Return to Terrace Hill. Terry Branstad moving back into Iowa's Governor's mansion leading a republican resurgence in state government. A conversation about plans and priorities with Governor-elect Terry Branstad on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: All three branches of Iowa government, executive, legislative and judicial are adjusting to new realities. Those realities might be best summarized as voters in last Tuesday's election making conservative decisions, removing three justices from Iowa's Supreme Court, restoring a republican majority in the Iowa House of Representatives and rejecting democrat Chet Culver's bid for a second term by returning former republican Governor Terry Branstad to the governor's office. Governor Branstad knows the territory there. Governing sixteen years from 1982 to 1998, he is already Iowa's longest-serving governor and he can still claim a political career in the legislature as lieutenant governor and the governor having never lost an election. Congratulations, Governor Branstad.
Branstad: Dean, thank you very much. I'm very humbled, very honored to have been selected by the people of Iowa to serve as governor again and defeating an incumbent governor in Iowa is no easy task. The last time that happened was 1962. So, I am very appreciative of the opportunity. I'm going to -- I'm anxious to get started and we're going to be focusing on what we talked about in the campaign -- jobs and really honest, open, transparent government in the state of Iowa.
Borg: Well, what you're saying is now the heavy lifting begins.
Branstad: Exactly. The hard work begins now.
Borg: We're going to ask you about that. The people helping me as the questions across the table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Governor, we are entering a transition period of a couple of months before you are actually sworn into office. A couple of questions pop up. What do you want state agency heads to do in that interim? Do you want the resignation letters of state agency heads on your desk that you'll decide which ones you'll accept and which ones you'll not accept?
Branstad: Yes. I think that is the tradition is that when you have a new governor elected the agencies are asked, the directors of the departments and agencies are asked to resign and then we will go through and decide if there are some that we want to stay on and ones that we want to replace. But we want to do that in a very thoughtful process. I have announced the director of our transition team, David Roederer, who is very experienced and a former chief of staff for me. He has worked representing many of the chambers of commerce around the state of Iowa. And Jeff Boeyink is going to be involved in that as well. We want to hit the ground running. We've got a lot of decisions to make. We intend to conduct extensive detailed budget hearings also between now and when I take office.
Glover: So, presumably you'll call those agency heads in and interview them.
Branstad: Yes, we will. We, you know, we haven't gotten around to doing this yet but obviously we've just had a day or two here to get started. But we will be asking each of them to resign and then we will be evaluating and deciding where to go from here.
Glover: Another issue that you will face during this interim period is voters created three openings on the Iowa Supreme Court. You have said it would be inappropriate for the outgoing governor to fill those openings. How do you enforce that? Are you going to send a letter to the governor saying, hey, voters have spoken?
Branstad: Well, as I understand the process there is not a certification of the election results until later this month and then the judicial nominating commission has like two months and that would be the end of January before they would normally come out with their recommendations. By that time I would already be inaugurated.
Glover: But they could act faster than that.
Branstad: Yes and I think that would be a mistake to rush the judgment. Already there is a legitimacy question about the court and since you had three -- you had three of them on the ballot were rejected, the judicial nominating commission is not balanced. You have twelve democrats and only one republican on it. So, I think to really restore credibility to the court system it is important they not try to rush the judgment to get a nominee to a lame duck governor. It should be, I think, done in the normal deliberative process.
Glover: What can you do to make that happen? You're not governor until January 14th but can you send a letter to the current governor and say, hold off?
Branstad: It's really not up to the governor, I think it's up to the judicial system. And it is the legitimacy and the future legitimacy of the courts that is at stake. So, I think the judicial system understands that they need to approach this in a very thoughtful, deliberative way and not have a rush to judgment.
Borg: But you won't change anything about that process. You can't do that, can you, about the process of who the nominees and how they are selected? You've mentioned a republican-democratic balance. That can't be changed.
Branstad: Well, it could be changed I think by legislation but it can't be done before I take office so I think we have to work with the present system as it is today. But looking to the future and trying to -- I know there are many people concerned about it becoming a very political situation and I think the best way to avoid that is to have a more balanced system so you don't have one party dominating and controlling the process of who would be considered for appointment in the future.
Glover: Would that be a priority to change that?
Branstad: Well, my priority is economic development and jobs. That is where my focus is going to be. Iowa has the highest unemployment we've had in a long time. I spelled out some very specific goals reducing taxes and regulation, make it easier for businesses to start up here and for entrepreneurs. I also want to put the Right to Work Law back in the marketing material. And we want to revitalize our economic development efforts putting together a public-private partnership, having new professional development leadership in that and I intend to be very hands on involved as will the next Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. We intend to work very closely ...
Borg: Kay has been trying to get a question in here. Okay, Kay.
Henderson: Your former foe, Bob Vander Plaats in the republican primary has said because of the outcome of the judicial retention election leaders like yourself should reconsider his call for an executive order putting a stay on the opinion that paved the way for gay marriage. Are you going to reconsider?
Branstad: We've looked at that and no state has done that. 31 states have put one man, one woman marriage in the constitution by a vote of the people. I believe Iowans should have that opportunity and I think many Iowans are frustrated they haven't had an opportunity to vote on that. But the executive order issue -- remember Governor Vilsack tried to do something by executive order and I remember Steve King was a state senator and challenged it and it was struck down as not valid. So, as far as I can see it's not valid -- the governor doesn't have the authority to overturn a Supreme Court decision with an executive order.
Borg: The process is well along to replacing or choosing the new head of the Department of Education. You've already said you expect the agency heads to resign and then you would make the decision on whether or not they'd be rehired.
Branstad: Right now you have an interim director in the Department of Education.
Borg: But do you expect that you're going to get to appoint the new DE director?
Branstad: Yes, yes absolutely.
Glover: You're going to be sworn in at noon on January 14th. You're going to give an inaugural address, I assume will be 20 minutes long, half hour long.
Branstad: You're assuming a lot, Mike. I mean, Governor Ray's first inaugural address was over an hour but I don't intend to try to break that record.
Glover: Thank you. What are you going to do at 12:45 on January 14th? What is the first step you want to take in office? If you can sign an order saying I want this to happen what is the first thing you want to do? Because that will send an important signal to people.
Branstad: Well, there's a lot of things that we intend to do. I've said the focus is going to be on economic development and jobs. We certainly are going to make that a priority. Hopefully we'll have selected a new director for Economic Development even before that time. And I intend to move forward very briskly on that. Even before I take office I'll be making calls, I'll be making calls on businesses -- I've already talked to at least one Iowa business that is thinking about expanding. So, I wouldn't be surprised if I'll already be hands on involved in working to bring business and jobs here even before I take office because that is critically important and that is where I'm going to focus a lot of my time and attention.
Glover: One of the first things you're going to have to do is you're going to have to deliver a proposed budget to the new legislature which will be in session when you take office. Are you going to deliver a budget message to the joint session of the legislature?
Branstad: Well, first of all, it's going to be a big task because we intend to change the process to have more long-range planning. I intend to put together a five-year strategic budget plan for the state and I want to work with the state auditor, with the new director of the Department of Management and with the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency -- I'd like to see us all go down the same road together so that we don't have what we've had over the last several years, kind of a back and forth between the Department of Management and the Legislative Service Agency with regard to a budget and spending. I want to -- remember back in '92 when we reformed the budgeting process in terms of Revenue Estimating Council ...
Glover: Unfortunately, I do.
Branstad: Well, you and I go back far enough we do remember that. And prior to that you used to have -- the controller had one revenue estimate, the legislative branch had another. Well, we unified that so that at least you have one estimate. I would like to see us do the same thing in budget. I'd like to see the Department of Management, the Legislative Service Agency and also the involvement of the auditor because the auditor needs to make sure that what we're doing meets generally accepted accounting principles ...
Glover: And he happens to be a republican.
Branstad: Well, and he's a good guy and he's a CPA and he has really been the voice of fiscal responsibility. So, I want to work closely with him on that and I want to make sure -- it looks to me like it's going to take us some time. When I was governor before I got to the point where I was submitting the budget on the second day of the session. Well, I won't even be governor the second day of the session. The law says it has to be done before the end of January. So, I would intend to submit a proposed bi-annual budget, two-year budget to the legislature before the end of January.
Henderson: On the campaign trail you were critical of what were called project labor agreements that are in force for state funded construction projects.
Branstad: That was done by executive order.
Henderson: Right. Do you believe you have the authority to undo those? If you do, do you think that will in any way impact construction of the prison at Fort Madison?
Branstad: Well, first of all, I think it's tragedy the way that was done and it ended up giving the contract to an Illinois company and a lot of jobs to Illinois labor instead of Iowa. So, I was very critical of that, I thought that was wrong. It was done by executive order. Obviously if you can do it by executive order you can undo it by executive order. I have indicated I will do that. And that will be one of many executive orders that I am going to review that have been done by previous governors and determine whether or not they should be changed or not.
Henderson: So, if you undo the PLA, the Project Labor Agreement on the Fort Madison Prison, does that stymie construction?
Branstad: No. I think what -- as I understand it and I'm a lawyer by training although I haven't practiced law for a number of years -- once you have a contract, once the contract is signed that is the contract and even though we change it after the fact it doesn't affect that particular contract. I think it was a mistake, I think it should have been done differently, I think Iowa non-union contractors should have had an opportunity to bid on that, I think we could have saved money by doing it that way but if the contract has already been signed and construction has begun that is a valid contract that I don't think that I can change. But for the future, for competitiveness, to save Iowa taxpayers money, to be fair to Iowa contractors I think we need to change that.
Glover: There's another contract you need to worry about and that is the contract with this largest union representing state works, that is up next summer, negotiations are going to probably begin before much longer. You have talked about reducing state spending by 15% over the next five years. You can't do that without getting into the pay and benefits of state workers. Are you going to make that part of your contract negotiations with that union?
Branstad: I want to have a very open process. I want to work and negotiate with them in good faith. But I also want it to be open to the public and I want the taxpayers who have to pay the bills to also know. I don't want any secret deals. I want to do everything above board and open. And I have said there are things like the fact that we're one of the few states where state employees contribute nothing towards their health insurance and I think that is wrong, I think that needs to change. Most people are paying a lot towards their health insurance. I've been unemployed for the last year on COBRA and it's over $1000 a month that I pay for health insurance for my wife and I. So, I know what people go through in paying health insurance and I don't think if I then become governor that I pay nothing, I don't think that's right.
Glover: So, you're going to ask for concessions?
Branstad: I'm going to ask for reasonableness. I'm going to ask that we try to do something that is comparable to what other people pay. I want to treat employees fairly and our employees -- we have a lot of dedicated people who work for state government and I want to assure them that I'm going to work with them and I want to treat them fairly but I also want to treat the taxpayers fairly and we are facing some big budget problems and we have to make thoughtful decisions in terms of our level of spending. And I also want to be careful not to re-hire all the people that took early retirement because that is going to -- they're counting on big savings from that and we had over 2000 people take early retirement, they got significant bonuses, $1000 a year up to $25,000 if you worked 25 years plus your health insurance is going to have to be paid out of our budget for the next five years. So, we can't afford to be paying all of that and then hire back 1100 people. So, I want to stop the -- there may be a few key essential positions you have to fill but most of them should not be filled.
Borg: Governor, a moment ago you were reminiscing here with Mike Glover about the early 90s when you were reforming the budget process. I want to take you back just further than that, about 28 years back, to an Iowa Press program just after you were elected to your first term as governor and you'll notice some obvious changes in our appearances. But I'd like to know how much of what you told us then still applies to your philosophy of leading state government right now.
Iowa Press December 1982 - Borg: During the campaign you were saying that you would employ an increase in the sales tax only as a last resort. Is that still what you're saying and you don't see that that need is going to be there yet, even in the six weeks that have passed since you've been elected?
Iowa Press December 1982 - Branstad: That's right. At this point I have not even completed the budget hearings and so I maintain the idea that we would like to avoid a tax increase. I certainly don't want to see the income tax increased, I don't want to see property taxes go up. If we had to look at a tax increase the sales tax would be considered as a last resort.
Iowa Press December 1982 - Yepsen: And you're not totally ruling out a sales tax increase, you're not totally ruling out a surtax, should we make anything of that?
Iowa Press December 1982 - Branstad: Well, I think ...
Iowa Press December 1982 - Yepsen: Leaving the door open for one later on?
Iowa Press December 1982 - Branstad: Well, I think it's important that anybody that is in an important position like governor, chief executive in a state, be flexible and be willing to adjust to changing times.
Borg: I'm wondering how much of that flexibility is still there and adjusting to changing times even if it would come to raising a tax?
Branstad: Well, first of all, I have learned a lot since 1982 and I think you have to look at this in context. This was at the beginning of the farm crisis and the state of Iowa was facing some very difficult situations. During my first term we closed 38 banks, land values dropped 63%. We're in a much different time today.
Borg: But it's still an austere time, Governor ...
Branstad: Let me just say this -- we have the best agriculture prices we've had in a long time. I think there's a lot we can cut in government and the difference is this time we're not looking at raising any sales tax or any other tax, we're looking at reducing taxes, especially property taxes as it affects businesses in this state because we want to be more competitive. So, I think I've learned some things and I think if you look at my whole tenure as governor we did raise the sales tax but we cut the income tax and we eliminated the inheritance tax for children and grandchildren and today I'm looking to the future and I'm saying I want to make sure that we make Iowa as competitive as possible for jobs and business.
Henderson: I'm thinking some of the viewers who are watching you right now would like you to go back to Tuesday night and sort of dissect what happened. Some republicans won, such as you, but other republicans lost.
Branstad: Well, my dad used to say, the harder you work, the luckier you get. I'm not saying that all of our candidates didn't work hard but we had a lot of great candidates work very hard and I think we did extraordinarily well. Now, we did not win -- we had three relatively close congressional races in Iowa. The republicans, you know, Senator Grassley won big as did my Congressman Latham and Congressman King. The three democrats had close races but they had a financial advantage over the republicans and they were successful. Iowans generally don't -- Iowa generally doesn't reject incumbents. What was amazing to me is the republicans picked up a bunch of seats in the house and a significant number in the senate as well and also the Secretary of State's office. So, it was a good night but you can't take anything for granted. I'm very appreciative of the support that I receive from people all over this state. We went to all 99 counties, both I and Kim Reynolds and I was real pleased with the support we got.
Glover: You mentioned Kim Reynolds. She is going to be the new lieutenant governor. Have you carved out a role for her? What do you want her role to be in the new administration?
Branstad: She's going to be a full partner so she'll be involved in all the decision making process. She's also going to be a key liaison with local governments as we reorganize and find more efficient ways to deliver services.
Borg: More than your other past lieutenant governors?
Branstad: Yes, because she has a unique experience having served fourteen years as county treasurer and she was a leader of the county treasurers and now she's been in the state senate, has got respect among people on both sides of the aisle in both parties in the house and the senate. So, I think she can play a very keen role ...
Glover: You're 63 years old, can you tell us -- you're going to be a one-term governor?
Branstad: No, I'm not going to make that decision until four years from now. I intend to hit the ground running, I intend to work hard every day of the job. Kim Reynolds, I think I've met my match in terms of work ethic, enthusiasm and commitment to serve the people of Iowa.
Glover: So, you're not ruling out being a six-term governor.
Branstad: I'm focused on what we need to do right now and we're in the transition to hit the ground running and fulfill what we promised Iowans that we would focus on jobs and revitalizing our education system.
Henderson: In your fourth term as governor you endorsed Bob Dole for president. Do you intend to endorse one of these folks that have already come and campaigned for you or someone who hasn't even been in the state yet for president in 2012?
Branstad: By the way, Elizabeth Dole called to congratulate me.
Henderson: Oh, is she running?
Branstad: No, she's not running. And Bob just recently got out of the hospital. He's had some health issues recently. But with regard to the presidential candidates a number of them have already been here. We certainly want to encourage them to come and spend a lot of time. I think I demonstrated how you can win in Iowa, go to every county, work very hard, listen to the people and those people that want to run for president I want to encourage them to come here and spend a lot of time and spend a lot of money.
Henderson: But what is better for the party -- to have you endorse or to have you stay neutral?
Branstad: At this point I'm not even sure who the likely candidates are going to be and I'm going to stay neutral. I'm not ruling out the possibility down the road that I might consider that but for the most part I want to be welcoming, I want to encourage the candidates to come and spend the time, get to know the people of Iowa, answer their questions. We want to keep the Iowa caucuses very vibrant.
Borg: You've said that these are austere times and that is kind of the way that you have campaigned. Is that going to be carried through in the tone of your inaugural? Or is that going to be a very low key or is it going to be a gala glitz?
Branstad: I think it's going to be more low key. I'm a farm kid, I don't go for a lot of the gala glitz, so to speak. I really want to actually though make it a charitable fundraiser and we're already thinking about how we can do that in terms of helping different things in Iowa. You may recall I started the Governor's State Fair Scholarship at my last inaugural. This time I'm looking at enhancing that state fair scholarship, possibly adding a medical and health care scholarship and a preschool scholarship program as well. As charities where we can make it a substantial fundraiser for charitable causes and keep the cost of the inaugural down and have most of the money that is contributed go for good causes and especially for scholarships in Iowa.
Glover: And that inaugural address that you deliver will be a very closely watched speech. People will see that as a signal of where you want to take this administration. What message do you want to send with that inaugural address?
Branstad: Well, first and foremost I want to say that I'm honored and humbled to have this opportunity. I never imagined I'd be doing this again. I want to make the very best of it. I will work hard every day to serve the people of Iowa. And I want to fulfill the promises that we made towards jobs and reducing the tax and regulatory burden for business and revitalizing the Iowa economy. I want to make our future much brighter than the present or the past. I also want to assure people that we're going to have honest, open, clean government, transparent. We're going to have regular press conferences like I did before. I intend to go to all 99 counties. My Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will do the same thing. And we're going to work aggressively as a team to listen to people and meet with people and try to aggressively move forward with this agenda.
Glover: And you'll walk into a statehouse where republicans now control the Iowa House of Representatives and maybe by January we'll know who controls the Iowa Senate, maybe not. But you'll have a much more republican legislature. Have you set up any kind of a formal structure for dealing with that legislature, for making sure they understand your priorities and you understand their concerns?
Branstad: Well, first of all, I have a great relationship especially with the republican leader in the house, Kraig Paulsen. We stayed in touch almost daily during the campaign and, first of all, he did a great job as the minority leader keeping his caucus together and collaborating with and working with the democrats where he could but standing up and fighting for protecting the taxpayer's interests on the budget and some of these job killing bills. And so he did a phenomenal job there and I think he'll be a great speaker. So, I'm really looking forward to working with him. I also know Senator Gronstal, I've worked with him in the past. I intend to work also with the republican leaders in the senate and the democrats in the house as well. So, I've worked with democrats in control of both houses, I've worked with a split legislature and I've worked two years with republicans in control of both houses. So, I can deal with about any makeup in the legislature.
Henderson: One of the things you will inherit will be I-jobs money, that is the money that Governor Branstad and the legislature borrowed to invest in infrastructure ...
Branstad: You mean Governor Culver.
Henderson: Yeah, I'm sorry, Governor Culver, yes. So, what are you going to do with the money that hasn't been handed out?
Branstad: Well, that is a good question. I guess hopefully a lot of it won't have been because I think that was a mistake.
Henderson: Well, what will you do with it?
Branstad: Well, first of all, I want to evaluate the situation and determine what the critical needs are and, first of all, I think most of it has already been spent. But that that hasn't been spent my general inclination is they shouldn't be spend. I want to, first of all, get my hands around this budget and make sure that we are spending less than we are taking in each year. And I want to put together a long-term strategic plan so we don't have this annual situation we've seen for the last several years where the session begins with a projected deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars and you've got to spend the whole session trying to figure out how to get rid of that and then they've used one-time money to get through for that year. I want to stop that practice, I want to put together a long-term strategic plan and I want to thoughtfully and systematically set priorities in the budget.
Borg: If that money for I-jobs hasn't been distributed or obligated would you freeze it?
Branstad: Well, it depends upon -- I want to evaluate each and every project based on its merits. I don't think we should just be willy-nilly trying to spend money. Instead I want to look at protecting the taxpayer's interest in the process. But if there is a project that has been obligated then we have the responsibility to fulfill it.
Borg: As you know, we've run out of time here. Thanks so much for being with us.
Branstad: Thank you, Dean.
Borg: Well, I hope you'll be with us next week for another edition of Iowa Press at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.