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Governor Terry E. Branstad

posted on January 31, 2014

On five, going for six.  Iowa Governor Terry Branstad giving Iowans an update condition of the state and asking for an historic sixth term.  We're seeking his vision and how to get there on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: It's a sure bet Governor Terry Branstad's re-election campaign strategists aren't worrying about name recognition.  40 years ago in 1973 he began representingWinnebagoCountyinIowa's House of Representatives.  Six years later moving to Lieutenant Governor alongside Governor Robert Ray.  And then in 1983, 30 years ago, Mr. Branstad began his first term as governor continuing four terms until 1999 when he then left the Statehouse to be President of Des Moines University.  But four years ago, voters returned him to the Statehouse for a fifth term.  And now, he is telling the state he can do more if they'll give him another four years.  He is alreadyIowa's longest serving governor and a sixth term would make him the nation's longest.  30 years ago he wasIowa's youngest governor ever.  He is now 67.  And with that tenure, if I had a frequent guest card for this program, you'd probably have platinum status.  Governor, welcome back.

Branstad: Thank you, Dean.  I'm honored and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to serve the people ofIowaas Governor and it's an honor to be on Iowa Press with you and the other panelists.

Borg: And I'll introduce those panelists. Across the table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Governor, juvenile court officers in the state and democrats in the Iowa Senate are lamenting the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home inToledo.  Democrats have proposed re-opening the facility with new standards and enhanced education for the teenage girls who would be sent there.  Do you support or oppose that proposal?

Branstad: Well, I work with Disability Rights Iowa and they pointed out all the problems with the juvenile home and it has been very well documented in the media, including children being denied their educational rights.  I think there's 117 kids now that we're going to have to provide a remedial education, I put that in my budget.  We also had children that were abused by staff members, kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time in violation of the law.  There were a lot of problems with that institution so I appointed a task force chaired by Jerry Foxhoven, who is a very well respected Drake Law Professor and someone who is an expert in dealing with some juvenile problems.  And that task force made a number of recommendations.  Number one, that we should not have both boys and girls at that institution.  Number two, that we should not have children in need of assistance and delinquent girls.  And then you get to the point where -- and frankly we ought to be looking at it from a perspective of where can we provide the best treatment and the best education for these kids.  And it's pretty obvious that wasn't happening at Toledo where staff were ridiculing them and making fun of them and were in many cases -- we had some people that were -- we had some staff people that were abusing them.  One was dismissed for abuse and then forced to re-hire them and then was guilty of abuse again and finally dismissed again.  And so there are many problems there and we came to the conclusion that we need to do what is in the best interest of these kids and that we can find alternative placements that meet their needs both in terms of the problems that they have to deal with personally as well as their educational needs.  So we're in the process of doing that.  The big question is the 12 delinquent girls and we discovered there are other delinquent girls that have been placed in other non-profits in the state ofIowathat are accredited institutions that have been able to provide better services.  So we're looking at how we can make sure that none of these kids fall through the cracks and the focus needs to be on not protecting the institution but protecting the rights of these kids.

Henderson: When are you going to close the boys training school?

Branstad: Well, I think there's a question as to what is in the best needs of these kids and again --

Henderson: Well, if that kind of facility is not right for girls, why is it okay for boys?

Branstad: Well, first of all, I think with boys the same thing, we ought to look what is in their need?  What meets their needs?  There's also a number of non-profits around the state that fits their needs as well.  Additionally, we have more boys that tend to be violent or dangerous than we do of girls.  So it's a different situation.  But we need to make sure that in each instance we're doing what is in the best interest, not only protecting the safety and well-being of the people ofIowabut in meeting the needs of these kids.  And my concern is too much emphasis is on protecting the institutions.  We have these old institutions that have been around forever and the concern seems to be well we've got to keep the status quo as opposed to what is happening to the kids.  Are they being treated right?  I don't see how anybody can justify keeping these children for an extended period of time in isolation cells --

Borg: Governor, just to be clear, Kay, you were referring to Eldora and that is the state training school for boys.

Branstad: She is, yes.

Borg: Would you ever consider closing that under the same circumstances?

Branstad: Well, I think it would be appropriate to look at all of our institutions and are they meeting the needs of the children that are placed there?  And is there better options or alternatives?  So, I'm not advocating that we change or close that institution.  But I do think and I have visited with Disability Rights Iowa and they think it is appropriate that we review other institutions like Eldora as well.

Obradovich: Governor, the gas tax made some progress in the republican controlled House over the past week.  But democrats say they're not going to act on this unless they see more leadership from you.  You have said you wouldn't say that you would veto it if it reached your desk.  But I haven't seen you out there leading the charge saying, give me a gas tax increase.  What are you going to do?

Branstad: Well, I asked Paul Trombino to put together a whole list of different options and alternatives that would provide additional funding for the road fund in the future.  The good news is this year we're going to have the biggest fund for primary highways in the state's history, $700 million.  That is an all-time record.  But in the future we're going to have to address this issue and I want to make sure that we come up with a plan that is sustainable for the long-term and one that has bipartisan support.  So I have already met with the leadership of both of the transportation committees in the House and Senate, ranking and both the majority leadership and the ranking members and I want to continue to work with them throughout the session to see what is the art of the possible.  And I think the only way this will happen -- and the way it happened last time in 1988 -- was a majority of both parties in both houses came to a consensus on what could be accomplished.  And that's the way -- I would be very willing to work with them to see if that is possible.  But I know that is a long and difficult road.

Obradovich: Governor, you understand the politics of this.  The gas tax is not particularly popular with Iowans.  You're running for re-election and democrats are hoping to keep a hold of the Senate.  They want it to be equally vulnerable or they want you to be as equally vulnerable as them.  Are you willing to get to that point?

Branstad: Well, yes.  But I don't want them to play politics with it either.  And so that's the reason why it's such a delicate situation and why the only way this really works is if -- I think there are people that are interested in examining different options, looking at an excise tax as opposed to a gas tax, and looking at other options that Paul Trombino has placed on the table.  I think it's important, one, that we do it on a pay-as-you-go basis and that we not do it with borrowed money.

Borg: Staying with money, you want signed an increase inIowa's minimum wage.  When would it be the right time to increase that minimum wage again?  What is the criteria in your mind?

Branstad: Well, first of all, I focus on bringing quality jobs toIowa.  I'm proud to say that in the first two years here that I have been Governor, family incomes have grown by over 13%, sixth highest in the country, unemployment is the fifth lowest.  And we have been able to get companies like Google and Facebook and Microsoft to locate here.  We've got two big fertilizer plants being built.  We've got companies like Cargill and CJ and Valent Biosciences --

Borg: But how does that relate to increasing --

Branstad: Because these are good jobs.  And the way we raise income for families is good jobs.  The challenge with the minimum wage is it can also create, it can cause, make it more difficult to create jobs because a lot of businesses will say, well if I'm forced to pay this much an hour I can't make it and consequently it will cost some jobs as well.  So I think you've got to look at it from a balance perspective.  My focus is primarily on trying to encourage and support the creation of private sector jobs.

Borg: I guess I'll ask it directly.  Is this the time to do it?

Branstad: Well, I don't know and I want to wait and see what happens in the legislative process.  I have always reserved judgment on these things until I see it.  I think in 1990 I signed an increase but it all depends upon the magnitude of it and what impact it will have on the state's economy.  I want to see the final version before I make a decision whether it be something I would sign or veto.

Henderson: You have submitted to legislators a proposal in regards to broadband service, expanding its availability, particularly in ruralIowa.  It has come under some scrutiny for a couple of reasons.  The small Telco’s inIowasay the incentive you're providing is not enough to encourage them to make that kind of investment.  Are you willing to plug more money into this proposal to encourage companies to extend service in rural areas?

Branstad: Well, I come fromWinnebagoCounty, Winnebago REC was one of the first to put fiber in the ground.  So I do know there are some of the small Telco’s have done some very good things in this area.  I do want to provide incentives and encouragement for people to do it.  And we're willing to look at what concerns that they may have expressed.  But we do know there needs to be some incentives, we think the incentives ought to be short-term, not really long-term but we want to see every Iowan have the opportunity to have high speed Internet.  It will help our rural communities to be able to be more competitive and to grow.

Henderson: There's also concern about the portion of the proposal that would allow companies to buy parts of the Iowa Communications Network, which is the fiber optic network that the state owns.  Companies like Century Link say, we've been here for over 100 years, we're going to be at an unfair, uncompetitive disadvantage if you sell that space to other companies who come in and try to be an unfair competitor in the marketplace.  How do you answer those questions about usage of the ICN?

Branstad: Well, I think the goal here is to open it for everybody so that it can be shared and so that all of the private sector providers will have equal access and opportunity to utilize it.  So we're not trying to give anybody a competitive advantage, we're trying to make this available.  This is a great asset and it gives us high speed Internet opportunities to areas of the state.  Right now it is limited to schools, hospitals and like National Guard armories.  We want to make this ICN 2, which would be really a public-private partnership.  And I think it would open up great economic opportunities in a lot of places and we want to make sure that it's done on a fair basis and open to everybody.

Obradovich: Doesn't opening it for everybody though give a competitive disadvantage to a company that came in and did not have to invest in all of that infrastructure and then they are able to offer services perhaps at a lower prices than some of the other existing providers?

Branstad: Well, as I said, we want to try to balance this in a way that is open for everybody and we don't want -- part of the problem if we say, well no we're not going to open it so we're not going to have high speed Internet in some areas of the state, I don't think that's fair to the people that live there.  I've lived in rural Iowa most of my life and I know that in many places Internet service is very slow and we want to change that and we want to make sure that we have access to this because this is where the great economic opportunities are going to come and we want to make sure Iowa is open for business and Iowans have access to high speed Internet.

Obradovich: Well, speaking of fairness and balance, your budget that you presented this year would allow the Regents institutions to freeze tuition for the second year in a row.  But it does not provide any sort of increase in basic state aid for community colleges.  And they are saying, what about us?  We're the ones that are going to be the ones creating these skilled labor positions thatIowaseverely lacks.  Would you consider a greater increase for community colleges?

Branstad: Remember, the community colleges got 9% increase last year, more than the Regents or anybody else, and they got a lot of additional responsibility.  We want to make sure that that is effectively implemented in the new responsibilities they have to help people with their basic skills, education and with the job training.  We want to make sure that is done in the best and most efficient way possible.  We also provide additional money for tuition grants for students going to our non-public higher education as well as the second year in a row freeze in tuition.  This is historic.  Previous governors increased tuition 18% to 19% a year. We're looking at givingIowastudents and their families two years without an increase.  I think we know college debt is a big problem.  This goes a long ways towards addressing that.

Obradovich: Aren't you also, though, shifting some money for apprenticeships, which you're increasing in your budget, away from community colleges and to the economic development?

Branstad: Actually -- economic development would oversee this and it would reduce the administrative cost but all the training we expect will be done through the community colleges.  So it's really a partnership and economic development has a role to play here.  I think the community colleges have a role to play.  We're working with theIowa-- with the Master Builders and with ABC and with the building and construction trades.  They're all excited about this opportunity because as we have had economic development success and more construction jobs we don't have enough people with the skills but these are places where they can earn and learn at the same time.  So apprenticeship I think makes a lot of sense and has broad based support.

Henderson: You have made the argument that you need to plan ahead in state government.  Schools say they would like to plan ahead as well and they would like the legislature and the Governor to follow the state law which requires advanced notice of what they will get in state funding for the school year 18 months in advance of its beginning.  Do you plan to follow that state law?

Branstad: Well, last year we worked very hard to do major education reform.  That will be phased in, I just spoke to the school administrators, over the next three years.  And there will be additional funding for that under the Teacher Leadership Program plus we provided, we eliminated an outdated term called allowable growth, which raises property taxes.  Instead it is 100% supplemental state aid, all state dollars.  We provided 4% for the next two years.  Now, when I present my budget in 2015, I intend to win the election and then present it the same time I do the condition of the state address, I intend to put together a two year budget and recommend additional supplemental state aid at that time.  That will be in January.  There will be plenty of time for the legislature to do that.  And that’s the same way we do with everybody else's budget.  We have a two year budget, five year projections and remember, if we want to go back to that old days, the way they did it under Culver when the democrats controlled everything, first of all, they never set allowable growth.  I came in, in January of 2011, allowable growth hadn't been set.  Plus, in 2009, Culver did a 10% across-the-board cut, which dramatically hurt schools and raised their property taxes.  I don't want to go back to those bad old days of uncertainty, I don't want to overpromise.  I have assured school districts we will maintain our commitments to the new teacher education leadership plan, to the property tax relief and we have the resources to do it. 

Borg: Go ahead, Kay.

Henderson: Go ahead.

Borg: I'd like to switch because we're running out of time here.  I'd like to get into more of a political block here and I'd like to do it like this.  I have recalled your past tenure and I have noticed that in this term, you come back to the Statehouse as Governor, you now have your Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds by your side nearly all the time, in every --

Branstad: We're partners.   It's a new days.

Borg: Okay.  Why is it a new day?  What is different?  And why do you have Kim Reynolds with you nearly all the time?

Branstad: Well, first of all, I learned a long time ago you don't do this by yourself. You need to put a strong team together.  And I looked around the state ofIowaand I said, who is a really talented local leader?  Kim Reynolds being treasurer of a small rural county,ClarkeCounty, for 14 years, was chosen as the best county treasurer in theUnited States.  She also represented theCountyTreasurer's Association on Capitol Hill over a number of years and was very well respected by legislators and her colleagues.  Then she was elected to the State Senate.  And when I asked her to run for lieutenant governor and we did a statewide fly around I was absolutely amazed, almost every stop, county treasurers, regardless of party, I'm talking about democrats as well as republicans, came out to show their support for her.  So I think she is very capable, very talented.  One of the other things she did as a state senator, she met with all the department heads and learned the details of the budget.  So she is in on all the decision making, she is next in line to be governor, I want to make sure that she is as well prepared and I'd say she is probably already as well prepared as anybody ever has been to be governor.  Back in the old days, the lieutenant governor was elected separately, you were a legislative leader, that's the route it was when I was lieutenant governor and when you became governor you had to learn all the responsibilities of being the chief executive.  She doesn't have to do that.

Borg: Are you saying --

Branstad: We're grooming her to be the next governor.

Borg: Okay, that's what I was asking.

Henderson: So, Governor, barring serious illness or I guess death, do you pledge to serve all four years of a sixth term?  Or do you intend to resign and let Kim Reynolds become governor?

Branstad: Well, first of all, I think we're a great team.  It's my intention to serve the entire term as governor.  But, life you have to take one day at a time and you try to do the very best you can.  I just want people to know I love the state ofIowa, I want to continue to work hard every day and try to accomplish as much as we can.  I think we're a great team.  And I think we've got a great team working with us.

Obradovich: You said you intend to win a sixth term and apparently you have already started writing your condition of the state message for 2015, so what else --

Branstad: Well, no, I haven't started writing the message --

Obradovich: You just told us one thing that's going to be in the speech so what else are you planning for the next four years?

Branstad: Well, I'm just telling you, you know, the law doesn't require the governor to submit the budget until the end of January.  But I want the legislature to go to work on it right away.  And so my tradition, unlike other governors, I submit the budget when I submit the condition of the state address.  So I intend to do that.  I don't know the details or what we're going to be recommending.  We've got to go through an election campaign, I have to win the confidence of the people that I deserve another opportunity to serve.  I want to show and demonstrate that I have the vision and the ambition and the energy to do that and do it well. 

Obradovich: What I'm asking you is, what is your vision for the next four years?  What are you going to offer Iowans that you are going to be able to do that you have not done over the past 20 years?

Branstad: Okay. First of all, I have spelled out my vision in the condition of the state address of what I want to accomplish this session.  So I've got to put first things first.  We want to accomplish that.  First of all, Dean, I want to say, you said after that condition of the state address the first time you have covered that for 40 years, the opposition leaders in the legislature had nothing negative to say.  I consider that a real compliment because we put together a program with our Home Base Iowa, with our broadband initiative, with what we're doing with anti-bullying, to repurpose abandoned school and public buildings to be used for commercial purposes and with our apprenticeship program and also the legislature has already approved, by unanimous vote, our resolution supporting the robust RFS.  So we want to accomplish that first.  But it is a vicious and important agenda that can make a real difference for Iowans.  After that --

Obradovich: But that doesn't give voters a reason to re-elect you for another four years.

Branstad: There will be plenty of time to campaign once the legislature -- first of all, I was elected to do this job and I'm going to focus on doing this job and doing it well.  Then when the legislative session is completed I will lay out specifics and my vision for the future and the specific goals and ideas, this is what I've always done --

Obradovich: Just a hint, give us one thing.

Branstad: I think if you look at my history you'll see that, first of all, hard work, jobs, improving education, makingIowathe healthiest state in the nation, those will continue to be important priorities.

Henderson: Speaking of jobs, you served on a board that oversaw the certified public accountant world.

Branstad: Yes, AICPA.

Henderson: Exactly. 

Branstad: 300,000 members and I was one of three public members, there are 21 CPAs on the board.

Henderson: And my question is, you have been going out and telling Iowans about the jobs that have been created during your tenure but you haven't been counting the jobs that have been lost.  Would you hire a CPA that only counts losses, I mean gains and not losses?

Branstad: Well, first of all, we talk about what the unemployment rate is in Iowa as well as the jobs that have been created and I'm proud to say, fifth lowest in the nation in unemployment.  Our neighborIllinois, 49th.  You can compare us with a neighbor and see people are leavingIllinois, they're losing jobs, we're creating jobs.  We set a goal -- remember when I ran for Governor, let me say this, I was Governor before and I was Governor during the farm crisis so I know what kind of challenges you can face, that's why we know there's always going to be some jobs that are going to go away.  So we set a very ambitious goal.  There were 110,000 people unemployed when I set this goal.  My goal was to create 200,000 jobs over a five year period.  We're well on track to do that. 

Henderson: Isn't it financial malpractice to tell people jobs have been created and not count the jobs that have been lost?

Branstad: People know the circumstances and they know there's always jobs that are going to go away.  But the truth is,Iowais doing a better job of creating jobs and we're creating more good paying jobs like in manufacturing and construction than we see occurring in a lot of other states.

Borg: I'm sorry to interrupt because we are short on time.  But talking about jobs, a lot of communities are looking at gambling and casinos as economic development now.  Remember back into the 1980s when you vetoed legislation that would have created the lottery.  Twice you vetoed that.  But now --

Branstad: Yeah, and then I got thousands of spent tickets from eastern Iowa of Iowans that were going and spending their money inIllinois.

Borg: Is that the answer?  Are you embarrassed at all about the legacy that during this tenure, you've had so many years as Governor, thatIowahas moved into casino gambling and lottery in a big way?

Branstad: Well, Iowans wanted it and I didn't think it was good for the state to be in the business of promoting gambling.  But the majority of Iowans wanted it and so what I learned is, I need to listen to my constituents.  And people say, we want it.  I wanted to protect the integrity of the state, I want to keep it honest, I wanted to prevent the corruption like inLouisiana.  Edwin Edwards has gone to prison.  You've got legislators that have gone to prison in places like South Carolina and Arizona and in Illinois you have had many politicians that have gone to prison for their bad deeds.  The good news inIowait has been clean, it has been honest, it has been well managed.  Every person that I have appointed to the Racing and Gaming Commission I have personally met with and I have told them your responsibility is not to promote gambling, protect the integrity of the state.  We require that they would only have gaming facilities in places where the people by majority vote approved it through a referendum.

Henderson: Governor, in one sentence, explain why if 20 years was enough for Tom Latham, 20 years is not enough for Terry Branstad?

Branstad: Well, I think it's up to the voters to determine whether or not they like the leadership, they like the work ethic, you like the kind of leadership we have or what the alterative might be.  And, first of all, I respect Tom Latham, I think he has done a great job and I'm sorry to see him decide not to run.  But hopefully we'll find another really good candidate, another republican to represent this district.

Borg: I have to quickly say thank you because we're out of time. 

Branstad: You're welcome.

Borg: Next week another edition of Iowa Press, usual times 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday.  I'm Dean Borg and thanks for joining us today as we move quickly.

 


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