Fong talks

Christian Fong of Cedar Rapids just called into the Radio Iowa newsroom for an on-the-record chat about his decision to run for governorListen to the 12 minute interview.

The first, and most basic question was: Why are you running?  He laughed, then answered with a bit of biography.

Fong: "I grew up in western Iowa, the son of an immigrant who came to Iowa, came to America because of the American dream, the Iowa dream. It's opportunity. It's hard work.  It's respect for your neighbors.  He came to Iowa and found all those things. As I've grown up, now that I've got my own kids, I've got neighbors that I care for.  I've got a city that I've cared for through disaster recovery over the past year.  In my own generation and the next one, I want to see that dream restored.  I see it slipping away, sometimes being actively torn away by policies, by a government that starts to lose touch with its own people. I want to see all those things restored."

Your tweet says you have filed that I am candidate for governor, so you've apparently skipped the exploratory phase and just jumped right in.

Fong: "That's correct.  No exploring.  I know what I need to do.  I know what the state needs and this isn't a question of what's in this for me or how easy is this going to be.  This is a matter of I see a need.  I see a state that is drifting off course through the policies sometimes coming out of Des Moines and I am committed to doing everything that I can do to turn that around."

I've been reading stuff online about you.  Some of your critics point to age and inexperience.  I'll go back to Bob Vander Plaats. One of the criticism of him is he's never held elective office before.  Why should Iowans trust some like you who's never learned the ropes of governing from the ground up?

Fong: "I don't think identifying and solving a problem has a minimum age requirement. I graduated from college when I was 19.  I've been in the private sector as a community leader and as a businessman for 13 years.  You know, there are times when life has put me flat on my back and I've had to learn to stand up and I've brushed myself off.  I've got the life experiences that understand what Iowa families are going through right now.  Really, this is about looking toward the future and saying, 'Who has the skill set and the experiences to get Iowa through the recession, a budget crisis, an out-of-touch government?' It's articulating that vision and what I bring to the table that I think is unique. 

"On the experience question in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I'm the C.E.O. of Corridor Recovery, the disaster recovery agency. I've helped lead my community through the fourth-largest natural disaster in U.S. history. That's an experience of how to work with the community and get the resources, find the resources and apply the resources to help my neighbors. I've got the experience as a business person, having to make tough decisions to meet payroll, to balance the budget.  I'll stack that up against the record of experience of 'experienced politicians' who have guided us into a situation with a billion dollar budget, experienced politicians trying to borrow their way out of a recession, experienced politicians that have denied Iowans the right to simply vote on defining marriage.  If it's experience that people want, I bring the kind of experience to the table that regular, hard-working Iowans can relate to."

There were a few other questions like, "Why are you a Republican?" I asked him for his specific views on gay marriage and abortion.  Then, I asked him about his declaration that he wasn't a partisan (a declaration he made this spring during a statehouse hearing). 

How does someone who isn't a partisan, then, become the standard-bearer of a party?

Fong: "When I stood up at that hearing I was speaking to friends that I have on both sides of the aisle.  If Iowa wants somebody that has spent the last 10 years, 15 years just living within their party, just soaking in the ideas that come out of one faction of Iowa, I'm probably not the guy.  I do – I have friends across the aisle that we share ideas with each other and we find common causes that rise above party labels. 

"I understand the role that the governor is the standard-bearer of his party and in that you have to be a coalition leader, you have to be able to work with the different areas of the Republican Party.  I'm able to do that Here in Cedar Rapids I've always been a coalition builder…It's coalition leading that is my vision and really my strength as my leadership style. 

"There's no need to start throwing names around. We bear the title of Republican very proudly of the lofty ideals and ideas that it represents but never do we (unintelligible word) any other Iowan and say, 'Because you don't wear a certain label, you're not welcome or I don't respect you or I don't listen to you.  That's not what Iowa is and it's not what I am."

So you mentioned you have friends who are Democrats.  Is that why you made campaign contributions to Tyler Olson and Eleisha Gayman? (Olson and Gayman are Democrats, serving in the Iowa House.)

Fong: "You know, in hindsight, when I gave those gifts, those were really inconsequential amounts.  It was $150 and they were friends. I had served with them on a commission and I wanted to support them as one friend to another. Again, if somebody's looking for somebody who's been running for govenror for the last 10 years, who has shaped their life that way, I'm probably not the guy. If they want someone who is loyal, is looking for ways to partner with others, then I'm going to be a good candidate for them.

"You know, would I do it again? Look, I will always be loyal and I will always support my friends. In hindsight, look, they represent things and they represent votes that I don't support and, you know, it was probably a mistake to give money to those causes, but I'll never apologize for being loyal to my friends and being loyal to fellow Iowans.  I think loyalty and neighborliness is a core value that all Iowans celebrate and share."

There were a couple of other questions, about the progession of his campaign. He'll have a campaign website up in a few weeks.  Until then, he's on Twitter and Facebook. 

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.