Five potential/likely GOP candidates for governor

UPDATE:  Listen to forum here; the mp3s are at the bottom of this Radio Iowa story. Listen to candidates talk about idea of "Branstad 2010" is sponsoring an hour-long forum on the Drake University late this afternoon, to start at 4 p.m. and conclude at 5 p.m.  I can confirm that the following potential/likely 2010 Republican candidates for governor are in the room:  Jerry Behn of Boone, Christian Fong of Cedar Rapids, Rod Roberts of Carroll, Christopher Rants of Sioux City and Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City. 

I'll be live blogging, when humanly possible.  All the men are wearing "the uniform" — dark-colored blazers in black or dark navy; three of the five have red ties.  They are seated behind a table (it features a modesty skirt) and sitting in front of a blue curtain.  At 3:54 p.m., Lynn Campbell of introduced the panel to the crowd.

"Senator Minority Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton is also a candidate and he expresses his regret that he cannot be here today," Campbell just told the crowd, before telling the five men who are here their responses will be limited to a minute.

First question: why are you the best?

Behn gives a quick response: essentially telling the crowd it's up to them to decide. 

Fong stresses his experience outside of politics, in the private sector.  "It's the sort of experience that Iowa needs right now."

Rants: "I bring a mix of experience…I do have a background in the private sector," Rants said.  "But I also bring a background that has public policy experience." 

Roberts: discusses his work as a minister and at the statehouse.  "I think temperment, personality…provide for a very good background."

Vander Plaats:  talks about working as high school teacher & coach, as a CEO at non-profit, as a business consultant.  "We create private sector jobs," Vander Plaats said. "…I believe I am the candidate who will inspire our base."

Next question about jobs:  what plan or ideas do you have? (I'm paraphrasing, generalizing their answers unless you see quotations)

Fong:  I understand because I work in the private sector.

Rants: says property taxes are keeping business down.

Roberts: state budget is out of control; right to work status important

Vander Plaats: it's about leadership; stopping the brain drain (one BVP son just got accepting at Oxford University).

Behn: governor needs to provide firewall against poor legislation, even a rumor about getting rid of right to work.

Next question about state budget: what specific things would you do to cut budget?

Rants:  offers details of current dilemma; time for a special session now; bring AFSCME to the table to renegotiate contracts.  "We have a 28 percent disparity between public sector and private sector (wages in Iowa)," Rants said.  "…We have to reopen and reexamine that contract."

Roberts:  There's no question spending unsustainable, a perfect storm has come, time for serious decisions.  "I think once in a generation there's an opportunity where you can actually, seriously think about going into state govenrment and reorganizing," Roberts said. 

Vander Plaats:  "I used to teach accounting," Vander Plaats said, adding that he and his wife share a common ancestry.  "…We're both Dutch.  Money is very important to us."  He promises new dept heads who embrace "lean" techniques.

Behn:  Not a tax problem, a spending problem.  "With the Titanic…It wasn't where it was that was the problem, it was where it was headed," Behn said, calling for a special session now.

Fong:  "State govt is putting a burden on Iowa's families, of generational debt….Not just this year, but in the past we've had governors and legislators" Fong says have put that burden on Iowans.  He promises a five percent smaller budget in his first year as governor.  He would end job of state departments having "legislative liasons."

Next question:  do you support smoking ban?

Roberts:  some constituents unhappy, "But it is now settled and I would not at this point in time…see any reason to repeal that."

Vander Plaats:   "I do not smoke, however, I'm a big fan of private property rights," he said.  "…I guarantee you what, I will not exempt the casinos….I think this goes more to a freedom issue." Howe ver, he stopped short of saying he'd get rid of the ban.

Behn:  he voted no on smoking ban and remains opposed, but didn't call for undoing ban.  "That's up to the legislature," Behn said.

Fong: "This is a perfect example of why the legislative process is so broken," Fong said.  Priorities of next gov to restore fiscal sanity; a constitutional amendment on gay marriage, but he would not call for repeal of smoking ban.

Rants:  voted against smoking ban, but he, if elected governor, "would spend my political capital elsewhere."  He cited property tax reform again.

Next issue:  gay marriage.

Vander Plaats:  "Governor Culver definitely has the authority to issue an executive order, Vander Plaats said, adding the supreme court is "driving a car without a license…If we allow them to do this with marriage" Vander Plaats theorized the justices would go farther.

Behn: "Frankly, an exec order appears to me to be a little bit of a band-aid," Behn said, urging voters to use retention elections to vote justices off the bench.  "…An executive order would be something to explore, but if it gets overturned by the courts, you're back to square one."

Fong:  expresses support for constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, adds he'd do "everything" but stopped short of saying he'd issue exec. order.

Rants: talks about legislature's failure to set wheels in motion for a statewide vote on amendment.  "I disagree with Mr. Vander Plaats…but the governor does have the ability to force legislative leaders to the table….The governor has a say…and as governor I would use that…to get legislators to put it on the ballot."

Roberts:  calls statewide vote the "proper thing" to do. "People in Iowa would like to weigh in on this question," Roberts said. "…all political power is inherent in the people."

Next issue:  gambling.  A new casino?

Behn: "We're already addicted enough to gambling and I'm not in favor (of a new casino)," Behn said.  "…If anything, I'd like to see it reduced."

Fong:  "We have enough casinos in Iowa."

Rants:  not convinced commission will grant new casinos; disagrees with Debi Durham of Siouxland Chamber who argues if there are new casinos, taxes on existing casinos should be reduced.  "I don't think the casino industry is the one that needs tax breaks," Rants said.

Roberts:  public "accepting of legalized gambling" according to Roberts. "I wonder as well…if another licensed casino would be wise given the economic conditions that we're in," Roberts said.

Vander Plaats:  "I'm in no way in favor of the expansion of gambling, nor am I in favor of lowering the taxes on casinos," he says.  (In case you don't know, Debi Durham — mentioned above — was GOP's 2002 nominee for lieutenant governor.)

Audience questions: do you support or oppose death penalty?

Fong:  "I would support for the sort of crimes that are allowed under federal definitions."

Rants: "My voting record is one of supporting capital punishment….DNA testing, which is today's modern fingerprint, is important to link the accused with the actual crime."

Roberts: "No, I would not support the reinstatement of the death penalty," Roberts said. "…Life in prison without chance of parole is a serious punishment."  He cited Illinois cases overturned; innocent individuals executed.

Vander Plaats:  "I would support the reinstatement of cap. punishment in Iowa," he says, citing Jetseta Gage case.  "There are some crimes that are so heinous the only rightful response is capital punishment."

Behn:  He supports capital punishment. "It deters repeaters," he says and crowd laughs.  "…There is an incentive for a criminal to go ahead and murder their victim so there is no one there to testify against them."

Question:  do you support allowing medical use of marijuana?

All said no.  Behn drew laughs when he talked about the "old days" and smoking pot.

Question: should Governor Branstad join field?

Roberts: "I have a great deal of respect & admiration for Governor B," Roberts said.  "…I look @ a field of candidates….I think a full field of candidates provides for a spirited primary…he's more than welcome."

Vander Plaats:  "Obviously, I don't make other people's decisions," he said, boasting that his name uld be on the ballot and he used the time to talk in general about his "vision" for the state of Iowa.

Behn: "That's up to Governor Branstad," Behn said.

Fong: "Governor Branstad, I would invite you to make your decision very soon.  This race is about looking forward," Fong said (a sort of indirect snap back), before talking about his vision for the state.

Rants: "This gubernatorial primary gives our party a chance to talk about the future," Rants said, using the word future seven six times (7:12 p.m. update: I went back, listened and recounted as I wrote a story).  "If Terry Branstad wants to join the primary…jump in soon."

Question: what are budget priorities?

Vander Plaats: it's a great opportunity.  "We've grown bureaucracy….but we haven't produced results…there's an urgency for change."

Behn: "We lowered the size of govt when R were in control of the legislature," Behn said.  "…In every crisis, there's an opportunity…to really look at the efficiency and duplication of govt."

Fong: "Govt has grown by something like 20 percent over Governor Culver's administration," he said.  "…Big and bad government has to stop."  Repeats pledge to cut budget five percent in year one.  Argues combining IT would save $20 million; combining vehicle fleet would save $18 million,.

Rants: "Cuts are coming. Cuts have to come.  My number one priority…is our relationship with the property taxpayers," Rants says, opining that Culver will begin shifting more responsibilities on property owners.

Roberts: "I've promised….two very simple leadership committments.  I'll show up for work…and I'll be as careful with your money as I am with my own," he said, saying public safety, infrastructure/transportation, schools & environment would his four priority areas.

Question: federal deductibility.  Oppose its repeal?

Behn:  he's against repealing federal deductibility.

Fong: he's against it, too.  "A tax on a tax is simply unfair for Iowans," he said.

Rants:  he opposes repeal.  "It's a job killer," he said. "…I'm not sure Governor Culver truly understands that."

Roberts:  he opposes repeal.  "The majority of Iowans also agree," he said.

Vander Plaats: he opposes repeal; mentions right-to-work, fair share, card check.  "The first thing we need to do is get after reforming government," he said.  "…so business and industry can thrive in Iowa."

Question, about campaign contributions and impact of large checks.

Fong:  suggesting entire campaign will cost $10 million. "However introducing additional rules & regulations is not in the best interests of Iowans and what we have in place now is something that could continue."

Rants:  I don't favor arbitrary limits.  "My concern (about limits) always is…you create the opportunity for special interest groups to step in and fill the void," he said.

Roberts: "As a candidate, I personally do not support limitations on personal contributions," Roberts said, adding he's open to a "frank discussion about the direction money has taken in political campaigns" adding the cost of campaigns fueled cynacism among the public.  "I do think that that is a very fair & legitimate subject that should be discussed further," he said.

Vander Plaats: "I just want to know, where did Barack's money all come from?" he said.  "….Asking people for money isn't always the most pleasant thing to do, but it's a necessary thing to do." Added he wants "open, transparent" system of reporting. 

Behn:  Campaign finance reform, according to him, "looks good, sounds good, smells good, but no one knows how to do it." 

Final question:  health care reform at state level.

Rants: Iowa hospitals at "crisis level" and operating at a loss.  Important to ensuring accessibility & quality.  State system should reward quality. 

Roberts: "Iowa has a tradition of taking care of those in need and certainly children have been a priority," he said. System near breaking point.

Vander Plaats: has "fear and trepidation" of Obama's "plan." Adds emphasis on preventative health care.

Behn: states are labs for different options.  "The legislature started out at 150 percent of poverty to take care of children who were in dire straights," Behn said, adding the universe expanded (up to 300 percent of poverty) to cover more children. "Yours and my tax dollars should not subsidize everybody else."

Fong:  for the first time, he talked about being son of immigrant, added he got free/reduced price school lunch.  "State run health care is the wrong direction for us to go," Fong said. "Every Iowan, whether they're rural or urban, deserves access…now, what we've done in expanding who is covered, it's the wrong approach."

The end.


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About O.Kay Henderson

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