Iowa Independent: This is your third run for governor. How is the 2010 campaign going to be different than your previous two?
Bob Vander Plaats: First of all, there are a lot of things that haven’t changed. One thing that hasn’t changed is my passion and commitment to the state of Iowa and the issues that it faces. Although one could argue that this is my third attempt at running for governor, I would say we’re still waiting for that first opportunity to run in the general election.
In 2002, we lost the primary by 1,500 votes in my first run for anything. In 2006, my party nominated me to be lieutenant governor with [former U.S. Rep.] Jim Nussle. The idea was that we would blend our resources, connect the eastern side of the state to the western side, but the Iowa voter wasn’t looking for D.C. to run Iowa. They wanted an Iowan to lead Iowa.
In 2010, I believe more than ever that Iowans are thirsting for leadership and are tired of politics as usual.
If I could throw one more thing in there, Jason, it’s that in 2008 I was the state chair for Gov. Mike Huckabee. He won Iowa by 9 percentage points while being outspent 15 to 1. That really goes to prove that he was not only a good candidate but was operating on an outstanding organization that we built.
II: So, is the hope that you can take the Huckabee campaign and shift it to the gubernatorial campaign?
BVP: No, in fact I’ve been clear that I don’t want this to be a repeat of the 2008 Caucuses. If you take a look at my team, Eric Woolson, who was with Gov. Huckabee and myself, is on my team. But my state chair is Jodie Tymeson, and she was with Mitt Romney. My co-chair is former state Auditor Dick Johnson and he was co-chair for John McCain. Bill Sailor is on my team and he was state chair for Tom Tancredo. Chuck Hurly is on my team and was state chair for Sam Brownback.
What I’m trying to point out is the organization I built in 2002 and have continued to build ever since is as solid and savvy an organization as you’re going to find anywhere for a Republican in Iowa, and that organization is ready to perform in 2010.
II: Taking a step back for a moment to your comment on your nomination with Jim Nussle and how Iowans didn’t want a person from D.C. running Iowa, do you think it was a mistake for you to join the Nussle campaign?
BVP: Absolutely not. It was our attempt to unify the party and get behind one candidate. We did that. To be quite honest with you, I gained a lot of supporters with that decision. Was Jim Nussle a perfect candidate? No. Would he have been a perfect governor? No. But he’d be a lot better than what we are dealing with today.
II: Brent Hayworth at the Sioux City Journal pointed out the other day that several of the people who are believed to be contemplating a run for the GOP nomination are very similar to you, as in from western Iowa, social conservative, etc. Are you worried that you’re base will be split during the primary?
BVP: First of all, we don’t know who will be in the primary. That’s all speculation at this point.
Obviously I’m from western Iowa, but we’re just as solid in eastern Iowa as we are in western Iowa. We feel our organization is extremely strong. I think the advantage I would have over some of the others who have been mentioned is that I’ve run a statewide campaign before. When you run statewide, not only do people get the opportunity to know you, they get the opportunity to join your team and work for you.
II: The big issue before the legislature right now is the state’s budget. As governor, how would you go about balancing the budget?
BVP: I think what needs to be pointed out is that in 2007 the state budget was $5.3 billion. The budget introduced a couple weeks ago by Gov. Culver was $6.2 billion. That’s a $900 million increase. That’s a 17 percent increase. Everybody is running around like the sky is falling, which points to a true lack of leadership and focus on our priorities.
Schools are a priority. Roads are a priority. Courts are a priority. Public safety is a priority. Those who need special assistance would be a priority. What I would like to see Gov. Culver do is say that these are our priorities. This is how we are going to fund them and this is how we’re going to live within our means. There is no reason the sky should be falling.
If we’re doing things that don’t fit with our priorities, we need to eliminate those.
Having a $600 million shortfall would actually excite me as the governor of Iowa because there is an urgency to reform government, to sharpen the saw, to get rid of the waste and really focus on our priorities. So I think there is an opportunity for leadership.
II: So do you think there is enough excess spending right now that cuts alone would be enough to balance the budget without negative consequences for Iowa’s citizens?
If you go to most people’s households and asked them if they would take a 17 percent increase in what they earned since 2007, of course they would. But there are a lot of people out there who are suffering through a 17 percent decrease, or a 50 percent decrease. Yet, they have to provide for the needs of their home.
Business and industry are looking at how they can do more with less. Government has had this unsustainable growth patter of how to grow more and more and more, and somehow we get less and less. The system needs to be reformed.
The government needs a business mindset so we can educate our children better, provide better health care, provide better roads and have a better court system. That’s going to take leadership, and to be quite honest with you, whether it’s Gov. Culver or Sen. [Mike] Gronstal or Rep. [Pat] Murphy, no body is providing leadership.
II: So I can assume you probably don’t agree with Gov. Culver’s $700 million bonding plan?
BVP: First of all, most Iowans would say we don’t need anymore gambling in the state. So when you have a $700 million bond issue that is being paid for on the back of the gambling industry, Iowans read into it that you’re expanding gambling because the money the industry is producing is already committed to other things. So either tell me what you’re going to cut or tell me what casino you’re going to add in Iowa.
The bonding issue is not a good idea. And the gas tax is a horrible idea. That shows short-term memory deficit. It wasn’t very long ago gas was $3.80 a gallon. Now they want to raise the gas tax during a huge downturn in the economy so our citizens spend more money at the pump, more money at the grocery store, more money at the department store, and more money on college tuition. It’s such a regressive tax.
II: Does it surprise you that conservative groups like Iowa Farm Bureau and Republicans like state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey support the idea?
BVP: It doesn’t surprise me, but it should be an indicator of a real problem. What I mean is these groups and individuals are so caught up in the “system think” that they need to get outside the box and think of a different way.
Yes, a 21st Century infrastructure is extremely important to the vitality of Iowa and there is definitely a role for government to play in that. But is the only way to get there a gas tax? No. We increase state government by $900 million. If we take a deep breath and contemplate that we realize just how much money we’re talking about. What if we would have only increased the budget $700 million and put $200 million into our infrastructure and reformed the way government works. That would be leadership, and I think all Iowans would support that.
Iowans have had it with the increased taxes. They’ve had it with the increase in government. They’ve had it with having their lives controlled. They want someone who will lead the state of Iowa, not just grow the size of government.
II: You mentioned reforming government just a moment ago. Democratic Sen. Matt McCoy has introduced legislation that aims to reform the state’s education system by forcing the consolidation small rural school districts. What are your thoughts on the plan and how would Gov. Vander Plaats go about reforming Iowa’s education system?
BVP: First of all, Matt McCoy is not living in the real world. His suggestion is reeks of big government. It’s big brother trying to control you.
My kids go to a small school district just north of Sioux City. I’ll put our scores up against those in Des Moines any day. If he thinks these small schools need to be closed because they are inefficient or ineffective, I’d argue that he should take a big hammer to the Des Moines school district and break it into pieces. It’s way to big of a school district. It has terrible results that no one can be proud of. Is that what you want for our state, Matt? That is the wrong approach to education.
I believe in local control. I think the way you reform education is simple. Number one, you set high standards. Iowa should be a state that sets the international standard not responds to the international standard. We used to lead education in this country. We continue to reward and throw money at a huge bureaucracy that Matt McCoy supports.
Two, simplify funding to school districts so school boards and superintendents can actually be CEOs and leaders of their district. Then, have high accountability and high transparency. So, one school district can learn from another district. What you would see is once you take away the bridles to public education, you’ll see school districts making the best decisions on teachers, buildings and administrators.
II: I’d like to switch gears and talk about natural disasters. What do you think of the state’s response to last summer’s flooding?
BVP: I think Gov. Culver has demonstrated a pattern of, at the very least, unusual leadership. You have floods the likes of which Iowa has never seen and you fly around in a helicopter but you don’t call a special session. To me, Gov. Culver is choosing commissions over communities. He’s choosing policies over people.
These floods happened in June. We’re in the middle of February. These people are just stuck. A woman from Cedar Rapids told me just the other day that dealing with the floods wasn’t nearly as difficult as dealing with the bureaucracy and the slow response.
I think a legislative session, even if nothing got done, at least would have been a symbolic show of leadership. It would have brought in everybody to respond immediately to the communities in need. That’s what government is here for. But, now it’s February.
II: Starting today, what should the state do in regards to last summer’s floods?
BVP: This is no pun intended, but we do have a rainy day fund. If that wasn’t a rainy day, I don’t know what was. Iowans need to roll up their sleeves, from the governor to the legislators to the communities affected to churches, everybody, in order to have a real impact on recovery. What are we doing as Iowans to respond to the need and what are we doing to make sure the federal government gives Iowans its fair share. I don’t think that’s happening right now, and part of that is because the governor is not advocating for his state.
We should have dipped into the rainy day fund right away with the idea that we’ll ask forgiveness instead of permission when it comes to federal response. We have to advocate for the citizens of our state.
II: So should we tap into the entire rainy day fund?
BVP: No, but I think there are resources there so that the state could have had an immediate response that made a difference. Holding on to those funds because we hoped the federal government would bail us out or because the funds are already committed to other expenses, it’s just a lack of leadership.
Funds were available, there was a need, and we could have released some of the funds immediately.
II: Your most recent campaign was the caucus run by Gov. Huckabee in which he pledged to run positive campaign, talk about issues and avoid personal attacks. Will you operate under the same rules in 2010?
BVP: The goal and hope is to run a positive, issue-based campaign. My goal has been to give people something to vote for in 2010, not something to vote against. Hopefully they will buy into my vision for Iowa, my leadership background and experience.