Iowa Political Party Chairs

Sep 22, 2017  | 27 min  | Ep 4503 | Podcast


A state budget limping into late 2017, a republican controlled agenda in question and a democratic party seeking to regain its footing. We'll catch up on political developments with Iowa Political Party Chairs Jeff Kaufmann and Troy Price on this edition of Iowa Press.

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For decades, Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, September 22 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. 

Yepsen: The dynamic between a majority or minority political party often comes with its own range of positives or pitfalls. The Republican Party here in Iowa spent much of the past decade lambasting democratic administrations for state budget mismanagement in Des Moines and health care legislation in Washington. But the script has flipped for both parties. Just this week, democrats in Iowa claim Governor Kim Reynolds has bungled the state's finances and D.C. republicans are attempting to push through their latest Obamacare repeal. It all makes for a busy political time for Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann and Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price. Both men join us here at the Iowa Press table. Welcome. The duo from Cedar County.

Kaufmann: Absolutely, God's country out in Eastern Iowa.

Yepsen: Across the table, Kathie Obradovich is Political Columnist for the Des Moines Register and Kay Henderson is News Director at Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Mr. Kaufmann, you issued a statement this week after the Governor withdrew $13 million from the economic emergency fund to balance the budget. You said that was steady, stable management. Republicans have always complained about using one-time money for ongoing expenses. How does this square with the philosophy of republicans?

Kaufmann: Sure, the $13 million is going to be paid back and compared to the situations that we had when I was in the legislature five, six, seven years ago as opposed to across-the-board cuts I think this is exactly the kind of leadership and the steadiness that we have to do. You can prepare a budget but there's always going to be factors that come into play. The commodity prices, sales tax revenues, that had to be reacted to. I think this was the most appropriate way for the Governor to do that.

Henderson: You have a republican primary shaping up for 2018 on the gubernatorial race. Ron Corbett, the Cedar Rapids Mayor, has said it is a mortal sin to balance the budget like this. What are your thoughts?

Kaufmann: I disagree. I think it's -- maybe I'm talking more with a former legislator hat --

Henderson: As is he.

Kaufmann: That's correct. But if you have a shortfall you either cut -- and we can't cut services in the middle of a fiscal year like that, that would be completely irresponsible. We'd be going back to the Culver years if that's what we did. And I think this was the most responsible way for the Governor to have consistent and a steady budget and they will be paying that back.

Henderson: Mr. Price, your party has never made fiscal responsibility sort of the clarion call for campaigns. You've been more focused on other issues. Does this issue have legs for democrats when it has not been that upper level issue?

Price: Absolutely. The reality is this, is that when Kim Reynolds and Terry Branstad took office there was a billion dollars in the reserves between the rainy day fund and the surplus or reserve account. There was over a billion dollars, nearly a billion dollars in that account. That money has now been cut in half. And, with all due respect to my colleague here, the Chairman talks about that this is sound budgeting practices, yet people in that party, I was in the Governor's Office if folks will remember that, I was in the Governor's Office during that time and they railed at the fact that we had to use occasionally do the exact same thing that Kim Reynolds is doing. The fact is that this is a manufactured crisis that is coming about not because of commodity prices or anything like that, this is coming about because the state is giving out way too many tax credits to corporations. We're seeing this over and over again, these tax credits that are out there. We don't even know how many there are or what the liability is for the state. And so the reality is that these tax credits, the crisis that is developing or that has developed here is, it's going to continue to play out. And what we saw yesterday is, yes, we used the state credit card to get us through to this moment. But what happened to the $104 million shortfall? That is a big hole to fill, $90 million cut from $104 million in July to $13 million today, that's a lot of money. So we don't really know exactly where all that hole went. And so I think we're going to see that this is kicking the can down the road and we're going to have a bigger budget crisis to battle here in a couple of months.

Obradovich: Speaking of big issues, David mentioned the health care and we have now the Senate trying its latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Senator Grassley said republicans will lose the Senate, the national Senate, if they fail to act on their campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. How does that affect the republicans here in the midterm elections? And what is your message?

Kaufmann: Well, my message to republicans is if there is a message from the Donald Trump victory and if there is a message that has been sent to us by Iowa voters and I think by the entire country and that is you better remember what you promised in a campaign. And repealing and replacing Obamacare was one of the prime promises that were made. I concur with Senator Grassley. Now, I can only have so much influence. I'm going to obviously visit with Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst, they have been with the efforts in the past. I can't do anything about Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins and unfortunately it's people and Senators in other states that may make it very difficult for other republicans throughout the country to hold onto their promise.

Obradovich: But Iowa stands to lose more than some other states as far as federal money coming back to the state because it took the step to expand Medicaid. Some of that extra Medicaid money is now going to be redistributed to other states. Why is this bill the good deal for Iowa?

Kaufmann: Well, this bill is a starting point. I don't think there is a single person in Washington, D.C. that thinks that the bill in question right now is going to be the final bill that is going to replace Obamacare. Repeal it and then have a bill to start working on, that's standard practice in congressional and legislative work.

Obradovich: But with the dysfunction in Congress they're also talking about for this to even work that the House is going to have to vote that bill as-is and not make changes.

Kaufmann: But in the conference committee process, that's where the changes will be made. We've had major legislation over the last 100 years where the bill in the final legislation has come out of a process in conference committee. I think at this point what needs to happen is we have to have a bill that repeals and replaces Obamacare, there has to be a bill voted on and passed by both chambers.

Obradovich: Mr. Price, democrats actually are starting to divide on health care between whether the best bet is a single payer system or whether to just fix Obamacare, fix the Affordable Care Act. Where are you on that question?

Price: Well, listen, our party platform is very clear, we support a single payer system. But democrats agree on one thing and that is that everyone should have health care. Health care is a right not a privilege. And it doesn't go to those with money, it should be available to everyone. And so we may disagree on exactly what the process is, what vehicle it is that is going to get us to that point, to our goal. But we all agree on the same goal. And in relationship to this bill that is being proposed right now in D.C., this bill is a disaster. And you know what, the republicans have had seven years to figure this out. Obamacare was enacted seven years ago. They have had seven years to figure it out. And they have said, just give us control, give us control and we'll figure it out. Then they get control and they fail. They failed earlier this year, now they jammed together this bill and when you see Chuck Grassley saying yesterday that we just need to get a win, we just need to deal with this, whatever is in the bill is what is in the bill, this is about -- government is supposed to be about what is good public policy, not about scoring political points.

Henderson: Mr. Price, your party has had more than a year to figure out the schism between the Bernie Sanders supporters and the Hillary Clinton supporters. What will it take to unite the Iowa Democratic Party and bring those factions together?

Price: Divisive primaries happen all the time. And I still here people complaining about Carter-Kennedy in 2080. So these divisions will continue to, there will always be some lingering challenges that exist from divisive primaries. But I'll tell you this, I've traveled and I've now been in almost 25 cities over the last 8 weeks and I can tell you democrats are fired up, democrats are, the divisions within our party that existed last year, they're healing over. Time heals all wounds and quite frankly our party is focused more about winning in 2018 than they are in refighting what happened in 2016. And just in my own election for chair two months ago, I can tell you I was a part of the Clinton campaign and I received support from folks who supported Secretary Clinton and folks who supported Senator Sanders. In fact I received the endorsement of both the Sanders state director, the Clinton state director and the O'Malley state director. And I'll tell you, folks out there they want to win and so democrats are coming together because they know that we need a change in leadership in Des Moines and a change in leadership in D.C.

Henderson: Mr. Kaufmann, folks in the GOP often talk about the big tent. You have been a vocal supporter of President Trump. Are people who were not supporters of President Trump welcome in the GOP?

Kaufmann: Oh, of course. Of course they are. But the party structure is going to support our republican President. The two most important functions of a party chair is to support your President and to support the Governor if they share the party with you. I'm not a policy maker, I am a team member with the Republican Party. So absolutely they are. And in terms of divisions and such, we're having a record breaking year not only at the national level when the democrats are going into even deeper debt, but here in the state we are having an outstanding year for fundraising, the crowds are large, there is definitely a fervor out there on the part of the republicans in our state.

Obradovich: Does supporting the Governor include Kim Reynolds even though she also faces a primary in 2018?

Kaufmann: Absolutely. I've said this on multiple occasions, Kathie, and that is the party is not endorsing in the election. But the prime reason that you have political parties is to support the lawmakers and the office holders in that party. So absolutely I'm going to support the Governor.

Obradovich: So I'm not clear, are you neutral in the primary then or not?

Kaufmann: Absolutely, absolutely I'm neutral in the primary but I am not neutral in terms of defending the Governor as she executes the duties of her office.

Obradovich: Republicans, it was a long, hard slog for republicans to win the Iowa Senate in 2016. But are you already in a pickle when it comes to keeping the Senate in light of the sexual discrimination lawsuit that Senate republicans have lost? It's still under appeal at this point. And there were a lot of republican union members who were not that happy with collective bargaining. Are you facing an uphill battle to keep the Senate?

Kaufmann: Well, two fold, I'll take the latter point first. In terms, there were a lot of republican union leaders, not a whole lot of republican ones I might add, but the rank and file, remember that collective bargaining law affects me, I've been a teacher for a quarter of a century and I'm here to tell you as a teacher that has won a whole variety of awards in my closet and I will tell you that is going to help school districts contain health care costs, that's going to help to advocate and to promote good, solid teachers and ultimately, ultimately that is going to be a piece of legislation, again, from the perspective of a 25 year teacher, that's going to be a piece of legislation that is going to help Iowa kids.

Obradovich: What about the discrimination lawsuit? That's tax payers on the hook for an over a million dollar settlement, actually not a settlement, an award depending on how the appeals court treats that, over something that I think just about everybody at this table and most Iowans think is juvenile and completely out of bounds for the government?

Kaufmann: In terms of the details of how exactly he is going to respond to this, Bill Dix is the person that has to answer that question, I can tell you as the head of an organization where I do have the responsibilities and direct responsibilities are RPI and that kind of behavior would not be tolerated at RPI. You'll have to ask Bill Dix in terms of the details of how he is going to actually react to that and handle questions about that.

Yepsen: Mr. Price, is the sexual harassment issue in the Iowa Senate going to be a campaign issue for democrats?

Price: Well we'll see, I'll leave that up to Leader Hogg to decide how he wants to run that campaign. But I will tell you this, that the way the republicans have responded to that issue has been abysmal, starting with number one, the fact that taxpayers are going to have to pay out this $2.2 million. That's my money, that's our money that is being used because of some bad apples over in the Senate caucus and quite frankly because Bill Dix and the republican leadership over there couldn't get their staff under control. Secondly, Governor Reynolds had an opportunity to lead on this issue. In her first 60 days in office she had an opportunity to lead on this issue. As the first female Governor and as a Governor for all Iowans she should have been out front and criticizing what happened in the Senate, instead she defended Bill Dix.

Obradovich: Let me ask about the union issue because in Wisconsin we saw since 2011 union membership down by a third and now in Iowa these union elections or union votes face higher odds because of the way the law was changed. So, are you facing a significant loss in this really important constituency in your party?

Price: Well, first of all I'll say this, is that the republicans had passed this bill to try and bust unions, clear, plain and simple. And, I know you shake your head, but the reality is that these recertifications of elections, the dues deduction piece of it are all so draconian and so fly in the face of a law that worked very well for 40 years. And my counterpart here talks about teachers --

Kaufmann: I am one, I don't talk about them, I am one.

Price: I know, but you talk about teachers and the reality is that teachers across the state are, they don't have the protections that they once had and so are looking at states like Minnesota. In fact, over the summer we saw a story where the Faribault, Minnesota newspaper was heralding the fact that a teacher had come from Iowa because of the collective bargaining law. When I think about what unions are up to though now, they're fired up. I've been all across the state, I've met with public sector, private sector unions. I have seen firsthand that unions are not going to sit back and take this. They are ready to go and in fact we saw that this last week with the school board elections when 81% of union backed candidates won their election for school boards. That's not only a testament to the fact that unions aren't going to sit back and take this and it's also a fact that voters out there are tired of the attacks on public workers across the state.

Yepsen: Mr. Kaufmann, how do you -- -

Kaufmann: It's not an attack on public workers, it possibly is going to impact the union bosses in Des Moines and five years ago Iowa led many of the states in this country in terms of the discrepancy between what the union bosses earn and what the rank and file teachers earn in this state. So you've got to make sure you understand which group is being, which ox is being gored, number one. Number two, there's something else that union members care about and that is jobs and job creation. And the tired old lines from the Democratic Party and ginning them up by saying about the collective bargaining law, you're going to have to have some proactive ability to actually generate jobs. I think the President is going to do that and I think Kim Reynolds and Ron Corbett, whoever wins that, is going to.

Obradovich: Troy wanted to respond.

Yepsen: We've got to go quickly and then we need to move on.

Price: Yeah, but in my travels over the last few months I've had the ability to go to several of these state facilities across the state and I'll tell you, there are nurses right now at the Woodward Resource Center who are being forced to work overtime, sometimes 60, 70, 80 hours a week, in forced overtime because of this collective bargaining change. And I know that the republicans say this will herald in, these overtime rules are going to herald in some savings for the state, about $5 million is what I've heard. But here's the reality of that is that nurse is not going to be showing up at school and people are going to be wondering why. People are going to know. People are feeling right now the effects of this law out there. They're seeing the impact that it's having across the state. People are frustrated by it, they're tired of it and they're going to vote a different way in 2018.

Kaufmann: And school districts are finding out that actually the range and the increases that are given to teachers after this law have not declined that much. So there's a little crying wolf going on here too.

Yepsen: To be continued. On another issue, Mr. Kaufmann, one of the roles that Iowa party chairs have traditionally played in presidential campaigns is to make sure the state has a level playing field. Now, when you criticize Senator Ben Sasse the way you did, doesn't that mean Iowa starts to tilt for Donald Trump?

Kaufmann: Donald Trump is the sitting President. When I made those comments he had been President for about six or seven months. Ben Sasse was not in here to repay a debt, Ben Sasse actually had a meet-and-greet, which is political speak for testing the waters, with a professional political consultant. Ben Sasse was in here to stir up the waters against the President. We've had other, a lot of other people in here, like Tom Cotton, and I just talked to Senator Lankton and, listen, if someone is going to come into this state to do nothing but criticize the President, doing it under the republican umbrella, I'm going to call him on it.

Yepsen: Let me call you on something, you criticized Sasse as an academic. Well, the fact is you're an academic too. You have a Ph.D. Why are you criticizing another academic?

Kaufmann: Listen to my words, what I said. I criticized him with his mindset of an academic, the thought that this sanctimonious looking down your nose kind of mindset, just because you have a Ph.D. doesn't necessarily mean you have that kind of academic, elitist type mindset. I find Ben Sasse to be rather disingenuous. I think there's a whole lot more Cedar County in me than Ph.D. But the bottom line is the reason why I criticized him is because he was in here to stir the pot against the President under the republican umbrella.

Yepsen: Will the republicans do a head count in the 2020 caucuses? In 1992 when Pat Buchanan was thinking about challenging Bush they didn't do a count. Now, I realize you won't be chair then, but if the Iowa Republican Party is going to tilt for Trump, why should anybody come in here? Why even do a count if it might embarrass Donald Trump?

Kaufmann: If the Republican Party right now is not tilted for Donald Trump I need to be fired. The primary reason why you have a political party is to support the office holders in your party. If I am not supporting Donald Trump I need to be fired.

Henderson: So does that mean no caucuses in 2020?

Kaufmann: I'm talking about now, Kay. When Ben Sasse was in here stirring the waters, and we all know, we all know exactly what he was doing, he was testing those waters, he was doing that when Donald Trump was President less than a year. When the primary season or caucus season begins to increase we're going to have a conversation just like we did for Governor, just like we did last time with the State Central Committee. The State Central Committee decided that time we were all neutral. I am beholden to the State Central Committee for what I do and how I act in terms of neutrality with the Governor's race, the same thing with that. But at this point right now as the Chair of the Iowa GOP, from the bottom to the top we are going to support the President of the United States.

Obradovich: Doesn't that always happen though? We're a caucus state, people come in to test the waters, even if their party has a President in office?

Kaufmann: You bet they come in. All are welcome. Ben Sasse was coming in here to stir the waters, test the waters, to spark the conversation about primary talk when our President was less than one year in office. There is a big difference between the array of national leaders that are coming through here and a couple of national leaders that are coming in here with disingenuous motivations to stir the pot.

Obradovich: Well, speaking of testing the waters, Troy, we've already had a number of national democrats rowing into the state to start looking at 2020, which there is actually an announced candidate with John Delaney from Maryland, Amy Klobuchar, there has been a bunch, if I start listing them I'm going to leave somebody out. I'll let you do that. But are you seeing anybody starting to catch fire at all? Or is it just really way too early?

Price: It's way too early at this point because democrats right now are focused on taking back the Governor's Office, taking back the Statehouse and the Senate, electing some new Congress people in 2018, that's what we're focused on right now as democrats. And so, we are very happy to have these folks coming into the state and our activists and volunteers and just general democrats are happy to hear from these folks and give them a chance. But my message to them has all been the same, you need to help us win in 2018. If you're going to come here it's great that you want to start laying the groundwork if you are interested in running for President, but you need to come in here and help us win in 2018.

Obradovich: And who is responding? And how are they helping at this point?

Price: Oh, they all -- listen, we've got folks who are running, we have national names who are participating in some rural county party events all across the state. You see it at the Polk County Steak Fry is coming up, we had a wingding just a few weeks ago, folks are coming in, helping our county parties start to raise the resources in this off year and we're already seeing signs that folks are coming in to help us build some infrastructure as well going into 2018.

Henderson: At the national level your party is examining the calendar for 2020 and considering changes to the process. The Iowa Democratic Party has experimented with absentee voting and these satellite voting situations for the caucuses. Will your party agree to take a body count at the caucuses on caucus night?

Price: Well listen, right now we're going through the process as, we're waiting for the Unity Commission to come back with what their recommendations are going to be and then for the DNC to tell us exactly what their requirements are going to be for caucus states. I was up at the Unity Commission meeting a few weeks ago in Chicago, this is a committee of half Clinton folks, half Sanders folks put together after the caucuses, or after the primary, to take a look at the entire Democratic Party presidential selection process. And we had a great conversation about the caucuses and they want to see work done in terms of absentee participation, in terms of streamlining the process, in terms of what we're going to report on caucus night. We had initial conversations on that. We're waiting to see what the committee, the Commission will recommend to the DNC and then what the DNC will ultimately accept.

Henderson: But does taking a count mean that you're identical to the republicans in having sort of a pseudo primary?

Price: Listen, all ideas are going to be on the table at this point. We're going to be -- we're having a lot of conversations out there. We've had the caucus commission that looked at these things as well. So we're going to be taking a look but the decisions won't be made until starting next year.

Yepsen: I've got to make a decision. I'm out of time. Thank you both for being out here to talk politics. We've got a lot more to do but we've got a lot more time so we'll have you back. Thank you both for being here.

Kaufmann: Thanks.

Price: Thank you so much.

Yepsen: And thanks for joining us on our latest edition of Iowa Press. We'll be back next week with another program. Our guest is former U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The Nebraska republican joins us Friday night at 7:30 and Sunday at Noon on our main IPTV channel with a rebroadcast on our .3 World channel Saturday morning at 8:30. So for all of us here at Iowa Public Television, I've David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. 

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