Midterm jitters. Incumbents, both republicans and democrats feeling voter frustration. We're continuing our candidate discussions with two major party candidates in Iowa's fourth U.S. congressional district, incumbent republican Tom Latham and democratic challenger Bill Maske on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: November's general election now just a little more than six weeks away is the much anticipated midterm test, midterm referring to the President being two years into his first term and the election being a barometer of how voters are rating the President and his party. In this election cycle voter's moods seem to be, though, poised for somewhat harsh evaluations of incumbents in both parties. Iowans are electing a U.S. Senator and all five congressional representatives too. In Iowa's fourth congressional district, stretching across 28 counties from the Minnesota border in north central Iowa, as you see there extending extreme northeastern Iowa down south through central and south central Iowa. The fourth district incumbent there is Ames republican Tom Latham, that is a position he's held for the past sixteen years. Truro democrat Bill Maske wants to make this Latham's last term. He is a lifelong educator, now retired superintendent of the I-35 community school district. Gentlemen, welcome to Iowa Press.
Both: Thank you, Dean.
Borg: And I think you know the two people across the table because they have been covering your campaign, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Mr. Maske, let's start with you if we could. Politics is in some cases about perception. The perception is you're running against an eight term incumbent who is a lot better known than you are, who has a lot more money than you and a better organization than you. Make a case for realistically ousting Tom Latham.
Maske: Well, thank you, Mike and thank you, Kay and Dean, it's a pleasure to be here. My whole purpose for running is based on my devotion to public service and I want to bring honor to the people of the fourth congressional district and to Iowa. My opponent has failed to serve the best interests of hard working men and women and their families in the fourth district.
Glover: What has he done wrong?
Maske: Well, he votes no on job creating legislation and the extension of unemployment benefits to hard working people, to people in need based on his concern for the deficit but he benefits himself from receiving nearly a half million dollars in federal farm subsidies over a seven year period.
Borg: I want to go back to what you said, bring honor to the fourth district. That seems to be quite a slap at the incumbent.
Maske: Well, let me continue, Dean. He voted no on healthcare reform which would extend healthcare benefits to millions of Americans while he himself benefits from a taxpayer paid program. He votes no on Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which is equal pay for equal work based on gender. He voted no on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Then he comes back to Iowa to the fourth district and takes credit for all of the things that happen as a result of that act.
Glover: Mr. Maske, we'll get into more of that later. Congressman Latham, it's your turn now. You are an eight term congressman running for a ninth term. Polls are telling us that voters aren't very happy with incumbent members of congress of either party. How do you deal with that? And how do you respond to some of these charges that have been lodged against you?
Latham: Well, first of all, thank you very much for having this today. But I would just tell you that after doing, you know, just recently 28 town hall meetings, listening to constituents and hearing their outrage of what is going on in Washington, D.C., the spending that is going on, the 13.4 trillion dollars in debt, the fear of taxes being raised, the government takeover of our free enterprise system, they are worried, they are scared today and they understand that to continue those policies that have been in place now with the democratic controlled congress for the last four years is simply not going to work. We have tried all these things and they are not working. We've got to change course and that is why I believe after listening to my constituents that we're going to change the course of this country.
Glover: But aren't you a part of that problem? You're a part of congress.
Latham: I have opposed exactly what the problem is today as far as the huge expansion of the federal government, as far as the spending that is going on.
Glover: So, all the charges he lodges against you, you say ...
Latham: I'm very proud.
Glover: And darn glad of it.
Latham: Absolutely. And I tell you what, if anyone goes out and listens to the constituents in the fourth congressional district they agree with me.
Henderson: Gentlemen, the national egg recall is centered on two operations which are in the fourth congressional district. I want to ask you, first, what the federal response should be to that. Congressman Latham?
Latham: Well, they should enforce the law. There should have been inspectors there, they should have been doing their job and unfortunately they haven't been. As far as regulations are already in place that would have caught this if in fact the USDA had told FDA about what was going on. FDA has dropped the ball but the regulations are there, it's a matter of enforcement, of holding people accountable and that simply -- obviously we're the number one egg producing state in the country, almost double Ohio and it's something that is very destructive and as far as our whole ag economy to have those kind of problems in place.
Henderson: Congressman Maske, what should the federal response be? Do you agree that regulations are in place to deal with this problem?
Maske: Well, my opponent has said a number of things. First off, he's right, there's a lot of outrage out there amongst the constituents. I have been out and amongst the fourth congressional district for ten months now continuously talking with people and they are upset and not at the fact that deregulation occurred under the republican led congress and under the Bush administration, they are upset at all of the tax breaks that have been extended to the wealthy and to corporate America that allows them to take jobs out of this country and allows them the sweetheart deals, so to speak, for the oil companies. They are upset that things aren't being done to protect consumers and protect the American people and so that plays right into the egg situation because it was a matter of not having enough regulations, enough oversight and not having the government employees in place, that was needed to ensure that those regulations were enforced.
Henderson: In the gubernatorial race in Iowa republican Terry Branstad has blasted democrat Chet Culver because of contributions to democrats from the DeCoster family. The DeCoster family is in that district operating. Have either of you accepted contributions from the DeCoster family?
Maske: No, unlike my opponent I'm relatively new to the electoral politics. I am affiliated with the Democratic Party by my contributions come from individuals.
Glover: Congressman Latham, let's start with you. There's a tax cut bill before congress extending the Bush tax cuts. President Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for middle income and low income voters but not for high income voters. Where are you on that?
Latham: Well, there's no bill yet, Mike. But I don't think in the middle of a recession, very difficult times that we're going through that we should raise taxes on anyone at this point especially the people who create the jobs and many of those people are small businesses who take their income as personal, they get into this bracket and this may be one year out of three or four and that is my background, I came from a family small business. I have actually had to go out and create jobs and work to grow a business and this is exactly the wrong policy to have especially when we're trying to create jobs to get the economy going is to raise taxes on people who would do exactly what we want them to.
Glover: Right but if your choice is to vote for a middle class tax cut or no tax cut at all what would you do?
Latham: I just think it's wrong to raise taxes on anyone in the middle of a recession.
Glover: So, you'd vote against the whole thing?
Latham: There's no bill out there, Mike, so we don't know what's going to happen. But I just think it's the wrong policy.
Maske: There will be a bill.
Glover: Mr. Maske, what is your position?
Maske: There will be a bill. There will be a movement to do something about those Bush tax cuts and what needs to happen is the tax cuts need to stay in place for lower and middle class folks, the upper two percent, wealthiest two percent those tax cuts need to end. It will bring more money into the government, it will help us drive down the debt. Trickle down economics does not work.
Glover: Explain to me the democratic strategy on this whole thing. Democrats seem to be shy about saying I want to cut taxes for middle class voters and they don't. Why aren't you campaigning on that?
Maske: Well, the whole thing is, Mike, if you look at all of the tax cuts that are in place right now for wealthy Americans versus all of the taxes and tax cuts that are in place for lower and middle income Americans, lower and middle incomes are paying a larger share of their income and their funds into taxes than wealthy folks are.
Borg: Congressman Latham, can you defend keeping in tact breaks for very wealthy people?
Latham: Mike, excuse me, Dean, the problem is these are not these very wealthy people, these are small business people out there ...
Glover: Congressman, these are people that make a quarter of a million dollars a year, they're not wealthy?
Latham: Have you ever run a small business? I will tell you that you leave everything in the business, you hire more people, you invest in new equipment. You take out what you need to live on and the rest of it is at risk. And after doing the town hall meetings and talking to business people everywhere they are scared to death today because they see their marginal tax rates going up, they see their capital gains tax rates going up, they see the new onerous regulations that are coming down on their businesses, the new costs of the healthcare bill that is going to be very difficult for any small business to comply with and to meet those costs. That's why people are frozen in place today is simply because you can not afford to -- if you're successful you're not going to stick your neck out in this economy.
Maske: I don't hear the same thing, I don't hear the same thing and in fact I have a lot of folks that I know that have attended the town hall meetings that Tom Latham has held.
Borg: And what do they tell you?
Maske: Well, they're telling me that there's no -- he talks about listening but there's no listening going on.
Borg: Do they say tax the rich?
Maske: They say that those tax cuts need to end. People out there, the hard working men and women of the fourth district say, oppose tax cuts ...
Glover: ... making a quarter of a million dollars a year, are they rich?
Maske: No, they don't. Oh, the people that make a quarter of a million? You're darn right they are.
Borg: I want to ask about another, in this case, a tax subsidy if you will. How excited are you about extending tax breaks for ethanol and other biofuels?
Maske: Okay, we need to continue to invest in renewable energy. Ethanol and the biofuels are a part of that whole process. It is not an end result, it is a beginning and I spent a lot of time meeting with Dr. Robert Brown at the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State and during our conversation he made it really clear ethanol and some of those biofuels, the way they are being done now is a beginning, there will be a transition, we are going to find more efficient and more affordable ways to do that.
Borg: Yes, but the question is, should they get a tax break? Should we be subsidizing ethanol and other biofuels?
Maske: At the moment, yes.
Borg: Tom Latham.
Latham: Well, certainly and it is one of the outrages today is the fact that the people in control in congress last year for January 1st did not extend the biofuels, the biomass tax credit so we have plants sitting in Iowa closed today, thousands of jobs that are left vacant because they can not get that tax credit that they need to keep those plants going and that is just about leadership -- well and I've been after the leadership forever and Miss Pelosi won't listen but we've got to make sure that that is reinstated, that we have the incentive for ethanol, a big part of that also, Dean, is to have the ten to fifteen percent as far as the blend is concerned and that will create a larger market. We're going to have some implementation problems as far as that goes ...
Borg: But that gets to the point, I mean, if Congressman Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi won't listen then how effective are you as a congressman?
Latham: Well, I think that's why there is a big change needed in Washington today to have people that actually do listen. In the cap and trade bill last year I stood on the floor and looked over at my democrat friends and I said, don't you people ever go home? Don't you ever listen to your constituents? Because they are crying out don't raise our taxes, don't put new regulations, don't increase the cost of energy, all of those things and they just jam it through without listening. Healthcare is a great example.
Borg: Mr. Maske.
Maske: Well, I think you're absolutely right and I think Tom Latham is right, there needs to be a big change in Washington and he's one of them that needs to be changed. We have had the party of no working against the democratic agenda and ...
Borg: But what does that have to do with biofuels?
Maske: Well, he has voted several times against legislation that moves renewable energy forward and if you're going to work and be in congress you need to be working in a bipartisan manner with people for the best interest of the people and the fact of the matter is it has become way to partisan.
Borg: Tom Latham, I'll give you a chance.
Latham: Well, I just say all the people involved in the industry, the corn growers, soybean people, all the people involved in agriculture support my re-election and they know what the record is and the problem is that there is no push to actually get anything done in Washington and it's interesting, after the democrats have controlled both houses of congress for the last four years and to now talk about that it's like my agenda or whatever that is being pushed forward on the American people that has killed this economy, that has people scared to death out there, you're entitled to your opinion but you're not entitled to your facts.
Henderson: Mr. Maske, your Web site says you support universal healthcare. Does that mean you would have voted no on the Obama healthcare plan?
Maske: Well, Kay, I'm a pragmatist so I would have voted eventually yes for that healthcare bill because also I'm a history instructor and I understand social change takes time and sometimes it begins here and then it evolves over time to where it needs to be and so ...
Henderson: And so you think it needs to be universal healthcare?
Maske: I believe we will evolve into and need a public option and that public option will eventually evolve into a universal single payer plan. I believe that will happen.
Henderson: Mr. Latham, if republicans regain control of congress will you vote to repeal the entire healthcare plan?
Latham: Absolutely. But I think we need to repeal it but if we can't do that and with the President in the White House for the next two years that is simply probably not going to happen because he'll veto any kind of repeal. What we need to do is repair and fix what is in there. There's things that everybody will agree on as far as pre-existing conditions, as far as people with catastrophic losses, as far as making it more accessible but the problem in healthcare is cost and what the bill does that was passed, is now law, actually in the congressional budget office the President's own experts say that it increases the cost and I think for the people today who are in Medicare this cuts $529 billion out of Medicare that people have paid into, not to shore up Medicare but to fund a separate new entitlement ...
Glover: You're talking a lot about President Obama's agenda. Would you welcome President Obama to the fourth district to campaign for you? Would that be helpful?
Maske: Absolutely. I believe that President Obama has had a strong agenda, I believe it has been the right agenda. He inherited a mess when he walked into that White House on day one, eight years of George Bush, all of those years of a republican controlled congress, he had a mess to deal with and he has been doing it admirably and I believe that by the time we get to the 2012 election the sentiment and public opinion on the job President Obama is doing ...
Glover: Congressman Latham, he has jumped ahead to 2012, we're worried about 2010. What would the effect of an Obama visit to the fourth district be?
Latham: Well, he's not going to come and help me certainly but ...
Glover: Well, would it be helpful to you? Can you run against him?
Latham: Well, I don't know. He could probably raise money, things like that but just, again, people are entitled to their opinions but the facts are that the democrats have had control of both the senate and the house for the last four years, they have controlled the senate for the last six years. So, just factually it's incorrect what he's saying.
Henderson: Gentlemen ...
Maske: I'm sorry, but Kay, quickly, when a mess is made you don't clean it up in a day and that is what has been happening and you don't clean it up in a day when you're constantly fighting the opposition that is doing nothing but obstructing what you want to do.
Borg: Kay has a question.
Maske: Yes, I'm sorry, Kay.
Henderson: Who is elected from this district will help in re-writing the next farm bill. Do you believe that subsidies should go away, direct payments to farmers and instead be replaced by some sort of safety net, some insurance for losses? Congressman?
Latham: Well, I think it's very interesting that the Iowa Farm Bureau has come out with that position which I think is long overdue because we get a great amount of criticism because of the payments that go direct like they are and actually they were set up to reward people to set up conservation plans so there was a reason for it initially. But yeah, we've got to have policies I think in the next farm bill and I talk to Colin Peterson, the democratic chairman from Minnesota, every day about these issues and we worked together on the last farm bill but to have a way of either revenue assurance to make sure that we have policies that actually work so that when people do have a bad crop, if they have low prices they get some help but not just to shovel out money.
Henderson: Mr. Maske, do you support continuing farm subsidies? Your Web site says you want to get rid of corporate support.
Maske: Well, I think number one, Kay, farm subsidies, the whole thing needs to be rewritten. It was meant to be a safety net and provide farmers with a basis from which to have a good price on their crops so it would promote them to continue to grow crops and it is not meant to be a bonus program and in today's environment we need to rewrite that.
Glover: Mr. Maske, you bill yourself as something of a student of history. History would tell us that this is the first midterm election of a newly elected democratic president. History tell us that is a very good year for republicans. How do you swim against that tide?
Maske: Well, I swim against it, Mike, by continuing to work hard and share my message. I think it's very important that we get -- that I get the truth out about the service of Tom Latham and I started to at the very beginning of the program. The truth is that he has voted no on a whole bunch of legislation that is good and important for hard working men and women, their families, good for small business, good for family farms and people don't know that.
Glover: Congressman Latham, same question to you, first midterm election of a newly elected democratic president would strike me as a republican leaning year. All the buzz out there is this is a pretty good republican year. Can you just flow with the tide this year?
Latham: Well, no, I never do and that's why I've done well over 525 town hall meetings in my career, I've done all the town hall meetings every county this year, I'm out there all the time listening to constituents. No, you can't because the constituents deserve to have you there to listen to them and the idea that somehow that it's bad to say no when you're spending a trillion dollars on a failed stimulus package, when you have a cap and trade bill that is going to kill agriculture, going to kill our economy here in Iowa, when you have a healthcare bill that is going to destroy I think Medicare and small businesses ...
Glover: This is not a debate, this is a joint appearance but will we see the two of you on the same stage any time in the last couple of months ...
Latham: We have and I initiated the proposal to have three joint appearances, debates and we were going to have one this afternoon and he declined.
Maske: I didn't decline, what happened was there was a conflict. I reported that conflict almost as soon as the offer arrived which was five, six weeks ago and the Latham campaign has not been willing to reschedule that. It's a matter of simply finding a different date. I'd be willing to do it.
Henderson: Let's let you negotiate that off camera. Let's return to issues. You have said it was wrong for the President to have a troop surge in Afghanistan. Why?
Maske: We need to withdraw from Afghanistan. Kay, chasing terrorists in Afghanistan is a lot like, what one might say, pushing Jell-O. We enter into Afghanistan and they go into Yemen, they go into Somalia, they go into Pakistan. What are we going to do? Are we going to chase them into all these other countries? Are we going to ...
Borg: President Obama doesn't even agree with that. President Obama doesn't say withdraw from Afghanistan.
Maske: No, no he doesn't. I don't agree then with the President on that particular issue. We need to withdraw and bring our young men and women home.
Henderson: Mr. Latham.
Latham: Well, I tell you, one of the days that sent chills up my spine was when we saw the troops coming out of Iraq because President Obama had followed up with the plan that George W. Bush had in place to have victory in Iraq. And I talked to families who have lost loved ones and who have sacrificed so much and to see them to say we won, we're victorious and to have the President continue the policies that were in place I think is the right thing.
Glover: Mr. Maske, we've got a minute left. Take half of it and tell me what you want voters to think of when they walk into the voting booth November 2nd.
Maske: Okay, well, listen, Mike, I have been working tirelessly for the past ten months to get out there and earn the trust and the confidence of the voters of the fourth congressional district. I want them to take time to look closely at Tom Latham's record. He has been living on the easy side of the street.
Glover: Mr. Latham, it's now your half, make the case. What do you want voters thinking when they walk into the voting booth?
Latham: Well, that they'll have a representative who actually listens to them, who actually is out there all the time trying to help them and the most satisfaction you can get in this job is to help constituents when they have problems with the government or any other way you could help. But I think that's what people want today is someone who is open, who will listen, who will act on their behalf rather than to support the Washington ideas.
Borg: And with that we have to close. Thanks so much for being with us today.
Latham: Thank you.
Maske: Thank you, Dean. Thanks Mike, Kay.
Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press we're continuing conversations with congressional candidates moving to eastern Iowa's second district where Mount Vernon democrat Dave Loebsack is seeking a third term and actually that's a rematch of the last election Ottumwa republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks making another run at Loebsack's seat in the House of Representatives. Usual Iowa Press times, 7:30 Friday night, 11:30 Sunday morning.
Borg: Now, as we close I'd like to take a moment to honor the life and enormous professional contributions of broadcast journalist Jack Shelley who is truly a broadcast pioneer setting high standards for himself and those of us who were privileged to work with him.
Working in the early days of radio news, Jack Shelley quickly became a respected and trusted name across Iowa serving as a World War II soldier reporter for WHO-Des Moines.
"Go ahead Guam, go ahead. Go ahead, Guam. This is Jack Shelley in Tokyo Bay, Japan. At 8:42 we got word that General MacArthur is coming aboard from a destroyer on the other side. At 8:52am the Japanese delegation of eleven men arrived alongside."
Reporting from both the European and Pacific war theatres, Shelley was providing an Iowa connection describing the Japanese surrender. Jack Shelley's distinguished career included leaving the WHO-Radio news staff and later merging into television news and then eventually teaching and grooming new broadcast journalists at Iowa State University. Those of us at Iowa Public Television are especially grateful for the time, talent and invaluable insight he provided as a founding member of our editorial integrity committee. His advice, insight and advocacy for Iowa Public Television's journalistic independence and reporting integrity are a gift to all Iowans. The warmth of Jack's distinctive voice carried his engaging personality to thousands of listeners who never met him in person. And that's why it was such a privilege to have worked with and learned from him.
Borg: I'm Dean Borg, thanks for joining us today.