Challenging King. Manning, Iowa democrat Matt Campbell campaigning in western Iowa's heavily republican fifth congressional district to replace republican incumbent Steve King. We're discussing issues and strategy with Matt Campbell on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Iowa's fifth U.S. congressional district is rated as one of the most heavily republican of any of Iowa's congressional districts. Although redistricting every ten years changes the congressional district boundaries, it has been more than 25 years since a democrat congressman represented the bulk of that district. 32 counties comprise the fifth district as you see touching the state lines of Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri including Sioux City, Council Bluffs and Carroll. In this congressional campaign, the major party contenders haven't met in a debate or even a side-by-side appearance. Republican incumbent Steve King declined our invitation to this Iowa Press program but his democratic challenger Matt Campbell is here. He is a tax law attorney making a first try for public office. Mr. Campbell, welcome to Iowa Press.
Campbell: Thank you very much, Dean. It's my pleasure to be here.
Borg: And across the table, Iowa Public Radio's Jeneane Beck and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson. And as I said earlier, a big part of Matt Campbell's 2010 campaign takes incumbent Congressman Steve King to task for not making himself available for debates or even side-by-side appearances. Candidate Campbell confronted Representative King about that at one of the congressman's town hall meetings.
King: I promised the gentleman to my right that he would get the next question so I'll turn to you and you may ask it.
Campbell: Well, I will ask you simply, you have never debated an opponent in eight years since you have been in office and I'd like to know whether you, this year, will participate in a live, televised debate for the viewers to be informed as to the decision they're making?
King: And my answer to that is that judging from the fashion that you have conducted yourself you have not earned it. Thank you.
Campbell: How have I not earned it? I'm the democratic nominee. I've run a competitive -- I run a competitive race ...
How has he not earned the right to debate you?
King: I have said this in the past and everybody in this district who is paying attention knows this and that is that there needs to be a campaign that is run that is focused on the issues. If you would look at the gentleman's press releases there's only one issue, the rest of them are attacks on Steve King and I'm not about to use taxpayer dollars to give a forum for that, not in this place, not in this town hall meeting.
Borg: Mr. Campbell, Kay Henderson has the first question.
Henderson: Sir, are you a single-issue candidate who has not earned a chance to debate Steve King?
Campbell: Well, I would love the opportunity to talk about Social Security, taxes, immigration, Wall Street reform, a whole host of issues. I am not a one-issue candidate and that is really the whole purpose of having a public debate is to discuss those issues and I'm happy to talk about some of those issues today.
Henderson: Are you a plausible candidate? There are 51,000 more registered republicans in the fifth district than democrats. Is it even likely that a democrat could win that district whoever it may be?
Campbell: Absolutely. Iowa has a rich tradition of voting for the individual and Mr. King has shown over the years to be more and more polarizing in his rhetoric. I think that he shows himself to be on the extreme far right, even the fringe far right. This is a district that used to be represented by Berkley Bedell in the north and Tom Harkin in the south and it is absolutely possible to be voted in and my campaign absolutely has viability.
Henderson: But as Dean mentioned, it has been 25 years since a democrat like those two people you mentioned represented portions of that district.
Campbell: Mm-hmm. Well, I guess I should have run a few years earlier perhaps. This is an accountability election. Mr. King was elected in 2002. I think he rode the coattails of President Bush for a number of years because the fifth district largely sided with President Bush on votes with respect to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But this is a different year, it's an accountability election and people are looking at productivity and they look at his record -- if they look hard at his record he doesn't have much productivity for the state.
Beck: You mentioned President Bush. There is a lot of move in Congress to allow some of the tax cuts to expire but largely keep most of those in place. But are you out of step with democrats in saying that you think the entire Bush tax cut should be expired?
Campbell: I have stated that I don't want to raise taxes on wage income levels at any level and I differ with the administration is that they would restore the past income tax rates at the highest income levels. I was at an event just yesterday that Vice President Biden was at and he said that actually will cost $700 billion. It made me think, you know, perhaps I should think about that further. But for folks that are at the highest income tax bracket, if you add on state taxation on top of that, that top dollar is taxed, would be taxed at 50%. I think that is too high and that is why I oppose raising taxes at any level. It is important for working families to note that the democratic party wants to retain the tax cuts all across the board, all but the highest tax rate and I do differ on that somewhat.
Beck: You'd retain it, though, for everyone?
Campbell: All across the board. I do make a distinction that the Bush tax cuts were more than just tax reductions on wage income. It did affect the state tax and it affected a host of other corporate tax provisions. Tax legislation is typically quite complex and touches on a number of other issues. And the other tax cuts I would restore -- or excuse me, I would eliminate because of deficit issue concerns.
Beck: President Obama says that the country can't afford even to allow the top two percent to continue having those tax cuts, that is $700 billion. Do you have a way to pay for that if those are ...?
Campbell: My alternative would -- I would be supportive of the let Wall Street pay for the restoration of Main Street Tax Act which is co-sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin. This would apply a very small transaction tax on some of these multi-million dollar transactions on Wall Street, a very miniscule percentage but the dollar amounts are so huge and they happen with such a degree of frequency that that, in my mind, would be a much better way to raise taxes to pay down the federal deficit.
Henderson: I read in the Sioux City Journal that you believed they should change the earned income tax credit and that you would let all of the Bush tax cuts expire including those for the 98% of wage earners who are, as individuals, below $200,000 and as households below $250,000. Did the Sioux City Journal get it wrong?
Campbell: I'm -- I have not made a public statement on the earned income tax credit so I'd like to see what you were looking at there and I categorically have said I don't want to raise income taxes on wage income at any level and I categorically have said that all throughout the campaign. So, I'd be very interested to see what source document you had for that.
Borg: In your answer you referenced the deficit and it is a major deficit in this nation now and people are becoming increasingly concerned about that, rank and file citizens. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been a major drain on the nation's finances and contributed to that deficit. Where do you stand? We're getting out of Iraq right now and that is winding down but Afghanistan doesn't seem to see an end right now. Where do you stand on America's involvement in Afghanistan?
Campbell: I actually differed with my, the majority of the political party that I'm affiliated with on Afghanistan and Iraq and being supportive of both of those missions.
Borg: You are supportive?
Campbell: I have been supportive from the onset. I -- would I have been in office would have voted to authorize both of those actions. I'm happy that our men and women are out of the combat mission in Iraq now. With respect to Afghanistan I have stated publicly that I think we need to look very strongly at bringing our men and women home sooner rather than later. I know there is a bit of a mini surge that is going on right now. I spoke with somebody who has a relative fighting in Afghanistan. I'm told that it is some of the fiercest fighting they have seen in recent months and years and if we are going to be in a plateau situation a couple of years from now as to where we are right now I know the plan is to start bringing troops home this next year but I think it is that time. We have sent 3000 Iowa guardsmen and women or have been deployed for foreign duty and some are in third and fourth tours of duty and I think it is severely straining the country's military readiness and our national resources.
Borg: So, it would be like Vietnam, we're going to pull out even though we haven't won it?
Campbell: Well, I would disagree as to whether -- I would disagree stating that we have not won the war over there. I think that we have been largely successful in neutralizing the Taliban forces over there, there is a government that is now in place. Unfortunately, it seems that there is a bit of corruption and inability for it to stand on its own and it certainly needs to do so. Immigration is something obviously the country is concerned about here. I would like to see more of our men and women down on the border of Mexico rather than being over in Afghanistan. I think what we can do is we can have some of our men and women be pulled back to a more remote basis or countries nearby that are allies in case there is some sort of terrorist activity that we needed to quell.
Henderson: As many of our viewers may know, Congressman Steve King is against the healthcare reform plan that President Bush signed earlier this year -- you have said you are for it. You don't currently have healthcare coverage as I understand it. Is that hypocritical because in 2014 when the law goes into effect you would be subject to a fine?
Campbell: I think it drives home a point that there should be a fine for folks like myself that don't have health insurance. I was pressed in the Des Moines Register interview about that and they said, well, wouldn't the taxpayer have to foot the bill for you if you got sick and you couldn't pay for it? I said, well, that's a good point. Shouldn't I pay a fine, then, all these years if I were not to pay for health insurance? I will let people know that I did have health insurance until I got into the race and frankly being a healthy individual it was not as pressed to get it. But I actually am in the process of getting the health insurance through the new temporary federal pool that has been authorized by the administration and by Congress. This is something that has been underutilized thus far in Iowa and I think my applying for the insurance through that pool will help raise additional attention of its availability.
Henderson: There are components of the healthcare reform bill that you may not be comfortable with. Will you repeal or sort of "nick" some of them if you were elected?
Campbell: I'm concerned about some of the funding mechanisms, particularly the 20% excise tax on Cadillac health insurance plans...
Henderson: And for people who don't understand that, what does that mean?
Campbell: Well, they are very generous health insurance plans that some employees have received, at times individuals would negotiate away compensation benefits and they would take in return a very good health insurance plan and for themselves they would make that rationalization that made sense for them to do so because of the benefits. I think it is somewhat unfair to tax those individuals and I would make a distinction from those that are working class people that have those benefits and white collar executives that make millions of dollars a year with their stock options that might have a similar plan.
Beck: Another issue that has been prominent in this race has been Steve King's support of the Arizona law on undocumented workers. Why is that such an issue? Is immigration a problem in the fifth district? Where do you stand on that law?
Campbell: I think immigration is a problem nationally, not as much of an issue in the fifth district although there certainly are communities in the fifth district where there's agricultural processing facilities where we see more issues with that, Storm Lake, Denison certainly. I am an attorney that is sworn to uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws of the state of Iowa and I think we need to strongly do that.
Borg: Well, you just told me a moment ago you'd like to see troops that are in Afghanistan better deployed down to the border. I took that to be secure the Mexican border.
Campbell: Absolutely, we need to secure the border and I think the current administration has done a good job and we have drone aircraft that patrol the border now, there has been an additional 1800 national guardsmen and women that have been deployed to the border but we do -- it is a national problem that needs to be taken up at Congress and get back to your original point, it is something that needs to be directed by Congress as to what the state involvement is. I think that we are -- it would be ill advised to have a patchwork throughout the 50 states to handle immigration in different manners and part of the problem that we have, the problems that we have now is because back in 2005 President Bush had wanted to sign a comprehensive immigration reform package and it was blocked by people like Steve King that didn't want to get it through. Just yesterday Rupert Murdock, media mogul that owns Fox News and Mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg, testified before the judiciary committee and called for immigration reform yet Mr. King stands in the way of that and doesn't recognize that there's a problem that needs to be addressed.
Henderson: Steve King has been outspoken on immigration, you have called him a polarizing figure, you have called him a modern day McCarthyite. Isn't he articulating the views of people in that district?
Campbell: Of some people on some issues but on the McCarthyite charge that I have given him some people are not aware that he called the President a Marxist in Red Oak, Iowa earlier this year, he was at the last CPAC convention and he stated that progressives and liberals are enemies of the state yet not once in his speech did he mention the Taliban or Al Qaeda, true enemies of the state that we actually are at war with. I find that type of comment highly offensive. Steve King has also opposed a treasury program that goes after tax evasion by super rich individuals that hide their money and he says that is going to squeeze the rich and it's part of a socialist and anti-capitalist administration. And it just shows that his rhetoric has no correlation with reality.
Henderson: But there are other republicans who have accused the President of not only being a Marxist but a socialist and even a Nazi. Isn't he representing the views of some people who live in that district?
Campbell: I think a very small percentage. I firmly believe the majority of the district does not hold that viewpoint. I think the concern that I have as a voter and I think we should have in the district is some of this type of rhetoric feeds into things like this billboard that was in Mason City where they had a picture of a President Obama interposed between a picture of Lenin and Hitler. That is absolutely wrong, I can't believe that we're seeing things like that in Iowa. My vision of Iowa is that we are neighborly, we work together. I don't see my neighbor who is on the other side of the aisle as my enemy. I think we've seen our best successes as communities, as a state and as a nation when we pull together and address these issues in a reasonable and productive manner.
Beck: Speaking of sort of polarizing people or divisive people, Nancy Pelosi has faced some dissention with even in the Democratic Party. If you are elected and the party maintains the majority would you support her as speaker?
Campbell: I will say that my thoughts of the speaker have evolved. I think during the war there were a number of comments -- or earlier in the effort with Iraq there were a number of comments that she made that I was not in sync with. I do admire her ability to get through the healthcare rights legislation through Congress. I would have to assess that after making a true evaluation of her record in more detail. I really have been focused in on Mr. King's record and issues in the fifth district.
Borg: Kay just asked you about the demographics and feelings among some voters in your district. I would also point out that characteristic of the fifth district is heavily agricultural. Would you at all, because of the heavy grain industry there and livestock also concentrations, are there things about the current farm bill that you would change or do you like the way it is as it applies to the fifth district?
Campbell: Well, I think we need to start by looking at subsidies. I would look to eliminate corporate subsidies to non-family farms but I was very concerned to see comments by Mr. King that indicates that he is very open to eliminating subsidies including to family farmers and I think that is the wrong way to go, I think price supports help provide a safety net for our family farms which are really part of the backbone of this country.
Borg: And I also -- what are your feelings on increasing the blend of ethanol in gasoline?
Campbell: We absolutely need to increase the blend level. I think the last proposal was to increase it to E12. I would support increasing it to E15 and the reason that is important is because if we utilize more ethanol in our gasoline we'll consume more and then that will support the prices for production. So, we absolutely need to increase that, I support continuing the blender pump tax credits that are available and we certainly need to renew and extend the tax credits for biodiesel and ethanol production.
Beck: Have you weighed in yet on cap and trade and on the energy bill? I know the last thing I had read had suggested that you were still looking at that, you don't know how you would have voted on the 2009 energy bill. What about farmers and their feelings on capping emissions and trading those? Is it beneficial? Is it negative for Iowa producers? What would you ... if that bill ...?
Campbell: My initial thought is that I'm, you know, skeptical of exactly how a cap and trade system would work, the buying and trading of carbon credits. I think that would be a sophisticated overlay to the marketplace which would be, you know, potentially a big shock to the system that could slow the economy greatly. So, I have great concerns and reservations because of that. That said, if you look at it some there is a potential that a state like Iowa that is rich in renewable energy sources like biomass, solar and wind could actually have a net plus with job creation if a system like that would come into play. So, I think there we would be weighing benefits potentially for the state as compared to what that would do for the nation as a whole. Right now I think I see some clear benefits for the state but as for a nation as a whole I'm not so sure about that and it would require quite a bit of research I think on my part to answer that more definitively.
Henderson: Another demographic from the fifth district, a lot of seasoned citizens live there. Let's talk about Social Security. What would you do to change the system?
Campbell: Well, what I would do is I would raise the cap of wages that are subject to Social Security and I would make wages above $250,000 subject to Social Security taxation ...
Henderson: All of them?
Campbell: All of them, yes, all the way up to the millionaires and have them provide for solvency for the Social Security Trust Fund. The other side, King and his crowd would like to raise the full retirement age to age 70 or reduce benefits and I think that is wrong. It used to be full retirement age was age 65, it is currently 66, it is scheduled to be raised to age 67 and most people in Iowa know people here work, a lot of times people work hard jobs, sometimes they work two jobs and I think to ask our seniors to be forced to wait until age 70 violates a promise America has made to them and a lot of seniors we know wouldn't be able to very easily work between ages 67 and 70.
Beck: Although the demographics are changing in the sense of how we age, younger people are living healthier, longer, does it just eventually become financially unfeasible to support a system, especially with the baby boomers retiring, if you don't raise the retirement age?
Campbell: Well, if you eliminate the cap and you tax wages above $250,000 there are studies out there that will say -- that demonstrate this will take care of solvency for the Social Security Trust Fund. I would like to do that. I think the numbers that I mentioned before in stark contrast to countries like France where they saw riots when they wanted to raise the retirement age to age 62 from 60 and we're talking about whether we want to raise it from the scheduled raise from 67 to 70.
Beck: One of the things that Representative King has said is that if republicans take control of the house he wants a promise from their speaker that they would try on every bill ...
Campbell: The blood oath.
Beck: Yeah, the blood oath, that they would try on every piece of legislation to repeal the healthcare reform act and that if need be shut down government over that. Is there an issue that you feel passionately enough about that the government should be shut down or is that the wrong move?
Campbell: I think it shows, in part, how radical Mr. King is. He wants to shut down government at a time where the economy's recovery is still delicate. That would just be the wrong thing to do. There's a lot of great things, as I said, in the healthcare legislation, his talk of blood oaths and shutting down the government is the wrong direction.
Henderson: There are several things that the democratically led Congress has done in the past couple of years and something that happened at the end of the Bush era. Let's just tick tock through them just briefly. Would you have voted for the bailout, which people sometimes refer to as TARP?
Henderson: Would you have voted for the financial regulation bill that cleared Congress this year?
Campbell: Yes, I would have.
Henderson: Would you have voted for the investment in American automakers that the government has undertaken?
Campbell: Yes, I would have.
Henderson: Why? Why would you have ...?
Campbell: Can I have a few minutes to talk about each one?
Campbell: The TARP bailout, $700 billion bailout was something that was originated and signed into law under President Bush. I think it's an important fact for people to note because I think Mr. King sometimes forgets that fact and tries to paint it that it's the current administration that did that. The $700 bank bailout was needed at a time of great economic stress in the country. I think to fairly assess whether those were good pieces of legislation you have to go back and look and see where the stock market was at that time. The height of Bush's presidency the stock market was in excess of 14,000. At November 3, 2008 when President Obama was elected it had dropped already to 9,319. January 20th by the time he took office it had dropped all the way to 7,949 and absent the TARP bailout coming into effect the country really could have, and the world, really could have gone into a second great global depression and even war because there was just an absolute collapse of confidence in prices. I do think it is important to note that the TARP bailout is largely paid for. It was a $700 billion package and all but a little less than $70 billion is paid for so we've got $630 billion of that paid back. I think that is a fact the public needs to be better aware of and the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invests in a lot of good things that are beneficial for the future and had that not -- if I can just finish real briefly -- had that not been implemented the stock market could have continued to decline. And in my viewpoint the other side would have lit the match that could have burned the house of the country and they would have let it burn because they didn't want to do anything to save it.
Borg: That begs another question -- do we need more stimulus?
Campbell: I do not think that there is any further stimulus that is necessary. It is important to note that investment in the future is always required. There is a recent stimulus package that helps entrepreneurs but it's a $42 billion package. The way that is scored there is $30 billion that is put into a loan reserve pool so that capital is there and they will loan money off of that and there is a $12 billion for tax credits for entrepreneurs and that is scored over a ten year period.
Borg: We have about a half a minute left. What is your political future if you are unsuccessful this time? Are you going to run again?
Campbell: Well, I strongly think I'm going to be elected here in November because people are tired of the polarizing tone and the non-productivity that they have in the current representative. If I'm not successful I certainly would win, excuse me, would run again in the future. But I think it's red hot on the ground right now.
Borg: Thanks for spending time with us today, Matt Campbell. On our next edition of Iowa Press we're staying with our congressional election profile moving across the state to the first district bordering the Mississippi River. Democratic incumbent Bruce Braley of Waterloo is being challenged by Independence republican Ben Lange. Braley and Lange next weekend 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. And a couple of program reminders too -- on Thursday of this coming week Governor Chet Culver and his republican challenger former Governor Terry Branstad will be debating in a Cedar Rapids forum sponsored by the Gazette and KCRG-TV. Iowa Public Television is carrying the Culver/Branstad debate on a delayed basis at 8:00 Thursday night. And then the following day, that is Friday, October 8th, the two gubernatorial candidates will be addressing issues on aging in conversations organized by the AARP, that is the American Association of Retired People and Iowa Public Television and you'll see the candidates Branstad and Culver addressing issues on aging and that will be at 8:30 next Friday night. As Election Day nears, Iowa Public Television is keeping you informed on the candidates and the issues. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.