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The Des Moines Register Governor Debate: Race for the Republican Nomination

posted on May 20, 2010

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The first step toward choosing the next governor of Iowa begins with the June 8th primary election.  Today, three republicans seeking their party's nomination face off for their third and final debate before that crucial vote.  From the studios of Iowa Public Television, this is the Des Moines Register Governor's Debate: Republican Race for the Nomination.

Washburn: Hello, I'm Carolyn Washburn, editor of the Des Moines Register. On behalf of Iowa Public Television and the Register I want to welcome you to the 2010 primary debate among the republican candidates for governor. On June 8th, voters will nominate candidates to be the next governor of Iowa. The winner of the republican primary will face incumbent democrat Chet Culver in the November 2nd general election.

Washburn: The three candidates seeking the republican nomination are State Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll. He was first elected to the Iowa House in 2000. He has been development director with the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in Iowa since 1991. Business consultant Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City. He is president of MVP Leadership which specializes in strategic vision and leadership for business and non-profits. A former school principal, he was the 2006 republican nominee for lieutenant governor. And former Governor Terry Branstad of Boone. He most recently was President of Des Moines University, a post-graduate medical school. He served four terms as governor from 1983-1999.

Washburn: The panelists questioning the candidates are Kathie Obradovich, political columnist of the Des Moines Register, Kay Henderson, News Director of Radio Iowa and Dean Borg, host and moderator of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press". The questions come from the panelists and from submissions by Iowans. The candidates have drawn for their position on stage and order of closing statements. Sixty seconds will be allowed for responses unless otherwise stated. Rebuttals and answers to follow-up questions will be allowed 30 seconds.

Washburn: Now, let's get right to it. Kathie will begin with a series of questions about jobs and the economy.

Obradovich: Mr. Roberts, this first question goes to you first. All of you have called for cutting taxes for businesses instead of having the government pick winners and losers with targeted incentives. Now, after you have succeeded in cutting taxes and let's say that a prospective business comes to you and says they would like to bring a large investment and high paying jobs to Iowa if only the state could come up with a few more incentives. What would you do?

Roberts: First of all, I'd like to thank the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television for hosting the debate this noon. Appreciate the question, it's a good subject to begin our debate on.  I think it's absolutely essential that we cut taxes to stimulate business in the private sector here in Iowa. I think the most powerful stimulus we could provide is to cut the corporate income tax, to provide the incentive for business to expand and create thousands of new jobs.

Roberts: If a business comes and asks for additional incentives I think it needs to be very clear up front when we actually accomplish the elimination of that tax to say, this is the approach that we're using in Iowa, all of our resources are directed to that so that all businesses can provide, be provided the same opportunities to succeed and to prosper.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats, you're next.

Vander Plaats: It is a good question, Kathie. The goal of government is to create a fair and level playing field for all business and industry to compete and thrive in Iowa. That's why we said in our economic development message, we want to be the startup capitol of the world.  I think we need to grow and develop business and industry right here. That is where you get corporate headquarters. So, Iowans start up business and industry here, welcome back Iowans who have left who want to start up business and industry here as well as recruit the best and the brightest from around the globe, legal immigration to start up business and industry here.

Vander Plaats: But in order to do that I say you need to eliminate the corporate income tax, you need to drastically reduce commercial business and industry property tax and you need to reduce capital gains tax so you can have liquidity which serves as venture capital for private business and industry.

Obradovich: And just to be clear, then, once you've cut the taxes that's it, no further targeted incentives?

Vander Plaats: What I'm saying, Kathie, is that I want to be the chief salesperson for the state of Iowa, the chief advocate for the state of Iowa and you can be a chief salesperson when you have something that you can sell and something to sell is a better tax climate, a better regulatory climate and a governor that will market the state as a right to work state.

Obradovich: All right, thank you. Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: Well, first of all, I want to thank the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television for hosting this and say that, you know, I've had experience of, in fact, doing that, bringing good jobs to Iowa by eliminating the property tax on machinery and equipment and bringing big industry to our state, good paying jobs, also putting good people in charge of the Department of Economic Development. It has been decimated by our present Governor Chet Culver. Five people have been fired, you don't have professional leadership there. We need to reduce the tax burden. We need to reduce the tax burden for corporations and also we need to reduce the tax burden for commercial property taxes.

Branstad: But I also will be very aggressive in making personal calls on business to locate in Iowa and expand in Iowa. I did this before and what they found out is it keeps getting better when you have a governor that reduces taxes and makes Iowa more competitive and indeed we're going to market the state as a right to work, pro-business, pro-growth state again.

Obradovich: But, Governor, will you do what you need to do to get additional incentives to businesses after you have cut taxes ...

Branstad: I will work with local governments. Often times local governments also will provide incentives like that. They use things right now like tax increment financing and tax abatements to do that. So, there are things that local governments can do working with the state as well.

Obradovich: All right, thank you.

Henderson: Gentlemen, let's shift to the regulatory climate in Iowa.  All of you have said it is burdensome to business. This question, first to you, Mr. Vander Plaats. What specific regulation would you repeal? Please explain why.

Vander Plaats: Anything that is not hospitable to business and industry development and growth. I think what we have done with the regulatory environment is we've gone, we've penalized everybody because of the bad habits of a few. I'd say you go after the people who have the bad habits who are negligent in this system. Instead of saying penalizing everybody I want to be hospitable to business development and growth.

Vander Plaats: For example, Kay, it's good to talk about the environment and we all want to have a good environment, want to pass on the campground better to the next generation. We all agree with that. But like the septic tank debate, because of some that might leak into rivers and waterways, we don't want that to happen but instead of going after those that might leak into waterways and rivers we penalize everybody that has a septic tank saying that we need to dig it up for a visual inspection and to me that is a burdensome regulatory issue that we need to get rid of. I want to be hospitable to business development and growth with a regulatory environment.

Henderson: Mr. Branstad, same question to you.

Branstad: A good example is this goofy law they passed that says now as a farmer you can't do wiring on your own farm and they didn't get it repealed this last year. That should be the first thing we repeal because a lot of farmers can do their own wiring, they shouldn't have to hire a union electrician to do that.  That is what this governor and legislature has done, imposed unnecessary, burdensome regulations. I'm a member of the Farm Bureau, I believe that farmers ought to be given the opportunity to do their own wiring and not have to hire a union electrician.

Henderson: Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: I think one thing you hear from business quite often is that when there are requirements that mean that state government is involved with an application process those have to be streamlined, they have to be time sensitive and efficient. I think that is very important to business. Sometimes businesses are actually thwarted, if you will, if it looks like it's just too complicated, too involved to actually work with state government to get something accomplished.

Roberts: I think serving in the legislature for ten years has certainly provided me a front row seat on things that are burdensome. The fact that licensure requirements have been placed on electricians and plumbers, a good example of state government reaching too far, even into rural areas of the state where people have been able to provide services for a long time and now that there are components within that licensure program for electricians and plumbers that almost reflect an urban or a union attitude it has become an impediment in rural Iowa for contractors to do their business. I would repeal those licensure requirements.

Henderson: Thank you, gentlemen. Dean.

Borg: Mr. Branstad, this question is to you, first of all, then Mr. Roberts and then Mr. Vander Plaats. It relates to business but more narrowly those employing illegal immigrants. The question specifically is, what should be done to hold more accountable those employers who do employ illegal immigrants?

Branstad: What was done in Postville is what should be done. Somebody that violates the law should be held accountable. Mr. Rubashkin is going to prison for a long time for what he did. Now, the good news, the next employer, and I have met him, Hershey Friedman, he had purchased that plant, he has invested $40 million, he is doing verification to make sure that people that are going to be employed there are here legally and he's going to treat his employees well. That is what we need to expect of all employers. They abide by the law and verify to see that the people that are hired are here legally and if the employers violate that they should be held accountable just like the people that are here illegally need to be held accountable.

Borg: So, your answer is, enforce the current law?

Branstad: Hold people accountable -- enforce the law and make sure the tools are there to verify that the people that apply are indeed here legally. Give them the tools they need but hold employers accountable for abiding by the law.

Borg: Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: I think Iowans expect the business community to be responsible when it comes to this very important issue of illegal immigrants and people who are here who do not have documentation, who are not here legally, businesses should be required to verify that people who are employed are here legally. If not, then I agree that laws should be enforced and there should be punitive measures particularly with fines on businesses. But we should emphasize that only people who are here legally should be employed in Iowa businesses.

Roberts: The same principle applies to state government.  We should not be providing benefits to those who are here illegally either. The taxpayers do not have an obligation to provide taxpayer provided benefits for people who should not be here illegally.

Borg: Additional punitive measures?

Roberts: I think that would be the route. If you don't have current law enforced sufficiently to stop that kind of behavior then you would certainly look at additional punitive measures.

Borg: Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Well, illegal immigration is definitely a big issue in the state of Iowa. Anywhere I'm on the campaign trail it gets brought up. Some will say we're not a border state and if we're not a border state we shouldn't have to enforce it like a border state would. I think Iowans have a respect for the rule of the law. So, businesses knowingly employ illegals, they should be held accountable. For those who harbor or transport illegals they should be held accountable. For those people whose very first step on our soil is illegal there's nothing honoring about that. They should be held accountable.

Vander Plaats: That is why I've been the candidate consistently who has said not only do I support Arizona type legislation, I would propose Arizona style legislation. Illegal immigration just didn't happen in the last month or two or the last four years, illegal immigration has been here for a long time. But the fact is we haven't had the boldness and the courage to stand up and hold those people accountable. So, yes we have a respect for the rule of law. Dean, I used to be a high school principal and the student handbook only had merit when we held the students accountable to the high expectations of the student handbook.

Borg: Just a quick follow-up, 30 seconds to each of you. Does Iowa need additional immigration to meet the job needs of the future? Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Well, no, I don't believe so. I think what we need to do is we need to open up this state for business, as I have talked about, grow business and industry with a competitive tax structure and a friendly regulatory structure and a governor that will market this state as a right to work state. I want to grow jobs that are high paying jobs, high tech jobs, not the race to the bottom jobs, I want good jobs here in the state of Iowa using the best of Iowans and the best of our education.

Borg: Mr. Branstad. Additional immigration?

Branstad: We need to keep more of our Iowans that graduate, we need to have jobs available, good jobs for them to stay. But I would also be all for accepting legal immigrants that come. During Governor Ray's administration we accepted people from Southeast Asia. When the Berlin Wall went down when I was governor we accepted people from Europe and that was very well accepted. So, we want to encourage Iowans to stay and get a good education and stay in our state. But, legal immigrants, yes. Illegal, no.

Borg: Do we need to stimulate immigration, Mr. Roberts?

Roberts: I think Iowa has a rich history of being a welcoming place and we're a land of immigrants. People who immigrate legally are welcome in Iowa and we invite them to come, to make their homes here, to live among us, to work with us and I'm all for that. But ultimately what we need to do in Iowa is create an environment where business can thrive and thousands of new jobs are created for Iowans, for citizens from other states to move here and to welcome immigrants who come to Iowa legally.

Obradovich: All right, gentlemen, in the next segment we're going to switch gears a little bit and each of you are going to get to ask a question of another candidate. The question is going to be limited to thirty seconds. The answer can be one minute long. And then the questioner gets to have thirty seconds to respond if you like. So, the first one, Mr. Roberts, you can ask a question and please address one of your fellow candidates.

Roberts: Okay, thank you. I would like to direct my question to former Governor Branstad. Throughout my legislative career I have fought very hard to keep taxes low, fought to reduce taxes and I have made a promise on the campaign trail to serve as governor and continue that fight to keep taxes lower. What I would like to ask, since I have made that promise in my four years I will not raise taxes, will you join me in that pledge and promise to not raise taxes if you become governor?

Branstad: I not only will join you in that pledge, I intend to reduce taxes and make Iowa more competitive. I did that when I was governor before. We reduced taxes by a net of $124 million including the elimination of the inheritance tax for all children and grandchildren, cut the income tax top rate from 13% to 8.98%, indexed it for inflation, reduced our dependence on property taxes, got rid of the property tax on machinery and equipment and that's why I received the endorsement of Iowans for Tax Relief because I am a proven tax cutter. I intend to reduce taxes more and make Iowa more competitive for jobs.

Obradovich: Mr. Roberts, you have thirty seconds if you'd like to respond.

Roberts: I think it's very important that Iowans have some sense that a republican governor would take a very different approach to leadership. Cutting taxes will stimulate our economy. It's also important that dealing with our budget challenge that we resist the impulse to have to raise taxes to generate new revenue to provide for government services. The key is see the economy grow, business expand, new jobs created and the revenue that generates from that will in fact help us to stabilize our budget and deal with our budget challenge.

Obradovich: Thank you. Mr. Vander Plaats, you get to ask the next question and please just say at the beginning who you are addressing.

Vander Plaats: Well, I will address, as well, to former Governor Branstad. Governor Branstad, I just heard the response that you gave to State Representative Roberts. But former state auditor Dick Johnson said you kept two sets of books. You grew government two and a half times, $1.2 billion above the rate of inflation, increased taxes and fees over 30 times. Why should Iowans trust you with their wallet again?

Branstad: Well, first of all, you're basically sounding the same accusations that are made by this liberal 527 group headed up by Rob Tully and those are false accusations. In fact, I was the governor that, for the first time in history, reformed the budgeting process, put us on generally accepted accounting principles, put in place the 99% spending limitation and we spent less than we took in. I enforced the spending limitations as long as I was governor. After I left Culver became governor and the democrats took control of both houses, they have not withstood the spending limitations 133 times and that is 133 times and that is why we're in the mess that we're in today.

Branstad: The state auditor, the present state auditor who has reviewed all the candidates has endorsed me, David Vaudt, he is the leader of fiscal responsibility in our state because I have a five year plan for the state, I'm going to insist on a two year budget and I'll veto any appropriation bill that violates the 99% spending limitation.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats, you have thirty seconds.

Vander Plaats: Well, I used to teach accounting and a political endorsement I don't think trumps professional judgment. And when I take a look at the 99% spending limitation, the cash reserve accounts and GAP accounting that was basically done in spite of your leadership, not because of your leadership. That is when Holden and Weldon, two state legislators along with Dick Johnson, said in order to get that net sales tax increase you had to abide by 99% spending limitation, establish cash reserve accounts just to keep your government spending under control and then to also institute GAP accounting.

Obradovich: Mr. Branstad, because you were addressed I'm going to give you another thirty seconds on that.

Vander Plaats: Do I get another thirty seconds too?

Branstad: The truth is, he's absolutely wrong about this, the truth is it wasn't Holden and Weldon, this is the time that democrats were in control of both houses of the legislature. I appointed the committee to reform state spending chaired by David Fisher, the reports are there in the record. They recommended the spending reforms. I submitted it to the legislature. I had to call them back for two special sessions before we finally got all the spending limitations. But I vetoed the sales tax during this process in order to get all the spending limitations. Only when we got all the spending limitations did we accept it and it was approved by both houses, both parties, both republicans and democrats.

Obradovich: That's time, sir. And you get to ask a question to another candidate.

Branstad: Thank you. I appreciate very much the opportunity to set the record straight. I want to ask this question of Representative Roberts. You've had the honor of serving ten years in the legislature representing your district. Of the people you have served with in leadership who do you admire the most? And who do you think was the least effective?

Roberts: I would have to say the person I probably admired most was the first speaker I served with, Brent Siegrist, who did a good job in providing the opportunity for me not only to be established but also to grow as a legislator and opportunity was provided very early for me to advance in leadership and that was a reflection by the current leadership at that time to recognize, Rod has leadership ability, and so eight of the ten years I have served in the legislature I have had an honor of serving as a leader with house republicans.

Roberts: I would say the leader I probably have the greatest difficulty with is the current speaker, Pat Murphy. I think that there have been opportunities where the current speaker, Representative Pat Murphy of Dubuque, could have shown greater respect for the people of Iowa in allowing the legislature to vote on the resolution to define marriage. When the speaker expelled people from the house chamber last year that was wrong when we debated the possibility of eliminating federal deductibility from the Iowa income tax code.

Obradovich: That's time. Mr. Branstad, would you like to respond?

Branstad: I think his analysis of Murphy's mismanagement of the house is absolutely right on. One other thing that he did that I think is inexcusable, he held the voting machine open all weekend to try to arm twist and force people to vote for prevailing wage, a bill that I vetoed in 1984 and nine states have repealed it since. Fortunately, six democrats had the courage to join the republicans and didn't succumb to the pressure. So, thank God that didn't happen.

Obradovich: All right, thank you. Now, we're going to be back to one minute answers and we're going to start with Mr. Vander Plaats. We'd like to know more about your political philosophy. What has been the biggest political mistake you've ever made? How did you deal with it? What did you learn?

Vander Plaats: Well, I don't know if I'd say the biggest political mistake but when I got into this race for governor in 2002 I was fairly naive, as a matter of fact I was counseled and mentored by a friend to my left here, Terry Branstad, about getting into this race for governor. He did give me some helpful advice. He said, Bob, the best way to be an incumbent governor is not to have a political record that that incumbent governor can attack. He said, that's how you'll win the race. And that's why when Tom Vilsack was governor and I was running in 2002, I didn't have that political record, I thought I was he best candidate at that time.

Vander Plaats: I happen to believe that's the same thing today and I think it's why this election is so crucial on June 8th because I believe Chet Culver's only chance at re-election is if we offer up a candidate with an extensive political record. You already see it. They're going to mold that into a _____, say you're at fault, Chet Culver gets four more years.

Vander Plaats: Chet Culver knows he can't do that to me. My background is in education, health care, human services, business and industry. I'll be able to beat Culver on November 2 and I do thank Governor Branstad for that bit of advice.

Obradovich: Thank you. Governor Branstad, you're next.

Branstad: Well, obviously your memory is not very good because ...

Vander Plaats: March 14, 2000.

Branstad: My advice was very clear. Go everywhere in Iowa, see as many people as you can, go to every county and campaign aggressively and tell your story. I never said anything like you claimed that I did. That's just not true, Bob. I'm sorry but your recollection is wrong. Either that or you're just flat out lying. But it's just not true. I'm sorry that you keep doing things like that. But the fact is that the way you win whether it's against an incumbent or not, and no incumbent has been beat here since '62, but this incumbent has an abysmal record and what they really fear is me because I have got a record of accomplishment and if I go up against him they know he's in trouble and that's why they're already attacking me, that's why they have the 527 headed by a former democratic chair who you're repeating their accusations, but they are attacking me, they are trying to fool Iowans. Iowans are smarter than that. They want an honest conservative again as the leader of this state and that's why I'm running.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats, to be fair I'm going to give you thirty seconds before we go to Mr. Roberts.

Vander Plaats: I think that would be good because I remember it very clearly, so does Darla, we were at your home March 14, 2000. We talked about a potential run for governor, I had never run for political office before and the strength of the candidacy was being in education, being in health care, being in human services, chairing a governor's council that you appointed me to and then not having a political record that Vilsack could attack. And what you're seeing are the democrats attacking your record today. You may say it's false but a lot of the records are footnoted, they are true. So, that's what they're going to do is attack that record. I believe we have a better opportunity to win on November 2.

Obradovich: I'm going to give Mr. Roberts a chance here.  Go ahead, sir.

Roberts: Well, this is the third televised debate the three candidates have had together and I have to say that up to this point I have heard from a lot of Iowans from across the state who have said, you know Rod, be who you are and kind of stay above the fray and the kind of dialogue we hear today is the kind of attitude and actions that Iowans say, you know, we're done with that, we don't like that. We're looking for someone who can lead, who can look beyond personal issues and can share ideas and a compelling vision for where Iowa ought to go. Just be who you are, Rod, and stay above this kind of activity.

Obradovich: The question was about your biggest political mistake, just a little reminder there.

Roberts: Biggest political mistake, I ran in 1998 and lost by a handful of votes. I came right back in 2000 and ran again and won. Looking back on 1998, when you lose by just a razor thin margin you go, I could have worked harder, knocked on a few more doors and I could have probably reached that 100 people who would have made a difference the first time that I attempted to run for the legislature.

Obradovich: Thank you.

Henderson: This next question goes first to Mr. Branstad. If you are elected governor would you feel obligated to implement the components of the Republican Party platform? If not, why not?

Branstad: Well, I think the party platform is an outline of what you want to accomplish.  But I think we need to focus on the future of our state and I've already set out some very basic goals and I also know you can't accomplish everything so you need to focus on those things that are your top priorities. Right now Iowans need jobs, that's why I've set a goal of 200,000 jobs, raising family incomes by 25%, restoring our leadership position in education and reducing the size and cost of government by 15%. And that needs to be the first order of business.

Branstad: We need to basically sunset -- we had a Vision 20/20 conference last weekend, brought people in from all over the state to get their best ideas and one of the things that came out of that was sunset all departments and programs systematically and review and eliminate those things that are less important and find more efficient ways to deliver services at less cost to the taxpayers. So, that will be my focus over trying to do every single item there might be in the platform.

Henderson: Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: There's no question about what the governor does serve in a leadership position with his respective party and I'm a republican, a conservative republican. Philosophically I certainly align with the core tenets and values stated in the Republican Party’s platform. But when an individual aspires to the office of governor and has the opportunity to serve the people as governor your first priority and important task is to serve the people of Iowa.

Roberts: The people come before and above party. I have already stated that I will support the republican nominee, whoever that is, and I will do all I can to help that individual, if it wouldn't be me, to win in November. That is about being a part of a team, a republican team. But when you are governor your first job is to do the very best that you can advancing what is in the best interest of the people of Iowa. It's the people you serve, not the party and that will be my commitment.

Henderson: Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Republicans, democrats and independents all over the state, they're looking for leadership, they're looking for real life leadership. I think they reflect the mood that you saw on Tuesday. They are not looking for politics as usual or political establishment or political lead, they want real life leadership. I consider it an honor to run as a republican and represent the republican platform. And pretty much that represents your core convictions, your core values, the sanctity of human life, standing up for one man-one woman marriage, standing up to the Constitution. And what the party wants to know, they want you to lead on jobs and the economy, they want you to lead on education, they want you to lead on health care and a variety of other issues but they want to know what are your core values and convictions.

Vander Plaats: They also want to know who are you going to surround yourself with. Will they represent those same core values and convictions? That's why I've been very open that my lieutenant governor candidate and choice will share my core values and convictions because we learned back in 1990 and then again back in 1994 that we had a lieutenant governor nominee appointed by former Governor Branstad that didn't share those values and convictions and that is one heartbeat away from the governorship. So, yes, I do respect the party platform and I'm glad to be running as a republican candidate for governor.

Henderson: Mr. Branstad, Mr. Vander Plaats mentioned Joy Corning, your lieutenant governor.  Would you care to respond in 20 seconds?

Branstad: Yeah, I think it's unfortunate that you would attack other republicans. I think, first of all, Joy Corning had defeated an incumbent democrat to be in the senate in 1990, I think she was a good choice and she did a good job and she helped me. As I look to the future I'm looking to find a lieutenant governor candidate, if I win this primary, that shares my economic and social conservatism and will focus on jobs and those things that are critically important to Iowa like revitalizing our education system.

Henderson: Thank you, gentlemen.

Borg: The next question goes to Mr. Roberts, Mr. Vander Plaats and then Mr. Branstad. And it's along the same vein that we've just been discussing but not necessarily political. Who is your closest advisor and what makes that person's advice particularly valuable to you? What about the qualities of that person?

Roberts: Well, it would be a given to say in response to the question, my wife Trish, is my closest, best advisor. But beyond that I have a very good personal friend, Frank Sevarino, who lives here in the greater Des Moines metropolitan area. Frank is a great friend and he provides good council, council that comes from experience and wisdom and he has my best interest always at heart and I respect him and appreciate his friendship.

Borg: Mr. Vander Plaats, a short 30-second answer.

Vander Plaats: Well, first of all, I'd have to say my dad who was a veteran of World War II but my dad has now passed on and then I'd agree with Rod that it would be my wife, Darla. But the people I surround myself with today are people like former state auditor Dick Johnson, a man of the highest credibility, Brigadier General Jodi Tymeson, the state chair of our campaign, I think probably one of the most respected legislators in the state legislature and then Eric Wilson who used to work for Governor Branstad, is now the campaign manager for our campaign. Again, a lot of people respect Eric for his knowledge and advice.

Borg: Mr. Branstad, hopefully one person closest, what qualities?

Branstad: I'd have to say my wife because she loves me and she has put up with a lot. She has been there for me through thick and thin and I respect and appreciate her so much and she's done such a great job of raising our children and now we have two grandchildren and two more on the way. So, I think she is number one and you said one so I stayed with one.

Borg: But I'll come back with a follow-up then. The last four lieutenant governors have been women. Should the next one be a woman?

Branstad: Not necessarily. I think we should choose the very best person. I want to choose somebody that I think can be the next governor, somebody that will be a leader, somebody that will really be part of making important policy decisions, somebody that is intelligent and is a hard worker and somebody that shares my values.

Borg: Mr. Vander Plaats, the next lieutenant governor a woman?

Vander Plaats: I think the next lieutenant governor is going to be the best person possible for that job and I think we need to be ready for that person to take on the governorship. That's why -- I question Governor Branstad, I know he's does not like that, but I question it, did we have a change from 1990 and 1994 or does Joy Corning's principles and values mirror your principles and values and is what we can expect in the next lieutenant governor? I think people need to know those things.

Borg: Mr. Roberts, next lieutenant governor is the question. Should that person be a woman?

Roberts: Not necessarily should but I would certainly be very open minded and the profile that I would consider really centers more on the inner qualities, a certain philosophy, certain leadership qualities and traits. But I would be very open to considering a female running mate as well as a male.

Borg: Thank you.

Obradovich: All right. Let's turn now to questions about taxes and spending. We are back to one minute responses and we'll start with Mr. Vander Plaats. Other than preschool which you've already all said that you would consider for budget cuts, name two specific programs that you would either significantly cut or eliminate. Tell us why you think Iowans can do without that service. And then tell us how much you think you'll save.

Vander Plaats: I think the first one, Kay, is benefits to illegal immigrants and I believe the target that was on it was somewhere between $90 and $110 million if we took away benefits to adults who are illegal immigrants. I think that is part of holding, again, the respect for the rule of law and holding them accountable. But the other one being a former educator is I believe we need to take a look at the AEA system that we have in the state of Iowa.

Vander Plaats: That at best guess is about a $400 million bureaucracy on top of classrooms. I think it's ridiculous that we're cutting teachers today, the front lines in the classroom while we're still upholding a bureaucracy that just pushes down mandates on top of the classroom. That's why I say we need to have the highest of standards in education but we need to let the teachers teach and direct those resources to the classroom and get away from the bureaucracy. You have a lot of educators today, a lot of school districts today that are cutting teachers, they're cutting programs that will have a direct impact on kids. We need to start taking a look at that bureaucracy on top of education and I believe we can substantially reduce that fiscal responsibility.

Obradovich: Thank you. Mr. Branstad, you're next.

Branstad: Well, first of all, when we did this before and we passed the spending reforms which was recommended by the Fisher commission we said that only 99% of December revenue estimates and we're going to live with that and we're going to enforce that and I did that from 1993 until I left office and it worked and that's why we were able to cut taxes and that's why we were able to leave a large surplus. I think that certainly funding for groups like Planned Parenthood that are using tax monies and are involved in promoting abortion, although the money they get from the state may not be used for abortions, I don't think the state should be funding that.

Branstad: I think there also can be significant savings in the Area Education Agencies by eliminating some of the bureaucracy. We still need to provide the services to special ed and things like that. And in terms of preschool I'm for preschool, I just don't think it should be funded solely by the state. I think we should partner with the non-profits and with private sector people to provide those important services.

Obradovich: Thank you. Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: This is where my ten years of current legislature service is invaluable to me as a candidate, will be invaluable to me as governor. House republicans have devoted the last several years working through the budget, finding specific areas where we could reduce spending, cut costs and contribute to some significant budget savings within state government.

Roberts: I would also eliminate taxpayer funded benefits for illegal alien adults, probably somewhere in the area of $92 million. I would sell off and privatize the state vehicle fleet for a savings of $18 million. I would not implement the statewide model core curriculum in our public K-12 school system for a savings of $10.5 million and I would not fund Planned Parenthood which would save approximately $2.5 million. So, there are some specifics in areas of the budget where I would eliminate or cut spending.

Obradovich: Thank you very much.

Henderson: Gentlemen, you have all made property tax reform proposals that will not make much of a dent in residential property taxes. Do you intend to offer broader property tax cut proposals that would impact residential property taxes? This answer from you, Mr. Branstad, first.

Branstad: Well, the best thing we can do is go back and restore fiscal responsibility and for the state to make good on its commitments. What Culver did last year is inexcusable, ten percent across-the-board cut, it's going to lead to huge property tax increases, not only for residential property but all the way across for property taxpayers. That's wrong. So, we need to restore fiscal responsibility, which I'm going to do by putting together a five year budget plan, insist on a bi-annual budget and veto anything that violates the 99% spending limitations. I also think we need to put reasonable controls on property taxes as I did before to say that property taxes should not go up more than the rate of inflation.

Branstad: I think that we need to do that -- property taxes are the most unpopular and unfair tax we have in Iowa. We do have a rollback on residential. We do tax farmland based on productivity. But we need to look at additional things we can do to control property taxes, to help Iowa taxpayers at this critical time in our history.

Henderson: Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: One of the first things we need to do is simply slow down the rate of growth in real estate property taxes here in Iowa across all four categories, residential, agriculture but especially commercial and industrial and we can do that. I think we have required property taxpayers to assume more and more of the responsibility of providing for key services like local K-12 education, mental health services. I think the state ought to look at are there particular areas where we might assume some of that responsibility and lighten the load for property taxpayers. But long-term I think we need to devote time and energy to having a conversation across the state of Iowa taking in ideas and suggestions, best practice ideas from citizens across the state on how we might look at the structure of local government, the best way to provide services at the local government area and eventually streamline the services that are provided so that we can reduce our dependency upon local property taxes to pay for so much of our local government services.

Henderson: Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: The answer to your question is yes. But the first thing you need to do, this is from an entrepreneur and a business leader, is you need to free up business and industry. That is why I said we're going to take the mental health and developmental disability funding off the back of property taxes. That will save about $144 million, target it to business and industry. When you target to business and industry property tax relief, businesses expand, they develop, they hire new employees and they also buy homes or build homes which expands your residential base.

Vander Plaats: But you're right, we need to get the state government's house in order. I believe you need a CEO from the private sector, not from the public sector where we produce more but with less, where we really do live within the means versus just passing the buck onto somebody else. For example, I believe when we eliminated the M&E, the machinery and equipment tax, I think it was a good move but we didn't backfill it with anything, the state just put it back onto property taxes which raised commercial, business and industry, residential and aid property taxes.

Henderson: Mr. Branstad, you were shaking your head.

Branstad: That wasn't true, I had David Lyons in charge of the Department of Economic Development, I had him work with local governments to protect them so the state did provide funding and did help in some of those counties like Muscatine County and Monroe County had a significant problem, we helped them with that. He's just absolutely wrong, doesn't have the facts right. We did that and we did it effectively. They would have never supported it, we wouldn't have gotten it through the legislature if we hadn't worked that out and Dave Lyons did a great job. We got it done and the fact is we got all kinds of jobs because of it.

Vander Plaats: I should have at least a second here.  You talk to city officials, county officials, school district officials, they'll say maybe the M&E really did help business and industry but there was nothing to backfill it so we had to go back to property taxes, why we were ranked probably in the top five in commercial business and industry property taxes today.

Henderson: Dean has his eye on the clock. Dean.

Borg: Mr. Roberts, this question about road building and road construction goes first to you and then to Mr. Vander Plaats and then to Mr. Branstad. It relates to the DOT study that says that the current funding road use taxes out of motor fuel taxes and license fees will not adequately fund road building and construction in the future. What is your long-term plan for road building and construction in Iowa and financing it?

Roberts: We have had a capital project fund in state government called the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund for a number of years. Most of our gambling receipts go into this fund. Typically it has been used for vertical infrastructure. Unfortunately some of those dollars have been diverted under Chet Culver's administration for other purposes. But I would make a priority to restore funding to the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund to provide dollars for vertical infrastructure. But I think that ultimately we can also use some of those dollars for highway and bridge improvements for horizontal infrastructure needs as well.

Roberts: I think it would be better for us to use those kinds of resources even for highways and bridges than to look to other sources.

Borg: Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Again, Dean, I don't believe Iowa has a revenue problem, I believe we have a spending problem. As we have grown this budget way outside of its britches is we started going to other funding sources so we used the Rebuild Iowa infrastructure that Rod is talking about, put it into the general fund. I believe what we need to do is you need to have a governor who knows how to get a budget in order, who knows how to get results with excellence and properly fund infrastructure which is the backbone of economic development.

Vander Plaats: Today it's not just roads and bridges but it is digital communication, it is high tech communication, broadband but that's where we need to put a focus. What Culver and Judge did by doing the I-jobs program, they have indebted a future generation and they have tied our hands to the back of gambling until 2019. I believe you also need to have a governor that says, you know what, I'll set up a bond sinking fund to help at least retire the responsibility of that debt so we're not tied to the hands of gambling until 2019 and we have money to provide for future infrastructure needs.

Borg: Mr. Branstad, the question is how to fund -- what is your plan on how to fund roads and road building?

Branstad: First of all, I believe in a pay as you go system, not a borrow and bond system like Culver had advocated and because when you do that then you've got to pay interest and that means less money is actually available for building roads. The other terrible thing that he recommended was to rob the road fund to pay for the highway patrol ...

Borg: But the question is how would you do it?

Branstad: I would do it by, first of all, as Rod suggested, not use this money from the -- I would use money from the Rebuild Infrastructure fund, I would also use money from the road use tax fund. I would improve the way we manage the resources and reduce administrative costs so more of the money goes to actually build roads and bridges, not doing it with borrowed money but doing it on a pay as you go basis.

Obradovich: All right, gentlemen, next comes what we call the lightening round. Now, these are questions that are yes or no answers. But if you can't quite manage that we'll let you have one sentence, up to fifteen seconds. We're going to start with Mr. Vander Plaats and then just kind of go around. Would you assert state's rights and advocate refraining from the federal health care reform?

Vander Plaats: Yes, I'd invoke the 10th amendment if necessary.

Obradovich: Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: Yes and I would encourage the next ...

Vander Plaats: Attorney general.

Branstad: ... attorney general, right, Brenna Finley to join the other states that are challenging the mandates that are in that bill and she's a great candidate.

Obradovich: Okay, thank you. Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: Yes and I actually offered an amendment during this last legislative session on the health reform bill that would in fact assert Iowa's sovereignty under the 10th amendment to do just that, challenge the federal government.

Obradovich: Okay. Next, Mr. Branstad. Would you favor mandating that women in Iowa be required to view a sonogram before seeking an abortion as the law now requires in Oklahoma?

Branstad: Yes.

Obradovich: Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: Yes.

Obradovich: And Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Yes.

Obradovich: And starting with Mr. Roberts. When appointing judges to the Iowa Supreme Court will you require that they be against gay marriage and abortion?

Roberts: Yes.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Yes and I also believe that they need to know what their role is with inside that Constitution. They need to understand the Constitution.

Obradovich: Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: I don't think the governor has the authority to impose that and even if they promise that you haven't assurance that they would do it. You need to know the way the judicial nominating system works is you have two people to choose from who are nominated, you have to choose one of those and they may not share that view.

Obradovich: Let's come back to that after the lightening round. Starting with Mr. Vander Plaats, would you advocate that voters oppose retention of Iowa's Supreme Court Justices because of the gay marriage ruling?

Vander Plaats: I definitely would and the reason is they obviously went outside their jurisdiction so they don't understand what their boundaries are. I think that is a right that we have as a people to vote them off the island when they go outside of their jurisdiction. I'd say yes.

Obradovich: Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: I think it's up to the people of Iowa to make that decision. I would encourage voters to decide that based on their own convictions. I'm running for governor, I'm not running to try to be the supreme over the Supreme Court.

Obradovich: Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: Yes because the justices are accountable to the people of Iowa just like the governor and members of the general assembly are and people need to understand that they are the check and balance on the Supreme Court, not the executive, not the legislative, the people themselves.

Obradovich: Okay. And starting with Mr. Branstad, should Iowa have fewer than 99 counties?

Branstad: I think we need to reduce the size and cost of government and I think we need to instead of -- if you try to mandate that from Des Moines it's not going to work. If you were to set up the state today you would not have as many counties but you're not going to be able to get it done that way. What you need to do is reduce the size and cost of government and work together.

Obradovich: Is that a no?

Branstad: Yes, that's a no.

Obradovich: Okay, Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: It's not about how many, it's about how to best structure local government. I think that leads us to a different number in the future but at this point in time if you want to engage citizens you've got to have a broad conversation about the best way to do this.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: The state first needs to establish its credibility that it can manage its fiscal house and once we can manage our fiscal house at the state level with the next governor then you can incentivize local governments on how they want to best do their government. But it's a local control issue.

Obradovich: Starting with Mr. Roberts. Remember, this is the lightening round, lightening round.

Vander Plaats: But they're such good questions.

Obradovich: Would you ban same sex couples from becoming foster parents or adopting children?

Roberts: Yes.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Yes, I thought it was a mistake back in the 90's, I still believe it's a mistake today. Yes.

Obradovich: Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: I believe that adoption should be in the best interest of the child. I think generally that means that you'd want to have it with a man and woman because that's the best environment for a child to grow up in.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats, starting with you, given the downsizing of the executive branch that has been going on would you favor reducing the size of the legislature and the number of judges on the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals?

Vander Plaats: I think we need to look at efficiencies all over the place including within the legislature, within the bureaucracy as well as within the court system.

Obradovich: Yes or no?

Vander Plaats: So, yes I would.

Obradovich: Yes. Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: Yes, I would be looking for all ways that we can reduce the size and cost of government at all levels.

Obradovich: And Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: I'd say yes to the possibility of fewer members of the general assembly but I'd actually propose, I think Iowans would be better off going back to nine justices, not seven. I think two more would be better.

Obradovich: All right. Starting with Mr. Branstad. Would you push to allow the death penalty in Iowa?

Branstad: Under limited circumstances. We do have a life sentence that means life in Iowa and I would support in the instance where somebody is guilty of two class A felonies, kills a rape or kidnap victim, yes.

Obradovich: All right. Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: No because even though the state has the authority to do that my concern is the state cannot guarantee and assure that it will never make a mistake and innocent people could be executed and that would be wrong.

Obradovich: And Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Yes, I would and in particular when there's consecutive felonies that result in death.

Obradovich: And starting with Mr. Roberts. Would you push for the repeal of the minimum wage in Iowa?

Roberts: No.

Obradovich: No. Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: No.

Obradovich: And Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: No.

Obradovich: Okay. That ends the lightening round. You guys all survived. Very good. But I do want to go back to the question that generated a little bit of response about appointing judges. I think it's Mr. Vander Plaats’ turn to start. Why would you say that you would have a kind of a litmus test for judges? Thirty seconds please.

Vander Plaats: Well, the litmus test is pretty simple. Do you understand the Constitution and do you understand your role within the Constitution? I've been asked this question before sometimes by you in regards to would you only appoint Supreme Court Justices that agree with Bob Vander Plaats? No. I'm only going to appoint Supreme Court Justices that agree with the Constitution. I want Supreme Court Justices to again read the Constitution before they offer an opinion. But more than that Iowa needs to have a leader to hold them in check when they don't do that.

Obradovich: And Mr. Branstad, you were shaking your head no.

Branstad: Well, I think he's naive when it comes to the whole appointment process. The governor cannot ensure how a member of the Supreme Court reads the Constitution. They disagree with themselves. So, it just doesn't work that way. You appoint somebody and then they serve for twenty or thirty years, you try to find the best people you can find, you try to find strict constructionists but there's no assurance they're going to rule the way you want them to. As a lawyer I lost a lot of cases I thought I'd win and won cases I thought I'd lose because it doesn't always go the way you think it will.

Obradovich: Mr. Vander Plaats, are you naive?

Vander Plaats: I was going to say, if he calls me naive can I have a response to that?

Obradovich: Thirty seconds.

Vander Plaats: Well, first of all, naive is to say that you appoint a Supreme Court Justice and they serve for twenty or thirty years. We still have a retention system in the state of Iowa where we get to say they get to continue serving or not continue serving. But I also believe that when a Supreme Court Justice, all I want them to do is stay within the Constitution. If they don't stay and adhere to the Constitution then you need to have a leader to hold them in check and right now I'm the only candidate in this race including Governor Culver who's willing to do that.

Obradovich: Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: I think a specified moment in time where a governor is making the decision about whom to appoint to our highest court you do the very best job you can in interviewing those candidates, making a decision and you're going to be concerned about how they view the Constitution, how they interpret that, how they would apply it but ultimately you are also making a decision based on the individual and just like you would want to consider a lieutenant governor candidate who would reflect your core philosophy and values, I think from a human perspective that will follow through even in that interview process with a prospective justice.

Henderson: Gentlemen, last question to you, a thirty second response please. A follow up from the lightening round. You all endorsed a bill that is in place in Oklahoma that would require a woman to see an ultrasound before seeking an abortion. Governor Culver this week has been talking about his promise to maintain a woman's right to choose. Do you anticipate that abortion will be a major issue in the fall election? This response from Mr. Branstad, please, first.

Branstad: I think it's always an issue. I think people care deeply about life. I have a daughter and a daughter-in-law that are both going to have babies this year. I'm very pro-life. My son Marcus was born on January 22nd, the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. I believe that Iowa needs to have a pro-life governor. I will be a pro-life governor.

Henderson: Do you think this will be a crucial issue in the fall election, Mr. Roberts?

Roberts: I think it will be only because people do hold very strong feelings both for and opposed to something like this. But I have a very strong pro-life, not only position as a legislator if you look at my ten years of service, 100% consistent pro-life legislator but more importantly I believe that life in the womb is that of an unborn child and that child deserves protection. It has worth, value and dignity and I would do all that I can to help ensure the safety and well-being of those unborn children.

Henderson: Mr. Vander Plaats, the fall election a referendum on abortion?

Vander Plaats: Well, it sounds like it will be because Culver is definitely on the wrong side of this issue. I think the citizens of Iowa want to know very clear where do you stand on the life issue. I've been very clear, I'm 100% for the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. I've wrote a book celebrating a life about our son who is extremely disabled. So, I believe abortion is going to be a big issue but I think another core conviction that is going to be a big issue in this campaign is traditional marriage and how much do you mean one man, one woman.

Obradovich: And now it's time for closing comments. You each have thirty seconds starting with Mr. Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats: Iowans deserve a choice who is going to be their next governor. As I travel this state all across, Iowans they are not willing to re-hire the current with failed and bad policies that are happening today. But I don't believe they are willing to re-hire the growth of government, tax and spend of the past as well. Iowans today want a leader. As a business leader I'll grow this economy the right way. As a CEO I'll shrink government but get the most out of government. As an educator I'll restore Iowa's prominence in education. As a leader I'll do what's right because it's right to do.

Obradovich: Thank you. And now Mr. Roberts.

Roberts: Republicans will have a real choice on June 8th to nominate one of the three of us standing here today. I believe I have the leadership experience, skills and temperament to serve as Iowa's next governor. I have traveled the state.  Iowans have made it very clear, they don't like politics as usual, they want government to be on a different course. I am not beholding to special interest groups or party political individuals. I think I can represent the people of Iowa and do a good job advancing what is in their best interest. The question is, am I the kind of person you want to see as your next governor?

Obradovich: Thank you.  And Mr. Branstad.

Branstad: I think Iowans are tired of the fiscal mess that Culver has created and they want an honest, conservative leader again, somebody that will set ambitious goals and somebody that has a proven record, not just rhetoric but results and that is what I represent. 200,000 new jobs in the next five years, increasing family incomes by 25%, making our education system number one in America again and reducing the size and cost of government by enforcing the spending limitations and vetoing any bill that violates them. I ask for the support of the people in the primary election June 8th. Thank you.

Obradovich: Thank you. And that wraps up the Des Moines Register's primary debate among the republican candidates for governor. Thank you to the candidates, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Vander Plaats and Mr. Branstad. Thank you also to panelists Dean Borg and Kay Henderson. I'm Kathie Obradovich. On behalf of the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television thank you for watching and please remember to vote on June 8th.

The Des Moines Register Governor's Debate: Race for the Republican Nomination can be seen in its entirety at desmoinesregister.com and iptv.org.

Funding for this program was provided by Friends of Iowa Public Television ... the Iowa Public Television Foundation and generations of families and friends who feel passionate about Iowa Public Television programs.


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