Politically persistent. Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats, one of three campaigning for Republican's preference to run for governor. We're questioning gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats is putting his political future on the number "three". It's his third try for Iowa's executive branch. Eight years ago, as he is now, he was asking Iowa republicans to make him their candidate against then incumbent democrat Tom Vilsack. Four years ago he announced for governor and then decided to run for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Jim Nussle. That election, though, also went democratic electing Chet Culver. This year Bob Vander Plaats is among three republicans campaigning for the party's nomination to run against Culver. And this is our third week of questioning those candidates -- former Governor Terry Branstad and State Representative Rod Roberts having already been here at the Iowa Press table in the past couple of weeks. Mr. Vander Plaats, good to have you here today.
Vander Plaats: Well, thank you, Dean. It's always good to be on Iowa Press.
Borg: And you know the two people across the table, Associated Press Senior Press Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Mr. Vander Plaats, I'd like to open up with letting you make the case for Bob Vander Plaats both in the republican primary and in the general election. I do that because I assume that you're going to anyway. So, let's just ask you up front.
Vander Plaats: The campaign commercial.
Glover: Give us your commercial. Why Bob Vander Plaats first in the republican primary and then in the general election in November.
Vander Plaats: I believe, Mike, what it boils down to is, first of all, I will win. I will beat Chet Culver on November 2 and I think republicans have to first figure out who can beat Chet Culver on November 2. And the reason I'm going to be Chet Culver is I'll have an inspired republican base behind me. I'm going to go after Chet Culver's base of educators, health care professionals, human service professionals. I don't have a political record that they can easily attack. I have a record of results in education, health care, human services, business and industry.
Vander Plaats: But then two is I will lead and I'll lead by being a principled conservative with a compelling vision that really opens up Iowa for business.
Glover: There's a time limit on most commercials so we'll call it time.
Vander Plaats: Okay, I'll get to the rest later.
Glover: You will. This is your third time seeking the republican gubernatorial nomination. Realistically is this the last time we can take you seriously?
Vander Plaats: Well, I think you will take me seriously because I believe I'll be successful June 8. And when I ran in 2002 I really believed that Iowa needed leadership from the outside, not from the inside. 2006 same type of thing before I joined up with Jim Nussle. But I believe the environment is tailor made for a Bob Vander Plaats run today. The people out there today want leadership from the outside, they don't want politics as usual, they want real life leadership, real life results, real life experience and that’s what I bring them.
Henderson: How do you stitch the party that you hope to represent back together after the primary?
Vander Plaats: The Republican Party is going to be united. I really believe that we will be united after June 8th and there's a lot of reasons to be united. What Chet Culver has done to this state is a great reason to be united. What Barack Obama is doing to this country, it's a great reason to be united. But it's just not uniting the Republican Party, Kay, I want to unite all of Iowa. I want to be the governor of all of Iowa, unite all of Iowa because we have some real things on our plate that we need to address.
Henderson: Will you support Terry Branstad or Rod Roberts if they win the nomination?
Vander Plaats: Well, what I've said all along is that whoever gets to be the republican nominee, myself included, is that that's a great responsibility to reach out and authentically earn the endorsement and support of your fellow peers in the race as well as their followers in the race. I don't think we should ever take it for granted and I believe being 46 days out from the primary all of us should be focused on let's win the primary and then let's authentically earn the endorsement support of the other two and their followers.
Borg: I'd like to go back to this health of the Republican Party from another angle. You might say that the establishment or leaders in the Republican Party have chosen and encouraged the candidacy of Terry Branstad. You have been the party of, well, not the nominee but you have run twice before but they looked past you and went to Terry Branstad. So, there's deep philosophical divisions there too within the party. What is the health of the party?
Vander Plaats: I think the health of the party is very strong.
Borg: Why do you say that?
Vander Plaats: Why I say that is I've been out there to event after event, I travel to fifteen cities a week and I see the health of the Republican Party. They are energized today and there's going to be a real choice and the choice is going to be does Iowa want to go back to Terry Branstad? Does Iowa want to stay stuck in the present with Chet Culver or Representative Roberts? Or does Iowa want to go boldly into the future with Bob Vander Plaats? And Dean, that's why I think so many people are embracing our campaign, why our campaign has been so successful to this point.
Glover: Let's move forward. Let's say that it doesn't work out in June and you don't get the nomination. What role do you see yourself playing in the Republican Party looking forward?
Vander Plaats: Well, Mike, I believe -- obviously after running in 2002, 2006 being the lieutenant governor nominee, 2008 championing Mike Huckabee's campaign -- if this was not to work out, I'll take this as a hypothetical question, is I'm still very interested in the leadership of this state. I will stay active, I will stay involved in making sure that we have the leadership that really opens up this state for business, that really shrinks the size of government and that really does restore us to prominence in education. That's a passion of mine so I'm going to stay involved.
Glover: Is a third party run even a potential in your mind?
Vander Plaats: I have no interest and no desire and no intent on running for an independent candidacy or a third party.
Glover: Why? I mean, you represent a very loyal faction of the Republican Party, a faction that says, by the way, that if Terry Branstad is the nominee they won't support him.
Vander Plaats: I don't believe me running as a third party does anything for the republican party of Iowa, I don't believe it does anything for the future of Iowa. I believe we need to make this choice right now. I believe when we're successful on June 8 I will be led by a principled, conservative, somebody who doesn't represent politics as usual, but who has a compelling vision to serve all of Iowa, not just some of Iowa and I think they're going to make that choice on June 8 and that's where my focus is at.
Henderson: About a year ago you said the 2010 election would be a referendum on gay marriage. Do you still think that's the case?
Vander Plaats: I really do but I think it goes beyond that today, Kay. There's no doubt that the marriage issue is uniting a lot of republicans, independents and democrats around my candidacy. But this is more about a freedom issue and this will unite all of Iowa because you had a Supreme Court do what they can't do. It's the role and responsibility of the governor to hold that Supreme Court in check so they don't make law from the bench, so they don't execute law from the bench and so they don't amend the Constitution from the bench because if we allow them to do that your private property is at risk, your free press, free enterprise, freedom of religion, every freedom you hold dear is at risk. And that's why David Barton has endorsed this campaign.
Glover: And let's go back. I started this off by asking you what happens if this doesn't work out. Let's say it does work out and you win the June primary and you are the republican nominee for governor this year. How vulnerable is Chet Culver? How do you beat him?
Vander Plaats: Chet Culver is very vulnerable and I think what it is, is all you have to do is take a look back from a year ago when we met on Iowa Press and I said he had poor leadership instincts at that point, he didn't call a special session when we have a disastrous flood in eastern Iowa, he doesn't call special session to determine priorities with the budget disaster after growing the budget, his campaign and his office has always seemed to be swirled in some sort of controversy, who gave money here, what house are you staying at. I believe Iowans today want real, authentic leadership that is really going to lead Iowa by doing what is right and I think that is good for our candidacy.
Glover: The second part of that question is let's say you pull it off and you win the governor's office and Governor Bob Vander Plaats is inaugurated next year. You're probably going to have a democratic legislature. You've got a 32-18 margin in the senate, a 56-44 margin in the house. Not a lot of people are predicting republicans grabbing control of the legislature. How do you implement your agenda if you're facing a democratic legislature?
Vander Plaats: Well, first of all, I hope that with me at the top of the ticket that we will win back the Iowa house and we'll at least make great gains in the Iowa senate and maybe win back the Iowa senate, I really hope that's the case. But if it's not and if I still have a democratic legislature I'm going to do what Governor Mike Huckabee taught me and he said, Bob, get out of Des Moines, go to the people of Iowa, sell the vision to the people of Iowa, have them call Pat Murphy, have them call Senator Gronstal and when they put the pressure on those elected officials I believe we will pass a principled conservative agenda.
Borg: I want to go back -- oh, Kay, go ahead.
Henderson: In the past two election cycles when you've run you've presented yourself as an outsider. Do you think that your competitors because they are office holders are at a disadvantage in a year that may be shaping up to be an anti-incumbent year?
Vander Plaats: Definitely. I think both of you were at the tea party rally on April 15 in Des Moines and you saw the reception I received from those attending that tea party rally because they just want -- they don't want somebody who has been governor for 16 years who is going to go for 20 years, I don't think that's the future they want to go to. I don't think they want to embrace somebody who has been a state rep for 10 years and says now give the keys to the office of governor so I can go forward.
Vander Plaats: I really think they want somebody who says, you know what, I've served in education, I've been in the classroom, I've been a high school principal, I've been a leader in business and industry, I served in health care and human services, I've been a CEO. I think they want a private citizen to lead the state today and that's what I offer.
Glover: But give me your road map for that. You have a lot of ardent followers within that tea party movement but isn't that just a faction of the Republican Party? And don't you have to reach out to the whole Republican Party and, in fact, independents to win this thing?
Vander Plaats: Without question and I think the tea party, if you take a look at the tea party movement and you say, that's just a faction of the Republican Party, I don't think that's a faction of the Republican Party. I think that's in addition to the Republican Party. I've met a lot of democrats who have tea party threads with them, a lot of independents who have tea party threads. And you bet, it's not only reaching out to the entire republican party but it's also going after the independents and the conservative democrats and I believe they will come my way because of my background in education, because of my background in health care and human services. I believe they'll see me as a candidate, he genuinely wants to serve Iowa but do it under economic integrity.
Borg: I'd like to go back to a couple of things that you've said now during our conversation here. One was, you want to hold the Supreme Court in check. What does that mean? That's a separate branch of government. How can the executive branch hold the Supreme Court in check?
Vander Plaats: Because that's the way the founders intended for it, Dean. If you take a look at the Constitution, article 4.1 says the chief magistrate of the state of Iowa is styled the governor of the state of Iowa. And when you see one branch of government going out of bounds and doing things that they're not supposed to be doing like making law from the bench it is the responsibility of the governor to insert himself in and say, time out. And that's why I said I'll issue the executive order on day one. It's a freedom issue.
Vander Plaats: So, then what we do is we follow the process so the legislature gets to create the law or they get to throw it to the people of Iowa for a right to vote. This is a big issue and I believe it will be a determining issue in this republican primary.
Borg: And what would you look for in Supreme Court justices?
Vander Plaats: People who understand the Constitution and who would want to make an opinion from the Constitution. That's what I'm getting at because article 12.1 says the Supreme Court can void legislation that they deem unconstitutional but the second sentence says, the legislature should make all law to carry out that Constitution. If they deem the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional they should have thrown it back to the legislature then to make the law. That's why I say, Dean, this is a freedom issue. If they'll do this with marriage they'll do it with any other freedom that we hold dear.
Borg: And the other thing that you said, you're going after Governor Culver's education base in order to get yourself elected governor. That means you're going to make some changes or hold out some carrots to educators. What are those? What changes would your administration have in K-12 public education?
Vander Plaats: Well, let me tell you, the biggest carrot I'm going to offer out to educators is I'm going to let the teachers teach again. We have grown a bureaucracy at the expense of the classroom, it's mandating the heck out of a classroom. Student achievement has fallen through the floor. Teachers are extremely frustrated. You visit with a lot of teachers, I do as well and they are extremely frustrated.
Borg: Okay, they're frustrated but what are you going to do?
Vander Plaats: Well, I rolled out my education initiative on Monday and I said we're going to implement 21st century student performance standards and expectations. The reason is kids have always, and they always will, rise to the expectation. We're going to simplify the funding back to local school districts, we're going to let teachers teach and then we're going to hold them accountable and be transparent with the results. That is real education reform by making it simpler, not more complicated.
Glover: I'd like to take you back to this gay marriage thing for just a second if I could. All of the republican candidates say they are opposed to gay marriage and want to see that ruling overturned. You have said you'll issue this executive order, your two republican opponents say that's nonsense, you can't do that. How do you respond to them?
Vander Plaats: How I respond to that is if you went back to the debate in Sioux City I believe former Governor Branstad said it would discredit the governor's office. I believe it discredits the governor's office when you have a branch that goes outside of its jurisdiction if the governor just sits idly by and does nothing about it. I think the executive order says, I'm inserting myself, we're going to place a stay on same-sex marriages until the legislature deals with it or until the people of Iowa vote on it.
Vander Plaats: State Representative Rod Roberts said he wouldn't do it because it would create conflict. Well, I think there needs to be conflict and I believe when the Supreme Court steps outside of its bounds they created the conflict and now I need to address that issue. But that's why David Barton endorses this campaign, this is a freedom issue. Constitutional lawyers, constitutional historians believe this is a big issue to preserve our freedom where we hand off liberty to the next generation, not tyranny.
Henderson: But there are other constitutional lawyers who look at this and say, you don't have the authority, that by mentioning the role of chief magistrate you're misreading that. The governor doesn't forgive traffic tickets, he's not in the business of being a judge.
Vander Plaats: Well, that's why I think we need to have a civics lesson, Kay, on this issue because civics lesson 101 says before a bill can become law no matter how overwhelmingly supported it is, it needs the governor's signature. And if the governor oversteps his bounds as Governor Vilsack did when he issued an executive order to give felons the right to vote that's when Steve King sued Governor Vilsack and said, you can't make law from the executive branch and Steve King won the lawsuit.
Vander Plaats: This is very much in that same tone but we're holding the Supreme Court in check. I think it would be a great civics lesson. From an educator's point of view, this will be a great civics lesson after I win the nomination and the governorship.
Glover: But what about the potential that all you would do is toss this right back into the courts where it would sit there for years.
Vander Plaats: Here's the deal -- it may get tossed right back to the courts but it won't be on marriage anymore, it will be on separation of powers. The separation of powers -- remember our founders said, their greatest fear was that a judiciary would get so much power that we would get taxation without representation. We need to hold the Supreme Court in check and that's why we have a lot of people cheering on this campaign.
Glover: Okay, well, let's take that just one step further. If you don't win the republican nomination and you aren't the next governor what role can you play in pursuing this issue? And what role do you plan to play?
Vander Plaats: Well, first of all, I think one of the roles I plan to play is, again, I plan on being the republican nominee but if I were not I would take a look at who the republican nominee is and convince him because I believe one of the reasons they are resistant to this executive order is that I came up with it first. I believe everybody if they read the Constitution it's very plain, this is totally within the realm of the governor's responsibility. I'd like to win them over on that issue and say, one of your biggest responsibilities here is to stand up for freedom to protect this Constitution and when a branch of government takes on too much power that isn't theirs you need to hold them in check.
Henderson: In terms of economic development, let's shift gears ...
Vander Plaats: Thank you.
Henderson: You have said the state of Iowa shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers. How, in your mind, do you manifest that policy?
Vander Plaats: Well, what I mean by not picking winners and losers is create a fair and level playing field for everybody to compete in this state. We rank 46th for a hospitable business environment, 49th in the country in new business startups and that's why when I did my economic development roll out I said, I want Iowa to be the startup capitol of the world. In order to do that, eliminate the corporate income tax because everybody plays by the same rules, it's zero. Drastically reduce commercial business and industry property tax and we have a plan to do that. Also, drastically cut the capital gains tax so you have private venture capital starting up the new businesses. It's a diverse economy and it also really provides good jobs.
Henderson: Republicans and democrats who have been chief executive of the state have pursued a policy of giving grants and loans to certain businesses, in essence picking winners and losers to try to lure them to the state or encourage existing businesses to expand here. I'm reminded of a couple from your home area, TransOva and Wells Dairy who sought special policies from the state of Iowa in regards to taxes and grants and loans. Do you think those are appropriate picking winners and losers, specific companies?
Vander Plaats: I believe in specific with one of those two corporations I know a little bit about. They played by the rules of the game that the legislature and the governor determined, in particular the values fund. I think if you ask business and industry across the board today they'd say, lessen my tax burden, lessen my regulatory burden, be hospitable for business development and then get out of the way and let me compete. Again, we need to make that more simple so we can actually grow jobs, grow this economy, keep our kids here and welcome other Iowans back here.
Glover: Mr. Vander Plaats, let's go to another issue you're going to face and that's gambling. First part of the question is, one of your rivals, Terry Branstad, more or less presided over the birth of the gambling industry.
Vander Plaats: I believe he signed it into law.
Glover: A lot of it, yes. Is he vulnerable because of that?
Vander Plaats: I believe he is vulnerable because of that.
Glover: I'm thinking among the republican base.
Vander Plaats: Every time that we've hit an economic glitch, an economic hiccup, it's like we resort to gambling. We instituted gambling, we brought in the state lottery, we brought in perimutuel betting and now you fast forward to 2010 and Culver wants to expand gambling, he wants to go to Internet gambling, it's all because they want to grow the government of the state of Iowa.
Vander Plaats: I'd say two things to this. We don't need to grow the government of the state of Iowa, we need to shrink the government of the state of Iowa. Two is gambling is not economic development, it's merely a pass through of one pocket to another pocket, typically a most vulnerable pocket to another pocket. I want to create real jobs, real industry to where the ripple effect is dynamic in this economy.
Glover: And the reality is in 2010 we have an established and rather large gambling industry. Is it realistic to talk about eliminating it, repealing legalized gambling?
Vander Plaats: I think when you put in a real economic development plan and you start up business and industry pretty soon those communities and those counties will say, I'd rather have business and industry versus relying on gambling. So, therefore when it's their decision to have that come up for a vote again they may be able to vote it down. I think as governor we need to wean ourselves off of gambling but you do that by putting in a real business and industry.
Glover: So, your long-term goal would be to eliminate, over time, legalized gambling?
Vander Plaats: I would love to see where Iowa would say, you know what, we don't need gambling anymore. We have business and industry, we're the startup capitol of the world, we're the most innovative and creative place on Earth to do business and people get to grow up and be raised here.
Henderson: So, as governor would you propose getting rid of the casinos?
Vander Plaats: Not initially. What I think we need to do is we need to go through a process here. As governor I'd say I'm definitely against the expansion of gambling and I've been very clear about that and on record about that. But the step two is we need to get our state government in order, we then put an economic development plan, we're going to have startup development and businesses can grow and succeed and then I think we'll see, we don't need that gambling anymore.
Glover: How long would that take? I assume you would say you can't walk into office next January and eliminate gambling. Would you put the state on a path to phase it out? If so, how long would that path be?
Vander Plaats: I'm not comfortable in setting a timeline to say this is when you would see gambling is out of the state of Iowa. I think it's going to be how successful we are in shrinking government, how successful we are in developing an economic plan to create jobs in this economy. I'm not one of those candidates that is just going to throw numbers out of the air and say this is what I'm going to do. We're going to work towards that goal though.
Borg: What about world development? I'm thinking here -- there's not much in stimulating agriculture that you can do about the weather as governor for crops. But the livestock industry is major and siting of livestock confinement is a big issue in Iowa. Where do you stand on who should make the decisions on where livestock confinement operations are sited?
Vander Plaats: Well, first of all, I always point to a county where I come from, Sioux County, and it's a county that is growing in population. One of the reasons they are growing in population is they focus on their strengths whether it be crop production, animal production, renewable fuels, alternative energy. It's a county that still welcomes in the cattle industry and if you go through some of those rural roads and you smell what comes along with that, they still say, smells like money. I think we need to focus on let's have local input on where the sitings get placed. But I believe this is a big industry where the state needs to lay this out in regards to setting the rules and the standards for the livestock industry. But we need to embrace the livestock industry, not try to push this livestock industry outside of our borders.
Henderson: In regards to economic development, the plan you rolled out making Iowa the "startup capitol of the world" you also said that Iowa should do more to attract legal immigrants. How would you go about doing that?
Vander Plaats: When I talked about attracting legal immigration -- first of all, I want to make a clear point -- I'm not against immigration, I'm against illegal immigration. I want people to see Iowa as that we put our flag in the ground, we're opening up the state for business, for Iowans, for people who left Iowa who want to come back and for those who have never come to Iowa that they can come here legally.
Vander Plaats: I talked about using the best and the brightest out of the military. We've got a great military division here in the state of Iowa. They are trained in high tech, those are high tech jobs. I think we need to create the environment, we need to be actively recruiting the best and the brightest which made immigration so great, you recruit the best and the brightest to locate, startup, develop and grow and that's where you get your jobs.
Glover: Mr. Vander Plaats, we've got just under a minute to go. I'd like you to speak directly to republican primary voters and tell them what you would like to see on their minds when they walk into that voting booth on June 8th. What do you want them thinking about?
Vander Plaats: What I want them thinking about is a candidate who is not only going to win on June 8th but a candidate who is going to win on November 2 and a candidate who is going to be one of them meaning a principled conservative, someone who's not going to grow government, somebody who is not going to raise taxes, somebody that's not going to expand gambling but somebody who is going to put in the fundamentals to grow and develop this economy, somebody who is actually going to shrink the size of government and use the best that we do from the private sector and my focus will be growing the private sector, not the public sector and then establish prominence in education again based on parental rights, not government control. We're going to simplify it. I think they will choose me and I look forward to leading Iowa.
Borg: And if you're not you're going to support one of the other two republican candidates for governor?
Vander Plaats: We really look forward to that opportunity to sit down authentically earn one another's support.
Borg: Thanks for being with us today.
Vander Plaats: Thank you, Dean.