Podcast

On this edition of Iowa Press, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Theresa Greenfield (D-Des Moines) discusses her campaign and the run up to the 2020 election.

Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, and Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief political reporter for The Des Moines Register.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.

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We're nearing the home stretch of the 2020 campaign and one of the biggest battles in Iowa with national implications is the race for U.S. Senator. We sit down with democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, August 14 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

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Yepsen: One of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country this year is right here in Iowa. Democrats hope to take control of the Senate and knocking out republican incumbent Joni Ernst might help them do that. Theresa Greenfield won a crowded and competitive democratic primary in June to become the party's candidate and she joins us now here at the Iowa Press table. Ms. Greenfield, a belated congratulations on your victory in the primary.

Greenfield: Well, thank you, David. Nice to be here.

Yepsen: Welcome to the show. Glad to have you.

Greenfield: Absolutely, yeah.

Yepsen: Journalists across the table are Brianne Pfannenstiel, Chief Political Reporter for the Des Moines Register and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Mr. Yepsen and I have done a little bit of research and it has been decades since Iowans have elected a U.S. Senator who didn't have prior service in elected office or had run for elected office. Is that a disadvantage for you having neither one of those in your resume?

Greenfield: You know, I think I'm exactly the kind of candidate we need for this moment in history. Iowa is a state of small towns and small businesses and I'm a businesswoman and have worked much of my career in those small businesses from running bean walking crews back on the farm to really having to work incredibly hard to be the president of a family-owned commercial real estate company and a whole lot of everything in between. And so I think these are the kinds of skills Iowans need right now during this moment.

Pfannenstiel: Ms. Greenfield, one of the things that we like to let candidates do on this show is respond to some of the attacks that they're getting from their opponents. And so Iowans across the state right now are seeing ads that are challenging your business background. So what would be your message to those Iowans who now have some questions about that?

Greenfield: You know what, I think those are just partisan attacks that really are distracting from the issues that Iowans are talking about most. I've done over 200 events across the state and they're talking about health care, seniors want their prescription drug costs lower, farmers are devastated by the small refinery exemptions and waivers. But you know, I've been really clear about my record and I hope that Iowans continue to look at my record because I'm going to use my experiences leading through tough times and good times to fight and put Iowa first.

Pfannenstiel: Another one of these attacks that we're seeing is Joni Ernst's campaign is saying that you're using the pandemic to hide from Iowans behind a computer screen, holding a lot of Zoom events and not necessarily meeting voters or meeting out with the media. What is your response to that?

Greenfield: Well, again, we've done over 200 events. We're going to continue to be available and certainly we have been out meeting with Iowans. As a matter of fact, recently we were in Western Iowa just this week meeting with farmers, touring a biofuels plant, talking about both of their industries that have been devastated by Joni Ernst, frankly. She went to Washington, she put her corporate PAC donors first and foremost leaving Iowans behind. For example, she voted for a fossil fuel lobbyist to head the EPA and they have issued 85 waivers that have been devastating to Iowa's corn producers, to our biofuel industries and that economic devastation just rolls right on down to our small towns, our small businesses and our manufacturers. And so we've been out listening to them and their concerns.

Henderson: In the past, statewide candidates who list a residence in Polk County have been at a disadvantage, most recently in 2018 Fred Hubbell lost to Governor Reynolds in that campaign. How do you answer Iowans who say, we want someone from outside of the big urban areas to represent us, we don't want someone from the capital.

Greenfield: Yeah, you know, I think my experiences are exactly what Iowans need. In addition to being a businesswoman, I'm a mother of four, I understand all those tough decisions that are being made at a kitchen table whether you live in a rural area or an urban area and I grew up on a farm. I came of age during the Farm Crisis. My parents raised hogs, they raised row crops, my dad was a crop duster. I like to tell people that's where I learned how to play hard on the farm. But it's also where we learned how to work hard. And there's a lot of satisfaction with making things and fixing things and looking back over the day knowing what you got done. And these are experiences that will help me serve all Iowans.

Pfannenstiel: Iowans are suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. We recently passed 50,000 people who have tested positive for the virus. Congress earlier this year passed a stimulus package to help the economy and to help Americans recover, a $2 trillion CARES Act. Would you have voted for that if you were in the Senate?

Greenfield: You know, what we need right now is we need Senator Joni Ernst to be back in Washington and to stay in Washington to get a Phase 4 stimulus package done. Clearly that first package was helpful but it wasn't enough. And I have put out two plans and have been talking about how we help hardworking Iowans. We need to expand the extended unemployment benefits for that full $600 a week, we need more direct payments for workers, we need more PPP for small businesses. I will tell you, as I've traveled in the last few weeks visiting small businesses, so many of them tell me that their cash flow is still down 60%. They haven't been able to hire back their employees. And when you run a small business those employees become like family. And so there's a lot of concern and a lot of need. Our state and local governments need help, our schools need support and frankly, in this Phase 4 stimulus package, we need to make sure there are some dedicated resources for our biofuels industry also.

Pfannenstiel: Would you have voted for the CARES Act if you had been in the Senate?

Greenfield: I certainly would have supported that CARES Act, yep. We needed to get critical help to all Americans and to Iowans.

Pfannenstiel: And another issue that is now ravaging Iowa is these derecho storms that passed through the state this week. We still have 180,000 Iowans without power, 10 million acres of crops that have been damaged. What federal action, what federal support should be offered right now and would you advocate for?

Greenfield: First, I just want to extend my concern to all Iowans who have been devastated. This is a year, particularly for our farmers and folks in the rural areas, they're already suffering with economic challenges, with COVID, and the derecho on top of that is just almost too much to handle. And they do need help. I would like to see the President have a disaster declaration and get some help in here immediately. This isn't a partisan issue, by the way, for anybody. We all have friends and family who have been devastated whether you live on a farm, in a small community, in a big town. I have been in contact with many, many of my friends and elected leaders in Cedar Rapids in particular and they need help now.

Yepsen: We've never been hit with a pandemic like this in 100 years. I don't think we've ever been hit with this derecho kind of storm. Big crises. Iowans will come out of this. But how do you think we're going to come out of this differently? How are we going to be a different people after this?

Greenfield: Iowans are tough, absolutely, and we have come together for years and years and year to help each other. Certainly when I was a youngster on the farm and there was devastation we came together to help one another. We're going to continue to do it and I hope that we end the divisiveness that is going on in this country. Maybe that's something we can learn from this pandemic and this derecho. As I've traveled the state, people want the divisiveness to end, they want us to work together. It's part of the reason I got in this race, to put Iowans first and I am willing to stand up to anyone and work with anyone to make sure that we end that divisiveness and we take action that is pragmatic and common sense and takes care of the needs of Iowans.

Henderson: One thing that happened this week that Iowans who lost power may have missed is that Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate this week. Would that have been the person you would have chosen were you Joe Biden?

Greenfield: I will let everybody else decide who Joe Biden should or shouldn't have picked. But I'll tell you what, I'm really glad that he picked a woman and I think Kamala Harris is an excellent choice. She has great experience and it's historic and she is the right leader for this moment in time.

Pfannenstiel: The Post Office is an institution that is facing a lot of turmoil at the moment. The agency reported a roughly $9 billion loss last year. It is dealing with the upcoming election in which we're expecting to see a massive surge in mail-in voting. What would you do to shore up the Post Office right now if anything?

Greenfield: Well, I can tell you, the Post Office is one of the most beloved services of Americans and I hear about it all the time here in Iowa. Veterans and seniors rely on it for their prescriptions, for their medications and I know lots of people still writing notes, I get them in the mail. But I'll tell you, I think the federal government should really look at what Iowa has done. We sent out absentee ballot request forms to every active registered voter and what happened was we had overwhelming turnout. 80% about of folks in the primary voted by absentee ballot. They liked it. It's a great way to vote at home, safely, conveniently. Of course there is voting booths in areas still open. And so I'd like to see the federal government do what Iowa is doing and what we're going to be doing here in November 2 which is sending out those absentee ballot request forms.

Yepsen: Given the delays that have occurred in the Post Office for whatever reason, lack of money, lack of staff, what should Iowans who are voting absentee ballots do differently, anything? Do democrats plan on any kind of special effort to react to that?

Greenfield: Well first off I think sending out the absentee ballot request forms is the first great step and it's a bipartisan step and I want to make sure Iowans know that. We as a group value voting, we want to make sure everybody has their voice heard and then I just really encourage people to vote early. The early period starts, request your form, you can do it now and get that absentee ballot in early to ensure that you don't have any concerns with the mail system or better yet drive over and drop it off at your county auditor's office.

Yepsen: What goes into a vote early effort like that?

Greenfield: Well, I think all get out the vote efforts require and are all about volunteers, grassroots supporters who are working to help advise people, encourage them to fill out a form, make sure that they are getting those forms, that they have received their ballot, that they know where they can take their ballot. It's a lot of education.

Henderson: There was a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign and the National and State GOP parties against Linn and Johnson County Auditors this week saying they have flouted state procedures by filling out the absentee ballot request forms they sent to residents in those counties. Do you think that they flouted the rules?

Greenfield: I think that protecting our election system is one of the most important things we can do and we shouldn’t be turning it into a bipartisan issue. We should be doing everything we can to make sure that it's easy for people to vote and if we are filling out those forms that makes it easier. I think the GOP to just get out of the state and let Iowa do it the way that we are doing it because we want to make sure that everybody has access to the ballot.

Yepsen: Go back to Joe Biden for a moment. Are there any policy areas where you disagree with him?

Greenfield: I have on the trail since I got into this race talked a lot about infrastructure and I've been pretty disappointed in both parties. We need a robust infrastructure package. But one of the things I will tell you that I think democrats are not talking enough about and we need to talk more about is community colleges, trade schools, apprenticeships. If you look at some of my policy plans whether it's small towns and bigger paychecks, we're emphasizing those. Now, I came out of the Farm Crisis pretty poor, a scrappy farm kid and I attended Iowa Lakes Community College and I took advantage of progressive leaders at that time. I was able to get a job at Pizza Hut, make a few bucks, pay my rent, my tuition, my room and board, all of that and get a beer on Friday night. And we know students can't do it and so my plan is to really emphasize debt free community college, make sure we're emphasizing and supporting apprenticeships so people can learn while they earn.

 Henderson: How do you pay for infrastructure? You mentioned infrastructure at the beginning of that answer. How do you pay for it? Do you raise taxes? How far do you go? Do you have sort of a nationwide broadband that is public instead of private?

Greenfield: So, Kay, we do need a robust infrastructure plan for this entire country, great example here in Iowa, we are 60th in the nation in bridge suitability. That's horrible. And what I know from working as a city planner for 14 years, neighborhood groups, planning commissions, city councils, town boards, working with all those local elected leaders is that broken bridges they're not republican and they're not democrat, they need to be fixed. And we need leaders that want to roll up their sleeves and figure out how we're not only going to fix those bridges but how we're going to bring broadband to everyone. So when it comes to infrastructure that's an investment that we make in our communities to make sure we have a high quality of life and can provide those services. And so we need to invest.

Yepsen: Let's continue on with more of the specific issues of the campaign, climate change. What do you want to do about it?

Greenfield: We have to confront climate change and farmers are on the front line of that. In my Fair Shot for Farmers Plan where I address five key points, trade, ethanol and other things, there is a section on conservation and we need to be investing and make sure that conservation efforts here in our state absolutely are an economic driver for our rural communities and our farmers. We have to reduce our carbon footprint. We have to end the go it alone approach and get back into international accords so that we can meet these goals. And my plan also really set the goal to make sure that we here in the United States are the first net zero ag industry in the world.

Yepsen: It's easy for politicians to say we have to do something about carbon. But the specifics of that get a little tougher. Carbon tax, how do you feel about that?

Greenfield: I think it's one of the things people aren't talking about. What I'm looking at and focusing on are the things that we can do right here to benefits Iowans. So for example, I believe about 50% of our wind energy, our electricity comes from wind energy. Let's move that to 100% and then let's make those investments to move the entire nation to 100% because we have wind and that is an asset that we can share. We also have land and that is why I focus on conservation and making that investment, that economic opportunity for our farmers and land owners because there's a great opportunity to sequester carbon. So I'm focusing on the things that we can do right here in Iowa because I think that's what Iowans care the most about.

Yepsen: What do we do about the methane that is produced in our state by the cattle industry?

Greenfield: Yeah, the fifth point on my plan was to invest in research whether that is research that extends to the ethanol and biofuel industries to aviation and to boating or whether we have some research investment into our land grant universities to grow our bio-based manufacturing or to your point taking some of that pig --

Yepsen: Methane.

Greenfield: Yeah, and turning it into an energy resources that is a benefit to Iowans and to our country. And we can do that but we've got to make those research investments.

Henderson: Ethanol has become an issue in your race with Senator Ernst. Why would you be a more effective proponent of ethanol as a U.S. Senator than Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst? The ethanol industry was not particularly happy with what the Obama administration did in regards to ethanol policy.

Greenfield: Well, I got in this fight to put Iowa first. Again, I'm a product of the Farm Crisis. I watched the great devastation, the decisions that got made in Washington. I remember the Russian Grain Embargo, I remember tractors rolling into Washington, D.C. and right now between haphazard trade and reckless tariffs and the Ernst ethanol policies, net farm income was down 75% in 2013. Bankruptcy rates are at an 8 year high. I'm going to be a Senator that puts Iowa first. It's really important that Iowans understand that Senator Joni Ernst has put her big corporate donors first. She has taken over $2 million dollars of corporate PAC donations, much of it from big oil and then she voted for one of their guys to head the EPA and the EPA has issued those 85 waivers with more than 50 pending.

Yepsen: But if Joni Ernst and the republicans are so bad for rural America why does rural America keep voting republican?

Greenfield: I can't speak to the rest of rural America --

Yepsen: What about here in Iowa?

Greenfield: You bet. I think Iowans are independent thinkers and they're independent voters and I intend to take every bit of my scrappy farm girl and my grit and resolve which is rooted right here in rural America to ask for every vote and fight for every vote in this state. It is clear they are independent voters and thinkers. We voted for democratic Senator Tom Harkin for 30 years and at the same time re-elected and voted for republican Senator Chuck Grassley. And I think that is one of the things that Joni Ernst did wrong, she told us she was going to be independent and different and make them squeal. But when she went to Washington she sided with her corporate donors, not Iowans. No one is squealing in Washington.

Pfannenstiel: Vice President Mike Pence was in town this week and he was making an appeal directly to farmers but he also spoke as well to law enforcement officers. Iowa, just like everywhere across the country, has seen protests following the death of George Floyd. So what can democrats appeal both to people seeking racial justice but also to law enforcement officers who feel that the pendulum may have shifted and they also feel under attack?

Greenfield: Sure, sure. Well, absolutely we have to end systemic racism and police brutality but it doesn't stop there. And I think the Black Lives movement in particular is talking about and advancing those conversations about ending that kind of discrimination in education, in housing, in health care. Right here in Iowa, let's give an example, maternal mortality rates are six times higher for the black community. So we have an awful lot of work to do. And for me I think we need to talk about those kinds of reforms whether it's in police, housing, lending, education and that is what I'll be focused on.

Yepsen: What do you do about -- did I interrupt? What do you do about immigration? It's related to the racial justice issue. Here you have Iowa where there's a lot of bias against Latinos and people of Hispanic ancestry and yet at the same time these are the people who are fueling the workforce for agricultural industry, for meatpacking plants and egg plants. How does a political leader speak to Iowans about that inconsistency?

Greenfield:  Our immigration system is broken and we need to take a look at the whole system and we need to modernize it, we need to make it more humane, of course we need to focus on border security. We've got to keep families together. And I will tell you, I really like some of the ideas being put forward by the Iowa Compact on immigration which is a bipartisan group of business leaders really taking on that tough conversation. But what it requires is leaders that will lead and want to have those difficult conversations and work in a bipartisan fashion to reform immigration.

Yepsen: Another issue is health care. What do we do about it?

Greenfield: Health care. It is the number one topic I hear on the trail, it really is.  It doesn't matter if it's cost for premiums, deductibles, out of pocket expenses, it's prescription drug prices, especially our folks that rely on Medicare talk to me about it, so do rural hospitals and rural health care systems. And again, just to go back to Iowa, we are seeing labor and delivery units close over and over and over again making it harder for families --

Henderson: So Medicare for all? Yes or no?

Greenfield: No, not at all.

Henderson: Why not?

Greenfield: Well, I believe health care is a right for everyone but I think and believe we need to strengthen and enhance the Affordable Care Act. We've got a lot of tools in the tool chest right there. But we also need to build in a public option that creates competition and COVID will show you why we need to do that. If you relied on employer based health insurance and you have lost your job or your hours have been cut back and you can't afford it we need a public option so that every Iowan can have access to high quality, affordable health care.

Henderson: China has become an issue on the campaign trail as well. Are you concerned about the products that the Chinese are making and shipping to the country? Do you think the U.S. should quit buying made in China?

Greenfield: China has been a bad actor and I've been saying that since I got in the race and we need to be tough on China. In both of my plans we talk about buying American but also being global leaders. We need to work together with our global partners and allies. This go it alone approach that we have, it has been devastating for Iowa's farmers, Iowa's small towns, Iowa's manufacturers. And so we need to work together in a global fashion and get tough on China.

Henderson: Do you have a TikTok on your phone?

Greenfield: No. I don't even think I know what it is.

Yepsen: Another issue in this country, we're running out of time here, income inequality. How do you deal with that issue?

Greenfield: That's right, it's one of those systemic things that we need to deal with and I do hear about on the trail. I'll tell you what, I was a young widow at the age of 24 and after my husband died I relied on Social Security and those hard earned benefits to help me get back on my feet along with my husband's union benefits. And so he was a union member and he was highly trained, he had an apprenticeship program where he earned while he learned and that meant that he was making great wages and saving for a dignified retirement. And I'll tell you what, we need to make sure that everyone has that opportunity. And so my plans really focus on debt free community college and expanding those apprenticeships, but also on the front end universal pre-K so every child is going to school and has that opportunity to be ready to learn so that they'll be successful on the other end. That way people can earn living wages or start their own small businesses and have a real fair shot at their American dream.

Yepsen: What about a guaranteed income the way Andrew Yang described it, pay everybody $1000?

Greenfield: I think Iowans like to work hard and I want to make sure that they have the skills to do just that and earn living wage jobs, start their businesses and follow their American dreams.

Yepsen: Back to the health care issue, prescription drugs, elaborate a little bit on how we solve that problem.

Greenfield: Well, the first thing we do is we elect a Senator that is going to support Medicare negotiating for prescription drug prices. Senator Joni Ernst has opposed that, she doesn't support it, that's for sure. And that would bring those prices down for our seniors immediately, but also it's estimated could save the rest of us about $500 billion in drug prices. So right there is the very first thing we should do.

Yepsen: And I have to end our conversation there because we're out of time.

Greenfield: No questions about Ringo?

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Yepsen: Thank you, Theresa Greenfield, for being with us today.

Greenfield: Absolutely, Dave, great to be here. Kay, Brianne, nice to see you.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week for another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, Friday night at 7:30 and again at Noon on Sunday. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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