Center stage. David Young carrying republican hopes for retaining Iowa's Third District seat in the United States Congress. A conversation with the surprise candidate on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Choosing a political party's nominee for an open seat in Congress is somewhat like casting a one-person play. Several hopefuls, only one getting on stage. Choosing Iowa's Third District republican candidate had its own drama. First, a primary election, but none of the six receiving the necessary 35% margin. That leaving the decision then to about 500 district republican delegates convening in what one national reporter described as a political carnival. After five rounds of voting, a surprise pick for the third district's leading role. David Young is the republicans' candidate against the democrat's Staci Appel. Mr. Young, Senator Charles Grassley's former chief of staff, now looking to carry that surprise momentum, from a fifth place primary election finish, to holding Tom Latham's current seat in the Congress. Mr. Young, welcome to Iowa Press.
Young: Dean, Kay, Kathie, great to be here. Thank you.
Borg: We're looking forward to a conversation with you. And across the table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Henderson: Mr. Young, beyond a Chuck Grassley protégé serving as his chief of staff, who is David Young?
Young: David Young is a small town kid from Van Meter, Iowa. He loves his state, he loves his neighbors, family, community and he just wants to do what is right. He has got some experience in Washington seeing what has been going on out there. He's seen the good, the bad, a lot of bad out there. I've seen the ugly in Washington, D.C. I've been caught by its trappings and I'm ready to take it on.
Henderson: You, first, quit the Grassley office to run for the United States Senate, but mid-way through you decided to run for Congress. Why?
Young: Well, you know, that Senate race was pretty complicated and there were six people in there and I'm glad I got out of there after seeing what Joni Ernst did, who I greatly support. That door opened when Congressman Latham decided to announce his retirement, someone who I think Iowa will very much miss in the Congress, but I'm happy to go after that seat and take those shoes. But, then we got into the House race, as you know, and then again six more people. That time in the Senate race made me a better candidate. It made me work harder. And here we are sitting across from you today.
Obradovich: You used magic tricks in your ads and at the convention you said somebody asked you if winning the nomination after coming in fifth, after being really behind during most of the ballots, suddenly you pop up as the nominee, was it magic? How did that happen?
Young: I'm not a magician by trade. And, you know, what you saw in my commercials anybody could learn on a bar stool or on YouTube.
Obradovich: Is that how you learned it?
Young: I learned it on YouTube. You know, fifth place in the primary, in a very competitive primary, you know, the five of us, the top five were all within single digits from one another, which shows how great the candidates were and the tough picks that the electorate had. And then we go into the convention and it's anyone's game in that sense. And our strategy was to go see those delegates, try to touch them three times between the primary and the convention, be nice to the other candidates and if I wasn't the first pick for those delegates, as to be their second because as candidates fell out I wanted to be the number two pick and we thought that would propel us to the victory.
Obradovich: How do you go out of the convention where 500 republicans said you're the nominee and get the rest of the Republican Party in the third district to see you as, in fact, their first choice as they look at the general election?
Young: Well, all in all the convention is a very democratic process. And at the end of the day, everybody in that gymnasium was standing on their feet and clapping, we have a nominee. My opponents have reached out to me and said, David, I support you, I'm telling my supporters to support you, let's go to November, let's win this.
Obradovich: But do you have to, do you have to do work on the campaign trail essentially shoring up the base before you can focus wholly on the general election?
Young: Well, you want to appeal to all parts of the party, of course, and different factions there are and I've got great relationships with them. And we're finding the 90% that we all agree on and we're going forward.
Henderson: Your general election opponent, Staci Appel, and democrats, as soon as you were nominated labeled you a Tea Party extremist. They're calling you a D.C. insider who promised delegates at the convention, the way you won was by promising to cut Social Security and Medicare. Address the D.C. insider label because you have actually told people that one of the reasons you should be elected is because you know your way around Washington.
Young: Well, it's a strength. And knowing how to hit the ground running in Washington, D.C. is an asset. And working for Senator Grassley under his mentorship and tutelage is not a bad thing. We did some good things there. He taught me how to listen to people. Iowans are my boss, not anyone else, not party leadership. And we see what happens with party leadership sometimes, look what happened to Eric Cantor when you don't remember who your boss is.
Borg: But you're kind of, as I get it, Kay's question runs to the core of this, you're trying to run as an insider and an outsider because you just told us a few minutes ago, I've seen the good, bad and the ugly of Washington, I'm ready to take it on. So, that means you're running as an outsider, and yet you're saying I can hit the ground running there.
Young: Sure. Well, you know, I wish Washington, I wish the U.S. Capitol was not in Washington, D.C. and I never had to leave Iowa. But that is where it is and that's where I wanted to go to work for Iowa and work with Senator Grassley and use those experiences. Being on the phone with Iowans every day and meetings with Iowans every day and then getting out to all the 16 counties.
Henderson: What about the substance of the cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which was the criticism out of the gate from your opponent?
Young: Well, I've never said that. And, first of all, we need to make sure that Social Security and Medicare is preserved for our seniors. That promise has to be kept. And we need leadership on this issue. We need it from the White House. We need it from Congress. And we need to make sure that it's strengthened and there for future generations. We have to put everything on the table. This is what President Reagan did in 1984 with Tip O'Neill in the Congress and democrat leaders and republican leaders agree, put it all on the table, you can take things off but you have to start with an honest debate. This is a big issue for Iowans.
Borg: How will voters differentiate you from Staci Appel? What will they see as major differences?
Young: Well, you know, she has a voting record, it's a very liberal voting record and I don't have a voting record. And we'll be able to make that contrast out there. I'm not going to give our strategy away to you. But we'll be talking about things like Obamacare, taxes and the role of government.
Henderson: So, what will you tell voters about Obamacare?
Young: Well, it's the law of the land right now. I don't like -- I didn't like the process. I don't like the law. But it is the law and as long as President Obama is the President it's likely not to be repealed. Now, you see a lot of democrats who are running away from Obamacare here in this election. So, there may be ways to tweak it, fix it, I'd like to start all over and see it repealed. But knowing that it's probably not likely this time around, we're going to have a super majority if that did happen, so I'm telling folks that I want to attack the problems within it as long as it's there.
Henderson: So, would you delay the employer mandate?
Young: Yeah, I would. Yeah.
Obradovich: Do you see yourself more in the mold of Tom Latham or another congressman neighbor to the west, Steve King, as you look at what kind of congressman you would be?
Young: Well, Tom Latham has been a great representative for this district. And both of them, Steve King and Tom Latham, are folks that can identify problems and want to be at the table with solutions. My demeanor is a little more calm and reserved but it doesn't mean that I'm not passionate or firm in my resilience when it comes to issues.
Obradovich: So, one example of a difference between those two is Congressman Latham voted to raise the debt ceiling and the government shutdown, Steve King was on the other side of that issue. Where do you think -- do you think that you would follow in Tom Latham's steps in issues like that?
Young: Well, first of all, we have to have the debate and I want to look at, watch the debate, talk to colleagues. And, you know, Iowans are very concerned about debt. I'm concerned about debt. People all across the country are concerned about debt. And the debt ceiling is a big issue. Government shutdowns are big issues. This is just a big symptom of a dysfunctional government not doing their job and not being able to control spending. If the debt ceiling is going to go up I want to see something negotiate on it, something that gives us some fiscal discipline and maybe helps strengthen our entitlement program, things like that.
Borg: But would you go as far as not shutting down the government in order to achieve that? That is, you want to achieve fiscal responsibility, a debt ceiling. But, would you go as far as voting to shut down the government?
Young: Well, I'm not one who wants to shut down the government. I want to keep the government open and be at the table to keep it open. And we find that shutting down the government, it costs more money than it saves, in fact, Dean.
Borg: Kathie, I interrupted you.
Obradovich: You asked the same question I was going to ask, Dean, so that's okay. We'll let Kay go.
Henderson: We have some other issue questions. Immigration has been an issue lately. But minimum wage is an issue about which democrats have been speaking. As a republican candidate, what are you telling folks in regards to the federal minimum wage?
Young: Well, I tell them I want to see every Iowans' pay raise go up. I want to see them make more money. In the past with the minimum wage it has been a bipartisan effort. We have found a way to help raise the minimum wage and at the same time give small businesses tax relief. I think you have to have the tax relief on there. The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office says half a million jobs may end if this happens without any kind of relief.
Young: Right. And so, I think we need to make sure that the small business tax relief is there and it has to be a bipartisan effort.
Obradovich: Alright. Well, another issue that started off maybe as being a bipartisan effort but has devolved again is immigration. As you think about that issue, Senator Grassley, of course, his feeling about that was driven by the law passed in the '80s that he felt ended up being amnesty without any real border security. Is your feeling about comprehensive immigration reform different than that? And how would you define amnesty?
Young: Well, first of all we have to make sure our borders are secure. It is the law. And we see what is happening right now with these children coming across the border. There's a humanitarian issue here right now. I want to see the borders secured. I am not for amnesty. I would like to see a guest worker program, which we have had in the past, and which I think could work. I don't like what happened with the Senate bill, the thousand plus page bill, and I don't like the way in that bill the border was going to be certified as safe. It was going to be done unilaterally by the Department of Homeland Security and the President. And I think that Congress needs to have skin in the game to determine when this border is safe and they will make sure that it is safe.
Obradovich: When you say amnesty, are you saying a path to citizenship that doesn't involve people going back to their country of origin and waiting in line? Is that what you're talking about with amnesty?
Young: Well, you know, that kind of fits in with the legal reform. I think that they need to get in the back of the line if there's going to be a pathway to citizenship and my preference is a guest worker program.
Henderson: What would you do with the children, unaccompanied children, who are crossing the border in waves right now? Would you place them with families as deportation proceedings are happening? Or would you send them back immediately?
Young: Well, once again, you comment on the humanitarian face to all of this. And, like many republicans and democrats right now, they see this crisis and there's great sympathy for these kids. They are without their family. And I believe that we need to make sure that we contact their governments and find where they came from and find a safe way to get them back there.
Henderson: In regards to another issue that has come up in the campaign already, the Renewable Fuels Standard, the federal rule which requires, in essence, a bunch of ethanol and biodiesel to be produced in the country. What is your rationale for supporting the Renewable Fuels Standard?
Young: Well, I look at our fuel at the pump and the monopoly that the petroleum industry has on that. And if we want to bring some competition there may be some times when the government does get involved, and they have done this in the past, to try to bring some competition. And so this is not just great for farmers, but it's great for the pocketbooks of families who are paying less at the pump and that is more money in their pocket.
Henderson: But I've heard you say it should be phased out.
Young: I'd like to see it phased out. I'd like to see it brought to that point where it's strong enough where you can phase that out and it can stand on its own.
Henderson: What about wind energy tax credits, another popular tax credit in Iowa, unpopular, however, with a lot of republicans?
Young: Well, we need comprehensive tax reform and with that I think you have to put all the tax credits, tax incentives on the table. And I don't want wind energy to go, to leave Iowa. I want it to be there. In terms of tax credits for this industry or any other industry, I think they can be self-sufficient and they have given the nod and said that, you know, maybe we can phase this out in five to seven years and we don't need to push them off a cliff but let it be phased out.
Borg: The Keystone -- go ahead, Kathie.
Obradovich: Go ahead.
Borg: The Keystone Pipeline, as long as you're talking about energy, coming down through Nebraska, near as it gets to Iowa, I know that you have been in favor of building that pipeline. It has not yet been approved. But what, if you were elected to Congress, could you do to make that a reality, if that's what you want?
Young: Sure, right now the administration holds all the cards on this in terms of the State Department and making that order to allow it to happen. Congress could bring it up for a vote. And I think that is what needs to happen. We have seen that it is being done in the House, but not in the Senate. And so, you have to bring it up for a vote. Those are great jobs, not just for folks from the northern states down to Texas but also in Iowa as well. There's going to be great service jobs, manufacturing jobs, jobs for drivers, good paying jobs. And it's not just about jobs, it's about energy independency and energy national security.
Borg: And you're not concerned that it might be environmentally sensitive or harmful?
Young: Well, the pipeline is safer than let's say it being carried on barges or boats or on trains. We've seen the major catastrophes related to these spills, so to speak, coming from those vehicles.
Borg: So, what you're saying, it's better than what we have now?
Young: I think so, yes, Dean.
Obradovich: One of the bright lines that gets drawn between the two parties in general election is often on social issues, with democrats historically opposing any abortion restrictions and advocating freedom for people to marry regardless of their gender. Your party has not been in favor of that. What would you -- what sort of priority would you make abortion rights and gay marriage as a congressman?
Young: Well, currently with this President and a divided Congress you're not going to see much done on it at all. And we're seeing the strategy here is now with the state level. We've seen things happen in many states around the country regarding marriage and life issues, abortion issues. And so, that seems to be where the next is going. You know, DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, kicked to the states and, as we know, it is legal in Iowa.
Obradovich: So, nothing? Are you saying no priority for you? Let it happen at the state level?
Young: Well, whatever -- I will defend life and defend marriage if it is brought up at the federal level.
Obradovich: Okay, but you're not going to initiate anything to seek to push that issue along?
Young: I just want to get elected first in November.
Henderson: So, but what happens if you are elected and you get re-elected in 2016 along with a republican president? What would you like the federal government to do in regards to those issues?
Young: Well, taxpayer funding, if anything and partial birth abortion. But we'll see what kind of majorities we have. But, you know, what I've been pushing here in my campaign are not social issues, although they are important to me personally. But issues on debt, the economy, government accountability -- and as we know we have a government that is out of control and recently the IRS has pegged Barbara and Senator Grassley with a possible tax examination.
Borg: What I'm hearing you saying, I just want to clarify, that abortion, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, are not priority issues with you, that you have other things in mind that are priority issues, but you have personal feelings on those two issues?
Young: Personal feelings but if there is an avenue, if there is a republican majority or a republican Senate we'll explore those, yeah.
Henderson: There is one veterans' administration hospital in your district, correct? In your would-be district if you're elected, pardon me.
Young: Here in town.
Henderson: What are your thoughts in regards to reform of the veterans' administration?
Young: Well, you know, veterans -- I'm from Van Meter and they have Iowa Veterans Cemetery right there on the Interstate and I pass by that every day and I think about the men and women who have sacrificed for our country. They need the best health care out there. And some are happy with what they're getting at the veterans' hospitals. And for those that aren't, and we've seen some just awful stories across the country, I believe that they should be given a credit or certificate to get the best private care if they want or at another veterans' hospital. But we need to take care of our veterans.
Obradovich: Can you do that without undermining the overall veterans' system? You're part of the discussion about essentially partially privatizing that system is the unique ability of the veterans' administration to practice the medicine that veterans coming back from combat really need, such as prosthetic research. I mean, can you find a way to actually support both parts of that system?
Young: I think you have to because, like you say, many veterans are very happy with what they're receiving in the veterans' hospitals and especially those who come back with some PTSD, that kind of thing, who want to be in a community of veterans who know what they have gone through and know what they're going through.
Henderson: Do you support term limits? The fellow you work for in D.C., Senator Grassley, certainly doesn't.
Young: Well, you know, term limits is at the voting ballot every two years or six years if you're a Senator, four years as a President. Seniority has helped Iowa. You know, as Senator Harkin, Senator Grassley, Steve King, Congressman Latham, their seniority has helped Iowa and been able to put Iowa at the table. I'm not self-imposing term limits on myself. If a bill came up for term limits that it applied to all members of Congress I'd likely vote for that and get some turnover there. But we have to be very careful about people self-imposing because let's say I want to self-impose six terms and I'm out in 12 years but it looks like the 14th year I could have been budget chairman and put forth some of my budget principles, I don't want to be in the position to break my word to Iowans.
Obradovich: Senator Grassley, as you mentioned, voted against the Farm Bill this last time. You have said that you would have voted for that. Am I correct in saying that?
Young: You are correct, Kathie.
Obradovich: And so why would you -- why the difference there? And what do you think is the most important thing to do as we look toward farm policy for the future?
Young: Well, the most important thing -- well, first of all, the difference between Senator Grassley and I on that issue, he had a niche issue that he cared passionately about that was passed in the Senate and in the House and in conference it was knocked out. And so, that is probably the main reason why he voted against it.
Obradovich: A protest vote.
Young: Yeah, a protest vote. And he has all but said that in press releases and in statements. When it comes to ag policy, it's not always at the USDA that we have to look at. We have to look at the EPA and what they're doing. Right now they want to redefine water under the Clean Water Act, which could cause creek beds and culverts to be regulated and cause farmers maybe to have to be getting permits for tiling. We can't allow that to happen. And the EPA also, as you know, has rolled up their sleeves at one time to try to regulate dust and now methane and they just need to have some more accountability. And we need to invite some of these EPA folks out to Iowa to show them that arms are not cookie cutter. They're not all the same. There's different practices and different things on farms.
Borg: Before we get -- go ahead, Kay.
Henderson: Beyond the investigation of the Internal Revenue Service and its targeting of additional scrutiny for conservative groups on their tax documents that have been submitted to the agency, would you vote to abolish the IRS and establish a national sales tax as some republicans are proposing?
Young: Well, when tax revenue is sent in it's going to have to be handled by somebody. I think the best way to get, to lessen the impact of what the IRS does is by doing just what you said, some simplification of the tax code. Let's have the debate on the fair tax, the national sales tax. If that is passed we certainly have to do something about the 16th Amendment, the income tax, and let's have the debate about the flat tax as well.
Henderson: Would you prefer perhaps a flat tax?
Young: I'm open to either one. But anything is better than what we have right now, in my opinion.
Obradovich: Are you saying abolish the 16th Amendment or are you saying --
Young: You would, I think you would have to, if there was a national sales tax, because I tell you what, from what I've seen in that swamp of Washington, if you give another avenue for members of Congress to tax somebody, they'll take it.
Obradovich: So, in other words, you don't want to have both a national sales tax and an income tax, it's one or the other?
Borg: Before we get too far away from talking about the veterans that we were speaking of and health care, I'm curious about what you think about possibly further U.S. involvement in what is happening in Iraq right now.
Young: Well, we made some headway in just the last year really. We saw things just fall apart.
Borg: Yes, and so what should we do?
Young: Well, I'm very weary of sending ground troops. But the first thing we need to do is to make sure that our civilian force and the military that is already there is taken care of. And we also need to make sure that we have a real debate in Congress about this because we need to have some real strategic planning and we need to realize what area we're in, the Middle East, it's a powder keg, you see what is happening in Syria, you see what is happening coming down from Russia even. And so we just need to make sure that Congress is involved in this and we need to take care of those who are there right now and defend them.
Obradovich: When we talk about balancing the budget, a lot of times the talk centers around which agencies you'd most like to abolish. I have to tell you, it strikes me as being more of a political answer than a way to actually balance the budget. Most of these agencies, the amount of spending is a very small percentage of what actually goes into the budget. So, as you look at the overall budget, what are the ways that that U.S. is really going to get to a balanced budget?
Young: Well, you know, you can look at every agency, and that is what I would do, from the Defense Department, Department of Commerce, what have you, there's plenty of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in there. And so we need to really, we need to go after that. And we, certainly at this point we need to really freeze spending. And at the same time we have to strengthen our Social Security and Medicare programs and look at entitlements because as you know, Kathie and Kay, that's where the money really is for savings.
Obradovich: Entitlements and defense, right? So do you have serious defense cuts? Or are you talking about waste, fraud and abuse that nobody knows for sure what that means?
Borg: We have only about a half minute remaining, Mr. Young.
Young: Well, I'd start with waste, fraud and abuse there and in every other agency, but at the same time, we have to create an environment in this economy, in this country to create more jobs where there will be more revenue coming in to help draw down the debt and the deficits.
Borg: Thank you very much for spending time with us today and getting acquainted with you and your views.
Young: Thank you, Dean, Kay, Kathie.
Both: Thank you.
Borg: A programming note too, because of Iowa Public Television's special presentation of A Capitol Fourth next week, Iowa Press next Friday will air at 11:00 at night and then back to our usual time next weekend at noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg and thanks for joining us today.