Focusing on the prize. Republicans choosing former Governor Terry Branstad carrying republican hopes for re-taking Iowa's executive branch. We're discussing campaign issues and strategies with republican gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Terry Branstad's comeback for governor is just where he hoped it would be at this stage in the campaign. With republican nomination securely in hand he is now focusing on incumbent democrat Chet Culver. The only distraction might be making sure he has a unified republican party behind him as he seeks independent voters and perhaps some democrats too. Former Governor Branstad well acquainted with the campaign trail, having been elected to the Iowa legislature, then lieutenant governor and four terms as governor. Mr. Branstad, over that period you've been on Iowa Press several times, welcome back.
Branstad: Thank you, Dean. I was last here when we had the debate and I was here I guess prior to the primary. I'm glad to be back. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Borg: And also at the table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Mr. Branstad, you won the republican nomination this past week with about 50% of the vote. Your opponents got 41% and 9% of the vote. What are you going to do specifically to convince the 50% of republicans who didn't vote for you that you are their guy in November?
Branstad: Well, first of all I was delighted we had such a huge republican turnout, over 226,000 republicans, the biggest turnout since the last time I was in a primary in 1994 and we won the general election by over 57% then in 1994. When I ran for lieutenant governor I was involved in a primary and we won by over 57%. So, I think we can unite. First of all I want to say, I want to congratulate Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts, both good men. They ran spirited, good campaigns and we need their support and their help but I'm confident we're going to be able to unite the Republican Party.
Branstad: I'm also excited about the other candidates that were chosen for Congress and for the state offices. We have the strongest slate of candidates we've had in modern history. I think the democrats are the ones that need to be worried because their turnout was the lowest in 60 years. Republicans had a great turnout, democrats had a terrible turnout. That has been going on around the country. We're encouraged and in Iowa I think people are concerned they want a change in leadership because Chet Culver, Governor Chet Culver has got the state in the worst financial mess in our state's history.
Glover: We'll get to some of those other races in a minute. But I'd like to see specifically what you've done to reach out to Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts. Have you spoken with them? Have you met with them? And what role can they play in your campaign?
Branstad: We have a meeting planned with Bob Vander Plaats and also I intend to continue to stay in touch with Rod Roberts and Bob Vander Plaats as well as the other candidates who were in the race earlier and dropped out. We need them all involved.
Glover: How can they be involved?
Branstad: Well, there's a lot of opportunities. I think we basically share the concerns about restoring fiscal responsibility in our state, we share the same concerns about the issues facing the future of Iowa . But it's not just about the republicans. We want to unite Iowans to solve our problems and I want to reach out to independents and democrats as well.
Borg: Mr. Branstad, I think Mike is really asking are there not just informal, serendipity, well they can help if they want to but do you have any formal mechanism planned to reach out to, as you say, even the candidates who dropped out before the primary?
Branstad: Well, I don't know, I would call it more informal but we want to be very inclusive, we want them all involved, we think it is critically important that we have a united and a very aggressive effort. I'm excited about the crowds we're getting. I was over in Davenport, we had 250 people there at our victory rally the other day and we're seeing that across the state, in Ottumwa, in Marion as well and I'm going to Sioux City and Council Bluffs ...
Borg: But no one has called you then to offer say, Mr. Branstad, I'm ready to help?
Branstad: Well, yeah, they called election night and indicated they want to help and we welcome their help and we want their involvement. But I also want to be governor of the whole state and all the people and I'm especially pleased with the turnout we received in eastern Iowa and I also did well in western Iowa as well. So, I think we can really unite the party, I think we can generate a tremendous effort. We haven't let any grass grow under our feet, we're already focusing on the general election as we did from day one when I focused on jobs, 200,000 new jobs, raising family incomes by 25%, making us again the leader in education and restoring fiscal responsibility and cutting the size and cost of government.
Henderson : Mr. Branstad, the state republican convention is on June 26th, that is your deadline for selecting a running mate, a lieutenant governor running mate.
Branstad: You're right.
Henderson : Could you tell us what your thought process is? What is the resume of the person that you're looking for?
Branstad: I'm looking for somebody that is intelligent, articulate, has a great work ethic, somebody that shares my conservative philosophy, somebody that has got leadership ability that I think could be a future governor of this state.
Henderson : In terms of your last pick, that became an issue in the primary campaign, Joy Corning joining you in 1990 and again in '94 as your running mate. Will you pick someone like Joy Corning this time around?
Branstad: Well, Joy Corning was a great asset to us at that time but we're not looking backward, we're looking forward and we're looking for somebody we think will be an asset in the future and somebody that will be a leader of the party and a future governor in the future. So, I'm looking for somebody that I think has the right leadership ability and the right talents and somebody that shares my philosophy to be the next lieutenant governor.
Henderson : So, reading into that answer, does that mean that you will serve one term and hope that this person who is selected as your running mate will run for governor four years from now?
Branstad: I'm not making that kind of a decision. I'm focusing on winning this election in November. I know it's never easy to beat an incumbent. The last time an incumbent lost was 1962 when Norman Erbe lost to Harold Hughes. I live in Boone County so this can be Boone County's revenge to have somebody from Boone County defeat the incumbent Governor Chet Culver.
Borg: But you are saying that when I look for a lieutenant governor I want to look for a potential governor?
Branstad: Yes because the lieutenant governor is only a heartbeat away from being governor and I think you want somebody that can step into that job. I was lieutenant governor, I followed Governor Ray, I learned a lot from watching Governor Ray. He was a great governor. He treated people with respect and dignity. He set the stage for honest, open and clean government. I want to restore that. I want to put the fund back into politics. Bob Ray always had a great way of treating people and doing things right and doing things well and being accessibly and open to people and that isn't occurring today. We need to change that. We need a governor that listens and somebody that is accessible and available.
Henderson : In the state of California , for instance, you have a republican nominee for governor who is a woman and a republican nominee for the U.S. Senate who is a woman. Do you feel pressure as a republican to advance a woman as your running mate because there is so much focus on this being "the year of the woman" particularly since Roxanne Conlin is challenging Chuck Grassley?
Branstad: Well, it's kind of ironic in a sense because Roxanne Conlin ran against me for governor in 1982. No, I don't feel any pressure. I am certainly considering and looking at men and women for that position. I am looking at really a leadership ability and work ethic and somebody that is a good listener and somebody that I think can be a good leader.
Glover: And one of the dynamics that is going to play out this year is the beginning dynamics of the republican presidential field. We've already seen some of those folks out here. We're going to see more of them as the year unfolds. Do you anticipate getting help from a long list of republican presidential candidates?
Branstad: Yes, we do intend to receive help from a lot of people that have interest in maybe running for president. But I don't intend to get involved in or focus on anything but winning the governor's office in 2010. We welcome assistance from all kinds of quarters and we expect to receive it.
Glover: You'll remain neutral throughout that race?
Branstad: I intend to at this point in time. But my focus is on 2010. We have a very important election to choose the governor of the state of Iowa and I've been through many contested elections, I know that you never want to look beyond the election that is ahead of you. It's very important for this state's future. The state is in a big budget mess. We have the highest unemployment we've had in 24 years. We need a governor, we need a leader that will focus on jobs. There's a lot of people out of work and we need to help restore jobs and economic opportunities and we need to restore fiscal responsibility and get back to the 99% spending limitation and enforcing it.
Glover: Do you assume that Barack Obama will be out here on behalf of Chet Culver? If so, what do you think the impact of that will be?
Branstad: Well, he has already had Vice President Biden here and we expect that he will bring in Obama. But we think that that's a two-headed sword. A lot of people ...
Glover: How so?
Branstad: Well, Obama is President of the
Glover: Is he a liability here?
Branstad: I don't know. The President of the
Branstad: I'm working with our state auditor which the present governor has not listened to. He is a CPA, David Vaudt, and we're putting together a five-year strategic plan for the state's budget, we're going to put a two-year budget, a biannual budget, not a one-year budget together and insist the legislature pass a two-year, not a one-year budget and I will veto any bill that circumvents the spending limitations, the 99% spending limitations. Unfortunately, Governor Culver has accepted circumventing the spending limitations 133 times in the last four years. That is why we're in the mess we're in today. We'll straighten that out.
Borg: Speaking of a team, you were talking about working with state auditor David Vaudt, you've mentioned, taken pains to mention particularly the republican candidate for attorney general. But is there any thought of running as a team with the executive branch candidates? Are you going to do that?
Branstad: Well, we've already started that, we have already been on the road as a team and we're going to do more of that. We have a strong team. You mentioned Brenna Finley, 34 years old, that's how old Tom Miller was when he was elected back in 1978. Tom Miller wouldn't represent me on item veto cases, he didn't defend the Iowa Defense of Marriage Act, he won't join 20 other states in challenging the Obama health care. Brenna Finley will. I just think -- also I've already talked with her about working to enforce the open meetings and open records law and designating a division within the attorney general's office that will enforce that so that the public has somebody to go to if they see a violation of the open meetings and open records law. So, I'm looking forward to working with her but also we've got a great candidate for state treasurer who is the county treasurer in Story County , Dave Jamison ...
Borg: But do you formally campaign with each of those or is it every person for himself or herself?
Branstad: Well, this time I would like to elect the whole team. I guess my feeling is you don't do it by yourself, you need a team working together and the governor appoints department heads but I would love to have all these elected officials, we already have Bill Northey, a great secretary of agriculture, we've got an excellent CPA as our state auditor and then I want to mention Matt Schultz who is running for treasurer. He is a lawyer, he is a city council member in Council Bluffs , another bright young guy. So, we have a really strong team and I want to help that whole team out. I'd like to see us elect the whole team this time.
Henderson : On day one of the general election campaign Wednesday Chet Culver went to a preschool in Des Moines and criticized you for comments you made in a debate in Cedar Rapids on May 1st in which you said you would end state funding for preschool. How are you going to defend that statement on the campaign trail?
Branstad: Well, first of all, I have always supported preschool. What I don't support is the state taking over the entire responsibility and making it free. And what Culver has done is made all kinds of promises that can't be fulfilled. He starts a new program for preschool and then what does he do, he cuts out the money for beginning teachers salaries which really hurt rural schools, cut rural schools and then he did this massive across-the-board cut instead of bringing the legislature back to protect education, 10% across-the-board cut and now we have thousands of teachers being laid off all across the state of Iowa, we have property taxes being increased.
Branstad: My approach would be partner with non-profit organizations and with private sector businesses and provide state scholarships with people with financial need, not embark on a new program.
Glover: As we head into the general election campaign what is your thinking about debates with this current governor? How many would you like to see? Have you opened discussions? How do you see that playing out?
Branstad: Well, we haven't had discussions yet but I have had debates in every campaign I've been in, eleven contested elections, my record is 11-0 and we usually do three debates. So, my intention would be to look for about three debates and I'd like to see them geographically around the state like we did in the primary and so that's what I think would make sense and I'm open to working those out with potential sponsors.
Glover: And will debates be that much of an issue in this campaign? I mean, typically a challenger, which you are in this race, uses debates as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the electorate, to stand next to the incumbent and be on an even playing field. It strikes me the dynamic of this race is a little different. Will debates be less important? More important?
Branstad: You know, I think debates are always important because it is an opportunity for the people to be able to compare the two candidates side-by-side and that is why I've always felt this is an obligation to the people to participate in debates with my opponents, I've done it in every campaign that I've ever been in from the time I ran for state representative until now. I do intend to debate. When we debated Bonnie Campbell she only agreed to one. But normally we have done three and that's what I think is -- you get too many I think people kind of tune out but I think it makes sense and I want the people of Iowa to have an opportunity to compare my record with his and my vision of the future with what he's doing. And I have a clear vision of where I want to lead the state and I want to focus on jobs, restoring fiscal responsibility, quality education and reducing the size and cost of government.
Borg: Governor, you just said, compare my record with his referring to Chet Culver. One of the things in your record, though, is a series of tax increases and that is ...
Branstad: And tax cuts and there were a lot more tax cuts than tax increases. You see, that's what the democrats want to do, they want to pull out of context what we did and not tell you the whole story. Paul Harvey used to say in the rest of the story. The rest of the story is I got rid of the inheritance tax, I cut the income tax ten percent across-the-board, actually reduced the top rate from 13% to below 9%, indexed it for inflation, got rid of the tax on machinery and equipment that helped us bring all kinds of good jobs in capital intensive industries here. We reduced the property taxes for education and lifted the entire cost of the court system off of property taxes.
Borg: And Chet Culver will come back and say, during my four years I didn't raise taxes ...
Branstad: He did, that's not true, that's not true. He raised the cigarette tax, he raised the sales tax and a huge increase in the property tax over $500 million because of his across-the-board cut. So, if he tries that he's not going to get by with it because the people of Iowa know and the property tax bills are going to come due before the 30th of September. They are going to see the property tax increases they got because of his lack of foresight and because he imposed this massive ten percent across-the-board cut which had to be absorbed by local school districts with teacher layoffs and increases in local property tax.
Henderson : The other criticism that Governor Culver levied at you this past week was that you kept two sets of books, that's something you heard about during the republican primary as well. How do you address the idea that during the farm crisis the state suffered through some financial times and there were two sets of books?
Branstad: There never were two sets of books but the books were never balanced on generally accepted accounting principles. They never had been until we did the spending reforms in '92 and so I was the governor that corrected the financial problems that existed. Remember, democrats controlled the legislature from '82 to '92. Despite that, in '92 I brought them back twice until we got all the spending reforms, put in place the 99% spending limitation and the cash reserve and economic emergency account plus then I got a republican house by 51-49 but Ron Corbett became the appropriations chair and then the speaker and he worked with me. We enforced the spending limitations, we filled the cash reserve and economic emergency account and I did not let them circumvent the spending limitations as long as I was governor and I left the state having cut taxes by a net of $124 million with the biggest budget surplus in history, $900 million. Compare that with Culver. We now have a projected three-quarters of a billion to $1 billion deficit and they have circumvented spending limitations 133 times in the last four years that he has been governor.
Glover: And your critics will say that it took you ten years to get there, that you were governor for ten years and you, in fact, were forced into those budget reforms.
Branstad: No, the truth is I didn't have a republican legislature, I didn't even have one house of the legislature until ten years. But even when the democrats were in control I forced them, they didn't force me, remember I'm the one that called the special sessions and kept bringing them back and bringing them back until we got all those spending limitations. Some people maybe need to go back and read that part of history because that is what happened and I'm proud of the fact that as long as I was governor I enforced the spending limitations. It's after I left office they started cheating by putting notwithstanding language in appropriation bills. I'm not going to let them get by with that again. I will veto any appropriation bills that has notwithstanding language, I will insist that we put together a five-year strategic budget plan for the state and that we pass a biannual budget, not an annual budget.
Henderson : In regards to your charge that the governor has created a budget deficit Iowa is required by law to have a balanced budget and Culver comes back and says, I've always had a balanced budget as governor.
Branstad: Yeah, he's back to exactly that old thing of not using generally accepted accounting principles. Talk to the state auditor, he'll tell you the truth about the budget situation. Culver has not listened to the auditor but the auditor has pointed out they have used one-time money, they have used money from the leaky underground storage tank fund, they have used money from the senior living trust fund, they have used one-time money from the federal government to get through this year. Next year it's not there. $500 million in the Medicaid budget this year is one-time money that is not available next year. That is why we have that projected deficit so they have not used general accepted accounting principles, they have not abided by the 99% spending limitation. And listen to this, since Culver has been governor they have spent$1.8 billion more than the state has taken in, that is tragic. That sounds like Illinois and California , we don't want to go there, we have been a low, we have been basically a low debt state and his answer is to go out and borrow more money which you have to pay back with interest over the next 20 years. It doesn't make sense.
Glover: Governor, it's been my experience that elections generally aren't settled on the details of where candidates are on issues, elections are settled by the conclusion that voters come to about the big picture of a campaign and the question that I hear most often about you is you were governor for four terms. Why a fifth term? Why do you want a fifth term in office?
Branstad: Because thousands of Iowans came to me and said, we're in a big mess, we have one scandal after another, the Film Office, not this pay-for-play scandal, the problem with the Department of Aging, we need an honest conservative to come back and straighten things out, get our fiscal house back in order and restore honest, open, transparent, accountable government and I can do that, I have the experience and the ability to do that, I'm willing to make the tough decisions that are necessary to lead Iowa to a prosperous and growing future.
Glover: The second question I hear along those lines is don't the republicans have anyone else?
Branstad: Well ...
Glover: What does that say about the condition of the Iowa Republican Party?
Branstad: Well, I think the condition of the Iowa Republican Party is pretty good. When you look at the quality of candidates we have on the ticket this year I think we've got an opportunity to pick up a couple of congressional seats, gain control of both houses of the legislature, win state offices like the attorney general's office and treasurer's office that we haven't had in decades and our turnout was 226,000 and the democrats had the lowest turnout in 60 years. I'm pretty excited. I'm pretty enthused. I think I've got the energy and the enthusiasm. I've lost 13 pounds since I got into this race. I'm very focused. I really care about Iowa . I want the opportunity to serve the people of Iowa again.
Henderson : Let's talk a little bit more about that primary. We'll have a lot of time to talk about the general election. Were there a subset of democrats who crossed over to vote just to murk around in the republican race? And how do you as a candidate manage the mechanics of an absentee effort when the party itself has not had an aggressive absentee ballot effort in the past?
Borg: I noticed that brought a twinkle to your eye.
Branstad: Well, it brought a twinkle to my eye because we just won an election where the democrats spent, you know. Rob Tully, they won't disclose who they are but I'm pretty sure they're pretty much all democrats, put in over a half a million dollars with distortions and deception trying to deceive the republican primary voters with these nasty mailings and then television ads. It didn't work. They spent all this money trashing me, it didn't work, we still won handily. They tried this in '94 with crossover democrats and it didn't work then either, I got 57% in the general election. We feel very confident that we were ready for what they have to throw at us and I think the people of Iowa can see through this too. They underestimated the intelligence of Iowa voters. Iowa voters want a governor that will work for them, will listen to them, will go to every county and somebody that will serve the needs of the people of this state.
Glover: Answer this charge that I'm already hearing from the Culver campaign. Terry Branstad spend $3 million and got half the republican vote.
Branstad: Well, I think it's kind of interesting, he got 40% of the democratic vote when he ran in the primary with three candidates, I got 50% so I think I did pretty good especially considering the fact that his party -- he's hiding behind this sleazy, this sleazy group that calls themselves Iowan for Responsible Government. I just as Iowa , the voters, the viewers, go to iowansforresponsiblegovernment.com. It exposes who they are, why they're doing it because they know I'm the strongest candidate, they don't want to compare Culver's abysmal record of failure with my record of success and I have a vision for the future, he hasn't given any vision other than more debt and more gambling. That is not where Iowa wants to go in the future.
Glover: Governor, we've got about 30 seconds left in this show, I'm going to give you the stage. For that 30 seconds tell me what you want voters having on their mind when they walk into that voting booth in November. What is the last thought you want them to have?
Branstad: I would say we want to have clean, honest, open government again. We want a governor that will put his time and energy into bringing jobs to our state, restoring our leadership in education and giving us the opportunity to achieve our full potential. We have great people in this state, I want to give them the opportunity to make this the best state it can be. I think our best days can be ahead of us if we all work together to make Iowa all that it can be.
Borg: And when -- what is your target date for announcing your selection for lieutenant governor? And are you well along with that selection?
Branstad: We will make that decision before the republican convention. It will probably be fairly close to the convention before we make the final decision but we'll announce it before the convention which is the 26th of June.
Borg: Thanks Governor for spending time with us today.
Branstad: Thank you very much.
Borg: We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next weekend, you'll see it at the usual Iowa Press times, that's 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.