Challenging incumbency. Iowa republicans aiming for statehouse turnover. A conversation with two republican challengers, attorney general candidate Brenna Findley and secretary of state hopeful Matt Schultz, on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Iowa republicans in this weekend's state convention are certifying their candidates for November’s general election. They’re expressing hope because democrats currently firmly dominate state offices. But with voters said to be in an anti-incumbent mode -- mood, I should say, republican challengers are hoping to move into some of those offices. And two of them are at the table with us today. Council Bluffs republican Matt Schultz hopes to take away the keys to the secretary of state's office from incumbent democrat Michael Mauro and Brenna Findley of Dexter would like to move into the attorney general's office now occupied by Tom Miller. Mr. Schultz, Ms. Findley, welcome to Iowa Press.
Findley: Good to be here.
Schultz: Thank you.
Borg: Nice to have you here. And across the table, two journalists familiar with Iowans, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: I’d like to take to both of you the key sort of core arguments against your campaign and give you a chance to respond. Mr. Schultz, let's start with you. You’re running for -- one of the key jobs of secretary of state is being the state's top election official. The incumbent has spent a long time as the top election official in the state's largest county and then had four years as the top election official for the whole state. What’s your background to counter that, and what's he done to get fired?
Schultz: Well, I think there are two things here. I think a lot of people forget that the secretary of state's office isn't just about elections. It also has a business aspect that I think has been ignored by our current secretary of state. And I think it was ignored by Chet Culver when he was secretary of state. I think as a city councilman in Council Bluffs working hard with businesses to make Council Bluffs a business friendly community, I can bring experience when it comes to that aspect of the office. But furthermore when it comes on elections, which addresses more of what you're talking about, I think this campaign is going to be about issues. And one of those is having a photo ID when you go to vote. I think a lot of people -- it makes a lot of sense. You’ve got to show an ID when you get on an airplane, before you open a checking account. You even have to show one before you buy a beer, so why not when you go to vote?
Glover: We'll go through a bunch of those issues in just a little bit, but I want to stick with the major themes. Ms. Findley, let's go to you. You’re running against one of the nation's senior law enforcement officials in Tom Miller, the attorney general. His argument about you is you don't have a lot of legal experience. You graduated from law school, he says, spent a year in California, and the bulk of your career has been as a congressional staffer. He even raised the question about whether or not you're licensed to practice law in Iowa. Are you licensed to practice law in Iowa, and how do you counter this legal experience argument?
Findley: Well, absolutely I’m licensed to practice law in Iowa. In fact, I’ve been working in the legal profession and the legal field since I graduated from law school. One thing that's exciting about my campaign when people ask me about my age -- and I’ll just tell it's 34 -- I’m 34 years old, the same current county attorney general was back in 1978 when he ran for attorney general and beat the incumbent. So you can see that I’m following in his footsteps a little bit, as far as that's concerned.
Glover: What's he done that deserves firing?
Findley: Well, as I travel the state, I listen to Iowans to their concerns, and I find that many of them have never met their attorney general, even though he's been there for the better part of four decades. And I promise an accessible, open government. We have differences of opinion as far as shining sunlight in state government. I believe our state government should be open, honest, and accountable. I’ll stand up for the law and constitution of the state. And also I will work to bring jobs and businesses to Iowa.
Henderson: Let's talk about some issues. Let’s first focus on immigration. Mr. Schultz, you have said that as secretary of state, you would involve the office in e-verification in terms of verifying that workers have the correct social security number and are here legally? Would that be a dramatic expansion of the office?
Schultz: Well, I think it goes back to what I was talking about earlier with this business aspect. I think when it comes to jobs and elections, illegal immigration can play a huge role in both of those. So I think the secretary of state -- by incorporating e-verify into the secretary of state Web site would allow at least to create a layer of protection for Iowans. You know, where -- what I’m proposing is having a landing page where you could click as an HR representative or a small business owner to figure out where to go to the federal Web site and then to have webinars and you tube videos on how to use it so that it's more user friendly for Iowa businesses.
Henderson: So you're talking more about tutorials rather than actual verification of whether people are here legally?
Schultz: Well, the verification happens through the federal Web site, through the electronic verification system. So what I’m proposing is let's put together a way for Iowa business to use it, make it more user friendly, give notices out when they register their companies and have their renewals, and let them know this service is being provided. We’re here to help you. And then if we can get it to where we're successful, then we would propose to the legislature to create some sort of requirement to have businesses verify their work force so that we make sure jobs are going to Iowans and we make sure that we can verify who is here.
Henderson: Ms. Findley, would you as the chief law enforcement officer of Iowa more actively prosecute businesses that employ illegal immigrants?
Findley: Well, I can tell you in order to do that, we would need to see some changes come out of the state legislature as far as immigration law is concerned. I can tell you that I think it's important that we do enforce immigration law, particularly with respect to criminals or people who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
Henderson: So what law changes would you seek at the state level?
Findley: Well, I think many people would think about the situation Arizona -- how the Arizona legislature acted. They certainly acted in order to give their state more resources to fight the illegal immigration problem. I would seek to enforce the immigration law where it made sense, to make sure that we're protecting jobs for Iowans, for legal Iowa workers.
Henderson: So where does it make sense?
Findley: Well, particularly with requests, I would just start with criminal situations, whether it's criminal stops or other interaction with our criminal justice system, to be sure that the person encountered is either lawfully present or a U.S. citizen. And that's important because if we can end -- if that criminal can be deported or -- and no longer be in Iowa, they will no longer be committing crimes in Iowa.
Henderson: And neither of you are running to be members of the legislature nor would you be the governor signing such a law, but would you both advocate a law identical to Arizona’s here in Iowa? Yes or no.
Schultz: I would, absolutely.
Henderson: And you, Ms. Findley?
Findley: I support what's behind the law, but I think it should be tailored to Iowa’s circumstances. We’re not a border state.
Borg: You're running for different offices so we're tailoring these questions to you differently because the issues are different in each office, but there is one commonalty, Ms. Findley -- and I’ll ask you, too, to respond -- but it seems to me that you're running for an office that is somewhat below the radar in voter interest right now, the high-profile -- the senate race and the governor's race. Are you having trouble getting attention and getting your views out, Ms. Findley?
Findley: No. This is a year when many Iowans are actively engaged. Of course, they pay more attention to the higher profile offices. I have ties to western Iowa and connections to rural Iowa because I was born and raised on a farm near Dexter, but when I go into eastern Iowa to campaign and to listen to eastern Iowans, I find the same level of enthusiasm there. I think it's all about Matt and I are willing to take it to the road and to work hard to earn the support of Iowans, and that tends to grow the energy.
Borg: But who listens? That is, who's -- when you're out campaigning, how do you campaign? In a coffee shop?
Findley: Well, I’ll campaign in a coffee shop. Often a supporter will invite some friends over to meet me. I also call on elected officials so that I can hear from them about what's important in their communities.
Borg: Mr. Schultz, I don't see you with TV or newspaper ads.
Schultz: Well, I actually did do TV in the primary. It ran on cable and I did have some TV interviews in northwest Iowa. What we did as a campaign for the primary, which I think really got our message out, we utilized radio very. And I did a lot of blitz as well, is what I call them.
Borg: But are you being overshadowed by the top of the ticket? That’s the question.
Schultz: Well, that's always going to happen, no doubt. But I think people are interested in the issues. And I’m seeing a lot of interest as I talk about photo ID, to be honest with you.
Glover: Ms. Findley, elections have consequences, I’m fond of saying. And this one will have consequences as well. Should you be elected the next attorney general of Iowa, would you join some other states in challenging the health care law that president Obama pushed through congress?
Findley: Absolutely. I would challenge the constitutionality of the government takeover of health care. Twenty other states have done so far. I believe it violates the interstate commerce law to force Iowans to buy a private product from a private party.
Glover: And how do you respond to the incumbents' assertion that it's a weak legal case and would do little more than waste tax dollars, to make a political point?
Findley: It's a strong constitutional argument. Twenty states have already joined it, and I would say it's an argument that we need to make on behalf of Iowans. I would be glad to stand up for Iowans so that they're not forced to buy a certain kind of insurance or face IRS penalty.
Glover: Mr. Schultz, to you -- the current incumbent has -- one of his major accomplishments is he has pushed hard to get election-day voter registration on the books. If you're elected as secretary of state, will you look to roll that back?
Schultz: I’m going to advocate to reform it.
Glover: And how so?
Schultz: Well, we want to make it easy for people to vote but impossible to cheat. I’m concerned about the fact that people can register on Election Day and there's no way to necessarily track that. Somebody, especially in a border community, could come into Council Bluffs from Omaha. Say they have a gas bill and try and get in. What would keep them from going to another precinct or another place? It just allows for what I think is a potential for fraud and abuse.
Glover: And critics of that position argue that it does little more than hold down voter turnout and the secretary of state's major job ought to be increasing voter turnouts. What do you have against big voter turnouts?
Schultz: Well, I have nothing against big voter turnouts if they're eligible to vote. We want to make sure that people who are eligible to vote, number one, and that they only vote once. There’s a saying vote early, vote often. You know, you hear that as a joke, but we don't want that to become real.
Borg: There's also a saying if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Schultz: Well, you know, that's funny because a lot of people want to say, well, we don't know if there's any fraud because there's very few cases that are being prosecuted in fraud in Iowa. The question isn't really whether or not there's fraud. The question I believe is what are you willing to tolerate? Are you willing to tolerate having one voter fraud or none? I don't want to wait till some disaster happens to secure our elections. All I’m saying is reforming same-day voter registration is require provisional ballot. I mean how hard is that? Put it in an envelope, set it aside, and let people verify that these people are eligible voters and that they only voted once.
Glover: Ms. Findley, if you're elected attorney general, do you see any role for that office in enforcing election laws?
Findley: Sure. County attorneys are our front line of defense against election fraud, but if there was a need for help to help the county attorneys or if there was a conflict of interest at the county level, certainly my office would be involved.
Glover: Do you think the incumbent has done a good enough job in enforcing those laws?
Findley: Well, I haven't seen where he has enforced election laws recently.
Henderson: Ms. Findley, you have advocated some changes in regard to public access to records and enforcement of open meeting laws at the state level throughout the state of Iowa in terms of when city councils and county boards of supervisors hold meetings. Could you explain those to our viewers?
Findley: Sure. Two different changes, among several. One is that groups that receive taxpayer funds should be subject to the open records and open meetings laws, particularly if they receive a large portion of their budget from taxpayer funds.
Henderson: And of course, this is in response to the Iowa Association of School Boards situation.
Findley: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Henderson: And then secondarily?
Findley: And secondarily, right now the attorney general has developed a policy where he allows state government to charge members of the media and citizens for their records requests. Now, I think it's fair that they should have to pay for the copies or the data costs, but I don't think it's fair that they should have to pay $40 an hour to a government worker to consider whether to respond to their request. In my view, the taxpayers have already paid for that for their taxes. They shouldn't have to pay twice.
Henderson: Mr. Schultz, as manager of elections, you would be in charge of holding petition signatures. A secretary of state in another state has faced this issue. Would you make public the names of those signatures on those petitions?
Schultz: Well, I would first look at what the law requires. If it requires that it be public, then, yes, I would follow the law.
Henderson: There was a Supreme Court ruling recently in that regard. So you'd follow the Supreme Court ruling?
Schultz: An Iowa Supreme Court ruling?
Henderson: A U.S. Supreme Court ruling?
Glover: Ms. Findley, one of the things that drives elections is overall big-picture tenors. If we look at this election, history would tell us that this is the first mid-term election of a newly elected democratic president. That ought to be a pretty good year for republicans. But the economy seems to be driving the electorate and that usually works pretty well for democrats. Give me your take on the tenor of this election year, because that could hold your fate in its hands?
Findley: Absolutely. Well, what I hear from Iowans is that they want some new blood in the attorney general's office. They want someone who will work hard and be accountable to them, be accessible, and listen to them. That’s the wave that's building out there. As I campaign throughout the state, I find more and more Iowans who come up to me and say this is the first election where I’ve been involved. I’m involved this year to make a difference. I think it bodes very well for republicans.
Glover: Just as a side note there, you have an incumbent republican on the ballot who has been in office since 1958. Has he been around a little too long?
Findley: Well, one thing -- I think you're referring to Senator Chuck Grassley. One thing that Senator Grassley does that I will emulate as attorney general is that he goes to all 99 counties every year, and that's something I’ll do for Iowans as your attorney general.
Glover: Mr. Schultz, same question to you. Tell me a little bit about the tenor of this year. As I said, it's the first mid term of a new democratic president. Historically that's good for republicans. But the economy seems to be driving the debate, and that traditionally helps democrats. What’s the tenor, do you feel, out there?
Schultz: Well, I think things are moving in a positive direction. As I’m out talking to people, I feel a lot of energy. A lot of people -- I’ll be honest with you, we've had a lot of volunteers and people helping our campaign, which I think helped in the margins during the primary. I think with the fact of our current secretary of state and Chet Culver when he was secretary of state ignoring business is going to be a major campaign issue when it comes to the secretary of state's office. I am advocating as being a pro job secretary of state. The secretary of state's office can be used as a bully pulpit to stand up for businesses. We saw two years ago with the democrats trying to institute fair share in the legislature and repealing federal deductibility. I believe that would have been a perfect time for the secretary of state to stand up and say this is bad for Iowa and this is bad for Iowa jobs, and that's the kind of secretary of state I’m going to be.
Glover: So you'd politicize the job.
Schultz: I’m sorry.
Glover: You'd politicize the job.
Schultz: I’m going to stand up for Iowans. If you want to call it politicizing, that's fine, but I am going to stand up and work to make sure that we have more jobs in Iowa. I believe that's something the secretary of state should do, not just file stamp business filings. You have all the business filings in the state, over 175,000 of them every year. You receive 200 phone calls or e-mails every day on business. Why aren't you as secretary of state going out and visiting with businesses, finding out how we can help them, and then bring that back to the legislature just like they do with elections. I’m going to do that when I’m elected secretary of state.
Borg: I’m curious. The last two secretaries of state have come from Polk County. You’re from Pottawattamie my county, Council Bluffs, over on the border. Is there anything that you think you can bring to the office being outside of central Iowa, a border county?
Schultz: I think there's a lot. I bring a different perspective.
Borg: What is it?
Schultz: Well, for business, for example, I have to compete -- as a city councilman in Council Bluffs we have to compete with Omaha when bringing businesses here. I talk to a lot of businesses in Sioux City competing with South Dakota. I have an understanding of what it takes to have to compete with other states, and I want to take that experience to Des Moines. Unfortunately when you're in Polk County, you're kind of insulated with having to compete with Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota.
Henderson: Ms. Findley, one of the republicans who ran for governor had an idea of issuing an executive order as a stay on granting gay marriage licenses in Iowa. Do you have an idea for addressing that issue as Iowa’s attorney general?
Findley: Yes, I do. I support marriage between one man and one woman. But regardless of a person's position on the marriage question, it's clear that our attorney general did not do his job when he did not go to court to defend Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act. As attorney general I would have defended our Defense of Marriage Act in court, I believe the correct thing to do now is to put it to the legislature so that the legislature can pass a constitutional amendment and let the people vote on the question.
Henderson: Mr. Schultz, other than supporting a constitutional amendment which would declare marriage in Iowa between a man and a woman, do you have any other ideas that you would pursue as secretary of state for pursuing an end to gay marriage in Iowa?
Schultz: Well, I’m not running for governor. I’m running for secretary of state, and I don't believe that fits in. But I do believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman, and I would do whatever I could to make sure that the legislature voted. And if the governor were to bring forward some sort of executive order, I would definitely attest that. But I believe that's really the governor's role, and that's -- that's something for him and the legislature to address.
Henderson: So if Terry Branstad is elected governor and changes his mind and adopts this executive order process that Bob Vander Plaats had advanced, you would support him in doing that?
Borg: Ms. Findley, are there in this era of streamlining government, aren't there areas within the attorney general's office that you don't think are needed anymore?
Findley: Yes. One thing I would say is that we need to make sure that we're enforcing our open records and open meetings law. I think it would be possible --
Borg: So you would --
Findley: I’d reassign some current attorneys to either double task and do two different divisions or to focus on the open records and open meetings law.
Borg: But would you abolish any of the current divisions?
Findley: I think what we need to do with the attorney general's office -- we've had one-party control since 1978, and I think it's time air out the attorney general's office. I want to see it operate more like a private law firm and less like government. So I would look for ways to bring efficiency to the attorney general's office.
Borg: Mr. Schultz, efficiency in the secretary of state's office, anything that you would change radically there?
Schultz: There's one thing I would do. I would allow for people to make their business filings immediately online. Right now you can fax -- fax in your articles of incorporation, but I would create a way where you could PDF and send them electronically and pay for them electronically. Right now you can do that with renewals, but you can't do that with your original documents. You can only fax them in, and that's one thing I would do.
Glover: Mr. Schultz, there is some history -- it wouldn't be an official Iowa Press show if we didn't just talk about pure politics a little bit.
Glover: There is some history with occupants of your office using that office as a platform to run for higher office like governor. The last few have done exactly that. I don't want to put it quite this way, but where are you going -- where do you want to be when you grow up?
Schultz: Am I not grown up? Great question.
Glover: You're a young man.
Glover: If you win this office, you'll have a political future in this state. Where do you see that going?
Schultz: Well, right now I’m focusing on secretary of state. I wouldn't do anything except -- until I have accomplished those things that I’ve set out to do. Quite frankly, I think you could say that about any office, whether it's attorney general or state senator or state rep. I am not here to run for governor. I am here to run for secretary of state. I want to make sure elections are fair and honest, and I want to make a business aspect to that office that hasn't been done in the last twelve years.
Glover: Ms. Findley, the same question to you. There is some history of the occupant of the attorney general's office running for higher office. Tom Miller ran for the democratic gubernatorial nomination. Bonnie Campbell won the gubernatorial nomination of her party. Where are you headed? Where do you see yourself down the road? And I won't ask you where you're going to be when you grow up, because clearly you’re grown up.
Findley: Well, my focus is on the attorney general's office and on earning the support of Iowans, to be their hard working lawyer and their legal advocate. I’m focused like a laser beam on that, and I know that once I take office as attorney general, I’ll have quite a bit of work left to do. So that's where my focus is.
Henderson: Mr. Schultz, the tea party movement leaders in Iowa pointed to your victory on primary night as their sort of shining example of a tea party endorsed candidate who was successful. What percentage of your supporters do you consider members of the tea party movement, and what factor will they be in your election in the fall?
Schultz: That's a great question. I don't know what percent were my supporters. I did get the one tea party endorsement from the Dubuque tea party, and I think it's because I am a conservative who believes in limited government. and I don't know whether you want to call that tea party or conservative or what, but I think it's about the issues that I’ve been putting forward and my stances, and that's why the tea party has somewhat -- at least somewhat embraced me. And I hope they'll continue to because those are the kinds of things I stand for.
Henderson: Ms. Findley, you worked for Congressman Steve King in his office in Washington, D.C., for I think seven years; is that correct?
Henderson: Is he a help or a hindrance when you run as a statewide candidate?
Findley: Well, my ties to western Iowa, the 32 counties in the fifth congressional district are an asset, and Congressman King won that district last time in a difficult year, with 60 percent of the vote, winning every county. I certainly appreciate the opportunity I had to serve the fifth district and to work for Congressman King.
Henderson: But one of the things about the ticket, if you look at it, the republican ticket, no one on there lives on the east side of interstate 35. Do you have a problem introducing yourself in eastern Iowa?
Findley: No. I spend a lot of my time in eastern Iowa campaigning, because I do have a lot of support in western Iowa and in the rural areas. But just this week I was in Dubuque, Davenport, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Iowa City, working to get the support of the people there.
Glover: Ms. Findley, let's start this question with you. Iowans -- and we touched on it briefly before when we refer to Senator Grassley -- Iowans have shown a propensity for reelecting their public officials. We have a four-term governor running for a fifth term. We have the United States senator who has been in office since 1958. We have a democratic U.S. senator that has been in the senate since the 1980s. How do you counter the trend among voters in this state to return candidates to office, and has that created a glass ceiling of creating a new generation of politicians?
Findley: Well, what I find as I campaign across the state, listening to Iowans is they're excited about having someone young running for office. And Iowans also have a track record of supporting young people who are running for state office and want to work on behalf of Iowans, and I found that to be an asset to my campaign.
Glover: Mr. Schultz, the same question to you. I referred to you as a young man earlier; you clearly are. And voters in this state have a history of reelecting incumbents. How do you counter that?
Schultz: This is a different year and I’m a different type of candidate. If you look at me --
Glover: What's different about it?
Schultz: Well, I’m married with three young children. You know, I’ve got my oldest turns eight next week, and my youngest is nine months old. And I think people can relate to and I can relate to Iowans and young families growing up in this state and how to feed your family and live on a budget and move forward. And I think people understand that, and I think that this is a different year. I think there's a lot of momentum behind our campaigns. And I feel good about where we stand, and I think we're both prepared to make some history.
Glover: And what's the final thought as voters go in the voting booth? Very quickly, we only have a few seconds.
Schultz: If you want -- if you think that having a photo id is important when you go to vote, then you need to vote for Matt Schultz for Iowa Secretary of State.
Glover: Same thing to you, Ms. Findley, final thoughts.
Findley: I want to vote for Brenna Findley because she'll work hard for me as my legal advocate.
Borg: Involved in class action suits on behalf of Iowa too, is that one of your goals?
Findley: I’m not going to try to make a name for myself in the newspapers by suing big companies. I’ll sue where it's needed, but I won't go out of my way to sue businesses.
Borg: Thanks for spending time with us today.
Schultz: thank you.
Findley: Thank you.
Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press, we're questioning the two democratic incumbents Mr. Schultz and Ms. Findley are hoping to defeat in the November election. Attorney General Tom Miller and Secretary of State Michael Mauro will be explaining why they should be reelected. That’s next weekend's program and it's the final edition for this season. Times are the same, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I’m Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.