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Political Party Leaders

Elections are in the
rearview mirror and back on the front burner. A new year in Washington
begins with a government shutdown and new Steve
King controversies. All as Iowa is about to
inaugurate a Governor and begin another
legislative session. We dig in with Iowa Party
Chairs Jeff Kaufmann and Democrat Troy Price on
this edition of Iowa Press. Funding for Iowa Press was
provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television
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Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers
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Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday,
January 11 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. ♪♪ Yepsen: Campaigns
today seem to never end. The dust from November
2018 has barely settled before caucus presidential
candidates have descended on our state, a government
shutdown in Washington greeted new Iowa
Congresswomen and back in Iowa a leading republican
state legislator is already challenging Steve
King in a high stakes primary for the 4th
congressional district. And we haven’t even
gaveled in the Iowa legislative session. To dive further into the
constant politics we’ve gathered Jeff Kaufmann,
Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa and Troy
Price, Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. Gentlemen, welcome
back to Iowa Press. Price: It’s
great to be here. Kaufmann: Good to be here. Yepsen: It’s good
to have you with us. Joining the conversation
are Iowa political reporters James Lynch
with the Gazette and Kay Henderson is News
Director for Radio Iowa. Henderson: Mr. Kaufmann,
Steve King went on the House floor this Friday
afternoon and apologized for heartburn created by
a New York Times story in which he was quoted about
white nationalism, white supremacy in Western
civilization. Jeb Bush says it’s time
for republican leaders to denounce him because King
will not step aside. What say you? Kaufmann: A
couple of things. First of all, primaries
we’re neutral. That’s the simple fact. There is a primary now
in the 4th district. I will be, the Republican
Party is going to be neutral. Second of all, I’ll say it
and let me just say very clearly that the word
white supremacy is offensive to me. It’s offensive to the
Republican Party of Iowa. We are the party of
Lincoln and I don’t believe, I think the
ideology is nonsense and quite frankly I think
the use of the word is inappropriate. So I’ll just be real
straight forward about that and get that
out of the way. Henderson: He endorsed a
white supremacist running for office in Canada
before the election. Why didn’t more Iowa GOP
leaders denounce him then? Kaufmann: Well, ultimately
this is a statement about white supremacy. When did it become
offensive, I believe it was, I’m paraphrasing
here, Kay. But this is directly
about a term and as the Republican Party of
Iowa Chair I’m going to specifically
address that term. Henderson: Congressman
King says of his now republican primary
opponent, State Senator Randy Feenstra of Hull,
that he is a political opportunist, that he is
sort of being puppeted by the establishment. Did you recruit Senator
Feenstra to run against Congressman King? Kaufmann: No. I am not, I’m neutral in
that particular primary. I’m not going to comment
on the merits of Congressman King. In terms
of as a candidate I’m not going to comment on the
merits of Randy Feenstra. We are going to be
neutral about that. But I can tell you that
I was not involved in recruiting anyone. Henderson: You called him,
Mr. Feenstra, a legitimate challenger, which seems to
indicate that this is a different race than
it has been before. Kaufmann: Well, my
intention there is we know with any Governor, with
any presidential candidate and several of our
congresspeople there are going to be folks that
throw their hat in the ring that are not
politically viable. When I say legitimate I’m
talking about we’ll have some electoral viability. Yepsen: Troy Price, what
is your reaction to all of this? Price: Well, I mean, the
simple fact of the matter is, is that Steve King has
overstayed his welcome. In spite of all the stuff
that he has said, he has not done anything for the
4th district and I think that’s why we got as close
as we ever have in this last election cycle. But back to something that
my counterpart said here a minute ago. Republicans have always
stood by Steve King all the way up to and
including the night before the election when Kim
Reynolds ended her campaign with Steve King
up in Sioux Center and then a week later says, oh
Steve King needs to really think about what his
future is going to be. You know, you can’t
have it both ways. And the fact is, is that
the Republican Party has always stood
by Steve King. This rhetoric, the latest
rhetoric is not anything new from Steve King, we’ve
heard this for years and years and years. Yepsen: James? Lynch: Troy, let’s stick
with the 4th district. Did democrats miss an
opportunity here in 2018? You talked about coming
close to defeating Steve King. Should there have been
more resources devoted to backing J.D. Scholten there and pushing
him across the finish line? Price: We had a very
strong campaign up in the 4th district, J.D. Scholten did, the state
party did, we had a lot of legislative candidates up
there as well that worked very hard to try and turn
out voters up in the 4th district and we’re proud
of the work that we did and very proud of
the work that J.D. Scholten did.. He
demonstrated how you win campaigns here in Iowa. You go out there and you
meet with folks one-on-one and you build that
infrastructure. We saw in August of last
year I was up in the 4th district and started to
see that he was really building a movement
up in that district. And I think that we got
pretty darn close this last time, J.D. ran a tremendous campaign
and we are committed to doing everything we can
to make sure that we turn that district
blue in 2020. Lynch: So what should J.D. Scholten do next? Price: Well, I’ll
leave that up to J.D. Scholten but I know he’s
considering a few options at this point. But he definitely
demonstrated that he is definitely one of the
future leaders within our party. Yepsen: Before we switch
gears I want our viewers to know we’ve invited
Congressman King to be on the show and hope to
arrange that as soon as possible. On another subject, Mr.
Kaufmann, republicans have signaled that they
want to change the way we nominate judges to the
Supreme Court in Iowa. What is that all about? Kaufmann: And before I
address that question I just want to say, given my
counterpart’s comments I assume he’s going to be up
at the Capitol on opening day talking about Nate
Boulton being seated as well. So we all have our
situations to deal with. In terms of how judges are
nominated, I’ve heard a lot of talk about that
from both sides of the aisle. I don’t know that anybody
has a predisposed notion about how that
is going to look. But I don’t think there’s
anything wrong at all about looking at that. I’ve heard some people say
that the Bar Association has a disproportionate
voice there. That could signal more
grassroots input. I don’t know exactly which
route they’re going to go but I don’t think it hurts
to have that conversation. Yepsen: Mr. Price, is this
just an effort to stack the Iowa Supreme Court
with conservatives? Price: Yes. Trying to take away —
the way this process has worked now over the last
40 years I think most people agree it has helped
to try and keep politics out of the system. And when you start hearing
the proposals that are floating around out there,
that the Governor is going to be able to nominate all
the people that he or she would want to appoint to
the judicial nominating commissions it really kind
of takes away or adds more politics into that process
and that is something that is not good for our state. Yepsen: Well, Mr.
Kaufmann, one of the proposals is we just cut
the Bar out entirely and have the Governor appoint
a commission who then makes recommendation to
the Governor for who should go on the court. What’s wrong with that? Kaufmann: This is a
conversation we’re going to have and I don’t think
you’re going to have anyone stand up on the
floor of the House or on the floor of the Senate
and say look, we’re going to stack the
Supreme Court. I think it’s going to be
spun in that particular direction certainly. But the merits are going
to be when we actually see the bill and we start to
see people getting behind that bill. There’s a whole lot of,
the House and the Senate are going to have to
agree, the Governor is going to have to agree,
we’ve got a whole lot of time, this is the time
when people think out loud and even though I used
to tell my freshmen legislators don’t do that,
that’s what people do, we’re thinking out loud,
let’s wait to see what begins to gel and what
begins to take some solidity in these bills. Yepsen: One final thing,
it is true conservatives in Iowa, religious
conservatives in Iowa have been unhappy at the Iowa
Supreme Court for rulings on gay marriage,
abortion, right? Kaufmann: Fair
point, David. And we have a vehicle for
people to speak out about that. We have the up or down
vote on all of these judges. And so I really think
this is more about giving people more of a
voice as opposed to an organization. The Bar Association, we
have a vehicle and they did speak out in the
election when we lost three Supreme
Court Justices. So I don’t know that that
stop gap in and of itself is necessary in terms of
these changes that they’re talking about. Henderson: The democratic
candidate in a Northeast Iowa legislative district
has asked that 29 ballots that were mailed but don’t
have a postmark be counted in her race. The race was certified. She finished 9
votes behind. Mr. Price, the
law says postmark. Should the law be changed? Price: Well, I think that
the starting point in this conversation should
always be that if someone actually got a ballot
in and dumped it in the mailbox by the time that
the law requires and we can prove that, as is what
happened here, then the vote should count. I don’t know why that is
such a difficult concept for folks to, or for some
folks primarily on the other side of the
political divide, to embrace. Henderson: But there is no
postmark on those ballots. Price: Well, there is the
intelligent barcode on those ballots and they
were able to go and scan them and find out that
they were in fact mailed by Election Day. And I think that trying
to get all lost in the minutia it’s where people
get frustrated with government because these
are 29 people who actually legitimately mailed their
ballots in by Election Day. I don’t see why it’s so
difficult to count those ballots and I think that,
I would hope that my counterpart regardless
of how this would have stacked, if Kayla Koether
was 9 votes up I would be saying count those ballots
because — s Yepsen: She’s the democratic
candidate. Price: Yeah, if it was
reversed I would say count those ballots. Henderson: Mr. Kaufmann? Kaufmann: The law
is the law, Kay. I mean, you can’t think
about what should happen in an ideal world and
the law is minutia. Being a former lawmaker
that is what you put into code is the minutia for
situations like this. I don’t necessarily
disagree and I don’t believe I’ve heard any
legislator disagree that we should take a
look at that law. But for right now if she
has standing, and we’ve got to realize that we
don’t know if she has standing yet, that’s
something that the House of Representatives
is going to have to determine, but if she
does and we have this full-fledged debate in the
House then my opinion is you follow the law. You follow the law. I don’t know how it can
be more simple than that. Price: But the law is
very, it’s ambiguous as it relates to these
intelligent barcodes, which is okay, but if
there is some ambiguity there the default position
should be to count the ballots. I mean, people should have
their votes and voice heard. Yepsen: Mr. Kaufmann,
shouldn’t the law be cleaned up? It’s my understanding that
different county auditors were following different
procedures for counting votes. I mean, there’s an equal
protection issue there that all voters may not
have been treated the same. Shouldn’t the law at least
be clarified so that it’s clear what is
supposed to happen? Kaufmann: David, I am
not opposed from the Republican Party point of
view of taking a look at that, at all. Not being in the
legislative business anymore I don’t know what
their plans are but I certainly could very
easily get behind republicans and democrats
as far as that goes in the Iowa House if they decide
to change that law and then the Senate and
the Governor as well. Lynch: Mr. Kaufmann, a
change republicans made after you left the
legislator, in 2017 they did away with straight
ticket voting or straight party voting. Was that a good idea? Do you think Steve King
might have not had a squeaker if there was
straight ticket voting this year or last year? Kaufmann: For full
disclosure I signed multiple, I put my name on
at least one bill, maybe two bills to do just
that in the legislature. So I’ll be honest with
you, personally I have always been a fan of that
long before there would have been any electoral
ramifications that would show some kind of
predisposed notion. Lynch: A fan of
eliminating straight ticket? Kaufmann: Correct. And I’ll tell you, I’ll
be honest with you, I was wearing my educator hat. I spend hours teaching my
students to get educated and understand everybody
that is running on those ballots. I’ve even gone so far as
to tell them what is the difference between
a republican and a democratic recorder? I believe that it
reinforces my claim to students that they should
be educated and look at the candidates on their
own merits so I’m a bit biased on that
so I support it. Yepsen: Mr. Price? Price: I think that
this conversation about straight ticket voting
broadly is just one part of the broader
conversation like we just had just a minute ago
about republicans continuing to put
roadblocks up in voting. It makes it
harder for voting. So now instead of going in
if you have a couple of minutes you can go and
check the party that you’re most aligned with,
you now have to walk all the way down the ballot. You have to, now the voter
ID law when you look at that, when you look —
consistently we see coming from the GOP an effort to
try and limit the voice of people in our voting
process and not opening it up and that is the big
difference between us and the Republican Party. Lynch: Mr. Price, do you
think that there were republicans in the 4th
district who if they had cast a straight ticket
vote wouldn’t have voted for J.D. Scholten, that he wouldn’t
have come as close to defeating Steve
King as he did? Price: Potentially,
potentially. We’re still looking at
the results right now. We just got the final
voter file from the Secretary of State’s
Office so we’re now able to dig a little deeper in
to take a look at that. But again I think that the
default should be at all times, and this shouldn’t
be a partisan issue, but the default should be
making voting easier for people and we saw in 2017
with the voter ID law, now that’s going to be fully
implemented in this cycle it’s going to be harder
for people to vote in this state. Yepsen: Which party, Mr.
Kaufmann, which party benefits from
absentee voting? Do democrats do a better
job at absentees or do you? Kaufmann: First of all,
asking people to think before they cast their
ballot is not a barrier to voting. But in terms of that
question, I think it depends on what
part of the process. Democrats are better
than republicans. I’m just going to tell
you that right now. Troy’s party does a better
job of collecting those applications. In the past, the
republicans have done a better job of getting
those ballots turned in. I will hand it to my
colleague here, they did a good job in the last
session and rivaled our job that we have done. Yepsen: Do you
agree with that? Price: Listen, we
identified this earlier than the Republican Party
did so we have a stronger history, a longer
history of early voting. We started this process
way back in the early 2000’s and republicans
have been slowly catching up to us. I think really it’s,
everything is on the table at this point
for both parties. Yepsen: And which party
benefits by having the Iowa voter have the chance
to cast a straight ticket vote? Which party would
benefit more from that? Or does it depend
on the district? Price: I think, I honestly
think that there’s probably no difference
one way or the other for either party when it comes
to straight ticket voting. Kaufmann: Actually when
I was running that bill, republicans actually have
an advantage, that’s why it’s a bit laughable to
say that somehow this is some kind of
GOP conspiracy. We were actually hurt more
by straight ticket voting. I don’t have a problem
with that because I don’t think there’s a problem
with people thinking before they
fill in the dot. Henderson: Talking
about absentee voting. The Democratic National
Committee has told Iowa democrats to figure out a
way so that people who are not able to attend the
precinct caucuses on February 3rd have
an opportunity to participate. What is that going
to look like? Price: Well, we’re
still in the process of determining that. We’ll have more to talk
about on that point in several weeks. I’m afraid I can’t tell
you today what it’s going to look like. Here’s the, the thing that
we are committed to is one, preserving the spirit
of the Iowa Caucuses, making sure that there
are still neighborhood meetings where friends
and neighbors can come together, talk about the
issues important to our state, talk about who
should be the standard bearer of our party. We’re committed to
preserving the spirit of what the caucuses are. At the same time we want
to make sure that we make the caucuses as open,
honest and transparent and accessible as
we possibly can. And so that is, we’re in
the process of figuring that out. I think we’re going to
have some, people are going to be happy with
what we come up with. It’s going to be able to
preserve the spirit of the caucuses and still make
sure that we are a caucus and not a primary. Lynch: Mr. Kaufmann, will
there be reason to have a GOP caucus in 2020? Or will there be some
challenges to the sitting President? Kaufmann: Absolutely. There is a reason to
have a GOP caucus. The reason is 2024, 2028,
the continuation of showing the country that
Iowa can hold a caucus, can have a transparent
caucus and I’m talking about — Yepsen: Do you
have a vote — Kaufmann: Absolutely, in my
opinion, David, I think we shoud and the reason for that
is that we continue that tradition and we make sure
that as Iowa we are an arbiter of allowing
everyone to participate. I think that is
very important. I’ve got my head in 2028
and 2032 when I’m making some of these decisions
and I know my colleague does as well. Henderson: Will the
caucuses actually be held on February 3rd, 2020? Folks sort of wait around
to see what the Secretary of State in New Hampshire
seems to think of the way that these absentee
votes are counted. What is the over/under
on February 3rd? (laughter) Price: Well,
Jeff has been through this process more in this role
than I have, but I will say that I think we’re
going to continue our conversations with our
counterparts in New Hampshire, with our
friends at the DNC to make sure that this process
continues to move forward. But the one thing I’ll say
about what we’re looking at here, because we have
multiple changes that we’re making to the
process, and going above and beyond what the DNC
has asked us or told us that needs to be included
in our delegate selection plan. And so we are committed to
try getting through this process as soon as we can. We know we already saw
this past week that we have candidates coming
to the state, launching campaigns, we’re going to
have more of those in the weeks ahead. And so we are committed to
doing that and making sure that our candidates know
the rules of the road. Yepsen: Question
for both of you. Mr. Price, how are you
going to handle the turnout? We’re seeing record
turnouts in every recent caucus cycle but you look
at some of these crowds that are showing up for
Elizabeth Warren or for President Trump when he’s
here, the floors are going to buckle in some of these
caucus sites, right? What do you do about that? Price: Well, from our
standpoint that is one of the benefits of adding
this non-present participation piece to our
caucus process is that could help alleviate some
of the crowds in the room. The other thing too though
there are some structural things we can look at in
terms of realignment, if we can make that easier
and simpler so that folks don’t have to wait around
for three or four hours to get all the pieces done as
well as the registration piece. But the thing that I’ll
tell you is that I’m confident that this is
going to be a record setting caucus. We’re going to have record
candidates and record turnout. Kaufmann: And to add
to that, David, the complexity also are
disabled Iowans, making sure in these various
places that we are able to allow all people to
vote and I know that’s something that certainly
doesn’t separate Troy and I. It’s going to take a lot
more time and it’s going to take a lot
more planning. We cannot wait until the
last minute to nail down these caucus spots. Lynch: Troy, this week we
saw something unusual, a potential candidate coming
to Iowa to say I’m not running. Tom Steyer, a California
billionaire said, instead of running for President
he’s going to spend about $40 million of his money
on need to impeach, trying to impeach
President Trump. Is that, from a democratic
perspective, is that helpful or would that
money be better spent helping candidates in 2020
whether at the state or federal level? Price: Are you talking
about Steyer’s effort? Lynch: Yes. Price: Listen, I think
that Mr. Steyer has been incredibly helpful to
a lot of candidates. He was helpful to us in
2018 and I’m certain he’s going to continue to
be helpful in 2020. I’m not concerned about
whether or not his resources are going there
or someplace else is going to have necessarily a big
impact, so long as we’re engaging people, and
that’s really what this process is about is about
engaging people around certain issues and
certain ideas and certain candidates. Lynch: By emphasizing that
issue is he going to force some candidates into an
uncomfortable position on that impeachment issue? Price: Oh, I don’t know,
I haven’t talked to the candidates about it so I
really couldn’t tell you that at this point. Yepsen: Going back quickly
to the caucus process, any talk about going
to a primary? You hear this every cycle,
those people are going to be standing in line on
caucus night and say, we should have a primary. Price: There are certainly
some folks out there who have talked about that
over the years, activists and caucus-goers and stuff
like that, but we at the party are committed to
keeping the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses. Kaufmann: If I even
entertain that conversation I
need to be fired. Yepsen: Kay? Henderson: Tom Vilsack,
the former Governor, is rumored to be considering
a run for the U.S. Senate for the seat
that Senator Joni Ernst currently holds. How likely is it that the
former Governor will run for the U.S. Senate? Price: Well, there’s no
question about it that Tom Vilsack is still an
incredibly popular leader within our party. But I have not spoken to
the Secretary and so I couldn’t comment on that. Henderson: When does he
need to make a decision so if he doesn’t run someone
else needs to put a campaign together? Price: Well, I mean, we’re
still fairly early in this process. We’re still 22 months
away from the election. So I think there’s still a
lot of time to figure out what the race is going
to look like on the democratic side. But the thing that I will
say is that democrats are committed to winning that
seat and we are going to do everything we can and
no matter who emerges from that primary I’m confident
we’re going to be able to defeat Joni Ernst. Yepsen: James? Lynch: Sticking with
senatorial elections, 2022 Chuck Grassley will be up
for re-election, he has maybe dropped a few hints
that he’s thinking about not running. If he doesn’t run who do
the republicans have to put on the ticket? Kaufmann: The thought of
no Chuck Grassley in this state making decisions
frightens me so much I’m going to pass on that
question, James. (laughter) Lynch: But
Jeff, we saw what happened when Tom Harkin announced
his retirement sooner than a lot of people expected. Is the Republican
Party ready? Are there candidates who
can step in and play that game? Kaufmann: Fair question. And yes, we have a bench,
we have a bench that is looking at three
congressional districts, we have a bench that will
be looking at 2022 if the Senator, and I strongly
believe that should be his decision, if the Senator
ends up not running. Yepsen: We have just
a couple of minutes. Mr. Kaufmann, is Iowa
going to be a battleground state? Is this going to be a
tough state for the President? I’m thinking specifically
of tariffs, farm bankruptcies, bankruptcies
are going up now after several years
of going down. How tough of a year do
you expect this to be? Kaufmann: The first Cook
Political Report has just come out and we are
leaning republican right now. But I have never said, and
I never will even after a lot of good success, we
are a purple state and we’re going to
have to work. Yepsen: Mr. Price? Price: I think it’s going
to be a very tough state for Donald Trump for the
reasons that you just mentioned but also when
you look at the 2018 result democrats beat
republicans by almost 4 points at the
congressional level, at the federal level and so
folks are looking for a change in Washington and
that’s why if I was Joni Ernst I’d be scared right
now and that’s why if I was Donald Trump’s
campaign I’d be very scared about
holding this state. Kaufmann: I’d be talking
to Kim Reynolds, she did pretty well. Yepsen: We’ve got to go. Thank you both
for being with us. Price: Thank you. Kaufmann: Thanks. Yepsen: And thank
you for joining us. We’ll be back with another
edition of Iowa Press next week when we sit down with
Democratic Party leaders from the Statehouse,
Senator Janet Peterson and Representative
Todd Prichard. Also stay tuned next week
for live coverage of the Governor’s Condition of
the State Address on Tuesday, January 15th
at 10am and then the Inauguration of Kim
Reynolds on Friday, January 18th at 9am. For all of us here at Iowa
Public Television, I’m David Yepsen. Thanks for
joining us today. ♪♪ ♪♪ Funding for Iowa
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