Seeking an encore. Former Governor Terry Branstad asking republicans to put him on the ticket, challenging incumbent democrat Chet Culver. We're questioning four-term Governor Terry Branstad on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Terry Branstad using the word "comeback" a lot these days, "comeback” as in restoring Iowa's economic vitality and "comeback" as in personally returning him to the governor's office. Well, that comeback would add to his already lengthy political resume: three terms in Iowa's House of Representatives; going on to be Governor Robert Ray's lieutenant governor; then winning the governor's office himself in 1983 as the state's youngest ever governor, continuing four terms, sixteen years, to be the state's longest serving governor. His comeback eleven years after leaving office depends on defeating two other republicans, state Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll and Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats, for a spot on November's ballot, hoping to unseat first-term incumbent democrat Chet Culver. Governor Branstad, welcome back to Iowa Press.
Branstad: Thank you, Dean. It's great to be back. I appreciate the opportunity.
Borg: And the two people across the table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Governor, I’d like to take to you a couple of the negatives that your opponents have already used on the campaign trail. One was during -- you campaigned as a conservative republican during your sixteen years as governor. You signed two increases in the state sales tax, an increase in the state's gasoline tax, and the state budget grew by two and a half times. How do you answer that?
Branstad: Well, Mike, I’m not going to spend my time listening to or responding to the attacks of my opponents. My focus is on the future of Iowa.
Glover: Well, why don't you just answer the question?
Branstad: Listen, I’m going to answer the question. And what I’m saying is I’m running a positive campaign. I’m focusing on the future. The state of Iowa is in dire straits right now: the highest unemployment we've had in twenty-three years; and we have a state budget mess that's the worst we've ever had. I have the experience and the ability to straighten that out. And I have already laid out goals and a vision for the future, and I’m glad to defend my record because I cut taxes $24 million. When I left office, we had a $900-million surplus. We put the budget on generally accepted accounting principles, and we had the state going in the right direction. We had the 99-percent spending limitation. It was after I left office that the legislature and the governor started cheating by putting in appropriation bills notwithstanding the 99-percent spending limitations, and then they started transferring money from other accounts. They securitized the money we were supposed to get from the tobacco settlement over twenty-five years, and they instead spent that money. Let me go on to say my focus is on the future. And in fact, I want to use this opportunity today to announce that we're going to hold a policy conference on the 15th of May. I’m inviting people from all over the state. This will be a group of about a hundred people participating. It will be open to the press, and we're going to focus on the economic growth, reforming government, education, and the family. And we're also going to have a web site. People can go to my Web site, Governor Branstad -- GovernorBranstad2010.com and they can link to this vision opportunity there. We’re also going to now as we go -- this is the comeback campaign but we're also looking to the future so we're calling it the vision 2020 tour. And we're going to be spending the next five weeks traveling all over the state getting ideas on how we can achieve the goals that I’ve already set out in this campaign.
Glover: Okay. You don't want to deal with your record on taxes.
Branstad: No, my record on taxes I already dealt with. We cut taxes $124 million --
Glover: And you raised the sales tax twice.
Branstad: But we cut the income tax, the property tax, eliminated the inheritance tax, got rid of the sales tax and the property tax on machinery and equipment, and the net result was taxes more competitive. And even the sales tax was less than most of our neighboring states. But the income tax substantially reduced from 13 percent to 8.9. We also -- we also indexed it for inflation. We kept federal deductibility. We eliminated inheritance tax for spouses, children, and grandchildren. We dramatically reduced our dependency on property taxes for education by putting in more state aid and reducing our dependency on property taxes. We took over the cost of the court system, which used to be paid out of property tax. When you look at the whole mix and you see the whole picture on taxes, I cut taxes, made Iowa more competitive. I’ve got a proud record but we're not looking back. We’re looking ahead. We’re looking at the future and that's why I’ve set goals: 200,000 new jobs in the next five years; raising family incomes by 25 percent; making our education system number one again; and reducing the size and cost of government by at least 15 percent.
Glover: And, governor, another thing that your critics criticize you for is they say that during your tenure in office you were what you call an economic conservative. You signed the defense of marriage act but, other than that, social issues largely got ignored. How do you answer that?
Branstad: Well, I’m the governor that signed not only the defense of marriage act but also the statistical reporting on abortion and also the restrictions on partial-birth abortion. I’ve been consistently pro-life through my career so those accusations are totally wrong, and people that know me and know the record know that I’ve been a consistent conservative. But I also believe in treating everybody with respect and dignity. I don't believe in attacking other people. And these other -- first of all, let me say Rod Roberts is not that kind of person. He has been very positive in his campaign. and I’ve said that I’m not going to say anything bad about any of the other candidates because I want to focus on the future of Iowa and I want to contrast my vision, my goals, with the abysmal record of the present governor, the financial mess that he's created, and the lack of leadership that he's provided on the critical issues for Iowa.
Borg: Let's turn to Kay Henderson here.
Henderson: But didn't you just criticize Bob Vander Plaats by not saying he was like Rod Roberts, a nice guy?
Branstad: No. You can make your own decisions on what he said and what he's done in terms of this, but I’m saying I won't say anything negative about him. He’s making accusations. I’ve defended my record but my focus is not going to be taken off the future because Iowans want a governor that's not focused on the past but focused on the future. And they want somebody that's going to lead an economic recovery in this state. I did that before. I know we can do it again. The present unemployment rate in Iowa is 6.7 percent. I know that we can bring that down. I know we can bring good jobs to this state if we reduce the tax burden and make Iowa more competitive.
Henderson: At the core of your candidacy, you need to answer the question that Iowans have: why do you need a fifth term; weren't four enough?
Branstad: Oh, I don't need it. It's the people of Iowa want a leader with experience that can get us out of this economic mess that Governor Culver and the democratic legislature has created. People want us to restore fiscal responsibility. I did that before. I left the state with a $900-million surplus. I’m committed to going in and doing the tough work, not making a massive across-the-board cut but going in and setting priorities, eliminating lesser important programs so that we can make Iowa the competitive growing state that we want it to be. And that's why I’ve set these ambitious goals. that's why we're having this Iowa vision 2020 conference, to get ideas from people all over the state on how do we best achieve these goals to make Iowa what we know it can be. I know Iowans. And I know Iowans, given the right leadership and encouragement, will always exceed our expectations, and that's what I want to do. Lead a great economic comeback in this state where Iowans can see great opportunities and where young people, once they complete their college in Iowa, will get a good job and stay here.
Henderson: In an anti-incumbent year, is it a good idea for the Republican Party of Iowa to have you and Chuck Grassley at the top of the ticket?
Branstad: Well, I think it's a great opportunity for republicans because people are sick of what the democrats are doing. They have spent the country into deep trouble. We just saw the federal national debt go up $1.4 trillion. We see all these government takeovers. And the American people -- now, I’m talking about independent voters are saying we don't want to go this direction. We want to restore fiscal responsibility. We want somebody that's going to be able to lead this state in a fiscal way that's going to get us back on track. I have the experience and the ability to do that. And I’m confident that the people of Iowa, given the choice between Chet Culver and his tax and spend and now borrow and spend and now gamble our way to prosperity ideas, they can see that we need a strategic plan for the future. I’ve already spelled out my plan to put together a five-year economic plan for the state, a two-year by annual budget, and stop these bad budget practices of using one-time money for ongoing expenses.
Borg: Governor, you said just a minute ago, given the choice they apparently would choose you over Chet Culver because of the reasons. You also called yourself a consistent conservative. and yet given those two statements, the Iowa family policy center, more conservative apparently than you are, has said if you get the nomination, they will sit out the election. There are members of the family policy center watching this program right now. Speak to them.
Branstad: Well, first of all, I’m speaking to all the people of Iowa.
Borg: What are you going to say to them to --
Branstad: As governor, I want to be governor of all the people. I don't want any single special interest group saying they're going to dictate policy. but I think if they look at my whole record, they'll see I’ve been consistently conservative -- pro family, pro life -- and I’ve worked on these issues. I helped legalize home schooling in this state. But I also recognize the need to be governor of all the people. And that's what I’m running for is governor of the state of Iowa, to serve all the people in all 99 counties. Like you, Dean, I grew up in Winnebago County up on the northern border, and I recognize in a lot of areas of the state, they don't know that the governor and the people in Des Moines even care about them. I made a commitment when I ran for governor before, I’d go to every county every year. I fulfilled that commitment. and this time I’m going to not only every county, I’m going to every college and university because I want the young people to know we want them to get a great education and we want great job opportunities available for them in Iowa when they're done.
Borg: If you're going to be governor, you're going to need that wing of the party.
Branstad: Listen, I’m appealing to all people in the state Iowa. And I am confident that, given the choice between Governor Culver with his abysmal record and my conservative record, there will be no doubt that we'll get broad base support all across the state, not only from republicans and conservatives but from independents and a lot of dissatisfied democrats as well.
Glover: Governor, you've criticized the current governor for his support for four additional gambling licenses, yet as governor you signed into law the state lottery, you signed into law pari-mutuel betting, and you presided over the creation of casinos. How can you criticize him?
Branstad: Well, first of all, I think it's important for people to know that we put in place restrictions and controls to protect the integrity of the state. I insisted, for instance, all of the licenses be held by non-profits, that there has to be a vote of the people in each county that's going to have it. And I believe that the Racing and Gaming Commission, we've given the laws and regulations for them to make the decisions as to whether or not additional casinos could be added. There are already 17 in the state of Iowa. I think it's absolutely wrong for the governor politically to intervene with the decision making and deliberative decisions that should be made by the Racing and Gaming Commission. They are the appropriate people to do it, not the politicians. And to interfere for political reasons as Culver is doing is totally wrong, and that's what I’ve criticized.
Glover: But your name is at the bottom of that law that created this industry.
Branstad: That's right. And that law is very clear. Anybody that's got a criminal record cannot have a license. They have to be non-profit. It has to be supported by the people of the county. If they don't want it in that county, they can vote not to have it. And the number of licenses is determined by the Racing and Gaming Commission, a group of citizens appointed by the governor. When I was governor I was very careful to appoint people that were not proponents of gambling but people that would look out for the integrity of the state and prevent problems that have occurred with gambling in other states. You know the corruption that's occurred in other states, in Illinois, in Louisiana, in Nevada, in Arizona, in South Carolina. We have not had that in Iowa because the law that I signed was designed to protect the integrity of this state. And we need to keep that integrity protected, and that's why Governor Culver is wrong interfering and insisting that they add four more licensing facilities.
Henderson: If the crux of this issue is republican --
Borg: Kay, one more thing. If Governor Culver hadn't intervened there, would you still support the Racing and Gaming Commission expanding more gambling, more casinos?
Branstad: Well, first of all, they haven't made their decision. And I believe that the governor should not be interfering with them making that decision. When I was governor, I never interfered with that decision-making process.
Borg: I understand that but --
Branstad: And I don't think Culver should, and I think it's wrong for him to try to do that.
Borg: But does Iowa need more gambling?
Branstad: No, we don't need more gambling. That’s my opinion. But the decision is not made by me. It’s made by the Racing and Gaming Commission. And that's the appropriate forum. They should make the decision based on the merits and looking at the entire situation. That’s where I disagree with Culver. He’s trying to interfere and impose his will on a board that's appointed by the governor and serves at the pleasure of the governor. That’s inappropriate. He’s also trying to do that also with utility regulation, and he's trying to do that with insurance regulation. Those things are wrong. The governor should appoint people he has confidence in and give them the authority to make their decisions and not for political reasons try to interfere with that deliberative process that's established in the law and in the regulations of the state of Iowa.
Henderson: Governor, the crux of this issue --
Branstad: I’m proud of the fact that we've kept corruptions out.
Henderson: The crux of this issue for many republicans, though, is that Governor Culver argues it's economic development, it's job creation. Do you think the gambling industry is economic development for the state?
Branstad: There's no question there are a lot of people that work in gambling casinos, but I don't think that's the economic strategy we should have for Iowa's future. My goal is to reduce the tax burden and bring more business and jobs to our state, that it shouldn't be government that's creating jobs, it should be private entrepreneurs and businesses that choose Iowa because we're competitive and because this is a good place to do business because we have a good work force and because we're a right to work state and because we're going to reduce the property taxes and the corporate income taxes that make Iowa more attractive. When I was governor before, we made dramatic changes that brought business and jobs to the state. I also was hands on involved in calling on business decision makers, encouraging them to locate and expand in Iowa. I intend to do that again because I know that makes a difference.
Henderson: You were --
Glover: And a signature of your tenure in office was you led the way to passing out incentives to businesses to come to Iowa to expand in Iowa.
Branstad: Well, yeah. Those incentives included getting rid of the sales tax on machinery and equipment, getting rid of the property taxes on machinery and equipment, making Iowa more competitive, keeping our right to work law. Those -- and I vetoed this prevailing wage back in 1984, which they're trying to impose on Iowa, which would drive up the cost of construction. So I had a very pro-business, pro-growth record. I’m proud of it but I’m not focusing on the past. I’m focusing on the future. That’s why I’ve got these ambitious goals. That’s why we're going to have this conference. And the big news that we've announced here today is we're going to host a policy conference called Iowa vision 2020. We're going to bring the best people from across the state together to look at putting that strategy together, not just my ideas but ideas that come from the individual Iowans that want to make this state a growing, prosperous state again.
Borg: We crowded Kay out of a question. Go ahead, Kay.
Henderson: To borrow a phrase from John Kerry, there are those who suggest that you were for health care reform before you were against it. You have said the attorney general of Iowa should challenge the constitutionality of the national health care reform plan that is now the law of the land. But you also went around the state of Iowa with former Governor Tom Vilsack and had conversations about health care reform.
Branstad: Well, first of all, I’m all for health care reform. I’m just not for a federal takeover. I’m not for a federal mandate. Never have been. I believe in individual responsibility. When I was the president of Des Moines University, here's what we did. We made it a tobacco-free campus. We built a wellness center. We got the wellness council of America top award, the platinum level award, first college or university in the country to get that for what we did for wellness for our faculty, staff, and students. What we do is say you need to learn good nutrition, exercise, take control of those factors that could hurt your health, and we need to focus on prevention. And when I was on that panel, my focus was on prevention and it was on preserving health and dealing with these chronic diseases because that's where the big costs are today. Iowa has among the lower health care costs in the country, and Des Moines University has the largest medical institutions training doctors in this state and we've been a leader in promoting wellness and exercise and training future leaders that can go out all across this state and this country to promote wellness. That’s the way we should be approaching it. Not a federal mandate. Not a whole bunch of tax increases. Not a mandate that's going to force people to have to buy health insurance against their will. That’s why I so strongly support Brenna Findley. It’s the attorney general's responsibility to challenge this. Fourteen states have done. Brenna Findley will do it. She is a bright 34-year woman who will be the next attorney general of Iowa, if I have my choice.
Glover: Let's move away from the attorney general's race and get back to the governor's race.
Branstad: Well, you know, we want -- let me talk about it, though --
Glover: Governor --
Branstad: I was governor and I never had an attorney general of my party on my side, on my team. that's why this time I not only want to win the governor's race, I want to have an attorney general as the lawyer for the state of Iowa that will fight for the taxpayers along with me and I also want to have a republican legislature to work with too.
Borg: First you have to get elected. Mike?
Glover: You have criticized -- you have criticized Governor Culver for issuing bonds to create his I-jobs program. As governor you supported bonding to create an Iowa fiber optic network. Explain that to the voters.
Branstad: Well, first of all, let me say in one fell swoop, he said that he passed this huge bonding plan. More bonding in one fell swoop than we did in sixteen years. My focus was on a pay-as-you-go system, getting spending off autopilot and putting Iowa on the right track.
Glover: But you did bond for the ICN.
Branstad: Okay. The truth is that's the way the legislature passed it.
Glover: And you signed it.
Branstad: Yes. And that's the way the legislative process works. You don't always get everything you want every time, but I’m proud of the record and the fact that I consistently worked to try to have a pay-as-you-go system and I was the governor that got the budget balanced for the first time on generally accepted accounting principles, put in place the 99-percent December revenue estimate spending limitation and enforced it. From 1992 when we passed that until I left office, every year we enforced that spending limitation. You know what happened in '92? Republicans gained control of the house. Ron Corbett became the chairman of the appropriations committee. Then the speaker. And he helped stopped that excessive spending upstairs. And if it did get through the legislature, he'd send me a note and say why don't you item veto this or item veto that, and together we controlled spending. And the result of controlling spending, then republicans got the senate in '96. That’s when we cut the income tax 10 percent, got rid of the inheritance tax for children and grandchildren, and still left the state with a $900-million surplus. Contrast that with the projected one-billion-dollar deficit that Culver has left us to deal with next year.
Henderson: Former state auditor -- what is his name -- Dick Johnson, supported your primary opponent in 1994 after you enacted that budget reform. He was not a fan of your budget making practices. He’s also supporting your rival this time around, Bob Vander Plaats. What do you say to those who accuse you of being a profligate spender while you were in office?
Branstad: Well, I say look at the record. Look what we accomplished with the spending reforms in 1992. And I would look at the present auditor because he's done a great job and he's warned about the excessive spending, even when republicans still controlled the legislature. And certainly once Culver and the democrats got control, it's gotten completely out of control. But I want to work with David Vaudt and with the non-partisan legislative service agency to again put the budget back on generally accepted accounting principles, stop all these bad budgeting practices of transferring money from the senior living trust fund and from the leaky underground storage tank fund to the general fund. We need to have an honest budget. I will do that because I’ve done it before. I know how it can be done, and I’ll do it working with the auditor and in conjunction with the nonpartisan legislative service agency.
Glover: And you mentioned a period -- there was a period when you were the governor, a republican, and you had a republican controlled legislature, a fairly solidly republican controlled legislature.
Branstad: For two years. For two years out of sixteen.
Glover: Why didn't you pass a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman when you had control?
Branstad: We did. We passed the law and I signed it into law during that time.
Henderson: No, no, no. A constitutional amendment.
Branstad: The constitutional amendment. Well, first of all, the governor has no role in that. That has to be passed through the legislature. I supported it.
Glover: You were the leader of your party, you had the legislature, and nothing happened.
Branstad: Well, they should have. They should have. I signed the law. I supported the constitutional amendment. Unfortunately the legislature didn't pass it during that time. But now -- you know why they didn't pass it? Because they said, oh, we don't need it, we don't need it, we've got a law. Now that the court has made the decision they have, we need it. We need a constitutional amendment to do what 31 other states have done and that is restore one-man/one-woman marriage by a vote of the people. That is what has worked from Maine to California. That’s what I want to see us do in Iowa. You know what's stopping it today? It is those legislative democratic leaders, Gronstal and Murphy. They won't let it come to a vote. You know, if you have leaders that are that unresponsive, you know what you ought to do? You ought to replace them with people that will listen. And that's why we need a republican speaker and why we need a republican majority in the senate as well.
Borg: Just to clarify, the law that you're speaking of that you signed is the one that the Supreme Court in Iowa now has found to be unconstitutional?
Branstad: Yes. That was the defense of marriage act which I signed into law, and that was recent the struck down a year ago by the Iowa Supreme Court. And that's the one that I think should be reinstated by a constitutional amendment.
Glover: But you didn't have it when you had the levers of powers. Isn’t that another reason that social conservatives shouldn't trust you?
Branstad: I tried. I supported it. I recommended it. It was the legislature that didn't do it. A governor doesn't have total control of the legislature even of your party. I also wanted to cut income taxes by 15 percent. I could only get the senate to do 10 percent. But the fact of the matter is we have three branches of government in Iowa. The governor is the chief executive. I do recognize the important role and responsibility of the governorship and I will work hard to convince the legislature to do the right things. Sometimes it takes them longer than others. But, you know, I had the same problem with them. I wanted a biannual budget. They didn't do that. But the new leaders in the house and the senate -- the new republican leaders have committed that they will pass a biannual budget. And I’ve said this time --
Branstad: I will veto a one-year budget. I will insist that we have a two-year budget because we need --
Borg: Governor, I have to veto here. I’m sorry. I’m out of time and I can't stretch it. Thank you so much for being with us.
Branstad: Thank you.
Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press, continuing our conversation with the three republican gubernatorial candidates, you'll see state Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll. That’s the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I’m Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.