This is part 1 of a 2 part interview.Â Â Part 2Â dealsÂ with Obama care, education reform, illegal immigration, the Tea Party, and other topics.Â It can be linked to at the conclusion of this installment, or by clicking here.
With a 68% increase in population since 2000, and Bloomberg reporting it is now the fastest growing city in Iowa, there is no doubt that Ankeny is rapidly expanding.
As population over the last few years has shifted to Ankeny, so too has the ideological focus of the Republican Party shifted to the right.Â Just how far right this Des Moines suburb, and longtime Republican stronghold, has moved politically will go a long way in determining who wins the Republican primary to represent Iowaâ€™s House District 37.
This impending barometer has been put in play by the candidacy of Tea Party Republican Stacey Rogers, who will be one of at least four Republicans seeking this house districtâ€™s nomination.Â I recently sat down with Ms. Rogers to discuss her political resume, her ideology, and how she would like to influence the future of HD 37.
Though she was born in Colorado, Ms. Rogersâ€™ parents grew up on family farms down the road from each other near State Center, and in an ironic twist her mom actually attended high school with fellow HD 37 candidate John Landon.Â These roots caused her to return to Iowa during the summers as she was growing up, before eventually leading her to come back to our state for law school. After graduating in three years from Colorado State University she headed back for good and enrolled at the University of Iowa School of Law.
Her time attending law school at the University of Iowa pushed her into the world of politics, a push initialized by being exposed to and surrounded by a level of left wing ideology that took her by surprise.Â Having decided to politically engage, she applied and was granted the opportunity to spend a summer working in Arizona for one of the most esteemed Conservative think tanks in the Countryâ€”The Goldwater Institute.
In addition to this she has worked as a staffer for Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), became active in The Iowa Tea Party, and recently served as Republican Graig Blockâ€™s campaign manager in his successful re-election bid to the Ankeny City Council.Â She is currently practicing law for the Ankeny based firm Block, Lamberti & Gocke, P.C.
Paramount to gaining an understanding of a candidate is learning how they see their district, where they stand on local issues, and how they analyze their districtâ€™s role in the larger state-wide picture.Â Ms. Rogers has strong views on all three.
When asked about the districtâ€™s positive attributes, she pointed to its unique geographic make-up, â€œThis district has some of Ankeny in it but it also has some rural areas in it, it really is a great sample of Iowa.Â The good thing about Ankeny is that it is growing but it still has that extremely small town feel where everybody knows their neighbor.â€
On an economic level she commented that, â€œFor the most part, and compared to the way the economy is going overall, Ankeny is doing really, really well.â€Â Weighing in on the reason for the districtâ€™s Republican leanings and general weariness of ever-increasing taxes she noted, â€œEspecially in the northern part of Ankeny, the people are largely living in new housing developments and they clearly worked hard for that money, and they worked for it recently.â€
Also making her list of positives is the relative high quality of the school system, something she largely attributes to the areaâ€™s residents, â€œProbably the greatest difference between Ankeny schools and the schools in Des Moines is the amount of parental involvement.â€
The school district and community involvement are both things that have been front and center recently as the cityâ€™s school board has made the somewhat controversial decision to split the town by simultaneously building two brand new high schools.Â Though not under the jurisdiction of the seat she is running for, Ankeny residents would no doubt be curious as to where she stood on this hot-button issue:
â€œEventually two high schools were going to be a necessity; the questionable spending was that they somehow needed two identical high schools at the same time.Â I would have been against the second high school from the beginning but at this point you really canâ€™t un-ring that bell.Â That whole debacle just exposed this community to debt and the threat of more debt that could threaten its status as an engine of economic growth and development right now, because people are not necessarily going to want to continue moving to Ankeny if there is that threat of more bonding.â€
While noting the need to heal the rift between more moderate Republicans and the Tea Party, she views this seat as having a particular function in the larger statewide picture:
â€œWhoever gets elected to this seat is going to have the opportunity to use this seat as a bully pulpit.Â We need to make sure we elect a Conservative that understands the importance of this seat, and that they have a chance to be the voice of the true Conservative position.Â Somebody under the golden dome needs to draw the line in the sand about what that position really is, and I think too often what happens is that the Republicans who are interested in â€˜good governanceâ€™ offer the compromise solution up front and give up a lot of ground in that approach.â€
Issues From Last Session
Even though Republicans controlled two of the three segments of government last session, you can count Ms. Rogers among the large contingent of Conservatives unhappy with the resulting state budget.
At the heart of this displeasure is what she saw as a tactical error by the Governor in structuring our outlays, â€œI think our budget this year could have been much lower, and that we sacrificed a lot to the idea of two year budgeting.â€
Instead of insisting on a two year budget, and eventually bartering in order to achieve it, she would have taken an alternate approach:
Â â€œ0% allowable growth was still an increase in funding for schools because it was fully funded, something that the Democrats never didâ€”and we still gave up the 2% allowable growth in the second year in order to get the two year budget.Â I would much rather of had the fight about allowable growth again next year because I think people started waking up to the fact that we are actually giving the schools more money by fully funding them.â€
Commercial Property Taxes
The overwhelming evidence and the inescapable mushrooming nature of Iowaâ€™s commercial property tax code resulted in a political rarity last sessionâ€”partial bi-partisan agreement.Â The fact that nationally Iowa ranks in the top 10 in every type of property tax levied on commercial and industrial property, and that The Tax Foundation rated Iowa as the 45th worst business tax climate in the Country, led to all three players in our state government laying tax reform proposals on the table.
On the Republican side were competing proposals from the Governor and the House of Representatives.Â The Governorâ€™s plan would have ultimately taken a bigger bite out of the bill currently paid by Iowa businesses and would have been the one a Rep. Rogers would have embraced, â€œI would probably have supported the Governorâ€™s plan.Â It went deeper and I think that if you are going to do property tax reform then you need to do it all the way, and I think that his plan was a tougher stand than the House Republicans.â€
To read this articles conclusion, dealing with pending issues facing Iowa and analysis of this race, click here for part 2.
Photo Courtesy of Dave Davidson, whose work can be found at prezography.com
This is the second installment of a two-part interview, to read part one click here.
Governor Branstadâ€™s legacy-minded education reform proposal has struggled to draw support since its release on October 3rd, and you can count Mr. Landon as one of those lacking in enthusiasm.
A core tenet of Landonâ€™s philosophy is local control. The benefit he sees in applying this principle to education is that the parents of each child, and the teachers in the actual class room, will have their voices better heard and their concerns more directly dealt with,
â€œMy first reaction (to the governorâ€™s plan) is that it drives us towards more state control and more mandates on levels of performance. I think that we are going to have to reform the system, but I think that instead of less local control we need to focus on more local control. I think we need to make sure that the families, the school teachers, and the administrators all have their say on how this should be done. I really believe that parents and school teachers, the people who are in that sector, know the best for their kidsâ€.
The Democrats failure last session to construct Iowaâ€™s insurance exchange program in accordance with Obama Care means that a nasty, brutal fight awaits next year. By all accounts this will be one of the three most high-profile issues debated by the Iowa Legislature in 2012, and one that ultimately drew fellow candidate Stacey Rogers (R-Ankeny) into the race. Landon, for one, would have voted no last year on SF 404 and sounds ready to engage in the fight,
â€œWhat would guide me is local control. The rights of District 37 residents and the rights of Iowans have to come first. Anything thatâ€™s done has to be for their benefit and their economic interests. And frankly, I view Obama Care as unconstitutional from the get-go. I am not in favor of taking care of this through the government because they (the people) will not be taken care of the way they should be.â€
On Illegal Immigration
â€œI am a proponent of legal immigration. It is probably not that big of an issue in this particular district, but there are areas in Iowa where it is. As a state issue I would say that the Federal government, like in so many other things, has failed. I am against the taxpayer having to pay for the upkeep of people who have come here illegally.â€
Barring an unexpected Federal resolution to this problem Landon indicated a willingness to possibly engage at the state level, â€œIf the Federal government wonâ€™t do it and they are going to continue to let the border be porous, from the standpoint of public safety and who is going to protect the taxpayer, there has to be a process that protects you the citizen.â€
On Varnum (Gay Marriage)
â€œThat should have been decided by the voters. That is a monumental shift in society and voters need to have their say. If a constitutional amendment is the only way for voters to get their voice heard on it, then we need to do it.â€
On The Tea Party
In response to a question seeking his thoughts on the Tea Party and if he would consider himself a â€œTea Party-ishâ€ candidate, he answered, â€œI havenâ€™t found anything in their platform that offends me or that I take issue with. I am for individual rights. I think people can make their own decisions and government would be well advised to pay attention to that. Having said that, I am part of the process and a consensus builder, I just donâ€™t think you can go out there as a maverick and get a whole lot done. What I want is for Lincoln and Douglas townships to flourish and for Ankeny to flourish. The only way I can do that is by being an effective voice, and the only way to be an effective voice is to be a part of the process.â€
Race Analysis and Summary
The contest for the Republican nomination in House District 37 will be of elevated importance as the probability is high that the nominee will ultimately be the Representative. Due to the fact that the district has a 2,400 advantage in registered Republicans over registered Democrats in what is already shaping up to be a Republican wave year, it is likely that the nominee may run un-opposed. Even more likely is that if the Democrats do choose to field a candidate they will not bother to recruit a top-notch challenger or commit substantial resources to the effort.
In what could end up being a crowded field of Republicans, John Landon is a serious contender who will be in it for the long haul. He appears both fired up for the race and ready to put in the time and work that will be required to win the seat. The major pillars that his candidacy will be built on are: less intrusive government, more local control, simplicity in legislative solutions, sensitivity to Iowaâ€™s taxpayers, and a vehement opposition to unfunded mandates.
In particular, emphasizing that the failure to make budget cuts leads to higher taxes and a crusade against unfunded mandates could garner wide-spread appeal in District 37.
As his background suggests he is clearly positioned in the race as the â€œbusiness candidate.â€ While often times the â€œbusiness candidateâ€ moniker is attached to folks who have had professional success, itâ€™s worth noting that the business-like way Mr. Landon breaks down large issues as he thinks through them suggests that he would translate these skills to governance should he be elected.
Though we are early in the process, as Republicans begin to look at the field they will find much to like about John Landon as a person and as a candidate.
If nothing else Mitt Romney is a man of firsts.Â Four years ago when he ran for President he became the first Mormon to make a serious run at the White House.Â His recent re-entry into the field for this go around has produced another, and far more unlikely one.Â For the first time in history we have a candidate who is simultaneously the front runner and a long shot.Â While his prior bid found voters faced with an assortment of unusual and unprecedented factors to consider, this run finds that list not only still in-tact, but even longer.
A look at his chances reveals a lot to like, but also a series of tough spots created for both the candidate and voters.Â In the following we will weigh each against the other, not so much as a comparison of pros and cons but more as a look at advantages verses disadvantages.Â This distinction is important because classifying in terms of pros and cons makes the presumption that the realities surrounding a candidate are good or bad.Â In some cases I would argue that such judgments are unsubstantiated, in others the opposite of conventional wisdom may be true, and in yet others certain considerations are neither, and frankly should not be a valid part of the debate.Â That being said, letâ€™s start by looking at what is certainly a strong list of his advantages.
First and foremost, he is a serious man and a realistic candidate.Â He has a background of leadership in both the private economic sector and in government, a mixture that puts him in a nearly ideal position.Â While his background outside of politics makes it hard to clearly paint him as a life-long politician and part of the current â€œWashingtonâ€ problem, his tenor as Governor suggests that he would not be overwhelmed if he wins the job.Â Another huge feather in his cap is that he can prove his skill-set and resume have transferred to success outside of business by pointing to his role in the Salt Lake City Olympics.Â All in all he meets the major qualifications and like him or not, he certainly does notÂ struggle to seem Presidential.
In terms of the other areas, he also has many advantages.Â He is one of the most polished and well-rounded in the field, having a developed platform on the economic side and being well versed and credible on foreign policy issues.Â His prior candidacy showed his personal closet to be skeleton free, proved that he is a more than able debater, and demonstrated that he would have no trouble raising or, as the case may be, providing money.
His final two advantages are of note but for opposite reasons.Â The first is overplayed and is his business success and experience.Â This no doubt will be seen as a major positive, especially since so many Republicans feel down to their cores that government needs to be run as a business and not a bottomless social experiment.Â For Independents, Conservatives, and Libertarians alike, a business approach to government represents a realistic way out of our current financial disaster.Â While I agree, and unquestionably this will be his best selling point, my personal opinion is that his past business acumen will have little to do with potential future success or failure in this area.Â
Though it sounds good, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that making it big in business translates to overseeing a thriving economy as President, mostly because it rarely has had a chance to be proven.Â A look back at history, meaning back to George Washington, finds only one former PresidentÂ ever has had a prior occupation listed as â€œbusinessman,â€ and only one other that could make a case to join himâ€¦and they are both named Bush.Â Though probably surprising, Bush the elder stands alone as a former businessman and his son, founder/CEO of Bush Exploration and general partner in The Texas Rangers, is the only President to have a masterâ€™s degree in business.Â The fact of the matter is that the economy had problems under each Bush while it flourished under Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, neither of whom ever had a sniff of the business world.
The last thing working in his favor is something I view as much underplayedâ€”his wife.Â Conventional wisdom says this barely rises above a non-factor, but my sense is that liking a personâ€™s spouse and getting a good vibe from their marriage provides a deep, hard to define, and powerfully sub-concious level of comfort.Â Now Iâ€™m not saying this can win it for a candidate, but I am saying that it can help lose it.Â In proving this I would point to 2004 and the cold, aloof, and elitist public perception of Teresa Heinz-Kerry.Â This perception made it hard to imagine her as a first lady, and I would argue is one of a handful of things that cost John Kerry a razor close election.
In this regard the Romneys have no such trouble.Â They seem naturally happy together and she is a very impressive woman who you donâ€™t have to squint too hard at to picture as a first lady.Â Anyone doubting that a candidateâ€™s marriage and spouse has some impact can either check out a â€œman on the streetâ€ segment to get a true sense of some of these voters, remind themselves of Newt Gingrichâ€™s situation, or if these fail just take a quick glance at Donald Trump and his current wife.
Wow! With all that going for him how could he possibly be a long-shot?Â Looking at the other side of the Romney ledger leaves one channeling their inner Yogi Berra by saying, â€œHe is the perfect candidateâ€¦except for all his flaws.â€Â While this list is indeed shorter, itâ€™s also heavier.Â Included here is his much talked about implementation of state-run, mandated health insurance in Massachusetts, a clumsy reversal on abortion (is there any other kind?), and the fact that he is a Mormon.
These particular hang-ups could not be any more damaging considering how high profile an issue health care will be and that he likely has to place relatively well in Iowa.Â The devastation comes not only from their existence but from how he has chosen to address them, and how they all converge to create an ominous cloud of skepticism.Â Â As much as Romney Care and abortion work against him they have been made worse by him making parsed, nuanced arguments to try and explain them away.Â His distinction regarding health care, that it was perfectly fine and Constitutional to address it on a state level, is technically accurate.Â In spite of this it simply will not play and puts him in the same camp as another prominent Massachusetts politician.
Once again going back to the 2004 Presidential election, John Kerry was immensely damaged by saying in regards to war funding, â€œI actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.â€Â Much like Romney on health care Kerryâ€™s statement actually had validity in the context in which he was saying it, but in neither case will that matter.Â Romneyâ€™s attempt to talk his way out of a past â€œachievementâ€ will puzzle some, turn off even more, and provide a generous portion of blood in the water for his primary opponents.Â Being forced to repeat his equivocations in every debate will continually leave him victim to a saying usually applied to more serious political misdeedsâ€”â€œThe cover up is almost always worse than the crime.â€
If even one of these disadvantages was not present I would be tempted to think that the others could be overcome.Â As it stands though, the combination of Romney Care, his reversal on abortion, the fact that he does not share the same faith of the vast majority of his potential voters, and his insistent equivocations all congeal in one area to create a feeling, for most Republicans, that they simply canâ€™t trust or rely on him.Â Not exactly a formula for winning primaries, especially when at the moment so many Americans are starving for blunt honesty.
Complicating matters for Republicans is that â€œThe Romney Predicamentâ€ is not his alone.Â His problems have the potential to be equally damaging to the Party, as he may very well be the candidate with the best chance of beating President Obama.Â If he is eventually able to win the nomination it will be because of a mixture of voter pragmatism and a very weak Republican field, likely more of the latter.Â
As the process plays out donâ€™t be surprised if he increasingly becomes more of a long-shot and less of a front runner.Â As a general rule voters do not want to feel like they have to â€œsettleâ€ for a candidate, and for many that is exactly what they would be forced to do in supporting Mitt Romney.Â In spite of his impressive past and its long list of advantages, his disadvantages are heavy, untimely, and loud.Â The strikes against him are not only the 800 pound gorilla in the room, but one that instead of sitting there just happens to be throwing a temper tantrum.Â While muting this beast and claiming victory is possible, it is more likely that this man of many firsts will ultimately find himself in second.