Chief executive. Governor Terry Branstad heads Iowa government's executive branch, but also has legislative credentials. A conversation with Governor Branstad on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Governor Terry Branstad is balancing somewhat disparate objectives these days. Heading Iowa's executive branch as the state's 42nd Governor and he is simultaneously campaigning for re-election. Interestingly, Mr. Branstad's resume also shows he was Iowa's 39th Governor serving 4 terms from 1983 to 1999. Following a break heading Des Moines University, Iowans four years ago chose him for a fifth term. And now he's seeking a sixth. Adding to that, he has served in Iowa's legislative branch representing Winnebago County in the House of Representatives. And holding a law degree gives him judicial insight too. But, as I implied earlier, governing and simultaneously asking voters to give republicans the executive branch for another four years raises challenges. And whether or not those issues are partisan or not, as Governor, Mr. Branstad is expected to answer them. Governor, welcome back to Iowa Press.
Governor Branstad: Thank you, Dean. Great to be with you and great to be on Iowa Press.
Borg: Another topic here and this is a question that has been burning in my mind. You said you were going to get down to the weight that would allow you to get into your uniform for Memorial Day. Have you accomplished that?
Governor Branstad: I have. I have achieved my goal. I will be signing the Home Base Iowa bill at the Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge on Memorial Day, Monday. Fortunately the 30 day window includes Memorial Day and I'll be wearing my Army uniform to sign the bill. I set that ambitious goal, I'm pleased the legislature approved the Home Base Iowa as our top priority this session and I will sign it at the Gold Star Museum on Memorial Day. I think tentatively we're looking at 8:30 in the morning on Memorial Day to sign that at the Gold Star Museum in my uniform.
Borg: Congratulations on getting down to that weight.
Governor Branstad: Well, I'm proud of that. And I'm honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to serve both in the military and then to serve as Governor and to serve as Governor again. And, you know, there's a major reduction going on in our military and there's a lot of talented leaders with technical skills that we want to attract to Iowa. Home Base Iowa will eliminate the tax on military retirement and also eliminate out-of-state tuition for veterans and their spouses and dependents that come to Iowa and many other good things in this legislation.
Borg: Governor, there are a couple of other people at the table who want to ask some questions too. And I've asked the question that has taken maybe the first part of the show here. Let me introduce --
Governor Branstad: It's the most important - one of the most important issues. Thank you.
Borg: James Lynch who writes for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids will be asking questions. And Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson. Kay?
Henderson: Governor, another bill that you have not yet acted upon would allow chronic epileptics, mainly children, to take an oil derived from cannabis. Have you made a decision on that bill yet?
Governor Branstad: Yes. We have carefully reviewed that and I have decided, after looking at that cannabis oil bill, that I will sign it next week.
Henderson: So, why?
Governor Branstad: Well, I guess the legislature and I were convinced I think by a lot of the families that have children that are epileptics and have these severe seizures, that this is something that can help them. We wanted to avoid unforeseen circumstances and I think the bill that passed is very limited, it's limited only to epileptics. There have to be a neurologist, an Iowa neurologist that would authorize it. The amount of it is limited. The THC content is limited to 3%. And there is significant oversight. Because of that I believe -- and because I believe that this will avoid the possibility of people getting their hands on this for other purposes, because it doesn't have the hallucinogenic characteristics, I believe that it would be appropriate to sign it. Also I talked to the governors of Utah and Alabama who passed similar bills this year and they both signed those laws and I believe that this was something that will give some hope to these families who have members that are suffering from epilepsy and deal with these severe seizures.
Henderson: What do you say to critics who say this is just one more step down the road to medical marijuana for everybody like they have in California?
Governor Branstad: Well, we don't want to have the problems they have in California or Colorado or some of these other states. And that's why I was very skeptical and concerned about the unintended consequences. But we worked very closely with the legislators through this process to try to make sure that it was very focused, very targeted, very limited and that it wouldn't get in the hands of people that want to use it for other purposes. And it can't be smoked, this is an oil that is used strictly to treat epilepsy and it's just for that purpose.
Lynch: On another health related issue, Governor, the legislature has legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. That's another bill on your desk. Have you made any decision on that?
Governor Branstad: Yes. I do intend to sign that legislation as well. Now, one of my concerns about it is, I've always been a militant, I'm married to a militant non-smoker and I have always been a strong advocate for protecting the public against tobacco. You may recall when I was Governor before we eliminated the use of, we eliminated cigarettes in both Terrace Hill and the Capitol and then I have banned the sale of cigarettes in the Capitol and other state office buildings. And then, of course, the Clean Air Act was passed later. This piece of legislation I think some of the health proponents don't think it goes far enough but it does at least ban the sale to minors and so I think it is something that is in the interest of the health of the people of Iowa.
Henderson: In the closing days of the legislative session the interest for greyhound racing and the two casinos which have been operating greyhound racetracks came to an agreement. Legislators passed legislation that essentially ratified that. Do you intend to approve that?
Governor Branstad: We are carefully reviewing that. And the concern that I have -- and I understand the benefits that the people in Council Bluffs and Dubuque see from this and the greyhound industry -- my concern I think the horse industry was left out of this and there is a provision that deals with simulcasting and I think there is some concern that I'm hearing from my friends in the horse industry. I have always been close with them, we have a very big and significant horse industry in the state of Iowa. So I'm presently reviewing the legislation --
Borg: Well, how does it relate to horses?
Governor Branstad: Well, because it has got to do with simulcasting and we have the horse track here at Prairie Meadows and the benefits to the dogs as opposed to benefiting the horse industry from the simulcasting that would occur is something that has -- so they were left out of this. And I think that's the concern. I want to try to balance it. I want to make sure that what we do is fair to all concerned. And I understand there's also concern from the non-profits because the cost of subsidizing the greyhound industry has taken money that could have gone to benefit non-profits. I insisted that all of the licenses for gaming be non-profits and they make substantial contributions in the community. I think that has worked very well. But the subsidy of the greyhounds, because the attendance has been so low, has really cut into the benefits to the non-profits. So I'm trying to weigh all of those things. I want to do something that is fair to all of the communities involved and fair to all of the parties. And the one group that seems to be, because of the simulcasting provisions of that bill, having some concerns, is the horse industry. And so I'm carefully reviewing that. I have not made a final decision. But next week we'll -- our deadline I think is Saturday of next week and sometime between now and then we'll make the decision.
Lynch: We want to ask you about one more bill that is on your desk and that has to do with the use of drones. The legislature passed a bill that would limit the use of drones, prohibit invading someone's privacy with drone use. And I wonder, does that bill go far enough or do you have concerns about the growing use of drones?
Governor Branstad: Well, I think there are good uses for drones, and frankly in agriculture, and we're a very big agricultural state, I think there could be some really positive, beneficial things for drones in the future. My understanding of this legislation, which is really designed to protect privacy for the citizens, is something that I am going to sign. But with regard to the use of drones, I think we've got to be careful not to be too restrictive because there could be some real significant benefits. I have especially heard this from the agricultural people in our state.
Borg: Go ahead.
Lynch: Is this something that the legislature is going to have to re-visit probably to set more parameters?
Governor Branstad: Well, it's a brand new development. Drones are something that have just started to come on significantly. I know I've seen something on television about how they may in the future want to deliver packages by drones and all this kind of stuff. And so there's a lot of questions about that. And I'm sure it's something we're going to have to deal with and my guess is this isn't the last time we'll deal with the issue of drones.
Borg: Well, let me bring up another issue that seems to be coming back and you may be asked to decide this one too. That is the Cedar Rapids area applied for a casino license. They were rejected by the Racing and Gaming Commission on the grounds, it was a 4 to 1 vote, on the grounds that it would be too competitive with existing casinos in Iowa, especially those in the eastern side of the state. Mayor Ron Corbett of Cedar Rapids, and others, now seem inclined that they might take this issue to the Iowa legislature to be sure if there is a legislative remedy to get a casino located in Cedar Rapids. Would you favor, if that bill came to your desk, you said this is not the last time we're going to hear of it and I think you're going to hear about the Cedar Rapids casino, would you sign it?
Governor Branstad: Well, first of all, I always reserve judgment on all bills until I see it in its final form. The Racing and Gaming Commission is an independent commission that is appointed by the Governor --
Borg: But, Jeff Lamberti, the Chair, has said if there's going to be a change then it has to be a legislative remedy.
Governor Branstad: And the legislature has changed the gaming laws many times over the years. So I'd certainly have an open mind to consider those kinds of changes. But I believe that the legislative process would need to work in this case and, as I said, I was the Governor when we authorized gaming in the state of Iowa and our goal was protect the integrity of the state, keep it honest and keep corruption out. I think we've been successful in doing that. The Racing and Gaming Commission has an important responsibility to protect the integrity of the state. But the legislature has, over the years, made adjustments and changes in the law and I'm open to considering those kinds of changes. I understand -- one of the things that Ron Corbett has suggested is that this would be a smoke free casino. That's something that has a real appeal to me. And so I like that idea. But I would reserve judgment until we see the legislation in its final form.
Henderson: Governor Branstad, you gave a very spirited speech this past week to a group of Polk County republicans. And in that speech your criticized your, more than likely democratic opponent, Jack Hatch. You referred to him as a millionaire. Do you ever quarrel with how he has made this money? Is that going to be an issue that you bring up in this race?
Governor Branstad: Well, first of all, he has refused to disclose his tax returns for the previous years. I have disclosed for 24 years. He disclosed 1 year and his campaign manager promised he would do the previous four but within three hours he reneged on that commitment and said he's not going to do it. I believe in openness and transparency in government and I think there's a clear indication that in my administration we have worked to expand the opportunities for public scrutiny in information. I believe in efficient and accountable, effective government and I think it needs to be transparent.
Lynch: Sure. Governor, let's talk about how you have raised your money. You reported this week that you have raised $1.1 million so far this year and you're sitting on a campaign treasury of about $4.5 million. You've got fundraisers planned with Governor's Perry and Chris Christie and I think you just were with Jeb Bush last night raising money. How much money do you need to run for Governor in Iowa? Is it getting too expensive, is it costing too much?
Governor Branstad: Well, it's more every time. The first time I ran it was only a million dollars but that was back in 1982. It's obviously a lot more expensive now and television is a big part of that cost. But I'm really proud of the fact that we have over 15,000 contributors. And in the last disclosure period most, I think 98% of our contributions came from individual Iowans. I appreciate the support I'm getting from other republican governors all around the country, people like Perry and Christie and former Governor Jeb Bush and others.
Borg: But there have been some who are contending -- Jim, go ahead.
Lynch: Well, some of those individual Iowans who have contributed to you are people you appointed to various boards and commissions. And the suggestion has been made this is a pay-to-play practice, that people are making contributions in return for getting appointed to these boards and commissions.
Governor Branstad: Well, first of all, I'm very proud that we have a tremendous amount of Iowans that want to volunteer and serve on various boards and commissions.
Lynch: Are they volunteering or are they paying to get on those commissions?
Governor Branstad: No, they're not -- nobody pays to get on anything and remember, more than -- most of the people that I have appointed haven't contributed. I think less than 1 in 6 have made a contribution. But we have 15,000 contributors and just because somebody has made a contribution they should not be denied the opportunity to volunteer and serve the people of Iowa in another way. So I'm very appreciative of all of the volunteers that help in political campaigns but also the people that are willing to serve on boards and commissions.
Lynch: Would those people have made a contribution if they hadn't been appointed to a commission?
Governor Branstad: Really, we don't look at whether they made a contribution or not. We're looking for, we're looking for good people who have the skills and ability to serve the people of Iowa. And we have to have party balance and gender balance on all boards and commissions. And so I try to find the best people, meet the legal requirements, make sure that we have party balance and gender balance and I'm really proud of the very wonderful, capable people we have that are willing to serve and I think they're doing a great job.
Henderson: Governor, the gas tax has become an issue in the U.S. Senate race. Legislators did not vote to raise it. Number one, are you relieved? And number two, do you owe it to Iowans to tell them how you're going to fix their roads as you campaign for re-election?
Governor Branstad: Well, I asked Paul Trombino --
Henderson: But you didn't endorse, you didn't endorse his recommendations.
Governor Branstad: No, but I did ask him to put together a series of options. Those options are being discussed. I think there is a growing awareness that we need to do something about the transportation needs of our state. And Paul has done a lot to reduce administrative costs. This year we have $700 million being spent on the primary highway system, the most in history. When you look to the future and you see with people driving more fuel efficient vehicles and also with the problems with the federal funding there's going to be a need to do something. And I think we need to carefully review all of those options and determine what makes the most sense. I think it should be done as a pay-as-you-go basis and the people that get the benefit of the roads are the ones that should pay for the financing of them and not with borrowed money.
Lynch: Speaking of roads, you and Senator Hatch have both had your issues with speeding on Iowa highways. And I want to ask, do you think the Iowa State Trooper who ticketed Jack Hatch earlier this week for speeding showed the proper discretion in not doubling that fine because it occurred in a construction zone?
Governor Branstad: Well, I wouldn't comment on his situation. I just don't think it would be appropriate. I believe that the Highway Patrol in this state are outstanding, dedicated professionals and I trust them to make good judgment.
Lynch: Are these tickets going to be a liability? Are they going to be a campaign issue?
Governor Branstad: As far as I'm concerned we ought to focus on the issues that Iowans care about, jobs, having the financial house in order, focusing on education, our goal to be the healthiest state. I think those are the things that we, the people of Iowa care about and that's what I'm going to focus on.
Henderson: The Department of Administrative Services has been a focus for legislative inquiry. You have made a change in leadership there. And this is the same agency that advised the Secretary of State that it was okay to lay off merit employees and give them a couple week's pay but keep on political appointees on the payroll for months at a time when they weren't coming into the office to work. Do you have adequate control over that agency? And do you have a problem with treating some state employees differently than others?
Governor Branstad: Well, first of all, I think everybody needs to be treated fairly and we have made changes in that department. As you know, the director of that department has been terminated. I have appointed a very quality person now as the permanent director of that, Janet Phipps, she previously served as the Director of General Services and then she was the Director of Management and Budget for the state of Michigan. She also became a general and recently retired from the Iowa National Guard. She came back to Iowa, got her law degree, was in law practice here, was legal counsel for that agency and is now the director. I can't think of anybody that is better qualified. She has got the legal background, she has the experience in government in two states, she's got the right kind of temperament and I have given her my full support in making the adjustments and changes needed to make sure the Department of Administrative Services is serving the needs of the people of Iowa.
Henderson: So, but why when you lay off someone does it depend on if you were a political appointee or you were part of the merit system, why does that determine your exit package?
Governor Branstad: Well, it doesn't and it shouldn't. I believe, first of all, that if you're a political appointee frankly you can be terminated immediately without any right to appeal. If, however, you are not, then you have all the protections that come with either the merit system or if you're a union employee then under the contract system and many times those get appealed and that's where the settlements come and that is where you have arbitrators that make decisions. You may have read recently an arbitrator required somebody that had been dismissed to be hired back and paid back pay. And people say, why are they giving these people these settlements? Well, because they're fearful that they could lose in arbitration and have to pay that. I want to protect the interests of the taxpayers. The big concern I have is all of this stuff is done in secret. And it shouldn't be. I have signed an executive order, executive order 85, saying no more of these confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements. However, still, the personnel records are not subject to the open records law. Consequently, when somebody is dismissed for something really serious, like the Des Moines Register recently wrote a story about a person who was a patient in a mental institution in this state who the doctor said should only have a liquid diet and one of the employees fed him a peanut butter sandwich and he choked to death. Well, this is absolutely wrong, the person has been terminated. But that is, as I understand, on appeal right now and who knows whether that person will be re-instated or not. The public should have the right to know that information. The House of Representatives passed a bill that would have made that information public. Senate democrats refused to do that. I think that's wrong --
Borg: That raises some other questions, Jim.
Lynch: These exit packages, the settlements are all going to be part of an oversight committee continuing investigation. I'm wondering if you look at those oversight committee hearings as sort of your Benghazi hearings --
Governor Branstad: No, we have nothing to hide. We have given them thousands of pages of documents and e-mails. We're going to totally cooperate with all of this. The people that have something to hide are the Senate democrats who don't want the people of Iowa to know that the people that are financing their campaign, the public employee unions, don't want these personnel records to be made public, nor they also hide behind legislative privilege, they don't want their e-mails to be revealed to see if there's coordination between Senator Hatch's campaign and his Senate colleagues that are conducting these oversight hearings. We don't have anything to hide. They're the ones that have things to hide.
Henderson: Karl Rove has recently raised questions about Hillary Clinton's fitness to be president because of health issues. Both you and Jack Hatch are in the same decade, you're baby boomers just like Hillary Clinton. Do you think your health is a legitimate issue for voters to be concerned about?
Governor Branstad: Well, that is the reason why I have tried to lead by example and why I've lost enough weight to wear my Army uniform. When I got out of the service in 1971 my goal is for Iowa to become the healthiest state in the nation and I want to lead by example by eating right, exercising regularly and doing all I can to protect my own -- I want all Iowans to take ownership of their own health and do what they can in terms of exercise, nutrition, managing the health risks that they might have. We do a regular annual health risk assessment and then I work to try to reduce those risk factors. I think every Iowan should do that. That's part of our Iowa health and wellness plan too.
Borg: There's another assessment going on and that is the fiscal health of Iowa's universities. Without going into a lot of detail there is a proposal that would take money from the University of Iowa's current appropriation and give it to UNI and Iowa State, decreasing Iowa's. There's a lot of angst about that. How do you feel about it? You're a U of I grad.
Governor Branstad: Yes. I just met with the faculty and I just visited the Pappajohn Biomedical Research Facility at the University of Iowa, which by the way I think is a wonderful facility and I think there's going to -- and they're attracting some really outstanding researchers to that. I would point out, the Board of Regents allocation of funds of state appropriations has not changed for 40 or 50 years.
Borg: And you think it should?
Governor Branstad: I think they should review it. And one of the reasons why they're looking at it is because the University of Northern Iowa most of the students are from Iowa and they pay lower in-state tuition. The University of Iowa gets a lot of out-of-state students paying much more in tuition and consequently UNI has had some real financial problems. I think it is appropriate the Regents look at it. But I think it is also important they be sensitive to the University of Iowa's role as a research institution and the role that plays and the benefit that provides to the people of Iowa as well and particularly this medical research that I saw there. So, I think the Regents are carefully reviewing this and they're going to make recommendations. It is my understanding they have a committee that is going to make recommendations, then the board will have to take action and this will include phasing in a new formula for funding the universities in future years.
Henderson: Governor, very quickly, does Danny Carroll have your support as chairman of the Republican Party for the remainder of the year?
Governor Branstad: Well, it's up to the central committee and then we have a new central committee that is going to take office at the end of the republican state convention. They are the ones that choose the chair of the party --
Borg: How do you feel?
Governor Branstad: Well, I don't -- my feeling is, my role is to lead the whole party to victory. I want to work with all of the candidates. I want to make sure the party is supporting and working for all the candidates and I'm not going to take sides in who should be the head of the, who should be the chairman of the republican party.
Borg: I'm sorry that I have to be the heavy here. We're out of time. In fact, we're over time. Thank you for being with us. Next week on Iowa Press, mayors of Iowa's two largest cities, Ron Corbett of Cedar Rapids and Frank Cownie of Des Moines. You'll see the show at the same times next week, 7:30 Friday night, noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.