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Sen. Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) and Rep. Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha), Iowa Legislative Leaders

posted on May 21, 2010

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Reviewing the record.  Requesting rehiring.  Voters deciding who controls Iowa's legislature.  Candidates campaigning to keep their jobs.  We're discussing election issues with Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: A little less than three weeks now remaining until Iowa's primary elections June 8th, the day when Iowa voters select the party nominees for the head-to-head campaigns leading to November 2nd's general election.  Among other things November decides the balance of power for the next legislative session convening next January.

Borg: Now, here's the current balance heavily weighted democratic.  In the Iowa Senate 32 to 18 democrats holding a 14-seat majority.  In the Iowa House democrats holding a 12-seat edge, 56 to 44.  Of course, republicans are hoping now to pick up seats, maybe even take control.  Council Bluffs democrat Mike Gronstal leads the senate majority.  Hiawatha republican Kraig Paulsen leads his party minority in the House of Representatives.  Gentlemen, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Paulsen: Thank you.

Gronstal: Thanks for having us.

Borg: And across the Iowa Press table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, let's start with you.  Elections are about the future and elections have consequences.  What can you tell voters will happen if they give republicans control of the legislature?

Paulsen: Well, I think you're going to see us get control of the budget, you're going to see less spending, you're going to see less borrowing and we're going to work on doing some of these property tax increases that the governor and the current legislature passed.

Glover: Senator Gronstal, same question to you.  What can you tell voters will be the consequences of returning democrats to control of the legislature?

Gronstal: I think we'll continue to try and move this state forward.  I don't think we'll back up on funds like access to health care for children in this state, access to quality preschool programs, staying on the cutting edge of renewable energy in our state.  I think you'll see us say, we're going to continue to move this state forward, create high wage, high skill jobs and grow the economy.

Glover: And Senator Gronstal, one thing that may or may not happen if you retain control, can you tell voters you will not debate a constitutional amendment on gay marriage if you're returned to control?

Gronstal: I personally have made that pretty clear that as long as I'm the democratic leader I'm not going to move forward on legislation that will put discrimination in the state constitution.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, can you assure voters that republicans will allow a debate on amending the constitution to ban gay marriage?

Paulsen: I think that I've been clear on my side as well.  If house republicans control the Iowa House of Representatives Iowans will get a chance to vote on the definition of marriage.

Henderson: Gentlemen, this past week Governor Culver announced his re-election bid.  In his speech he pledged to fight to maintain a woman's right to choose.  The three republican candidates who are seeking your party's nomination for governor, Mr. Paulsen, all said they would seek a new law in Iowa which would require women to view an ultrasound before they obtain an abortion.  Will republican legislators on the campaign trail promise to enact that legislation?

Paulsen: I'd have to see that exact bill.  I don't think there's any question that the caucus that I lead is a pro-life caucus and we'd be interested in addressing several different policy suggestions that would protect the life of the unborn but whether it be that one or something different time would tell on that.  We'd have to talk about it.

Henderson: When you say several what other ones might you consider?

Paulsen: Well, there's notification, there's waiting periods, there's several different opportunities.

Henderson: Notification of?

Paulsen: Notification of parents, notification of what the procedure involves and what actually the procedure, how you go through it and so on and so forth.

Henderson: Mr. Gronstal, will democrats by and large resist those proposals?

Gronstal: I think yes, I think most democrats will resist that.  We certainly have some members in our caucus, I think in the house democratic caucus as well that are people that consider themselves pro-life and I think there is some diversity inside the republican caucus as well on that subject.  I think it's unlikely we will pursue legislation in that area.

Henderson: How will this play in the election?  Will this change voter's minds or are voter's minds already made up on this particular proposal?  Will it motivate voters in any way to have the top of the ticket folks talking specifically about this issue, Mr. Gronstal?

Gronstal: Well, I think they have been talking about this issue pretty much for every election I've been involved in for the last 28 years in office and probably for the last 40 years in direct involvement in political campaigns.  I think people on both sides of this issue I respect them and they have strong feelings on this issue.  I think overall in Iowa we're at a point where there's probably a truce.  Neither side can probably accomplish much in terms of the way of expansion of woman's rights and contraction of it.  So, I don't think you're going to see much on that subject.

Henderson: Mr. Paulsen, do you agree with that assessment?

Paulsen: I think what you're going to see house republicans talking about this fall you're going to see us talking about jobs and the economy, Iowans need to get back to work, you're going to see us talking about spending the budget, you're going to see us talking about property taxes.

Borg: Senator Gronstal, you talked a moment ago, you said grow the economy.  He just finished up about jobs and developing jobs and so on.  My question is on the economy.  We're in a situation right now in the past few days where world economic markets are really in a turmoil and there is a major correction going on right now in the American stock market and equities.  It seems to me that really is going to put fear in voters and I'm wondering how you see that affecting incumbents.

Gronstal: As it relates to incumbents inside the legislature our campaigns are a bit different.  It's not the national mood.  If you go back and look at history in this state when the economy has been tough there have been times when republicans have succeeded politically and there have been times when democrats have succeeded politically.  These campaigns are local campaigns.  They are people standing on front porches of their constituents and talking with them about campaigns.

Gronstal: I think we've got a good message to talk about in terms of rebuilding Iowa after last year's disasters and our effort to create jobs through a bonding proposal this year in the legislature and last year as well.

Borg: I'm glad you said these campaigns are local, though, because Iowa isn't all the same economically.  There are people in rural areas, maybe even in urban areas who are really hurting in some of the districts that you're campaigning in, same thing with you Mr. Paulsen, and I 'm wondering how are you as a party, a democratic party, addressing the disparity throughout Iowa economically?

Gronstal: We have worked over the last dozen years, frankly, to move Iowa to the forefront on things like renewable energy, create high wage, high skill jobs in this state, diversify our economy.  We have embraced efforts to bring in companies like Google and Microsoft and IBM.  So, we're working to create those jobs, the kind of jobs that our children and grandchildren will want to take.  I think we've got a great message to talk about.  Wind energy in this state, we're the nation's leader in wind energy.  We have done a lot of things and that is what we want to continue to do is keep ourselves on the forefront.

Borg: Mr. Paulsen, how do you get voters to identify with the Republican Party in a tough economic time?

Paulsen: Well, it boils down to individual candidates and especially for the Iowa House of Representatives you're talking about districts that are 30,000 people, more or less, it's changed a little bit over the last decade since they were drafted but it's about those individual candidates.  I have 88 republicans that are going to be on the general election ballot, probably a couple more actually as we move forward and they're working in those districts, they're out meeting people and I think we've got the right candidates.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, you have a pretty competitive republican gubernatorial primary in your party.  Handicap that primary and handicap the winner of that primary against the sitting governor.

Paulsen: As far as handicapping within the primary I'm not the person to ask that question.  I'm the leader of the house republicans and that's where I spend my time.  There's no question it's a good contest, I'm looking forward to June 8th and having our nominee and getting behind whoever that is.

Paulsen: I think the contest between whoever that nominee is and Governor Culver, I'm liking that person's chances.

Glover: Senator Gronstal, same question to you.  You probably are paying attention to the gubernatorial race.  Handicap that republican primary and then handicap the race with an incumbent governor.

Gronstal: I think everybody recognized kind of the smart, business, political money kind of figures.  Branstad is the guy, I think that's where they're investing, I think he's got more money than the other candidates.  The question is whether that money can beat the grassroots of the folks of the other republicans out there.  I think the other republicans have a little more in the way of grassroots.

Gronstal: But let me handicap the general election.  Dean talked about how you appeal to these folks that are out of work and the first thing Terry Branstad asked me to do, the very first thing he asked me to do 28 years ago was to raise taxes on working families.  The first thing Chet Culver asked me to do was to raise the minimum wage.  If you're in tough economic times I think people are going to come back to the guy that asked us to raise the minimum wage.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, does that race have any fallout on your races?  The control of the legislature strikes me is always settled by a few races that are just a few votes apart.  Does the governor's race have an impact on your efforts to get control?

Paulsen: I don't think we know the answer to that yet.  I'm inclined to say that it probably is going to but we'll have to see and how engaged the candidates are, when national folks come in, where they campaign, what the issues are they're talking about and there's so many variables that are outside of what my candidates can control.

Glover: Senator Gronstal, are you comfortable campaigning in milieu where the top of your ticket is incumbent governor named Chet Culver?

Gronstal: Absolutely, absolutely.  I think we have a great story to tell.  We've had tough times, tough economic times not of our own making, a worldwide recession and we have responded well and I think we've got a great message to deliver to people.  We've managed the budget well and we've done it without tax increases.  That's something the likely republican nominee will not be able to say.

Glover: But you've done it with a lot of pain.

Gronstal: Of course there's pain and it takes tough decisions and we made those tough decisions while preserving the things that Iowans think are important, health care, education and job creation.

Henderson: Whomever wins the republican nomination will have to choose a running mate.  Mr. Paulsen, is there some danger in choosing a particular person?  Do you have any advice for the nominee of your party in choosing a running mate?

Paulsen: Well, the only advice that I've told any one of them that have asked is I think that someone out of eastern Iowa would be a good selection.

Borg: Why is that?

Paulsen: I just think eastern Iowa is absolutely part of the battle ground for a statewide election.

Henderson: Mr. Gronstal, Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge will be nominated at your party's convention but there is a person who intends to challenge her nomination.  Do you think that will be successful?   And then a broader question -- does that illustrate that Chet Culver really has yet to nail down some part of the party base?

Gronstal: I think the party base is nailed down solidly behind Chet Culver.  I think we recognize he's done a great job in incredibly trying circumstances for the state of Iowa.  I think people are excited about this election.  So, I look forward to a spirited campaign this fall and I think Patty Judge is going to be phenomenal.  Everybody knows Chet Culver is the nominee.

Borg: Senator Gronstal, you said a moment ago that all these legislative races are local, of course.  So, handicap for me, maybe not individual candidates, but one particular area and that is Kraig Paulsen's region, the flood disaster area of Cedar Rapids and if you move up river you could say Mason City and Waterloo as well.

Gronstal: The whole corridor all the way down to Burlington.

Borg: There are people there who are angry, they are put out, it's been two years and they still haven't gotten even a buyout of some of their damaged property, businesses are floundering in downtown Cedar Rapids, some have started up, couldn't make it and have gone out of business again.  How does that go to affect -- how do you go into an area like that, that is so disenchanted with what help they have received and their economic circumstances right now -- how do you say re-elect us?

Gronstal: Well, one way is to say we actually had a plan and we executed that plan, we put together a bonding effort and we've got a business incubator we're doing in Cedar Rapids and there are a host of things.  By the way, we share their frustration with the federal government and their response to this disaster.  It is kind of beyond our comprehension why after two years you can't have the buyouts done and the decisions made, just give people a decision, let them know what is going to happen one way or the other so they can get on with their lives.  That is -- we share that frustration as well in terms of us crafting state programs to dovetail with what the federal government is doing.  But I think we've done significant effort there.

Gronstal: We've worked together with the mayor of Cedar Rapids this last session.  By the way, we did it without much help from the other party.  I don't think they have much of a message to say other than well we were against what the democrats were doing.

Borg: Representative Paulsen, that is the question I was going to take to you because you're an incumbent and from that very area.  What do you say to people who are saying, what have you done for us?

Paulsen: Well, look, some of those individual projects absolutely republicans are supportive and I point to the opening issue of the 2009 session where republicans and democrats worked together to pass a disaster response package, we worked together, we made it better and it had unanimous support as it went through.  For whatever reason they decided they wanted to go down the bonding road, I was invited in to speak with Governor Culver, told him the criteria republicans would need to see and that's the last meeting we ever had.

Paulsen: The republican's plan on that is a simple one, it is we have a Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund and we should have used the vertical infrastructure fund for what it was designed and that was to invest in rebuilding from a disaster.  Instead, that was spent on other stuff.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, let's get back to the election if I could.  There's a lot of talk out there about an angry electorate that is mad at Congress, mad at Washington.  Who among Iowa's incumbent members of Congress is in trouble?

Paulsen: Well, I think just standing on the outside -- I think Congressman Boswell.  That is clearly the one that is getting the most attention within the state and outside of the state it appears to me.

Glover: So you think you can actually get Boswell?

Paulsen: I think that any incumbent who is not taking their race serious especially if they have been part of out of control spending and bailouts had better be taking the race pretty seriously.

Glover: Senator Gronstal, same question to you.  There is talk about anger against Washington, people are mad at Congress.  Make a case for one of these incumbent congressmen in Iowa getting beaten.

Gronstal: I've got to tell you, I think Chuck Grassley is in trouble.  The polls there have closed dramatically ...

Glover: Let's go to Congress for a second, we'll get to that one.

Gronstal: Okay, okay.  I think our incumbents are going to run good races and be responsive to their constituents.  I'm confident they're going to get re-elected.  Leonard Boswell has been on the republican's target list since he was first elected.  Every single time they say, hey, this time we've really got a shot.  I think Leonard is going to run an aggressive campaign, I think he's in better shape than he's ever been so I'm confident he's going to get re-elected.

Glover: All five congressmen get re-elected?

Gronstal: I think it remains to be seen on Steve King.  I think there is growing frustration that he's outside the mainstream, not well connected to the voters in western Iowa, basically gone Washington.  He'd much rather be on the Sunday morning talk shows than actually do something to help the people in his district.

Glover: With a straight face I'm only going to make the case of how you're going to beat a sitting republican congressman in the most republican district in this state.

Gronstal: I think he's out of touch, I think he's gone D.C., I think that's his challenge.

Henderson: Mr. Paulsen, you live in the second congressional district.  There is a republican primary there.  As someone on the ground what can you do to educate us about that race?

Paulsen: Well, first of all, saying Steve King has gone Washington, D.C. I think is just a rather amazing statement.  If there's anybody who has not gone D.C. he'd fall into that category, at least be on the short list.  There's four people vying for the nomination to run against Leonard Boswell ...

Henderson: No, no, no ...

Paulsen: I'm sorry ...

Henderson: Loebsack.

Paulsen: Correct.  Let me get back in the right district, my home one.  I think that's a good contest as well.  All four of them are out working hard and I would tell you I think today it's too close to call.

Henderson: But when you answered Mike's previous question you didn't name Congressman Dave Loebasck as vulnerable.

Paulsen: Oh, I think actually if I was any one of those three I would be taking my race very serious whether it's Congressman Braley, Congressman Loebsack or Congressman Boswell.  I'm telling you that I think the Boswell race seems to get the most conversation.

Henderson: For the benefit of viewers, Senator Gronstal, you live in the 5th congressional district which is represented by Congressman King.  In the third congressional district there is a republican primary, seven contestants, one of whom you serve with in the Iowa Senate, Brad Zaun.  As an observer of politics do you have any take on that particular race?

Gronstal: No, I really don't.  I haven't paid that much attention.  I've got to tell you, I'm working on electing as many senators as I can to the state senate.

Henderson: Well, then let me follow up.  What are the lessons that you have learned from the congressional races that have been held, special elections so far this year, namely Representative Murtha district this past Tuesday was won by a democrat.  Upstate New York, a republican held congressional district for a long time won by a democrat.  Are there any lessons that you have learned from those congressional races?

Gronstal: I think the truth is both parties can take some satisfaction in what they have seen in both special elections and early primaries.  I think republicans can take a little bit of satisfaction in some of the things they have seen and democrats can take some in what they have seen.  Campaigns are about candidates that go out and stand on people's -- our campaigns -- stand on people's front porches and talk with them and are part of their community and if you do that well you can win and you can win when the odds are against you and the mood is against you.  So, that's what we do, we try and get our candidates ...

Glover: Let's go to that mood question.  This is the first mid-term election of a new democratic president.  History will teach you that that should be a pretty good year for republicans.  But the economy seems to be driving everything and history teaches us that's pretty good for democrats.  Give us your take on the mood of the electorate.  You talk to a lot of people out there.  What are people -- what is driving them?

Paulsen: I think the mood right now is they see a government that is doing too much, too fast, out of control, they are tired of seeing their wallet dipped into by government at every level every time they turn around.  They want to see government get reigned back in.

Glover: Senator Gronstal, the same question to you.  You travel the state pretty heavily, you talk to a lot of voters around this state.  What is driving them?  What is the mood of the electorate?

Gronstal: I think people want jobs, I think they want a job, they want to be able to work and earn a decent living for their family.  I think that is what people care about, I think that is what this campaign will be about.

Henderson: Let's talk about following up on Mike's mood question.  There seems to be this "throw the bums out" attitude among voters.  How does an incumbent legislator navigate that?  And what do you think is driving that attitude among voters?

Gronstal: At the risk of boring you, it's people that stand on your front porch and talk to you in a very personal way.  You talk about the mood, you talk about the national mood -- in 1994 it was very similar, a lot of concern about Congress, the rise of Newt Gingrich, they took over Congress that year, we didn't lose a single senate seat in the state senate in Iowa because our candidates go out and stand on people's front porch and talk to them.  They are part of the community.  It's easy to kind of go, that guy off in Washington, D.C. that I see as a talking head on TV, gee I don't know anything about him.  But if the person has been on your front porch talking to you and listening to you then you've got a fair shot of getting their vote.

Henderson: Do you agree with this all politics is local mantra or do you think there is a wave that republican candidates can ride?

Paulsen: Obviously there's some national impact, there's some state level impact, the up ticket races impact us to some degree.  But 90% or better of what happens in a legislative race, I think even more so in the house because they're smaller districts, is controlled by the candidate.

Glover: And on the ballot this year there will be five races down the ballot that are statewide elections, three democrats and two republicans.  Do you see any of those candidates losing, Representative Paulsen?

Paulsen: I think probably, again, picking one over the other I think the attorney general race is clearly starting to frame up as a pretty interesting contest.

Glover: How are you going to beat an attorney general who has been attorney general since before I had grey hair?

Paulsen: I have never studied attorney general races, I just know I see a lot of energy that Brenna Finley is putting together.  The attorney general, the sitting attorney general has already responded to a few things she's done which tells me she has his attention and an extremely impressive disclosure report she filed this week.

Glover: Senator Gronstal ...

Gronstal: And amazingly he did that with a straight face.

Glover: Senator Gronstal, analyze those races for me.  There are three democrats and two republicans in statewide offices.  Are any of them vulnerable?

Gronstal: The interesting thing about those races is they are below the radar screen and it's a statewide race so it's not as easy to get people's attention by going to their front porch.  So, it's under the radar screen in terms of the media and the radio and TV but people don't pay a lot of attention to those other statewide races.

Glover: I've talked to one of them, State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald who says he's scared to death because he's vulnerable to whatever mood is driving the electorate because they don't have the money to communicate their message.

Gronstal: And I think that's legitimate.  I think people do get nervous about that.  Mike Fitzgerald has run great campaigns and he's got a great story to tell and when you listen to him talk about -- when you listen to him talk about the things he has accomplished in the treasurer's office he's done a phenomenal job.

Henderson: Representative Paulsen, you said there was some impact on lower ballot races on who is at the top of the ticket.  Are republicans energized by the theoretical ticket of Chuck Grassley, Terry Branstad?

Paulsen: Well, I think republicans are energized for a host of different reasons and I think for some people that's absolutely part of it.

Borg: Let me ask a follow-up question to that.  In the debate earlier this week, Bob Vander Plaats and Terry Branstad got into quite a contentious -- one calling the other a liar and so on -- and Rod Roberts saying this is dividing the party and we can't go against Chet Culver divided like this.  How do you size that up?   Are you worried even in local races about what's happening in the primary?

Paulsen: As far as division within the republican party?

Borg: Do you side with Rod Roberts in what he's saying that it's too contentious?

Paulsen: No, I think it's a spirited discussion right now and I don't see any problem on June 9th republican coming together.

Glover: There are conservatives ...

Paulsen: We did not have trouble being together during the legislative session, I don't see a problem later.

Glover: There are conservative groups who say if Terry Branstad is the nominee they'll sit out the election, he had 16 years and he didn't address their issues.  Do you take them seriously?

Paulsen: Of course, I take everybody's comments seriously.  I don't know what sort of impact that would be and people make a lot of statements.  I mean, holy cow, I've had a sitting Iowa senator tell me they're not going to support Chet Culver.  I've had a sitting house democrats, both of them democrats, tell me they're not going to support Chet Culver.  Do you take that serious?  Yeah, I suppose you need to take everything serious.

Borg: One thing you have to take seriously right now is me saying we're out of time.  I'm sorry.  Thanks so much for being with us, both of you.

Gronstal: Thank you.

Paulsen: Thank you.

Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press we're questioning the three candidates seeking the democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, Roxanne Conlin of Des Moines, Tom Fiegen of Clarence and Bob Krause of Fairfield, all campaigning to be the democrat's nominee against incumbent republican Senator Chuck Grassley.  Iowa Press next week a special one-hour edition airing from 7:30 to 8:30 on Friday night, May 28th and Sunday morning, 11:30 to 12:30, that's May 30th.  I hope you'll watch.  I'm Dean Borg.  Thanks for joining us today.

Tags: campaign 2010 Congress Democrats elections Iowa Iowa Senate Kraig Paulsen Mike Gronstal politics primaries Republicans State House Minority Leaders State Senate Majority Leaders