Taking the reigns. Governor-elect Terry Branstad is returning to Iowa's executive branch next month but the mechanics of transferring power is well underway now. We're questioning the man heading the transition team ... David Roederer ... on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: The traditionally busy holiday season is considerably more hectic for Governor-elect Branstad's staff. They are quickly working to be ready when the new governor takes the oath of office on January 14th. Now, if you're counting that is just a bit more than 30 days away now. Although republicans haven't controlled the executive branch for the past twelve years, this isn't new territory for Governor-elect Branstad. He is returning after sixteen years. During the late 1980s and through the 90s he was governor and he is entrusting the transition to his former chief of staff, Dave Roederer, who is heading the transition team. Now, when the transition is completed Roederer moves to another fast deadline, he'll be heading state government's office of management where there is a late January deadline for the governor's proposals to be to the legislature for next year's state budget and that takes effect on July 1st. Big assignment, thanks for taking time today to be with us.
Roederer: It's good to be here. Thanks, Dean.
Borg: All those deadlines.
Roederer: You almost convinced me maybe I should go do something else.
Borg: Wait for a half hour please.
Roederer: All right.
Borg: Also at the Iowa Press table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Congratulations, first of all, Mr. Roederer on an impressive victory. But that has set up a challenging task. We are going through the first involuntary transition of power in half a century. Some of us have heard it's not going all that well, that there are some tensions and pressures. Tell us about this transition.
Roederer: Actually as you pointed out, Mike, this is the first time in 50 years that somebody involuntarily is leaving the office. And then you also compound that with the issue in the legislative branch where the soon-to-be majority party, the republicans, only had 44 seats at the beginning of the election cycle and now they have 60 so there’s a little bit of changing going on there. Plus you have the Supreme Court, the third branch of government, first time in history that they're going to be losing about 50% of the Supreme Court. So, in all three branches of government you have some moving around.
Roederer: I would divide things into two categories. You have the process, which I would say right now, Mike, is going very, very well. I couldn't be more pleased. I meet with Governor Culver's chief of staff on a weekly basis and also working with the Department of Management. Then you also have some policy issues that are bound to come up and I think it would be very normal for us to maybe have differences of opinions on that because you have administrations with different philosophies. So, all-in-all, I’m very pleased where we're at.
Borg: Why is policy involved at this point, in transition?
Roederer: Well, an example is that collective bargaining had started and we had planned on finishing the collective bargaining, Dean, and that was resolved before. There was a policy difference there as to whether or not the incoming governor should do it or the outgoing governor should do it. We also have a major issue that is coming up, Governor Culver is to report to the legislature this month, December, as to how he is going to remove $84 million in spending out of state government. So, there may be some differences on that.
Glover: And you have one deadline coming up and that is January 14th, when you're inaugurated. Will you have all of your leadership team in place by the time the governor is sworn in?
Roederer: Don't know, Mike. The policy of the governor is to make good appointments, not quick appointments so there may, the whole team may not be filled out but we've been very pleased with not only the process and the speed that we've been able to go through but the quality of individuals who have stepped forward and are willing to serve in the administration.
Henderson: They may be willing to serve but they have to clear one more hurdle, they have to win senate confirmation. In the Iowa Senate there will be 26 democrats and 24 republicans, that requires support from democrats. Have you been in contact with Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal about this? Do you expect any problems with these folks?
Roederer: I visited with Senator Gronstal shortly after the election. We did not have many names to share with him at that time. But we will be working with the senate as we go through this process. We hope that we have quick confirmations.
Henderson: In regards to some of the individuals that you have named in the past couple of weeks to key positions -- you named Rod Roberts, who was a former foe of Governor Branstad, to the Department of Inspections and Appeals and you named Jody Tymeson, who was the chair of Bob Vander Plaats' primary campaign, to head the Department of Veteran's Affairs. Is there a place for Bob Vander Plaats, the other candidate in that primary, in a Branstad administration?
Roederer: First of all, I would never characterize Rod Roberts as a foe. He was running in the primary but I wouldn't classify him as a foe. Jody Tymeson, impeccable qualifications working with veteran's issues. She championed many of the veteran's issues while she was in the legislature.
Henderson: And for some of our viewers who may not know, Jody Tymeson was in the Iowa National Guard as a career, she retired a Brigadier General, she was the highest ranking woman in the Iowa National Guard when she retired.
Roederer: That is correct. And we sought Jody out, asked her if it was something that she might be interested in.
Henderson: But I think people are curious about the relationship between Terry Branstad and Bob Vander Plaats. What is it?
Roederer: It's fine. It's very cordial and Mr. Vander Plaats obviously is embarking on a career with his organization.
Borg: But not a place in state government?
Roederer: I don't think he's seeking a place in state government.
Borg: Well, let me ask you, Kay opened some thought here, Debbie Durham, appointed to Department of Economic Development. Now, she is a past republican candidate for lieutenant governor, didn't make it. Rod Roberts has already been mentioned, he is Inspections and Appeals. Marianette Miller-Meeks over at the Department of Health. And then Teresa Wahlert didn't seek office but she is a past republican appointee to the Board of Regents. You've got some past candidates there who weren't elected and then Teresa Wahlert, who resigned from the Board of Regents. What is the message there?
Roederer: No message there. The fact that these are very qualified individuals.
Borg: That's what I thought you'd say but they also have something in common and that is they are past defeated office holders.
Roederer: Well, you will find in the upcoming Branstad administration that there will be more non-candidates who had ever run for something -- the Governor doesn't believe that the fact that somebody ran for office somehow makes them unqualified be in government. As a matter of fact, it gives them a different perspective and that different perspective is that they understand what public service is about and that will be very, very key for all the appointees of Governor Branstad whether they be department heads, whether they be on boards or commissions, that they are to understand that they are there as a public official who realizes that they are there to serve the public and not the other way around.
Glover: You mentioned it earlier but one of the things that the outgoing administration did was cut a deal with the largest state worker union. You have asked for those talks to be re-opened. Where does all that stand?
Roederer: We have not -- may be a technicality on this, Mike, but obviously we are in no opinion to ask, officially ask for those to be re-opened until after we take office. So, fully respect that. Look, the severity of our budget problem, anywhere from a half a billion to maybe $700 million that we're facing in the upcoming fiscal year, if you project that out over the next five years it only gets worse, it doesn't get better. When you look -- that means that we have to make a fundamental shift in the way we are looking at how we are budgeting and how we are paying for the cost of state government and how much government costs. When you figure that for about the last several years the state has been spending more money than it has been bringing in, that shows that you have a structural deficit so it has to be dealt with. And, look, state employees are part of the solution, they're not the problem. And so any time -- we have many, many Iowans that have had to -- either they have been laid off, lost their jobs or they have had to reduce their salaries or they have had to take furloughs. And state government has been somewhat exempted from some of that. We're just saying that we have to look at the total picture and obviously how we deliver services is a key component of that.
Glover: So, you're not in a position to ask to re-open those negotiations until January 14th. Will you after January 14th?
Roederer: We're looking at all options, Mike.
Glover: So, that is an option?
Roederer: Well, there's a variety of options that we're looking at and I don't want to in any way indicate that there's going to be one over the other. But I think it will be fair to say that we will have discussions with the employee unions to be part of the solution on resolving the budget issues.
Glover: So, whether or not you're re-opening contract talks you're going to start talking to state workers and say, hey, you've got to be part of the solution?
Roederer: Oh, absolutely because they have great ideas and we believe that it's not always on the wage side and benefits or wherever it may be. That's a component of it but they are the ones that are in the trenches, they're the ones that are working every day and we believe they have excellent ideas, will have excellent ideas on how to save money.
Glover: During the campaign the Governor-elect campaigned on a pledge to reduce state government spending by 15% over five years. How much of it can you get the first year? And does that $500 million to $700 million dollar cut the target for you?
Roederer: We are -- obviously we're just starting to go through some of the budget process. You are correct, the governor laid out four goals -- creating 200,000 jobs over the next five years, raising incomes by 25% over the five years and re-instating Iowa's number one status in education over the next five years and reducing the cost of government by 15% over the five years and those all go together.
Henderson: I'd like to help viewers get to know you a little bit better. When did you first start working for Terry Branstad and what did you do?
Roederer: Well, it was before Noah's Ark. It was back I think in the 70s, 1970s.
Henderson: And so what did you do in the Branstad administration? So our viewers know you are a legislative liaison which means you negotiated between the governor’s office ...
Roederer: Before that I was working over in Saudi Arabia helping design a highway patrol system for the Saudi government and when I came back it was about the time that Governor Branstad was elected and I worked in his criminal, juvenile justice agency for a few years before I went into his office as his legislative liaison. After I did that I took a leave and -- no, I'm sorry -- I went out to the Iowa Department of Commerce, was the director of the Department of Commerce and then left there and was his campaign manager and then came back as his chief of staff.
Henderson: And in the past decade, when Terry Branstad hasn't been governor, you have been the executive director of the Iowa Chamber Alliance which represents the sixteen largest chambers of commerce in Iowa. As such, that group for the past eight years has advocated a public private partnership which Governor Branstad had embraced and Debbie Durham, the new director of the Department of Economic Development says she's going to implement. In your previous role what would be your advice to Debbie Durham to avoid some of the problems in terms of transparency and job creation that have popped up in other public private partnerships in other states?
Roederer: That's paramount -- it is one of the things that the governor has had a discussion with Debbie about that we need to provide as much transparency. When Governor Branstad was in office the first time we didn't really have any issues about transparency. The fact of the matter is he, as an individual, is very much an open book. That will be expected throughout the whole administration.
Glover: When Governor Branstad left office you went into business and formed your own company, doing a variety of private sector things. Why are you back?
Roederer: You know, that has been asked once or twice by myself. Look, really, any time a governor asks you to serve I think you should do it. But more than that I greatly respect public service.
Borg: And you're back for the foreseeable future?
Roederer: Well, look at my age, it's not going to be too long, Dean.
Borg: I thought when you made that Noah's Ark comment you were going to refer to the floods of '93. You were there.
Roederer: That's right. But actually it really is an honor and a pleasure to serve the people of Iowa and you have to look at it that way. And we also know -- I also know that there are many challenges out there and it is a mission that we're on ---
Borg: Speaking of those challenges -- when you were there, chief of staff, Gretchen Tegler was the department head of the Department of Management. And you're taking these job now after you complete the transition. These are austere times. How will you administer that department differently than it was administered at that time?
Roederer: Well, I wouldn't say it was different, Dean, but it's going to be very collaborative. Look, when you have the budget difficulties that we have and the issues facing the state no one person can do it and departments are there for a reason and they're all going to be working together and it's going to be on the same page.
Glover: It's been suggested to me that you came back for a relatively limited period of time to sort of go through the transition, get the budget office up and running, get things going and then moving on. How long do you plan to be there? For the full term?
Roederer: If it's going to be a short term somebody forgot to tell me that. No, I'm there for four years.
Henderson: How will Branstad 5.0 be different from the first sixteen years?
Roederer: Different times, different -- some of the issues are similar but different and I think that Terry Branstad is Terry Branstad. He's a hardworking individual who loves this state like probably no one else and that is what is driving him. And he has the four goals that he has out there and he will be adhering to those every day.
Glover: And you're going to be in charge of putting together a new state budget. Is there going to be any change in the way that a budget is assembled in this state?
Roederer: Mike, probably. First of all, we're going to put together a two-year budget.
Glover: This first year will be a two-year budget?
Roederer: This first year is going to be a two-year budget.
Glover: Do you have time to do that?
Roederer: Mike, we're going to put together a two-year budget. That's certainly what we're going to do, all right? That's what I've been told. No, we will do that. As far as in the future as how they're all put together I've got some ideas that I hope that we can make it more streamlined.
Glover: And key to this budgeting process is the economy. Most people, conventional wisdom is the economy is beginning a slow, gradual but what will be a long recovery from a deep recession. What is your take on where Iowa's economy is?
Roederer: I'm not as optimistic as some are. I'm still very concerned about the number of unemployed that we have in this state and as long as you have high unemployment I have a hard time understanding how we are, you know, can say that things are coming back. The other thing is on the construction side, Mike, I'm talking to way too many engineers and too many architects who are saying that they really don't have much work and they are usually the head of things. So, it's usually a year or so after they start getting their pipeline filled. So, I'm still -- I'm not as optimistic as I would like to be right now.
Borg: I want to go back to the two-year budget, though. Some democrats aren't really in favor of two-year budgeting. You're going to throw a two-year budget up in the legislature and see what sticks?
Roederer: Well, no, we're not going to throw it. We're going to go very nicely and say, please read this. Dean, here's the difficulty and this is why I've had conversations with them about that -- they are concerned because what has happened over the last few years is that after the legislature has gone home that there's been a lot of transferring of the money from one agency or one department or within -- after the legislature has authorized the amount in their appropriation bills. And they are concerned about that. They're saying, wow, if we can’t control how you all are going to be shifting money in one year what happens if we give you another year? Let's work together on that to make sure that those transfer so I think in the end I think they will see the benefit. The reason we're doing it, as you know, is because when you just budget for one year you don't know what the implications are to the next fiscal year and for too long we've just been trying to get by year by year by year and we think this will at least broaden that a little bit.
Henderson: In discussing how you plan to lay out the budget a couple of minutes ago you said you have some ideas for streamlining government. Might you share some of those with us?
Roederer: No, streamlining the budget process.
Henderson: Oh, but don't you have some ideas for perhaps merging some agencies or getting rid of programs?
Roederer: Over a period of time, yes. I don't know whether we will be ready right away on that.
Glover: You're going to have to work with democrats who have narrow control of the Iowa Senate ...
Roederer: Get to work with democrats.
Glover: You get to work with democrats who have narrow control of the Iowa Senate but you're also going to have to work with republicans who have overwhelming control of the Iowa House. The incoming Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha has said, the budget situation is so dire that there are going to need to be the wholesale elimination, his words, of programs in state government with a target on the Iowa Power Fund. Do you agree with that?
Roederer: We are still looking at all of those major funds, Mike. We want to -- I believe that there will be a report coming out before too long about how those funds have been used. And what I'm expressing to people is all your ideas, all your suggestions, let's take a real hard look at it but let's make sure we carefully scrutinize it so we know what the impact is.
Glover: Moving beyond that particular program, the Power Fund, do you agree that there's going to need to be the "wholesale elimination" of programs?
Roederer: Well, I think so because, for example, we know that one agency is to sunset on June 30th which is the Rebuild Iowa Office and I think that we are to a point where we as a state are going to have to decide, are we going to do a little bit in every area and be mediocre or are we, in fact, going to invest in certain areas to make sure that we do what we need to do? And as an end result we may have to eliminate some other programs.
Glover: So, the Rebuild Iowa Office is looking to me like it's not in very good shape.
Roederer: It will do as the law has said, I believe.
Borg: I asked about appointees a moment ago and I failed to ask about the Department of Education and the Department of Natural Resources. They are without permanent heads right now in the Culver administration. When will you expect those will be filled?
Roederer: Again, don't have a timeline but we are working in both of those areas.
Henderson: As the transition team leader part of the transition is planning the inaugural itself. What can you tell us about the tone, the plans for it? Will it be like other Branstad inaugurals? Will there be an inaugural ball?
Roederer: The inaugural, as you know, is being directed by Margaret Huff and she has done some in the past. It will be a festive but also with the realization of the times that we are in and for those of us who don't dance I'm sad to say, yes, there will be a ball.
Glover: And it wouldn't be an official Iowa Press program if we didn't talk about just politics for a couple of minutes. We've only got a couple of minutes left. What message were voters sending in November? It was a strong republican year in this state. They delivered the legislature almost to republicans. They ousted the democratic governor, first time that's happened in 50 years. What was the message? What message did you take from the election?
Roederer: They did not like the direction that the state was heading in. I wouldn't necessarily say it was necessarily a pro-republican. I think it was more of they do not like the overspending and the imbalanced budgets and I think that was probably the main part and probably the most important is that we have so many people out of jobs.
Glover: And you're going to be a political person, at least paying attention to politics, I assume. The caucus campaign is going to start probably shortly after the first of the year. Will you advise the governor to stay out of that, be neutral?
Roederer: The governor has said at this point in time that he's going to be neutral.
Henderson: What about you?
Roederer: I will not be involved. As you indicated in your introduction and indicated by your questions I've got enough to do without looking for anything else.
Henderson: You were, though, a key player in the Iowa McCain organization. Senator McCain skipped the Iowa Straw Poll last time around. Governor-elect Branstad has said that is the wrong tactic for candidates in the next go around to take. What is your advice? Do the McCain route? Or take Terry Branstad's advice?
Roederer: I agree with my friends.
Glover: They're both your friends.
Henderson: Is the straw poll helpful to a candidate? Is it mainly helpful to the party? Is it hurtful to Iowa's status as first in the nation? What is your analysis of the straw poll itself?
Roederer: It's a good fundraiser for the party.
Glover: And the conventional wisdom is this campaign is getting off to a very, very slow start. In a typical election cycle I would expect right now to have fully staffed campaign offices. A, do you accept the assumption that the campaign is getting off to a slow start?
Glover: And, if so, why?
Roederer: I'm not exactly sure, Mike. I think that people are, all the candidates are just trying to size up whether or not they're going to get in and I think that anymore when a candidate kind of says, well, I'm going to go test the water, that means they have already got their whole game plan already put together. I think the pure testing of the waters in Iowa just doesn't happen anymore. I also think that they're all kind of afraid of being perceived as a front runner.
Glover: And there are those who have suggested this caucus campaign may be very different this time. Some of the leading lights potentially getting in are very highly, well known republican figures. I saw a statistic the other day that 70% of republican caucus goers watch Fox News. They probably don't need to go to a coffee to figure out what Sarah Palin thinks or Mike Huckabee or other people who might run like Newt Gingrich and that it could be a later campaign because of that. What do you think?
Roederer: Well, I think that in Iowa that we take this very seriously and I think that Iowans expect to see their candidates up close and even though they may watch them on television they want to go out and really get a better feel for it. I mean, you get impressions of people on television -- look how mean you folks all look on television but when you get to know you, you know, it's not so bad. Seriously, I do think that there are people in Iowa they want to be able to shake hands with their candidate and they can sum them up pretty well.
Borg: Mr. Roederer, thanks so much for taking time to be with us today. I'll let you get back to work.
Roederer: Yeah, thanks.
Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press we're discussion transition politics with the man leaving Terrace Hill, Governor Chet Culver, reflecting on the past four years and looking ahead. Next weekend's conversation with Governor Culver at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning.
Borg: Iowa Public Television lost a dear friend and colleague this week. Pheng Chanthavong passed away after a brief illness. In his sixteen years of service to Iowa Public Television, Pheng formed many friendships and he was an important member of the Iowa Public Television family. His smile and infectious genial attitude will be greatly missed. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.