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Observations on the October 18th Las Vegas/CNN Presidential Debate

Observations on the October 18th Las Vegas/CNN Presidential Debate

The purpose of this post is to provide a high level summary and personal opinion about the Republican Presidential debate held last night, October 18th, in Las Vegas.  The moderator was CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  The debate included: Speaker Gingrich; Governors: Perry and Romney; Senator Santorum, Representatives Bachmann and Paul: and businessman Herman Cain.

I prefer to not label people as “winners” or “losers” so I will define my analysis in terms of how candidates met my personal expectations.

Exceeded Expectations: 

Speaker Gingrich – As usual, Newt had the wittiest and most concise observations. More importantly, he chose to stay out of the mudslinging featured by the lower tier candidates.

Best Moment – After virtually every other candidate attacked Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax proposal, Newt was asked about the difficulty of selling that proposal to the people. Newt responded “You just watched it.”  Later in the debate, he also deftly addressed the serious problem that Republicans have with Latino voters.

Worst Moment – His answer on Yucca Mountain (as a nuclear waste storage site) was void of sensitivity to state’s rights.

Met Expectations:

Representative Bachmann – Michelle Bachmann had an overall good night. She regained an image of confidence and thoughtfulness that had been missing in recent debates.

Best Moments – When discussing tax policy “Every American should pay something.” Also, she made an effective passionate appeal to mothers facing economic hardship and home foreclosures.   I believe she was also the only candidate who had the courage to answer the question about the 14th amendment.  She said something needed to be done about “anchor babies”.  Whether you agree or disagree, she shows courage and honesty.

Worst Moment – Regarding helping mothers facing foreclosures, she really did not have anything specific to offer.  It’s not wise to raise a big issue without a big solution.

Senator Santorum – Rick Santorum has consistently had his facts right on a broad set of issues, policies and background facts about his opponents.

Best Moment – He was very powerful in attacking Governor Romney as having “no credibility” on the healthcare issue (as a consequence of signing “Romneycare”).

Worst Moment – He lost control of himself several times as he interrupted Governor Romney and others trying to respond to his charges.  As a two term Senator, he should be more respectful of the debate rules.


Failed to Meet Expectations:

Herman Cain – Herman Cain was under attack from the opening bell.  It appeared Anderson Cooper was targeting Mr. Cain from the outset.  The other candidates were prepared to enthusiastically pounce on the 9-9-9 plan.   Mr. Cain should have anticipated this attack after his surge in the polls.  He maintained a cool demeanor, but his answers were not compelling.  It may be true that 9-9-9 will compel more middle class Americans to pay taxes.  If so, he should have Representative Bachmann’s courage to acknowledge it and defend it.

Representative Paul – I thought I was a Libertarian, but after listening to Ron Paul, I have accepted that I’m just not fully in that camp.  Regarding 9-9-9, he says it was “dangerous and regressive” and that his solution would be to repeal the XVI amendment (Federal Income Tax), but that implies a reduction in the government of 80%-90%, which is not realistic.

I have written an earlier post agreeing with Ron Paul that it is time to withdraw from Afghanistan.  I agree with his views about rolling back the number of military bases around the world and focusing on defense.

Governor Perry – Boy, what a disappointment as a candidate.  He starts out by twice referring to Herman Cain as “brother”.  Did you hear that term applied to any other candidate?  He gets a question about the 14th amendment and provides an answer about energy policy.  He digs up an old debunked rumor about Governor Romney employing illegals and then interrupts Governor Romney as he explains the facts, which simply don’t support the charge.

Governor Romney – I thought he did a good job early in the debate about 9-9-9 of engaging Herman Cain with respect as he expressed his concerns about the tax proposal.  I’m not exactly sure why he decided to participate in the back and forth snide commentary with Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, both of whom gain valuable exposure when they extend an argument with a front runner.

Governor Huntsman – The Governor did not participate in the debate, but he wrote one heck of a good article featured today in the Wall Street Journal Opinion page:  “Too Big to Fail is Simply Too Big”.  I almost moved him up to “exceeded expectations” for skipping the event.


Overall Summary – My short term reaction was to conclude that President Obama won the debate because the tone of the discussion was too harsh and negative.  On further reflection, I think it is more important to have a full out airing of candidate backgrounds, principles and beliefs right now, before the primary voting starts.  The worst case scenario is to have a nominee unprepared for the all-out assault that they will face from the Obama political machine.

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Ankeny Resident Landon To Run For Iowa House

Ankeny Resident Landon To Run For Iowa House

Thursday morning John Landon put fellow Republicans and House District 37 residents on notice that he plans to run for the newly created seat in the Iowa legislature.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as The Conservative Reader:Iowa will follow this developing primary and have a sit down interview with Mr. Landon as he embarks on this campaign.

The following is the press release sent out by the Landon camp:

For immediate release

October 5, 2011

ANKENY, Iowa — Pledging to be an aggressive leader for a balanced state budget, economic development, education reform, and agriculture, Ankeny resident John Landon today announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Iowa’s State House District 37.

A lifelong Iowan with a background in business, Landon (525 NE Stone Valley Drive, Ankeny, IA) is a pro-life, pro-family conservative committed to balancing the state budget; creating jobs in a favorable climate for business and agricultural growth; eliminating costly regulations; and making education more cost effective.  “I will be an aggressive leader for Ankeny and surrounding townships in the state legislature,” said Landon.  “Jobs are vital, and residents of this district want a leader who shares their vision of Ankeny job base and agricultural growth without raising taxes.”

Landon is partner at Peoples Company where he is a farm manager and agricultural land Realtor.   Landon is a Viet Nam veteran who served in the Navy Seabees prior to graduating from Iowa State University.  He is an active leader at Cornerstone Baptist Church and served many years as a Boy Scout leader with Troop 188. He has also been a leader in the Polk County Republicans in recent years.  Landon, and his wife Marvis, have two children, Eric (married to Rebecca) and Morgan who both graduated from Ankeny High School, having attended Ankeny schools K-12.

Iowa House District 37 is a newly created district that includes the north side of Ankeny (Ankeny Precincts 1-7, 9-10), along with Lincoln and Douglas townships.  The primary for Iowa House District 37 will be held in June and election in November 2012.


Observations on the October 18th Las Vegas/CNN Presidential Debate

A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

If ever there is going to be a moment for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to create momentum and change the flat trajectory of his presidential run—now is the time. One day after the release of a Fox News poll, which surprisingly showed him gaining substantial ground in the race, Gingrich took to the stage at the Principal building in Des Moines to unveil his newly minted “21st Century Contract with America”.

Updated from the 1994 version, this new contract will serve as the backbone of his campaign and its acceptance or rejection will determine his fate one way or the other.

In the world of presidential politics such fate is largely decided by three things—the style, the substance, and the politics. Here is a brief analysis of all three.

The Style

By any objective measure this event was a success for the former speaker. It displayed a candidate and a campaign that, at a minimum, is hitting its stride and indeed may be ready to become a major player in the race going forward.

Standing on a small stage at the bottom of a room that can be best described as a large movie theatre, Newt showcased many of the positive characteristics that have marked his long political career. He spoke for an hour without a teleprompter or notes and smoothly communicated his message to the audience while appearing very comfortable in his own skin.

The setting was remarkably similar to a college lecture hall and his experience as a professor no doubt factored into his comfort level. Much like his strong debate performances of late, this setting played to his strengths and the result was a candidate able to speak to a variety of issues in a succinct, relaxed, and presidential fashion.

The Substance

After being presented the outline for his new “contract”, one thing is certainly clear—this is a campaign that will not lack grandeur.

Quickly letting the audience know how high he thinks the stakes are, he explained the reasoning behind the large scale of his vision by saying “countries can die without adequate leadership”.

By and large the 21st Century Contract with America is a sweeping document of declared intent. In most cases the solutions he outlines are intentionally vague as his plan is to slowly codify specifics as the campaign progresses. Following a “national conversion”, the aim is to have the contract fully fleshed out by September 27th of next year.

His solutions are largely modern day Conservative Republican fare (not a bad thing), whose main thrusts are to inject simplicity and choice into the dealings that we as citizens have with government. Any American serious about vetting the Republican candidates needs to read through the document on their own (availiable here), but here is an overview on a few major issues.

His first order of business would be to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a free market set of solutions to bring the cost of insurance down. The overall structure of our health care system would basically remain in place while insurance policies would be made portable, able to be purchased across state lines, and able to be optionally blended with personal health savings accounts (even in Medicare and Medicaid). These things along with tort reform and digitalizing medical records would attempt to radically decrease premiums without the use of mandates.

He would work to strengthen Social Security while keeping it at the Federal level and push for a voluntary option for young people to put a portion of their contributions into a Social Security savings account. The owner of this account could then choose to take this money and retire (or not retire) at any age they wished.

Perhaps the most interesting areas of this document come under the headings of taxes and immigration.

His business tax proposals are to reduce the corporate tax to 12.5%, abolish all capital gains and estate taxes, and allow 100% write offs in one year for all new equipment purchases. Personal income taxes would be handled by offering a choice to each citizen to either pay under the current system or file with a newly offered one page option. The one page would consist of taking your income, subtracting a standard deduction, taking a deduction for charitable giving and home ownership (if applicable), and multiplying that number by a single set percentage (which is left unspecified).

The headline on his immigration initiative is that there would be a deadline date for securing the border by January 1st, 2014 (“secure” is left undefined). Though it is not stated the inclusion of a firm date strongly suggests that following “securing” the border would be some form of amnesty. While a few years ago this idea would have been a non-starter for a large block of Republicans, currently the reality seems to have set in that this type of a trade-off is the only way to deal with this problem and finally move forward.

The Politics

Skeptics of the recent Gingrich campaign surge could doubt that he has the fiery sizzle to overcome his slow start and existing baggage— and be justified.  Meanwhile critics of his 21st Century Contract with America could attack the plan for being a little light on specifics (especially since Newt is not prone to lack of minutia)—and attack they may.  That being said, going forward this campaign has many more advantages to exploit than disadvantages to fear.

Here are six factors that point to his candidacy not only continuing to build on its current momentum, but that also have the potential to thrust him into the top three in a short amount of time.

#1) His mastery of the debate format, the reason that he has recently gained ground, will be an ever-growing advantage moving forward.  As the number of candidates on stage dwindles he will be allotted more and more time and will be more easily compared to the less capable candidates.

#2) Republicans are likely to recognize that a supremely informed, smooth, and skilled debater will neutralize Obama’s biggest advantage (smooth flowery rhetoric).

#3) Now that he has a specific doctrine to anchor his campaign the focus will shift there and drift away from the personal issues that previously have been sucking up oxygen and damaging his campaign.

#4) A close examination of his policy proposals reveals that he has a large number of Tea Party friendly stances and would garner their support, while not being too linked to them to hurt him in a general election.  In 2012 Republican politics this is what you call “the sweet spot”.

#5) The concepts of personal choice, competition, deadlines, fresh ideas, and lower taxes that are found throughout his platform will all appeal to true political independents—namely those that voted for Obama last time thinking that’s what they would be getting.

#6)  As the race gets closer and more real, Republicans have a track record of deciding on the grounds of experience and perceived wherewithal to win…McCain anyone?  Consider this— it’s easy to make the argument that he is as capable, if not more so, than Mitt Romney, while it’s hard to argue that he is not more Conservative.

The bottom line politically is that Newt stacks up well to the rest of the field in many categories while largely lapping them in depth and substance.  As the race wears on he, oddly enough, finds himself with many advantages to gain from and plenty of time to do it…and he certainly doesn’t have to worry about peaking too soon!

In terms of the release of the new contract and the impact it will have on his campaign the analysis is fairly simple.  The concept of a contract with the American people was a great idea and a brilliant political vehicle in 1994…and it still is in 2011.


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A Half-Truth is (still) a Whole-Lie

A Half-Truth is (still) a Whole-Lie

“We’re going to work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4 percent,” Obama said in his speech last week to announce the $450 billion jobs package. The plan would put “more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocket and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices.” Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s (and a self described liberal), immediately announced that the new jobs program would add two percent to GDP and 1.9 million jobs to the economy next year. Kevin Ungar of Mother Jones piled on with: “Currently, the federal government can borrow at an astonishingly low 2 percent interest rate. If we can make investments that will produce a predictable return of at least 3 percent in increased revenue, why would we not want to take advantage of these low rates to make those investments?”

With that kind of logic, maybe we should just give all our money to the Federal Government. They seem to have the capacity to simultaneously meet the challenges attached to pesky house payments, large-scale job creation, and the magic of predictable rates of return on investments. In the minds of people like Obama, Zandi and Ungar, the answers are always simple.

Of all the immense challenges coming out of liberal politics these days, the most pernicious are the half-truths. Whether they are knowingly providing these obvious half-truths is a question for another day. The real problem is that when the first half of the story is the part that sounds good, the omission of the more troublesome last half amounts to a lie. It is pure and simple deception.

Let’s look at the comments coming out of the three individuals above. Inserted here is the last part…the part that was left out:

1) Obama – Home Refinancing at 4%: “Someone is currently earning 6% on the mortgage contract (like the Wisconsin Teachers Pension Fund or your retired neighbor next door), and for the government to force the refinancing of that loan is to take money out of the hands of someone who contractually deserves it, and put it in the hands of someone who does not.”

It is truly unfortunate that so many people are in trouble with their mortgages. And it is just as unfortunate that someone who owns an asset that entitles them to a six percent return is forced by the government into an “adjustment” down to four percent.  The money is just being moved between pockets. Or, was the Federal Government (you and me) going to pick up the tab for this one too?

2) Zandi – GDP Growth and Job Creation: “In 2013, the nation’s GDP will go right back down by two percent. And this is because we will have then quit borrowing that large pile of money to artificially jack-up GDP during an election year. Because the jobs that we “created” have little effect on ongoing productivity, and have little real investment value, they will all go away in 2013 too. We will be left with another couple thousand dollars in debt for every man, woman and child in America, with next to nothing to show for it.”

Temporary tax credits and a few improved roads and bridges do nothing more for the economy than handing out bundles of government-borrowed hundred dollar bills at the local grocery store. In truth, the bundles of money would be a more efficient and better option from a long-run economic standpoint.

3) Ungar – Predictable Returns on Government Investments: “Governments are really not in the investment business. Only a tiny fraction of the current $3.5 trillion dollar Federal Government budget would represent anything that might be defined as an investment. And the track record for the investment of capital by governments is stunningly bad. Let’s point at the $535 million blown up in the bankruptcy of green energy provider Solyndra as the best current example.”

I have no idea who Mr. Ungar is. He sounds like someone who just graduated with a degree in Economics from Harvard. The only thing that can be said for his argument is that the math works. If you can earn more return on your investments than your costs of funds, you are creating a positive return. With this logic, maybe we should make the Federal Government into a hedge fund.

The point in this is not to direct attention at the failed thinking. The point is rather to point at the failed willingness to communicate anything resembling the complete story. These people are again trying to sell the old “something-for-nothing” fallacy. Ah, the bliss of a life without real-world trade-offs. It is no wonder that confidence in the system is so low. When politicians, economists, and journalists paint such incomplete, and consequently, biased and misleading pictures of reality, it is no wonder that our confidence in them has shrunk to nearly nothing.

It is one thing to point out that we disagree on matters of political importance. That has and always will be the case. It is a completely different thing when we fail to agree on the issue of basic honesty and routine transparency. The complexity of the world we now inhabit demands our best attempts at the whole truth. But, then again, that core whole-truth imperative has never really been different over recorded time.

The hoary Yiddish axiom that “a half-truth is a whole lie,” is once again proven accurate, timeless, and universally applicable.




Observations on the October 18th Las Vegas/CNN Presidential Debate

The Great Sino-American Currency War

The economic relationship between the United States and China is often described as being “co-dependent.” The Chinese lend America money, and the Americans buy Chinese goods. If the Americans stopped buying Chinese goods, then people in China would lose their jobs, and if the Chinese stopped lending to America, then Americans couldn’t consume Chinese goods, and around and around as the story goes.

It is a complete mirage. Right now, the Chinese are dedicating a large portion of their economy (land, labor and capital) to produce cheap, depreciating consumer goods to sell to the United States. We pay for these goods with American dollars, and China’s domestic exporters have so far been happy to accept these dollars in exchange for their products.

These dollars flow back to China through those exporters, but the Chinese companies that end up with these dollars have a bit of a problem: They are paid in dollars, but their outflows (wages, supplies, taxes and dividends to their owners) are largely priced in the Chinese yuan, so they need to exchange their dollars for the locally accepted currency. Rather than force their exporters to sell their dollars on the international currency exchanges, the Chinese central bank has been content to buy dollars from their own exporters.

This has led to two problems from the Chinese perspective: It causes massive inflation in China (floating between 6 and 8 percent lately) as the Chinese central bank prints yuan to buy all these dollars (when you hear politicians talk about the Chinese “suppressing their currency,“ this is what they are talking about); and, it has left the Chinese with a reserve of American dollars totaling something like $3 trillion in cash, accounts, and US Treasuries. They have thus far been happy to acquire this massive stockpile because the American dollar has enjoyed the status of the world reserve currency, leading it to be considered a trustworthy store of value.

This situation is about to change. The Chinese are about to figure out that they have acquired a stockpile of money that they will not be able to easily spend. Right now, about the only things the Chinese can easily buy with their dollars is oil and US Treasuries, and some in the United States actually think that this is a sustainable economic model (the Chinese work hard, sell things to us for money, and then lend it to us so we can spend it).

The only reason we were able to run the trade deficits which facilitated the assembly of these massive dollar reserves around the world was because the dollar was considered a reserve currency. China, Russia and Japan have had to export goods in order to import other goods, because other countries were largely unwilling to hold massive reserves of these currencies. Germany, with the largest trade surplus in the world and not enough arable land to feed its own populace, has had to export things of high value in order to purchase what it couldn’t produce at home.

In response to this, we have been told that the ongoing devaluation of the dollar will begin the long process of reversing our trade deficit, as it will make our exports more affordable and more attractive to other countries. It hasn’t worked – our trade deficit is growing as of August 2011, not shrinking. Devaluing the dollar has, rather than make our goods cheaper for foreigners, actually raised the prices foreigners already holding dollars need to pay for American goods. If India devalued the rupee, then the Japanese yen will buy more rupees and Indian goods will be more attractive to holders of yen because of the exchange rate. Since the dollar is held in reserves around the world , foreign customers end up paying the same higher prices as we do when our currency loses value, because they hold our currency already.

Eventually this will all come to an end. The financial authorities in China are going to stop printing yuan to buy all these dollars, and China’s exporters will have to sell their dollars on the international exchanges. When that happens, the decline in the dollar’s value will accelerate, and the value of the yuan will begin to rise. Many Americans will be priced out of Chinese goods, and because the United States has little to offer China in trade except agricultural commodities, prices for food will rise even farther in the United States, as the Chinese try to divest themselves of the dollar by purchasing something of value to them – food – not more US Treasuries that pay interest in the form of more American dollars that China can‘t spend.

But, without the American consumer, won’t there be massive unemployment in China? I don’t believe so. There might be a brief recession in China, as their economy re-balances from producing cheap goods for America to producing things for China’s domestic markets, as well as for countries like Germany – with the world’s largest trade surplus and a trade surplus with China individually. China’s economy will recover and grow, assuming the Chinese government doesn’t screw it all up by continuing to rob their own people with inflation, as they try to suppress their own currency further.

It isn’t clear if anybody can actually win this currency conflict; the American people will have a massive recession as our bubble economy based on spending borrowed money continues its collapse, and the Chinese populace will have spent the last 20 years working hard, saving money and enduring inflation so their government could amass a pile of foreign money and bonds that are being rendered worthless.

Although, if the dollar collapses the Chinese government will be at the reigns of the new global superpower; and in return American politicians got to spend money on social programs, wars and bike trails without raising taxes. So, if you happen to be either a Chinese foreign ministry official or a 15-term member of Congress, then it really is a win-win situation. If you are a Chinese factory worker or an American looking for work, then the arrangement looks rather less appealing.

Image © ktsdesign –

Observations on the October 18th Las Vegas/CNN Presidential Debate

Observations on the August 11th Iowa GOP/Fox News Presidential Debate

Courtesy of State Central Committee member Gopal Krishna, my wife and I had great 8th row seats for the Iowa GOP/Fox News Presidential Debate.
The debate included: Speaker Gingrich; Governors: Huntsman, Pawlenty and Romney; Senator Santorum, Representatives Bachmann and Paul; and businessman Herman Cain.

I’m writing this post on Sunday morning, August 14th.  I intended to write it before the Straw Poll, but I didn’t get it done.  My observations will include some thoughts about the Straw Poll, although I was not able to attend it in person.  I don’t believe in titling people as “winners” or “losers” so I will define my analysis in terms of my personal expectations.

Exceeded Expectations: 

Governor Romney – Mitt Romney spoke powerfully and articulately on every opportunity.  I was particularly impressed with his handling of the “gotcha” question about the Bain Capital investments in businesses that later failed and lost jobs.  His answers on Romneycare are consistent with what can be expected of a Republican governor in a liberal state.  I believe the 10th Amendment has meaning, so I respect his answer.   He did not compete in the Straw Poll.

Senator Santorum – Rick Santorum sprinted from anonymity to relevance with his precise, powerful responses on his legislative achievements related to welfare reform and middle east foreign policy.  For me, his clash with Ron Paul made me consider again the Congressman’s views on foreign policy.  His debate performance helped him to 4th place in the Straw Poll.

Met Expectations:

Speaker Gingrich – Newt Gingrich had a great start when he criticized Chris Wallace for asking “gotcha” questions. The crowd was 100% with him.  Unfortunately, he finished weakly with an oddly placed plea for citizens to contact their representatives now because we can’t wait until 2012’s election for leadership.

Representative Bachmann – Michele Bachmann had an overall good night.  I thought she had the most difficult of the “gotcha” questions when she was asked if she would be submissive to her husband as President.  She showed great control over her emotions.  She came across as thoughtful and confident in her responses.  I thought she relied too much on lines from her scripted stump speech.  She is the Iowa leader coming into the debate and I thought she held her own, as confirmed by her 1st place showing in the Straw Poll.

Failed to Meet Expectations:

Representative Paul – Ron Paul should be in my wheelhouse.  I have strong Libertarian leanings in my political ideology.  I thought he made a mistake engaging in the cat fight with Senator Santorum.  He came across as a little shrill in his efforts to defend Iran and criticize past U.S. foreign policy.   I imagine President Obama was nodding in agreement.  Most of all, I don’t understand why he does not ask his ardent supporters to show respect and refrain from aggravating the many people who attended the debate to hear candidates, not activists.  Of course, he nearly won the Staw Poll, but I’m skeptical that his national polling numbers will improve based on the debate.

Herman Cain – Herman Cain should also be in my wheelhouse.  I believe strongly in capitalism as the engine of prosperity for America and the world.  Herman’s strength is his ability to provide short understandable answers to complex questions.  He has not moved quickly enough from process to solutions. I thought he performed at about the same level as the South Carolina debate, but that is not good enough at this point.

Governor Pawlenty – Tim Pawlenty looked petty in the way he engaged Representative Bachmann.  I realize that some of this was driven by the questions, but he would have been well served to remember Reagan’s 11th Commandment.   Given the time and effort he has put into his Iowa effort, his % of the vote in the Straw Poll confirms that he did not meet expectations in this debate. He had the organization, but he did not have the committed voters like Bachmann and Paul.   I understand now why McCain did not pick him as his VP in 2008.

Editorial Note: My comments were finished before Governor Pawlenty dropped out.

Governor Huntsman – Jon Huntsman is a Republican.  I don’t understand why Dick Morris keeps saying he should run in the Democrat Party.   I appreciate his willingness to stick with positions that he knows are unpopular with a meaningful segment of the Republican base.  That takes character and integrity.  I think he has those qualities. I thought his demeanor lacked sparkle and emotion.  His responses were not crisp.  He has not spent much time in Iowa so the Staw Poll doesn’t mean much for his candidacy.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that I would be willing to work hard and support any of these candidates, Rick Perry or Sarah Palin should they win the Republican nomination for President.  Each of them would be a far better President than Barack Obama, who has turned out to be the most partisan, divisive President of my lifetime.



The Politics of Obamacare, Medicaid, Illegal Immigration, and Education Reform: The Conservative Reader Interview with Sen. Jack Whitver (Part 2 of 2)

The Politics of Obamacare, Medicaid, Illegal Immigration, and Education Reform: The Conservative Reader Interview with Sen. Jack Whitver (Part 2 of 2)

In part one of this interview, the last legislative session was the main focus. Now we will turn our attention to the major issues that will be hotly debated in 2012.

One of the first things to jump out at anyone who starts digging into the issues being wrestled with by our general assembly is how much they mirror the issues being debated at the Federal level. This being the case, there is no better place to start than how Obamacare and trimming entitlements manifest themselves here In Iowa.

Obamacare and the Politics of Medicaid

While scarcely publicized, last session included preliminary debates into setting up Iowa’s insurance exchange, which Obamacare mandates be done by next year’s legislative adjournment. The tricky situation for state legislators opposed to the concept, including Sen. Whitver, is that failure to have this exchange in place would result in the Federal government taking over the task—an even more unappealing outcome.

The push to set up this exchange was resisted by a contingent of Republican Senators, and the debate as to how it will be constructed, if it even proves necessary, was moved to next session:

“Several of us, including me, weren’t ready to sign off on this and say Obamacare is legitimate. It’s still going through the court process, so setting up all the framework and infrastructure would have been legitimizing it when the fate of the legislation hasn’t even been determined.”

Directly tying into the Constitutional challenge of Obamacare, last session Senate Republicans went on record broadly opposing mandated health care coverage in the form of SF 94. Though destined not to advance due to the lack of a majority, it is a short read (one page) and is worth becoming aware of as it leaves their philosophical position completely unclouded by confusion.

A close examination into Governor Branstad’s budget proposal for last year reveals that in fiscal year 2012 he will be seeking $42 million of “targeted savings and reductions” in Medicaid. This is a reaction to the realities of the end of the Stimulus Bill funding, future Iowa L.S.A (Legislative Services Agency) projections, and the out of control nature of Medicaid’s beneficiary eligibility table.

A look back at fiscal years 2009-2011 shows that the Federal government, through the Stimulus Bill, paid an increased share of Iowa’s Medicaid bills that totaled $114 million in 2009, $223.6 million in 2010, and $188.1 million in 2011. The problem faced by the Governor, and the reason Republicans insisted on ending last year with a surplus, is that in 2012 these additional payments cease to exist.

Making matters worse is that the L.S.A. projects, largely due to the ongoing recession, that Iowa’s share of our Medicaid bill will rise from $846.8 million in 2011, to a staggering $1.15 billion in 2012 (an increase of $303.8 million in one year). Keep in mind that when we hear the term “out of control entitlements” thrown around, this is what they are talking about. Next year alone, just the share of Iowa’s Medicaid bill that the Federal government doesn’t pay will be more than one-sixth of our entire state budget.

After researching the table for who qualifies for Medicaid, it doesn’t take long to see why this program’s costs are so astronomically high. Here are just a few of the many examples: a pregnant woman currently qualifies for Medicaid benefits at 300% of the Federal Poverty Level. This means that in 2011 a single, pregnant women making $44,000 a year qualifies for Medicaid, as does her child until the age of one. Along these same lines, a married couple expecting their first child and making $55,000 a year also finds the mother, and again her baby until the age of one, eligible for Medicaid.

In spite of these outrageous figures, Republicans are fully expecting to face relentless political attacks from Democrats as they attempt to trim a very small amount (the $42 million) off of our expenditure sheet.

“It will be seized on anytime you look at entitlement programs. I think that we just have to trust that our voters will understand it’s not sustainable in the long term, and that we are trying to make small fixes now to prevent major slashes later.”

Illegal Immigration

Obvious to any Iowan even slightly aware of their surroundings, our state has been even further deluged with illegal immigrants in the past decade. If one failed to see this first hand, the Des Moines Register has relentlessly printed front page stories about how lucky we are to have them and how they have re-vitalized many a small Iowa town. To those of us who still respect the rule of law and the notion of American citizens working American jobs, this reality represents something far different.

Asked in very general terms if states have any responsibility in dealing with this problem Sen. Whitver responded, “The Federal government should be doing it, but obviously they are not,” leading him to the belief that “there are definitely things that the state [Iowa] can, and should, do as far as curbing illegal immigration.”

When asked about the validity of the ever present argument that “illegal immigrants are just doing jobs that Americans won’t do,” he replied, “I don’t buy into the whole ‘there’s jobs that Americans won’t do’ because I come from the school that says ‘I will work any job and do whatever it takes to support my family.’”

Very much reflective of the National scene, after boiling over in mid-2008, this issue has found the back burner. Of the thousands of e-mails and town forum interactions he has had with constituents, there was little outcry regarding this topic.

Highlighting the need for a majority to drive the agenda, it is clear that without a few more Senate seats the issue will not get dealt with and the problem will grow worse. The only bright spot for those concerned is that when asked if Republicans had a majority in the Senate would this issue at least be on the radar screen, Sen. Whitver responded, “Yes, I think so.”


All the Senator’s answers to my questions on the problems in our public education system serve to completely de-bunk the liberal notion that Republicans are somehow against teachers and paying them well. The real issue is whether teachers are going to be quantitatively judged on their performance and prove their merit matches their pay grade—quite a novel concept.

“The biggest thing I want to be able to do is reward quality teachers. I would like it to be that if young people get in and are excelling as teachers, they can move up to the top of their field and get rewarded for it.”

The real challenge is how to implement a fair system of measuring the skill of teachers and the impact they have on the students they are presented with each year. Additionally, solving the problem involves confronting other impediments that affect student achievement, such as parent involvement and a proliferation of non-English speaking students (see illegal immigration above). In hopes of arming himself with potential answers to these tough questions, he attended the Governor’s recent Iowa Education Summit, and looks forward to attempting to reverse Iowa’s slide in National education rankings.

In spite of the fact that Federal spending on education has doubled over the last forty years while scores have remained the same, and even though Iowa spends nearly $10,000 per pupil every year, last year the predictable Democrat cries for yet more funding ensued. Republicans took much heat while fighting for 0% growth in the education budget, ultimately compromising by getting the 0% this year and returning back to the traditional 2% increase next year.

“0% allowable growth is actually about $220 million more than the Democrat controlled legislature and Governor gave them last year—not promised them but gave them. So they can make all the promises they want, but the fact is we actually gave them more money last year, even with 0% allowable growth, because we fully funded it.”

Though the solutions are complex and infested by political interests, he seemed optimistic and enthusiastic about attacking the problems in next year’s session, “The bottom line is, if you are not seeing results for what you are putting into it, then something has to change. There are solutions for everything and we can get it fixed. But simply throwing more and more money at it every year is not getting it done.”

In 2012—No More Next Time

After a historically long and grueling session in 2011, much of the same seemingly awaits law makers next year. Our deeply divided legislative bodies failed to resolve several high profile issues—a luxury the 2012 session will not afford them. In Sen. Whitver’s case, this is exactly what he signed up for:

“I wanted to run because we need people who will make the tough choices.”

From property tax relief, to looking for savings in Medicaid, to education reform—the future holds no lack of just such choices.

Observations on the October 18th Las Vegas/CNN Presidential Debate

Why Iowa’s 2011 Legislative Session Matters to Conservatives: The Conservative Reader Interview with Senator Jack Whitver (Part 1 of 2)

Three weeks removed from ending the third longest legislative session in Iowa history, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with District 35’s representative in the Iowa Senate—Republican Jack Whitver. The main focus of our conversation was the results of the 172 day session and the political clouds already forming on the horizon for next year’s Senatorial get together.

In the interest of adding perspective, here is a brief overview of Senator Whitver’s political and business careers: He joined the Iowa Senate this year by virtue of winning a special election to fill the seat of Larry Noble, first beating five other Republicans in a truncated primary and then defeating Democrat John Calhoun (63%-36%). The district covers most of the northern half of Polk County including the Des Moines suburbs of Ankeny and Johnston, as well as Grimes, Polk City, Alleman, and Elkhart.

He is a former wide receiver for the Iowa State Cyclones and, in addition to being in the Senate, owns a three-location athletic training business called Acceleration Iowa, was the Offensive Coordinator for the Iowa Barnstormers last season, and is a law student at Drake University (no this is not a misprint… this is all in the same year).

 The Interview

At a glance it would be easy to say that the 2011 Iowa legislative session was a disappointment, as it saw high ranking agenda items from both political parties ultimately produce no legislation. As usual, however, the real story lies a few layers beneath the surface and, especially from a Conservative Republican viewpoint, is found by looking at and answering the question of why these things didn’t get done.


Without a doubt, commercial and residential property tax relief was one of the few issues to truly burn white-hot during the session. All three legislative players had a plan on the table prescribing varying levels of aggressiveness in lowering Iowan’s taxes. The Governor’s plan was the most robust, followed by a more temperate approach from House Republicans, while the Senate Democrats’ plan was far tamer than the other two.

Reflecting just how high profile and high priority this issue was, Sen. Whitver regards his “no” vote as the most important one he cast in the session.

“I think the vote I am most proud of, and probably the toughest one I took, was on property taxes. That is something I campaigned on and something that needs to be done to help small businesses. The Senate Democrats brought forth a plan that I felt was not a good plan. It wasn’t nearly strong enough to do anything and was a long way away from what the House Republicans and the Governor were proposing. So it’s easy to sit down there and say ‘Well, it’s on property taxes so I am just going to vote yes and pass it.’ I was one of four Republicans that voted no, because I felt it wasn’t good enough, and I don’t want to put my name on a bill, even if it has the right title, if it wasn’t good enough. Because once you pass property tax reform, and it’s not a good bill, then it would be off the table next year, and the year after. So you don’t want to pass it for the sake of passing it.”

Beyond it being too small, he also saw the Democrat plan as a vehicle to allow local towns and counties to avoid tightening their belts and reducing their property taxes. “It’s basically taking our State income tax and our State sales tax and giving it to businesses in the form of a tax credit—as opposed to actually lowering taxes. I wasn’t a big fan of that tax shift.”

Sharing his philosophy of not settling on this issue, and certainly providing some welcome company, was Governor Branstad.

“To me the Governor showed a lot of confidence and leadership on this issue. Most governors, especially ones that don’t have the experience and the confidence he has would say, ‘Well, I said I wanted a property tax bill and I’ll take what I can get.’ Instead he said, ‘You know what, it’s not the one I want. We’ll come back and either do it in a special session or next year, but I’m not just going to try and save face and take whatever I can get.’ So I was happy about that.”

Mental Health Reform

Another issue that remained unresolved by the session was reforming the state’s mental health care system, otherwise known as SF 525. To the casual observer this amounted to a mere failure—true in the sense that no reform got passed but, once again, a look at why this was the case unearths undeniable evidence that a strong Conservative presence is asserting itself at the State House.

More than any other issue, this bill split the Senate Republican caucus, with ten voting in favor, nine voting against, and five not voting at all. The eventual fate of the bill was that it was assigned to a committee for further study. When asked about this divide in the Party and the debate in general, Sen. Whitver laid out the issue like this:

“Part of it is a rural-urban divide. There is a lot of agreement that redesigning the mental health care system needs to be done. The difference is, do we want the state to take control of it, or can we let the counties keep control. Being from Polk County, we offer a lot of services that maybe Adams County does not, because they have 4,000 people. If they want to design a system where every county has to offer the same services they are not going to take every county down to Adams County levels, they are going to bring all other counties up to Polk County levels. And at the end of the day it just looks like something that’s going to greatly expand the cost and scope of government, and I think a lot of us weren’t comfortable with that.”

The insight that this answer provides into the thought process of at least a sizeable chunk of Senate Republicans should bolster the resolve of Conservatives state-wide. It is hard to imagine a more positive indicator that Iowa Republicans are serious about actually achieving a smaller government—and not just talking about it.

Realize, especially on an emotionally sensitive topic like this one, what the specific logic they approached this issue with proves—they get it. They are viewing all things through a prism of justified skepticism, asking themselves, “Does this bill have the potential to explode into an over costly, ever expanding leviathan?” This type of foresight, had it been displayed by the Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson administrations, could have sparred us much of the pain we are currently feeling at the Federal level.

The Reality of the Minority

In short, the reality of the minority is that you are forced to judge success differently. A look at the 293 votes Sen. Whitver cast reveals a splintered wasteland of votes cast in vain. As the roll calls of losing 26-24, 24-23, 26-21 began to pile up during the session, one has to wonder if the Senator would rather have been back running 5 yard drag routes into 240-pound Big 12 linebackers…minus his pads.

Making matters worse for this particular minority was being under the thumb of Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs), who is renowned for both his liberalism and his penchant for using parliamentary maneuvers to avoid votes on hot-button issues. It didn’t take long for Sen. Whitver to experience this approach, “The first thing I saw when I got there was him changing the rules to not allow a majority of the Senators to bring up a bill.” When asked his thoughts on these tactics he joined the near unanimous chorus of Republican anger towards Gronstal, saying, “The ones that I really had a problem with were the ones that had the votes to pass. On same sex marriage, I think we had the votes to bring it up with a majority, and then to get it passed.”

Despite these circumstances, Sen. Whitver deploys a perspective that allows him to take it all in stride:

“Yeah it’s frustrating in the short term, but I have taken a longer view about being in the Senate. It’s a four year term and if I was just looking at the next election I could say, ‘Ok, I’ll vote for that property tax bill,’ but I’m going to look at the big picture. A lot of those 26-24 votes draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is what Democrats want and this is what Republicans want, and this is our agenda going forward.’ So yeah, it is frustrating to go in there every day and vote no and see something pass, but in the long term I think we are setting up our agenda and what we are trying to accomplish pretty nicely.”

In a political minority, this is what success looks like.

Session Summary

In a state that President Obama carried by 9.5 points, and without a majority in both chambers, fully implementing a Conservative agenda was simply not realistic. In this scenario much of your work is done around the edges and in ensuring bad bills don’t pass. Sen. Whitver summed up the inroads the Party made, and how he sees the political landscape going forward, the following way:

“I think we accomplished three major things, though bills didn’t necessarily get passed out of it. The Democrats admitted that we needed commercial property tax relief and were passing bills talking about it. They admitted we needed the late term abortion bill, they didn’t pass the bill we wanted, but they were on record saying that we need to do something about it, and they agreed we need to limit spending. So three of our major priorities, they agreed with. We didn’t get the exact bills we wanted, but I think that shows that our message is the right message.”

Not only is it the right message, more importantly, a look inside the reasoning behind the votes shows it is a genuine message backed by principal and strong will.

The real story for Conservative Iowans is found in uncovering the reason why more bills failed to pass on major issues. In the case of tax reform, “not good enough” was the why. In the case of SF 525, apprehension to expansive government and cautious foresight were the why.

I think that all concerned Republicans would agree that if the fight is waged on the principals of lower taxes and smaller government, we will gladly take a draw…for now.

Part 2 of this interview will publish Monday August 8th.  Among the issues it will cover are: the battles looming once the next session is gavaled in, the state of public education in Iowa, the politics of Medicaid, and Iowa’s illegal immigration problem.

Click Here To Read Part 2

Should elected party officials endorse candidates before the primary?

Should elected party officials endorse candidates before the primary?

Earlier this week, I received a press release with the following redacted endorsement:
xxx, Iowa– xxx County Republican chairman xxx today endorsed xxx for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

This notification stirred me to think about the question “Should elected party officials endorse candidates before the primary?”. As Chairman of the Polk County Republican Party for the period 2009-2010, I made a personal decision that I would not endorse primary candidates for local or statewide offices, but my tenure did not cover a presidential cycle. Should the rules be different for Iowa’s “1st in the Nation” presidential caucus?

I don’t believe there is a clear answer to this question. The best I can do is to share some anecdotal experiences from my time as Chairman that may have relevance to the discussion.

Activist Issues – On several occasions, I received complaints from political activists that we (Polk County leaders) were favoring a candidate. Frequently these complaints were associated with our website coverage and emails related to campaign events held by or on behalf of one of the candidates. Usually the complaint was “Why did you communicate candidate x’s event but you failed to communicate candidate y’s event?”. Almost 100% of the time, our failure to communicate was the result of the campaign failing to inform us of their event. Never the less, some people remained convinced that we had undercut their candidate because we secretly favored another one.

Candidate Issues – On a few occasions, we received complaints from candidates. Usually this was associated with “setting the bar too high” for access or visibility at an event. We paid our bills by conducting these events, so we had to consider every possible revenue source. We thought we set the access fee appropriately. Some candidates remained convinced that we had intentionally set rules to favor only candidates with strong financial support.

Policy/Platform Issues – I feel very strongly that there is only one role for a Chairman when it comes to platform issues. His or her role is to run a platform development process that is broadly based. The process should include meaningful representation from the many precinct caucuses in the county. The platform discussions should be led by a strong facilitator (not the Chairman) who respects the rights of every representative to participate subject to the agreed rules of order. The Chairman should never try to force his or her personal policy views into the process. If a Chairman openly prefers one candidate, is that not clearly an endorsement for that candidates policy views? As an example, many Polk County Central Committee members knew that I supported John McCain in 2008 (before I was Chairman). I had to work hard to convince some members that my effort to broaden the platform committee was not a Trojan horse to place more moderates into the process. The reality is that my only intent was to include more of the elected platform representatives.

It is clear to me that in a local or statewide primary election, a Chairman cannot endorse a candidate without seriously aggravating the suspicions of activists and candidates? Presidential politics in Iowa tend to be fairly emotional. In Iowa we have many of our finest activists joining the fight on behalf of their preferred candidate. By endorsing a candidate, a Chairman will almost certainly alienate some people and lose their support for county activities in the general election.  I would therefore recommend that a County Chairman, or any other elected party official, refrain from making such endorsements.

Observations on the October 18th Las Vegas/CNN Presidential Debate

Saving Jobs By Saving LIFO Accounting

In his recent visit to our state, President Obama toured Alcoa, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aluminum, located in Davenport, IA. As a part of his visit, President Obama praised the manufacturing sector of the economy and touted the strong growth of private sector jobs over the last 15-months of his administration. President Obama also mentioned in his speech that not only had Alcoa rehired laid-off workers, but that it was anticipating the need to add new employees to its workforce.

I am delighted that the President recognizes the positive impact private sector manufacturers are having on the economy, but what he failed to mention as a part of his visit was that he is advocating for repeal of the Last-In, First-Out accounting method, which would devastate businesses in our country, cost workers their jobs, and hurt our recovering economy.

The Last-In, First-Out accounting method, better know as LIFO, is a textbook accounting method that has been used by businesses for over 70 years. LIFO allows businesses to manage inventories in a way that helps protect assets from the costs associated with inflation. As a part of this method, businesses may incur a tax liability that has been held over from one year to the next, which is called a LIFO reserve.

President Obama proposes that the LIFO reserve should be eliminated and that businesses should pay a retroactive tax on this liability. Estimates put the amount the federal government would stand to collect from repealing LIFO at between $50-100 billion dollars.

President Obama says that he is only trying to end a tax break for oil companies and billionaires, so he can reduce deficit spending. And, while I applaud his, and other, noble efforts to reduce deficit spending and lower our national debt, repealing LIFO is precisely the wrong way to go about it.

The President and so many others who are advocating for the repeal of LIFO don’t seem to understand that this one time shot of revenue would have a chilling effect on the recovering U.S. economy and devastate businesses that use LIFO, many of which are manufacturers and wholesalers.

President Obama is correct that many of the largest U.S. oil and energy companies use LIFO. But so do many of our largest manufacturers and wholesalers, such as Archer Daniels Midland, Caterpillar, U.S. Steel, Nucor, Wal-Mart, and Dupont. Alcoa, the same company that President Obama praised during his visit to Iowa, has the 10th largest LIFO reserve in the country.

And many Iowa businesses would be hurt by LIFO repeal. John Deere, Meredith Publishing, Sukup Manufacturing, and Winnebago Industries, all use LIFO. So do farm equipment dealers, automobile dealers, grocery stores, and many other main street businesses.

A repeal of LIFO would have a huge impact on jobs as well. Employers would have to scramble to pay retroactive taxes and would be forced to lay off workers, cut health care benefits, stop contributions to 401(k) plans, and cancel planned hiring.

President Obama should take LIFO repeal off the table as part of his deficit reduction talks with Congress. And, if he won’t, Congress should refuse to pursue LIFO repeal as a part of the negotiations process for the sake of our country.

Reprinted from The Retailer, an Iowa Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association Publication, by permission.

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