that before in 2002, said it in 2006 but I believe it more than ever today.

Glover: Why?

Vander Plaats: We have to stop defending Sioux County and Plymouth County on Election Day and we need to start putting Johnson County and Linn County in play on Election Day. And my background in education, healthcare, human services, having real-life leadership, real-life experience and real-life results in those key areas I believe those people trust that I'm just not a typical republican but I have served in a lot of areas and arenas in this state, have always achieved results and I think in today's climate people want a real person out of real-life experience to be the leader of the state of Iowa.

Glover: This is your third attempt to get the republican gubernatorial nomination. At what point do you become a perennial candidate that we don't take terribly seriously?

Vander Plaats: Well, I take a look at it is that I'm big into growth charts. Are we growing? Are we diminishing in support? If we were diminishing in our support around the state we wouldn't be sitting here today, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But right now I can tell you we have a vibrant network in all 99 counties who are ready and they are poised and to them and to me it's not about winning the primary, it's about winning the governorship because I learned a long time ago that if you don't win, you don't govern, you don't lead.

Glover: You have an organization in every one of the state's 99 counties.

Vander Plaats: I believe we have a vibrant network in all 99 counties and it is compromised of Vander Plaats supporters for a long time. People came on to be Bob Vander Plaats supporters after I joined up with Jim Nussle to be the lieutenant governor nominee and then obviously when I was state chair for Governor Mike Huckabee we've earned a lot of support from a lot of new people that I didn't even realize that were out there. But it's not just Mike Huckabee supporters either, my state chair, Jodi Tymeson, she was a co-chair for Mitt Romney. My co-chair, Doug Johnson, former state auditor, he was the co-chair for John McCain. Chuck Hurley was the chair for Senator Sam Brownback. Bill Solear was the chair for Tom Tancredo. We've got a hybrid network around this state believing that this is what it's going to take to win and we believe we have what it takes to lead.

Henderson: Chet Culver has won three statewide races, two for secretary of state, he won the governorship, he attends to seek another term, he has a proven ability of raising money. In what ways is he vulnerable?

Vander Plaats: Leadership, plain and simple leadership. You can win all the races you want in the world and you can have a proven track record saying I can raise the money but can you lead? My role as MVP leadership president we have the opportunity to mentor, to evaluate and to coach other leaders around the state and one of the things we look at is instinct. I think what Iowans are seeing is a lack of instinct, of good instinct on behalf of Governor Chet Culver.

Henderson: In what specific areas?

Vander Plaats: Specific ways of in the first session I want to raise the bottle bill from a nickel to a dime but I only want to give you eight cents back and that's going to be my economic development plan. That's poor instinct. I want to sell the Iowa Lottery at a fraction of the cost and it's benefit to Iowa and to Iowa's taxpayers. That's poor instinct. I think today saying I want to do prevailing wage, I want to remove the right to work, I want to drive businesses out of the state of Iowa is really what he's saying. I think that's poor instinct of leadership and I think people want leadership today.

Borg: If you were to get the republican nomination you'd be running on a ballot headed, we assume, by Senator Chuck Grassley who will be up for re-election. What help can you expect from that sort of top of the ticket?

Vander Plaats: I'd say there's no doubt that Senator Grassley helps any republican on the top of the ticket running for governor. Senator Grassley is well liked, I think he's the most popular elected official in the state of Iowa by several polls. Senator Grassley is going to work extremely hard and he's been a voice for Iowans in D.C. and he's always maintained his Iowa roots so even though he's been in D.C. a long time people view Chuck Grassley as an Iowan and I would love to campaign along side of Senator Grassley as I seek the governorship in 2010.

Borg: Has he indicated that he'd like to campaign along side you?

Vander Plaats: I think Senator Grassley and I would have a great time together. We have gone out for runs together before and I think Senator Grassley is interested in winning back the governorship of Iowa and he and I have a good kinship.

Glover: I'd like to get you to take a look at next year and your take on what kind of a year it's going to be. History would teach us that the mid-term election of the first term of a president is a bad election for that party in the White House. That would mean that next year would be a good republican year but the economy is in the toilet. That traditionally helps democrats. Talk to me a little bit about your take on what next year looks like.

Vander Plaats: I have never seen Iowans more energized about new and fresh leadership than I have in the past six weeks. I think what they see, with the administration in D.C. and the administration in Iowa, is really a loss of freedom. And you see the stock markets aren't responding well to this stuff, we're nationalizing banks, we're just throwing more and more money at it, we're raising taxes, we're trying to satisfy all the union bosses agendas. They see it as a loss of freedom and so I'm not going to depend on because Obama is in the White House it's going to be a good year for republicans, I believe when it's going to be a good year for republicans is when republicans put up a candidate one that can be trusted, two isn't just about saying no to everything but having a solution for items and casting a compelling vision to bring Iowans around that vision to say I'm the leader to take you to that next step, that will make it a good year.

Glover: What do you say then to polls that show that President Obama's approval ratings remain pretty high, in fact in the 70s?

Vander Plaats: They may remain pretty high but I think you're going to see those steadily be declining. And, you're right, President Obama is a different president than we've ever had before not only from a national scale but an international scale but I think it's not just President Obama, is the country being successful?

Glover: What about this republican debate between Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Republican Party? Who in fact is running the national Republican Party? Is it Rush Limbaugh?

Vander Plaats: I think there's a lot of people who would like to be running the national Republican Party. I think Michael Still believes he is. I think Rush Limbaugh says I'd like to be that voice. I think Governor Huckabee says I'd like to be that voice. I think what republicans are doing is saying what is it that we stand for today. I think republican principles are alive and well. But what the people want is can I trust the candidate and will they lead the way they campaigned once they get into office?

Henderson: Iowans have wanted in the past longevity. If you look at the history of Iowa's governorship from 1968 to 1994 republicans won it. Aren't you bucking history here by essentially asking Iowans to fire the person that they have hired for the job?

Vander Plaats: I'm not only bucking history, I hope to buck history. But I think what you see there, Kay, is that they kept governors like Governor Ray in place, Governor Branstad in place and even Governor Vilsack in place when things were going relatively well. But today you take a look at it and I don't think things are going relatively well. We have a budget mess, we're trying to drive the business out of this state, our schools aren't achieving the way the schools should be achieving, we keep throwing money at a broken system. I think Iowans want change today. I think they want leadership today.

Glover: Mr. Vander Plaats, if I could disagree with you just for a second.

Vander Plaats: That would be a first.

Glover: Terry Branstad was elected in 1982, Terry Branstad was the governor in the 1980s. I don't think anybody would argue that things were going pretty well in the 1980s, things were probably worse in the 80s than they are now and Iowans still re-elected him.

Vander Plaats: But they saw Governor Branstad putting in some real principles and some real foundations for growth and so when Governor Branstad left office he had a $900 million surplus. I think what they're seeing with Governor Chet Culver and the democratic legislature is you're growing government at an unsustainable rate. People forget that he inherited a $5.3 billion budget, just a few weeks ago he introduced a $6.2 billion budget, a 17% increase in two years. That's unsustainable growth. When I talk to individuals and businesses I say would you like to have a 17% increase in your budget, in your bottom line? And they would love to have that for 2009 yet we're running around like the sky is falling. It's a lack of leadership, it's poor instinct again.

Glover: Let's take a look at the field. You have announced that you're running for the republican nomination.

Vander Plaats: I have opened up a committee to begin raising money, spending money and setting organization and the way things are going it looks like we will announce in the summer.

Glover: Talk about the rest of the republican field. I don't see a field of good name candidates, prominent statewide candidates in the field against Governor Culver. What does that say?

Vander Plaats: Well, I believe there's a lot of people who are genuinely taking a look at it and saying, you know, is this the right time for them to get in or not the right time for them to get in. I applaud anybody who seriously takes a look at running for governor. I think it says a couple of things. One is we're very strong. If I was looking at running for governor today and I had not run for governor before the first thing I'd do is I'd be calling some of these different people whether it be in Polk County or Des Moines County or Sioux County and if they keep coming back with the same name that they're supporting that sends a message and I think we have a lot of that support out there. I go back to that vibrant network in all 99 counties.

Glover: I know what Governor Culver can raise in terms of money. I saw what you raised the last time you ran. Can you match him financially?

Vander Plaats: I believe we can match him financially especially in a general election because I think there's going to be a lot of interest especially amongst the business types saying we need fresh leadership at the state capitol. But the other thing, Mike, I remind you is that a guy I represented here in the state of Iowa, Governor Mike Huckabee in the presidential caucus, got outspent 15 to 1 in that caucus and we won by nine percentage points. I think Iowans are interested in leadership, they're interested in ideas, they're interested in vision, not just how much money did you raise.

Borg: I want to explore Mike's question with a side bar here. A moment ago you said republicans are saying what is it that we stand for these days. Isn't that an impediment to your very candidacy? Aren't you just saying there republicans are searching for their souls and we're not sure where that is? You've taken a beating in the last election, not you personally but the Republican Party did, it doesn't seem to be a very good time by your own admission to be running.

Vander Plaats: No, I think it's a great time for me to be running. As a matter of fact, I take a look back when Ronald Reagan was running, when our party was in shambles and everything was dismantled but yet he cast a vision about what republicans stood for, about limited government, about personal responsibility and accountability and when Reagan was running people would say Reagan is too conservative, he's too extreme, he's too far to the right and he's the one who brought republicans together around his candidacy not only to win the presidency but then to set the stage for the republican party in the future.

Borg: But who's doing that now?

Vander Plaats: I hope to be doing that, Dean. And I think it all comes about in vision. How do we open up Iowa for business? How do we create world class schools? From an educator's point of view what do we do for world class schools? How do we have accessible and affordable healthcare? How do we make Iowa not only energy independent but can we be an energy exporter of the raw product or at least of the good ideas?

Henderson: One of the active parts of your campaigns in the past has been evangelical support. What are your promising to those folks? You mentioned the lottery earlier. Are you promising to those folks, many of whom abhor gambling, that the state will get out of the gambling industry? What specific promises are you making to them?

Vander Plaats: You bring up evangelicals and they are part of our base but it's not the only part of our base. I happen to enjoy maybe a lot of their support but I think I have support across the board. Again, that goes to my background and to my history. What I'm promising them is leadership, leadership on how do we open up Iowa for business, the schools, the healthcare that I've talked about already.

Henderson: What about social issues? What are you promising them on social issues?

Vander Plaats: I think what they see of me is not what am I promising them on social issues but they're seeing I'm a man of character, I'm a man of strict principle, I'm a man that they can trust and that I will lead on issues that are of concern to them as well.

Glover: One of the things that's going on in the republican party is there is a fair amount of tension between that evangelical wing of the party and one of the more moderate wings of the party. The evangelicals prevailed last summer when they elected Kim Lehman and Steve Scheffler as their national committee people and then republicans went in the tank in the general election. Talk a little bit about that tension between the evangelical wing of the party and the more moderate pragmatic wing of the party. How do you reconcile that? How do you bridge the differences?

Vander Plaats: I think part of it, Mike, is my background, again, as an educator is I never liked labels and so you're an evangelical, you're another wing of the party, you're a conservative, you're a liberal, you're a moderate, I think we need to say what do we agree on.

Glover: But they didn't agree on anything and they split right down the middle.

Vander Plaats: I believe what they do agree on is they agree on limited government but the government that we have that it performs and that it performs really well. I believe they agree on personal responsibility.

Glover: What went wrong in the last election?

Vander Plaats: I think what it is, is that we had too many republicans who campaigned one way but yet in office delivered another way. For example, if you campaign on limited government but you have huge expansions at the national level with Medicare D, No Child Left Behind, you campaign on fiscal integrity and balanced budgets and yet you run up the national deficit to record heights people are saying I can't trust you then. That's where I go back -- when I'm hiring people in any organization the first thing we look at is can I trust you. Once I can trust you now I'll give you the opportunity to lead. Republicans need to re-earn and re-gain that trust of the American people.

Henderson: Aside from the message though mechanically you're getting beat by democrats who employ tactics such as encouraging people to vote early. Mechanically how would you as a candidate direct the party to come into this century?

Vander Plaats: I tell you what, it's a new era today. For example, Kay, I have a Twitter account. I tweet people. I'm on Facebook, MySpace, the Internet, YouTube, there's a lot of ways to get your message out and to connect to young people in particular. But as well as a lot of those there's a lot of ways to do a campaign I'd say on the cheap today and I think it is technology, it's motivating them. But the thing is, is that people will be motivated when they have a reason to be motivated, when they believe in the candidate, when they believe in the message, then they go out to work, they go out and tweet people, they go out and blog for you, they do things of that nature, that's getting our people into the 21st century.

Henderson: Republicans have historically resisted early voting. Do you as a candidate embrace that as a mechanical way to drive support for you as a candidate?

Vander Plaats: I think we have to maximize our efforts within whatever the rules of the game are and so if that means absentee ballots are a part of this we better have an absentee ballot strategy and if that means it's identifying republicans who are going to vote for us and they vote early let's get their vote in. I don't think it's as much as the campaigns or even the party trying to do the absentee ballot program, I think it's individual republicans. My mom and dad take pride and privilege in their right to go vote on voting day. They're not begging to fill out an absentee ballot unless they're going to be at an election night party in Des Moines. But I think a lot of republicans they want to take that privilege, that right to go to the voting place, the voting ballot and cast their vote.

Glover: Address it directly, is it the message or is it the mechanics?

Vander Plaats: I believe republicans, as I said, republican principles are alive and well. So, I would say the message is good. I think we need a messenger that can be trusted and then we need to implore the right mechanics in order to win on Election Day.

Glover: So, it was John McCain's fault?

Vander Plaats: I would not say that it was John McCain's fault. I think people wanted to have a new direction for the country, they bought into hope and change. Today I think we're finding out that hope is not a strategy and so we communicated a great message but now we have to hold people accountable for the results.

Glover: What do you say to the argument that republicans made their point in the 2008 election voters understood the republican message and they rejected it?

Vander Plaats: I think what it is, is that first of all I think in the state of Iowa when we take a look at the current set of affairs with a huge budget gap, growing government at an unsustainable rate Iowans are saying I'm looking for change. But how are you going to deliver? How do you have real-life leadership with real-life results so that you can lead once you become governor?

Glover: Iowans delivered their electoral votes to Barack Obama, they expanded democratic majorities in both chambers of the legislature, approval ratings I've seen for this governor are in the 60s. What is that telling you about the republican message?

Vander Plaats: Well, I think what it is, is that we need to get our message out, it's still early, we're in March of '09 and the election is in November of 2010. I believe the more we get our message out and the more we articulate it I think Iowans are going to come our way. But it will take the right candidate with the right background in business, education, healthcare in order to get that done.

Borg: Give me a specific. Would you, if you were governor right now, would you be proposing a $750 million bonding program?

Vander Plaats: Absolutely not, absolutely not and I think what that goes to is we're out of money so let's borrow our way into the future for infrastructure needs. We're receiving I believe about $360 million in the stimulus package for infrastructure. I think these are uncertain times. If you read the paper just Friday you would see that Iowans rank lowest in the amount of credit card debt.

Borg: But how would you then repair infrastructure and jobs?

Vander Plaats: I believe, first of all, we need to create an environment where jobs can actually exist. We need to reform government. We need to get our hands around K-12 education. We throw $250 million new dollars at K-12 education but we don't change any of the expectations. We grow state government by 2600 employees. So it's a balance of how do I reform government to get the results I want in education, in human services, in healthcare while creating a vibrant tax base so that small businesses can develop and grow. And one of the things, Dean, that I'm hearing more and more as I'm out is the whole issue of property taxes. I'm thinking about the small business owner who is paying these property taxes that won't go away and yet we just learned that Governor Culver is going to underfund the Homestead property tax credit by $15 million? He's going to have four percent allowable growth to the schools but he's only going to fund two percent so the rest falls back onto property tax or cash reserves. We're going to open up Chapter 20 which is going to be more cost to city government and to county government. We need to open up this state for business. We're in the best country in the world and we're smack dab in the middle. Let's open it up for business so our schools can benefit, healthcare can benefit and our kids can stay in Iowa.

Borg: Thanks for being our guest today.

Vander Plaats: Thank you.

Borg: In closing this evening we're noting the passing of journalist John Hyde who passed away at the age of 64 this past weekend in Tacoma Park, Maryland. For some 15 years from 1973-1988 Mr. Hyde's byline graced the Des Moines Register. Among other assignments he covered the Iowa legislature and statehouse politics. In 2000 Mr. Hyde co-authored with former U.S. Senator John Culver the highly acclaimed biography of Iowa native and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President Henry Wallace. That book, 'American Dreamer', was the basis for Iowa Public Television's documentary on Wallace in which John Hyde was an integral part in the network's award-winning production. John Hyde's colleagues knew him as a tireless researcher, principled reporter, precise writer, a superb journalist whose work both showcased Iowa's excellence and illuminated those things that we could do better. Next week Iowa Press returns to our usual airtimes, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.


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 Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities ... enrolling 25% of the total Iowa higher education enrollment and conferring 44% of the baccalaureate and 40% of the graduate degrees in the state. More information is available at The Iowa Hospital Association ... supporting the missions and visions of Iowa's 117 community hospitals. The Iowa Hospital Association ... we care about Iowa's health.


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