I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with former Governor Terry Branstad and about 10 other social conservatives.  We were invited to hear from Governor Branstad about his desire to run for Governor again and a chance to ask him questions.

He did remind us of a number of good things such as:

  • He implemented spending reform measures and streamlined state government from 64 departments to 25.
  • Cut $700 million out of the budget.
  • Cut income tax by 10%
  • Eliminated the inheritance tax.
  • When he left office Iowa had a $900 million surplus after tax cuts were made.
  • He voted against collective bargaining.
  • He helped the accommodation for home educating in Iowa become law (and I certainly thank him for that).
  • He implemented tax tuition credits, as well as, arrangements for books and busing agreements between public and private schools.
  • Passed the Defense of Marriage Act
  • He was able to get a number of the fiscal measures passed with a Democratically controlled Legislature for the first 10 years of his administration (1982-1992).  His agreement to sign the sales tax increase into law came after two vetoes until the Democrats agreed with his spending reform measures.

He retired from Des Moines University and desires to run for office again because he is “disturbed by what he was seeing (with the Culver administration), and saw that there needed to be change.”  He wants to form a committee, like he did before, to reform state spending in order to reduce the size of government and reduce spending.

He wants that to be the central aspect of his campaign – a focus on the current administration’s mismanagement.  Because he says that Iowans are, “looking for experience and stability.”

And they are, but they are also looking for leadership which I think is the rub as far a social conservatives are concerned.  For instance we had discussion about gambling in Iowa.  He was against gambling.  He vetoed having the lottery twice (1983 & 1984).  He eventually relented because of popular public support (he says was about 70% at the time).  To his credit he built in safe guards and protections (background checks, ethics standards for lottery personnel and board members, required money to be set aside for gambling addictions, etc.), but he still relented.

His current stand on gambling is that he is opposed to its expansion.  He stopped the touch play machines from being introduced in Iowa in the early 90s.   He says that it is bad policy and that it is the most addictive type of gambling.  And that touch play doesn’t enjoy public support… but, what if it did?  What would his stand be then?

Which leads into social issues, and the big elephant in the room – protecting traditional marriage.  Governor Branstad said that he was shocked by the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling.  He thinks there needs to be a constitutional amendment, and he supports a constitutional amendment which, in his opinion, would be the only thing that can truly address the ruling.

He said that Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) had “no right in my mind to enforce his will on the marriage issue.  The people need to be able to vote on it.”  So as an individual Governor Branstad is in favor of a  marriage amendment.

But it isn’t going to be a campaign issue.  He mentioned one thing Iowans can do is when judges are up for retention to vote them out, but he was unwilling to campaign on that and encourage people to do so publicly.  Even though he appointed two of the justices on the Court that involved in the ruling.

He said it is “not going to be a central issue” and that we “have to use finesse, and not overplay our hand.”  He also said that in order to win the election we ought “not wear our conservatism on our sleeve.”  I can understand wanting to make the economy a central theme, but an unwillingness to address restoring traditional marriage at all in his campaign is a mistake.  It seems as though he’s getting too much of his advice from Doug Gross.

He was also unwilling to say what role Gross was going to have in his campaign.  In the hour we spent with him he did not say one tangible thing he would do to help get an amendment process started as Governor.  He did say what he wouldn’t do, such as, rejecting the notion of an executive order (I question whether that would work as well) and not campaign on it.  He seems to be content to set it on the back burner… and see what he can do in backroom deals.  Which is how he accomplished much of his fiscal agenda as Governor with a Democratically-controlled Legislature.

Likewise with abortion, it won’t be a central campaign issue, but he says he’s committed to life.  He said “Planned Parenthood hates me with a passion.” (Which is a badge of honor in my mind).  He seemed willing to defund Planned Parenthood and not allow a medicaid waiver for them.  But again you won’t likely find it on his campaigns issues page on his website (which to my knowledge doesn’t exist yet).

In all the meeting, in my opinion, didn’t go well for him.  Social conservatives are looking for tangible ideas on items of concern for us.  He was unwilling to provide them.  We are looking for principled leadership, and instead we saw political maneuvering.

These are all things that Governor Branstad will need to address if he is to win the Republican nomination, let alone become the next Governor.

Sidenote: I’m including raw, non-edited audio of the opening of our session.  The battery in the digital recorder died so I’m not able to provide all of it though that was my intention.  I know others recorded as well, and if I can get my hands on that audio I will.  A big thanks to Mike Demastus who brought the recorder (and he apologizes for the battery dying).

Update: Mike wrote about what he thought of the meeting, and well, he’s a little more direct than I was.

2nd Update: Linked by the Iowa Independent.

3rd Update – 11/02/09: Linked by Steve Deace at WHO Radio gives more background on the meeting from others who were there, and info about the meeting that took place after my meeting.  Also the faithful opposition Bleeding Heartland linked and DesMoinesDem (who has commented here before) speculates who Branstad’s running mate might be.

4th Update – 11/03/09: Linked again at the Iowa Independent and O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa.

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