On the move. Iowa's fourth district Congressman Tom Latham is moving from Ames to a residence that will be in the newly drawn third congressional district. With that move, in order to be re-elected, he'll have to defeat democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell. A conversation with republican Congressman Tom Latham on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Iowa now has five U.S. congressional districts but starting with the November 2012 election that is trimmed to four. It is a consequence of last year's federal census showing more population in other states and because we're expecting all five incumbent representatives to be seeking re-election one of them won't be returning to the new Congress. Now, here's how we get from five to four. We're looking at the congressional map for the past ten years and the newly drawn districts for the coming decade. Today we're focusing on the third congressional district because that's where it appears two incumbents will be clashing. You'll recall that the third district's incumbent congressman, that's democrat Leonard Boswell, was our Iowa Press guest last weekend. Well, this week we're talking with republican Tom Latham, now representing the fourth district, intending to move to the third district to challenge Boswell. Latham is now in his 17th year of representing Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Latham, welcome back to Iowa Press.
Latham: Thanks, Dean, it's great to be with you.
Borg: This is a high stakes musical chairs, high stakes musical chairs. I used to play it as a kid but, Congressman, I never have seen this happen before and I guess that we'll see what happens.
Latham: Right. Well, I'm looking forward to it. I currently represent three of the sixteen counties in the new district and it's very familiar territory, it's a district that I look forward to and I think I fit very well with the new district.
Borg: We're going to be talking about that as we introduce our questioners today, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Congressman, let's talk about some of the logistics of that move. You have said you intend to move from your current residence in Ames into the third district. Where are you moving? When are you moving?
Latham: Well, I wish I knew that exactly. My wife is currently looking around a little bit in the area and we haven't decided yet exactly where we'll have our residence here. But having three of the counties with Dallas and Madison and Warren currently in that district obviously it's a good fit for us and I look forward to moving down.
Glover: Let's talk a little bit more about that move and let's talk about the why of it. When this race emerges and you move it will feature two congressmen, both of whom have moved into the district. Why move? Is your loyalty not to the district? Is your loyalty just to Congress? Why move?
Latham: Well, I have always represented Iowans in Congress. Now, lines haven't made a difference in the past and they don't today. As a member of the appropriations committee and chairman of the subcommittee there I have worked with all Iowans whether it be in the Des Moines partnership, whether it be rural interest, all of those things. So, I just feel very good about being in this district, it's a good fit for me and I'm looking forward to it.
Henderson: Is this the most competitive congressional race you may face in your nine, now ten elections?
Latham: It may be. I don't know. This district actually, if you look at registration, is much better than the district that I had ten years ago as far as democrat and republican registration. And I think it's a really good fit, again, because I have worked with the communities, I know what the issues are here.
Henderson: Explain why you think you're a good fit for this district. It is basically the southwest quadrant of the state, sixteen counties. Why are you a good fit for that district rather than someone who has represented many of those counties before in Congressman Boswell?
Latham: Well, my experience in Congress, for one thing, but also and more importantly my background as a farmer, a small businessperson, father grandfather, you know, I have grandchildren in this congressional district and it's something that is close to me and it's something that I think I fit it because having worked with the community in central Iowa over the years on the appropriations committee and a lot of the issues there, having a rural background, coming from Alexander originally, a town of 165 people, I understand rural and the urban areas.
Borg: Let me expand on that question just a little bit more. A tactic in politics is define your opponent before he has a chance to define himself. I'm going to give you the opportunity right now to define yourself before you can be defined, although you're pretty well known here in Iowa. In addition to what you just told Kay in answer to her question, what do people in this new district need to know about your political philosophy and about you, Tom Latham?
Latham: Well, Dean, I think the most important thing that you can do in this job and that I have learned over the years is to listen to people and I spend hours every day with folks in my office in Washington or in the district listening and that way you can, this is a representational form of government we have and that is the best way for the member of Congress that represents you to be able to go to Washington, represent the interests there. I think with my background as far as small business, in farming that it really is a good fit.
Borg: How would you define yourself, though, philosophically, politically? Where do you ... ?
Latham: I'm a conservative, fiscal conservative, one who believes that the federal government has been irresponsible as far as the spending that has been going on, that we've got to put a stop to that and I have been in a position on appropriations to actually cut spending rather than to keep on with this irresponsible spending that has been going on.
Glover: And one of the things you just told us that voters should know about you, one of the things that happens during a campaign is you tell voters about the person you're running against. What do voters in this new district need to know about Leonard Boswell and how are you going about telling them that?
Latham: Well, first of all, Leonard Boswell is a friend of mine and I went to him and I said, Leonard, I hope we'd never have this conversation but I am going to be moving to the third district, the three counties, and well, I admire, you know, the service in the military, he's been a long-term public servant. I respect that. But we are very, very different. He has voted for the stimulus package, $787 billion, he voted for Obamacare which is causing so much difficulty as far as job creation, as far as the new taxes involved with that, voted for cap and trade, something that would increase the cost of our utility bills about 20% to 25%, the gas prices and it's high enough at the pump today but that would add another fifty cents a gallon. I oppose those things. We have a very different idea about the size, scope of spending going on in Washington. I think that we've got to cut it, we've got to make sure that the private sector is empowered rather than the federal government.
Glover: And as you mentioned this is a pretty competitive district, voter registration is pretty evenly divided, it's got two incumbents in it. I presume this is going to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the country and one of the most expensive. You're close to Speaker Boehner. How much is this race going to cost?
Latham: I don't know at this point.
Glover: You've got a million dollars in the bank.
Latham: Well, we're very appreciative of the wide support that we have. But I don't expect anything special from anyone. I'm going to work extremely hard, we're going to have the resources available so that we can be competitive, that we can respond to charges that I know will be coming, it's already happening, there's some of the operatives out there doing robo-calls and all those type of negative stuff. The election is eighteen months away, let's talk about issues rather than all this negative stuff.
Glover: Traditionally expensive campaigns are ugly. How ugly is this thing going to get?
Latham: I hope it isn't. I have a reputation of running positive campaigns, about talking about the issues that are so important to Iowans today and as far as the economy, as far as creating jobs, as far as the security for our seniors, as far as Social Security and Medicare, things like that I'm going to run a positive campaign. I'm sure that there will be outside people doing negative things but I have to be in a position to be able to respond to those negative attacks.
Borg: Did you decide that Congressman King is better able to represent that new district that you would be?
Latham: I just didn't see any reason for two republicans to go against each other and basically use up resources there. I think that we have a similar view as far as the federal government, that we've got to cut spending and why use our resources against each other when in fact the important thing for the American people and certainly for Iowans is to get a handle on this massive debt that we have and deficits in Washington.
Henderson: The dominant political story in America for the past five or six or seven days has been the death of Osama bin Laden. Do you support the President's decision not to release a photo of bin Laden or to release the video of the raid itself?
Latham: Well, first of all, let's remember the families that died in 9/11 and it just breaks, I still think of that day with the clear sky when that plane went into the Pentagon. Where I stayed in Washington it actually shook our house that day when it hit. So, it's very real to me and we've got to remember those families and also to congratulate the men and women in uniform and our intelligence officials and the President for making the decisive action and taking him out and certainly President Bush has got to be commended also I think as far as getting us to this point. As far as the photographs and video it's a tough call but I honestly think that for closure for a lot of people that it is very, very important that people see Osama bin Laden dead and if people say, well, it's going to be gory, well they have released all the other pictures that are out there, why not have the American people know for sure what happened and really transparency is very good.
Henderson: The President has said it would be akin to spiking the football and that it might endanger the troops. Do you disagree with those two assessments?
Latham: If they could give me credible evidence that it would endanger anybody, yes, I could accept that and it's a close call, it really is.
Henderson: You also said that President Bush deserves credit. There are some republicans who say President Obama hasn't given President Bush adequate credit. Are you among those republicans?
Latham: I was pleased in his statement that he recognized President Bush, whether he gets the full credit, certainly they have had differences as far as interrogation procedures, things like that but President Bush does not want to be in the limelight, he is no longer president, he understands that and I think the American people understand that he is responsible for a lot of the intelligence.
Glover: Most polls have shown President Obama got a bit of a spike from this and some of this he got a double digit spike. How long will that last? And what is the political fallout from this?
Latham: Well, I don't know how long it will last. I think when this election comes up next time and that's the important poll at that time it's going to be about the size and scope of the federal government, the $14.5 trillion national debt, $1.65 trillion annual deficits if it continues, the lack of jobs. We just had a jobs report today that unemployment has gone back up again. That is going to be the issue, I think, in the next election.
Glover: One of the key criticisms that a lot of republicans have had of democrats in general and President Obama in particular is that they are weak on foreign policy, they don't know how to exercise America's power around the world. Has he answered that question?
Latham: I think it would be very difficult or much more difficult to make an argument and he has basically continued the policies of President Bush. When you look at Iraq, when you look at Afghanistan and following through as far as with Osama bin Laden it's basically a continuation. I think it would be difficult to not give him credentials as far as national security.
Henderson: One of the reasons U.S. forces went to Afghanistan was because Osama bin Laden was there and Al Qaeda had training fields there. That appears not to be the case predominantly anymore, obviously. Is it time to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan?
Latham: Well, I would like to see them come home as soon as possible. Having said that, until there's security and stability in Afghanistan and we have an Afghan government that can actually provide that security themselves it's going to be very difficult for us to pull out.
Borg: So this doesn't change anything?
Latham: No, I don't think it does because you still, you know, while Osama bin Laden is the figurehead there's a lot of Al Qaeda left.
Glover: Is this all symbolism?
Latham: No, it's very important that we got him finally. But does this change the whole dynamics? I don't think so. I think there's still very dedicated terrorists out there that want to do us great harm.
Henderson: Does the American public have the stomach to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan as long as we have been in South Korea and Germany?
Latham: I don't think so, no one wants that to happen but the fact of the matter is we are still in those places after many, many years. I would hope it's a very small presence but we will have a presence there for many years to come.
Borg: Just to close that line, President Obama, though, does want to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan this year. Do you support that?
Latham: Yes. I do and taking into account what is actually the situation on the ground but certainly I want our troops to come home as soon as possible, we've got almost 3000 Iowa guardsmen over there and it is a really difficult situation but we have got to understand that if we pull out and the Taliban comes back that we haven't accomplished anything.
Borg: Earlier you were talking about Leonard Boswell you said that he had voted for what you called Obamacare, the healthcare reform act. But you now are voting on separate provisions to fund part of that reform and you're voting against it. Is the strategy to economically starve the reform act?
Latham: I think if you talk to my constituents people understand that this bill will not work long-term and if you go back, Dean, to when this was put in place on Christmas Eve over in the Senate, that they had the Cornhusker kickback, that the Louisiana Purchase to try and buy votes, everyone on both sides of the aisle in the House of Representatives understood that this thing would never work and because of the election that happened in Massachusetts with Scott Brown, the House then was forced under Speaker Pelosi to pass it as it was. So, people understand that this is a huge new mandate and massive new taxes.
Borg: So the way to undermine it is to not fund it?
Latham: Certainly it's to defund, I think it's going to take an election but we need to have real healthcare reform that will help people with pre-existing conditions, be affordable and that's what people are looking for, they're not looking for this massive government takeover of something that is very personal with a doctor and the patient, their healthcare.
Glover: I'd like you to turn to another topic and that is oil subsidies. With gasoline nearing $4 a gallon, with the Gulf oil spill how do you justify subsidizing the oil industry?
Latham: Well, I'm not sure you do -- I do think at this point in time with the economy in the state it is it's the wrong time to raise taxes on anyone. I think what we need to actually have is an energy policy in this country where we actually look at conservation to make sure that we're not wasting energy, our homes, our automobiles, all those things, we've got to look at all the renewables when you talk about ethanol, biodiesel, wind, solar, nuclear has got to be a part of that and we've got to have the ability to go after the resources we have in great abundance right here in the U.S. and oil and gas reserves that we have far greater than Saudi Arabia if in fact we had an administration that would allow us to go after them today.
Glover: Does that include drilling in the Alaska reserves?
Latham: I think we need to be independent here as much as possible, do it as soon as possible and just the idea that we were actually going to finally have a policy in place would reduce the cost today and I was just assigned this week to the energy task force in the House of Representatives so we're going to be developing policies that are going to make us energy independent, certainly not have as much influence from the Middle East and things like that.
Glover: But specifically ANWAR, that means yes to drilling in ANWAR?
Latham: Yes, I think we've got to go everywhere.
Henderson: One of your republican colleagues, Wisconsin republican Paul Ryan has proposed a budget that would see Social Security changed as well as Medicare, it would raise the retirement ...
Latham: There was no change in Social Security.
Henderson: He'd raise the retirement age, wouldn't he, to 69?
Latham: No, well, go ahead with your question but no, there's no change as far as -- for people who are 55 years and older, people currently in the system there are no changes in Social Security, Medicare, any of those.
Henderson: But it would change it for me.
Latham: We've got to look long-term and to make things sustainable and we have got to understand that Medicare is really the one that has the biggest problem as far as going broke here in the next ten years.
Henderson: He has proposed giving people a voucher, 55 and under, and letting them go in the private market and buy -- do you support that?
Latham: There's no voucher anywhere in that bill and that is a misconception that is political speak out there. He had a plan, another in his book that talked about vouchers but the bill that was passed has no vouchers in it. What it does is put people 55 and under when they become eligible for Medicare to have the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress do. So, it would be a subsidized plan that they would purchase, seniors understand today that they purchase insurance for their Medicare gap, for their prescription drugs, in essence the same type of program but there's no voucher anywhere.
Glover: People are pretty defensive about suggestions that you're tinkering with Medicare, suggestions you're tinkering with Social Security. In reality, can we deal with the federal deficit without tampering with those programs?
Latham: Right, we have to make sure that the security is there for our seniors and that is why no one currently in the system, no one coming in the next ten years would be affected but we have to look long-term. It's simply not sustainable and the President's budget that he put out in February adds about $10 trillion in the next ten years to our national debt. At that point all of the tax revenue goes simply to pay interest on the debt. We've got to do something. It is irresponsible to not do anything.
Glover: Let's make it real personal. The message you have to people is, for Mike Glover everything is fine, for Kay Henderson you're in deep trouble.
Latham: No, not at all but it will not be there for you or for Kay Henderson if in fact we don't do something today. We have an opportunity -- the only way that we're ever going to get anything done will be on a bipartisan basis and that's why we have an opportunity with a republican controlled House, democrat controlled Senate and a democrat President to actually do some things that will fix this problem long-term.
Henderson: What about the debt ceiling? Congress will soon be asked to raise the debt ceiling. Are you among those who will vote no?
Latham: Yes. I will not support that because all it is, is saying that we have maxed out our credit card, if you're a family you've maxed out your credit card so rather than change your habits all you do is call the credit card company and say I want to borrow more.
Borg: So, what is the alternative? That shuts down government.
Latham: No it doesn't. The alternative is to actually fix the problem and that's what we have been saying for years is that we need to finally address the irresponsible spending that is going on in Washington long-term, we've got to fix the problem and do it now. If we wait five years, Dean, it's too late.
Borg: Let's include in there agricultural farm subsidies. Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, was on the program within the past three or four weeks. He said, get ready for some changes because he believes and even supports that changes have to be made in the current farm program. You have a farm background. Do you support that?
Latham: Well, farmers are the first ones to tell you today that the direct payments are not sustainable, even the Iowa Farm Bureau supports getting rid of those. The biggest threat to farmers today is higher taxes, is the regulatory schemes that are coming out of places like EPA and they are going to basically put them out of business or be so expensive to operate that they can't -- high interest rates, if the government keeps borrowing and spending like it is the high interest rates are going to come. Those are the issues that they are really concerned about. What we need to have is a risk management tool in a farm bill so that farmers can actually know that they can insure their crops, that they can continue long-term. But they understand that it's simply not sustainable as it is.
Glover: Congressman, it wouldn't be an official Iowa Press program if we didn't talk just a little bit of politics. You're looking at a sitting democratic president ...
Latham: I thought we did that already.
Glover: You're looking at a sitting democratic president whose approval ratings are over 50%, he's planning on raising a billion dollars for the next campaign and you don't have a clear alternative to him. How do you get this guy?
Latham: Well, I think it's going to boil down to a referendum, obviously, on the President as re-elections normally are ...
Glover: With his poll numbers above 50% how do you make that referendum work?
Latham: Well, certainly there's a bump right now with the national security issues but the election is going to come down to economic security, it's going to come down to jobs, it's going to come down to spending in Washington and if there is a good republican candidate that can have a very, be a very viable alternative the President is going to be the issue, as it always is.
Glover: Do you have a favorite?
Latham: No, I don't.
Glover: You'll stay neutral throughout the campaign?
Latham: Absolutely, I always have and yeah.
Borg: We've got a little bit of time here before and we've got just a few seconds left here but will you be in effect representing, you said you represent all of Iowa, but spending a lot of time in the third district and in your fourth?
Latham: Well, we're going to get acquainted more so with people throughout the new third district but I certainly have all of my responsibilities I currently do with the current district and I'm going to continue to honor that commitment that I have and it's a great district and I look forward to the third district as representing them well also.
Borg: Thanks for being with us today.
Latham: Thank you, Dean.
Borg: Back next weekend, usual Iowa Press times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I hope you'll watch. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.