Recently I had the opportunity to talk at length with Representative Rod Roberts (R-Carroll) who is one of the seven Republicans competing for the GOP nomination to run against Governor Chet Culver. Representative Roberts has served in the Iowa House of Representatives since January 2001. He also serves as the Assistant House Minority Leader and is the senior member of the House Republican Leadership. Representative Roberts also serves as the Development Director for Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in Iowa.
This will be the final post in the series of three blog posts highlighting my interview with him. If you would like to listen to the very raw audio of this interview, go here. You can read part I of this interview on his motivation to run for Governor and his agenda here. To read his positions on government spending and jobs for Iowans click here.
Shane Vander Hart: Shifting gears a little bit from fiscal to social concerns, one of the priorities for social conservatives is to see the recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage addressed. How would your administration do that? I’ve heard a variety of different opinions out there from the candidates, I would just like to know what your position is.
Representative Roberts: I was one of the first Republicans to rise and call for the immediate consideration of a resolution that we drawn up on the House side in anticipation that the court might rule as they did on April 3rd, and said we should immediately take this up so that the question can eventually get before the people and they can vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution. I still believe that is something the people are entitled to, and the proper response for us in the General Assembly is to take up, pass it, and let the people make this decision. Because ultimately the question about marriage is a question that should be decided by the people for the government, not the government deciding it for the people of Iowa. And that is a basic fundamental premise that I have on this whole matter.
Having said that, I would also say that really the first people who have the opportunity to say something to the Court about this are the people themselves. Because, the ballot in November 2010 will not only be a method of electing people to represent us in office. The ballot is also a method of holding people accountable, and three of the seven justices appear on the ballot, and I’ve not been afraid or ashamed to say to people – “remember their names appear on the ballot under the question of retention, because it is our way of saying ‘justices you are accountable to the people of Iowa for your service.’” They will decide whether or not you continue to serve on our highest court.
So it could well be that Iowans tell one or more, maybe all three of the justices who are up for retention, we don’t approve of your service on our Supreme Court and we are going to deny you retention and we are going to replace you with new justices. I talk about that openly on the campaign trail. Because again, I see part of my responsibility is to make sure that people know how we are accountable to them because it is their government.
Shane Vander Hart: Absolutely
Representative Roberts: And so I think that’s significant. The other thing I would say with regard to the constitutional amendment, this next legislative session, I would like to see that resolution taken up and passed. But if it’s not, I’ve been in the Legislature long enough to know that before the Legislature adjourns in the Spring, they have to negotiate with the Governor. And the Governor has his agenda that he usually lays out in his Condition of the State address in January. And you pick up on that address, and then as you work through session what his priorities are. His top one… two… whatever they are.
Governor Vilsack was very good at negotiating with the Legislature. He could get his top one… two… maybe three things off his agenda. Governor Culver last year was lucky to get one thing, and that was his bonding stuff. That was the wee hours of the last day before he got that pulled together.
Shane Vander Hart: And that is with his own party controlling the General Assembly.
Representative Roberts: Correct. That tells you how weak he is to negotiate with his own party in the Legislature. As Governor, we’re not only going to make a priority our fiscal house in order, that is one of my agenda items. We’re not only going to make sure that we do we can to position Iowa to come out of the recession, and send the signal that we are business friendly But we are going to take up that resolution. And if anyone says, “oh no, we aren’t.” Well, that’s fine, we’ll just sit here for awhile. We don’t have a deal, until you take that up. And you know what, I don’t care how you vote on it, but you are going to take it up.
Shane Vander Hart: At least put your vote on record.
Representative Roberts: Correct. That’s all I’m asking, I’m not saying that you have to pass it, but I’m saying “take it up, and vote. Let the people know.” Then I think we should also look at maybe how we select our justices. As Governor, I think that might be fair to say. To ask, just what method do we use here to evaluate and review candidates? Where do they come from? That’s another thing I’d be willing to look at. And you know the next Governor, if the people of Iowa tell one, two or possibly three of current justices “you are not on our Court anymore.” Will then begin to remake the Court with new appointees.
Shane Vander Hart: How would you as Governor advance the pro-life agenda? A lot of politicians say, “I’m pro-life,” and as a pro-life activist I sometimes don’t see much action. I see a lot of talk.
Representative Roberts: Oh you won’t now. Of course, I was one of the, on the House side, I was present when we first passed, oh we used different descriptions for it, the ban on human cloning law. Representative Dan Bottenger floor-managed that, and I helped him – on the House side. And then I also fought the repeal. When Governor Culver was elected, and the Democrats took control of the Legislature, one of their first actions was to repeal our ban on human cloning. And so I fought against that, and obviously they then had the numbers. And that was one of their issues.
And so, I’ve already demonstrated, in concrete ways, that I’m committed to the idea that life begins at conception. That when I say that I am pro-life, I always like to take the time to also add language – what that means is I believe it is important to defend the life of the unborn. That’s what pro-life means to me; that there is a vested interest on the part of government to protect the life of unborn children. And I’ve tried to demonstrate that through my years of service in the Legislature, those would be two good illustrations of it. I was there to help lead the charge on putting the ban on human cloning in place, and I was there to try and fight the repeal of that ban.
And anytime there’s been an opportunity to express that sentiment or will, I’ve always been more than willing to put my name on the line to say, “I will help try and defend the life of the unborn.” That’s why today if you were to ask, say Kim Lehman (of Iowa Right to Life), “Is Rod Roberts a strong, consistent supporter of life?” I know what she’d tell you. “Oh yes he is, yep, he’d be right at the top of the list.”
So depending on who is in the Legislature, what happens at the federal level with our court – you know with Roe v. Wade for instance, and if it ever came to where we could pass our own state law; I’d certainly do all I could to support legislation that would protect life of the unborn.
Shane Vander Hart: We already touched on it a little bit earlier when you were talking about small government. What is your stance on parental rights in education, aka school choice, what would you be willing to do as governor to champion the cause of parental choice, private education, home education and such?
Representative Roberts: Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to point to a moment in time in my first term as State Representative, then Governor Vilsack proposed virtually eliminating funding for non-public school transportation. And that is an item that comes close to home where I’m from because the State Representative out of Carroll County back in the mid-70s and folks from Carroll County were instrumental in helping pass legislation that provided funding for non-public school transportation, and that is funneled through the public schools where the non-public schools exist. And so we led the charge and actually Governor Vilsack backed out, and did not eliminate funding for non-public school transportation.
Since then I’ve been a strong proponent, when we were in the majority, I made sure that whenever the allowable growth figure for public schools were each year… 3%… 4%… That we also increased funding for non-public school transportation and non-public school textbooks at the same percentage. And we did that every year, and our appropriations chair could always count on me to make the point that whatever we are doing for allowable growth; we’re going to do for those two line items for the non-public schools, and we did every year.
I was also instrumental in working with then Representative Carmen Boal from Ankeny to help pass, what we called the “Opportunity Scholarship,” the tax credit program several years ago, we passed it – there wasn’t any money to start with, but now it has gone up to where there was seven-and-a-half million dollars and ten million dollars proposed to go to non-public schools as tax credits where people could donate to a foundation and get a tax write-off for a portion of that. In return, those scholarship dollars were used for lower-income families to be able to send their children to non-public schools. It was a good program, modeled after what Arizona had done. So I’m behind on that one too, and have demonstrated that.
Shane Vander Hart: Would you be open to, just in general, school vouchers or tax credits for any Iowan that would want to do private education… or something my wife and I do is home school…
Representative Roberts: tax credits for…
Shane Vander Hart: Yeah, we can’t even deduct our books…
Representative Roberts: Yes, I would be very open to tax credits for people who home school for actual costs, text books and that. Absolutely. Because again, fundamentally, I believe that the government should not have a monopoly on educating our children. And I served on a public school board for five years back home, but maybe because you are from Carroll, and there is a strong dual, you know, competitive relationship between the public school system and the non-public, Kemper… I could see first hand the benefit to our community that friendly competition made both schools better. So I learned that first hand, you want competition when it comes to delivering education. So if I could support non-public schools, if I could support home schooling I will do that. Because it is in the best interest of not only children, but communities and the state at-large. We get a better outcome in educating our kids when there is competition.
Shane Vander Hart: I work with juvenile offenders, and I am concerned about recidivism with those kids as they re-enter the community, sometimes later on becoming adult offenders. Iowa’s prisoner population is growing, how would you as Governor address this?
Representative Roberts: Here is a core belief that I have… In terms of the institutions, the correctional institutions, we’re talking about Ft. Madison, Anamosa, Rockwell City, these places… Those places should be for violent, dangerous people. That is one of those cornerstone, philosophical points with me, that when it comes to a better use of the taxpayer’s dollar. The proper response to that kind of behavior, those institutions are designed to place dangerous people who should be punished and kept away from the public.
I think a whole lot of other areas should be open to a willingness to explore community-based corrections, places that not just in terms of better economic decision on the part of government would drive a lot of this, because it is very expensive to just place everyone in a place, you like Anamosa or Ft. Madison. I think there are people who may be involved in non-violent crimes are better served, and their families are better served when we have a different response to their crimes than just putting them away in an institution and think that we did the right thing by locking you up. And from a taxpayer point of view, I don’t know if the taxpayers are getting the best benefit by just locking people up.
Shane Vander Hart: Sometimes that just becomes “Felony University.”
Representative Roberts: Yes, and you get to the point where don’t have enough brick and mortar to build it, and then we better staff it and it’s like this is not the right way to go about this.
Shane Vander Hart: This brings to mind IFI, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, recently closed because Culver cut off funding even though the 8th Circuit Court more or less overturned the earlier decision allowing funding – with some stipulations. Culver decided, “nah, not worth it,” and so that program no longer exists (in the Newton Correctional Facility). I obviously think there is a lot of benefit, a lot of research has gone into the faith-public partnership when it comes to corrections and aftercare…
Representative Roberts: And I think that demonstrated, you know, when you talked about recidivism, and the results of that compared to what we do otherwise. It showed to me that there was a benefit to the taxpayers by using a program like that.
Shane Vander Hart: Would you invite IFI back?
Representative Roberts: I would have that debate, and yeah, I would be willing to have that discussion and debate and would be supportive myself and make the case for it.
Shane Vander Hart: Ok, well I just want to give you a chance if there is anything else you would like to share with those that listen or read as I write up the transcript.
Representative Roberts: Well I grew up here in Iowa, and my Dad was a high school government history teacher so I’ve kind of remarked that my interest in public service and government comes very naturally in a home where my folks kind of instilled in their children, I’m the oldest of five kids, that public service is a noble thing. It’s good to contribute to one’s community. And I know we are talking a a much larger context here, but it’s the same principle, that no matter who you are or what you do vocationally or professionally… we all contribute to making the community and state a better place by giving of ourselves.
And to me, that’s kind of been the true expression of citizenship and of wanting to share one’s talents and abilities in serving others and being unselfish with it. So I’ve tried to practice through my adult life. I’ve lived in Carroll for 25 years, and that is a great community to live in, and a great place to step-up, get involved and use their talents and abilities, and certainly I’ve done that over the years. And my wife has as well, and our children learn that. And that is kind of a neat thing when you see that passed onto your children, that it is a good thing to give back, to help other people, in addition to what you do in your personal life, your profession, your church home… all these things are important. So the opportunities I’ve had to serve whether it be on the Carroll Community School Board or now in the Iowa House of Representatives each one of those experiences prepares you for whatever chapter comes next. And I’ve taken to heart that people from different walks of life and different areas of the state encouraged me to step up and look seriously at running for Governor.
I announced on July 21st that I created the exploratory committee, and I’ve been working hard ever since. I travel a lot, and had a lot of opportunities to speak to Iowans and their response has been very favorable as we have conversations like this. People are hungry for capable effective leadership. It always comes down to this. You can have a lot of good ideas, but we need people who can lead – who understand what leadership is. No one knows what the future holds or what circumstances may come next. But if you have people who understand what leadership is, have demonstrated leadership, have the right approach to leading and can bring good people around that also know what good leadership is all about. Then whatever comes, good opportunities or challenges, you are equipped and able to hopefully make good decisions and provide good leadership for the people of Iowa. And I think I possess those skills in terms of my background, and the way I’m wired as they say.
I would consider it a great honor to serve people as their next Governor. That is the kind of language I use. It’s always good to have a dose of humility when you are in public service, and I don’t care where you are at in terms of servant-leadership. Always remember who it is that is in charge, and who it is that you work for. Always remember that what you have been given is a trust, and you do to the very best of your ability to serve those who have given you that honor and opportunity and never forget the other people who are in charge, and do a good job for them.
Shane Vander Hart: Well, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Representative Roberts: Well, thank you, Shane, very good.