Podcast

On this edition of Iowa Press, J.D. Scholten (D - Sioux CIty), the Democratic candidate for Congress in Iowa's 4th District, discusses his second campaign for the office.

Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, and Caroline Cummings, political reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group.

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

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As the calendar flips to October, a contentious election cycle is only weeks away from conclusion. We sit down with 4th District democratic congressional candidate J.D. Scholten 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. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.

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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, October 2 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

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Yepsen: Iowa's role as a toss-up state has been cemented again this week by public polling and a contentious back and forth between candidates in races for U.S. Senate and House. In Iowa's sprawling 4th Congressional District, which includes communities in Central and Northwest Iowa, democrats are hoping to break through a republican registration advantage. Iowa PBS pursued debates in all 4 of Iowa's congressional districts as well as the U.S. Senate race. Our Iowa Press Debate series will conclude Monday night with a total of 4 out of 5 races being broadcast. In the 4th District, republican candidate Randy Feenstra declined our debate invitation. But his opponent, democrat J.D. Scholten, accepted. Mr. Scholten, now running for this seat in his second congressional election, joins us now for our regular edition of Iowa Press. Mr. Scholten, welcome.

Scholten: Thank you for having me.

Yepsen: Good to have you with us. Journalists joining us across the table are Caroline Cummings, Political Reporter for Sinclair Broadcasting and Kay Henderson is News Director at Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Mr. Scholten, I checked the voter registration in the 4th Congressional District, republicans have a 77,000 vote edge over democrats as of October 1st. What do you say to those republicans who are reluctant to vote for you?

Scholten: Well, last cycle we moved the needle 24 points, which is third most in the nation, and we got 25,000 more votes than there are even registered democrats. And so we do have this crossover appeal. And I think one of the biggest strengths of our campaign, both last cycle and this cycle, is showing up. And whether it' showing up at this show, and thank you for having me, but it's also showing up in town to town. We went to all 39 counties at least 3 times last cycle. Last fall we did the Don't Forget About Us Tour, where we went into towns of under 1,000 people and did town halls there in every county. And then now we're going to every single town, all 374 towns in the district. And in doing so that is where you connect with people. And so many Iowans are free thinkers, they vote on the person and not the candidate, I'm sorry, they vote on the person, not the party and so that is what we're doing, going out and building relationships.

Cummings: But does not having Steve King as your opponent make it more difficult for you this go around?

Scholten: I think a lot of people thought that was the case. But what we're seeing is two contrast styles of campaigning. You see Senator Feenstra not getting out there where we're going out there. We feel we match up against Feenstra better than we did against King. King, with all the controversy, if you take that aside which isn't easy to do, but when you do you have an anti-establishment person and our campaign is very grassroots campaign and anti-establishment. We turned down even the DCCC's money and their help in the campaign. We want this race to be run out of Sioux City, Iowa and not Washington, D.C.

Cummings: But, acknowledging the discrepancies with the voter registration, do you regret not running for the U.S. Senate seat?

Scholten: I don't regret anything. We had some unfinished business to do and I want to be representative for the 4th Congressional District, I love that district and getting to sleep in every different state park right now in Sioux City, it's pretty great.

Yepsen: What do you say, if Randy Feenstra were here he would say you're too liberal to represent Northwest Iowa. You vote with Nancy Pelosi to organize the House. That's the attack that republicans would make on a democrat in that district.

Scholten: Well, he's pretty extreme. That is the bigger thing. And when it comes to this district, there are some issues that just are Iowa issues. And we're going around talking to every single person. We've talked with so many farmers and grain elevators and ethanol plants, we even went to a lavender farm in Harrison County and so many people are saying the same thing, they're trying to do everything right and struggling to get ahead. And so especially when it comes to agriculture right now, farmers during this beautiful harvest right now, it is amazing to talk to all these people who are doing every single thing right but not being able to have a chance and even make cost of production. Last week we were up in Palo Alto County. Roger Walker is the last dairy farmer in Palo Alto County and just going on this farm and having him have to adjust in life, his brother has never taken a vacation, 57 years old and according to Roger he’s never had a date and this guy, the only thing he knows is milking cows and yet here we are and it's all policy driven.

Henderson: Well, let’s talk about some of those policies. On a related note, we've had worrisome news on this Friday morning when we're taping it, President Trump and the First Lady have contracted the coronavirus. How do you think that diagnosis will and should change the discussion about pandemic protocols?

Scholten: Well, first of all, my prayers go to the President and the First Lady and hoping for a speedy recovery. I think what it shows is that this pandemic and this virus doesn't discriminate and it doesn't matter the color of your skin, it doesn't matter how wealthy you are, you have a chance to pick this up if you're not safe. And so I'm hoping to the people who still are fighting masks and different things like that, I hope it raises the awareness of that and shows, the CDC and experts say we're eight weeks away at any single point from getting over this and getting over the hump like most countries have done. Yet we have this one foot in and one foot out approach and we haven't had a national direction on how to, a national plan that is based on science.

Henderson: So do you think there should be a national mask mandate?

Scholten: I think there should be a national plan. We were all willing to commit in March to stay home and there was never that next step. And so we have this one foot in, one foot out approach that just continues to prolong it.

Cummings: There is a lot of back and forth in Washington of a coronavirus relief package. What would you prioritize in a stimulus bill?

Scholten: One of the biggest things is testing. We've got to make sure we have more robust testing and as part of a solution of, how do we get out of this? When it comes to so many small businesses we're talking to are really struggling right now, a lot of even ethanol plants haven't been part of the equation when it comes to agriculture and helping folks get through this. And so those are some of the areas I would like to focus on.

Yepsen: Economic development. In that district that spells broadband. What should be done to develop and expand the use of broadband in that district? We've talked about it for years in our state but it is key to economic growth. What do we do?

Scholten: This pandemic has put a spotlight absolutely on this. And we stopped at different telecom companies and co-ops and they all say the same thing, the data maps are off. And the reason they're off is because we have, this gets back to anti-trust, you have the big ones, the big companies out in D.C., they are able to lobby, they are able to manipulate or whatever with the laws and everything, and so what we're seeing there might be a town that is covered but that farm outside of town, that last mile is pretty costly. One of these big companies might say hey, we bought the rights to it, but then they won't give it access because it's not feasible economically. And so that is part of the issue. And so one of the biggest things we don't need, I feel so many people are trying to be the first one saying, I did this and I did that. We need to come together. This pandemic has shown that whether it's telemedicine, whether it's education, whether it's for these small businesses to compete, this is the way that we need to make sure going forward coming out of this.

Yepsen: But do we do it through regulations, the government passes regulations? Or can we do it through subsidies, the government gives out grants? How do we get that last mile, that last farm on broadband?

Scholten: So this is what the telecom companies and co-ops have told me is that there are plenty of grants out there but there's 40 different ones and so there's not a cohesive unit or one single place where you can apply for it because you can apply here but there's also this one and there's all this confusion in this. So we just need to have a one system that folks can apply to. But one of the biggest issues is you have these huge companies that oversee it and they are pricing out these small local guys who know how to do it. And so we need to include these local broadband and these local rural telecom co-ops.

Henderson: You just mentioned anti-trust a few moments ago. That means monopolies. If elected, what would you support in Congress to break up so-called monopolies, what industries?

Scholten: So this is clear in agriculture. You look at every single sector of agriculture and there's just a handful of companies that control it. We had this same battle literally 100 years ago in 1920, the big 5 were broken up in packers and they controlled 45% of the market share. Right now in hogs, 4 companies control 70% of the market share. Right now in cattle, 4 companies control 85% of the market share. And as a result they are pricing our farmers out. So this pandemic has put a spotlight on this. We have consumers paying the most we ever have for meat. We have workers in Sioux City at the processing plants getting the same wage as when my family moved from Nevada to Sioux City in 1984 and we have farmers getting squeezed. And so my campaign is trying to build this coalition of consumers, of workers and of farmers. And it is so clear, every politician loves to talk about, especially here in Iowa, I'm pro-farmer. But you're not pro-farmer when you take all this money from these monopolies that are squeezing out people here on the farm. Farmers have the largest debt they have ever had. And when you go, especially the way we have in all 374 towns, going from town to town, farm to farm, talking to so many people that this affects, it doesn't matter political spectrum, all over the political spectrum whether you're democrat, republican, independent, they have all said the same thing, when I mentioned anti-trust in agriculture they said, you're exactly right. And so what this administration has done is it has ripped out GIPSA.

Yepsen: And what is GIPSA?

Scholten: It's the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration. It used to be a standalone entity but now it's under the division that it's supposed to be overseeing. So we need to allow our farmers to stay on their land and make a dim and that is empowering the farmer.

Cummings: What about the future of ethanol? Can farmers continue to bet on that given the changing way of the world with electric cars and trying to move away from fossil fuels?

Scholten: So, we've talked with so many ethanol plants on this tour, going to all 374 towns, and one of the things I ask every one of them is, where do you see ethanol in 20 years? Nobody can give me a straight answer. And so I've met with the California Air Resource Board and they dictate things, where the industry goes probably more than what happens out in D.C. And they have said that in order to get carbon neutral or decarbonize as a nation, renewable fuels have to be part of that equation. We don't get there alone just on electric vehicles. And so that is music to our farmer's ears. But at the same time we have this administration that is completely undercut the ethanol industry and we've had over 150 plants become either idle or lower their production. And so we've got to have a future for them. I want to see a low carbon fuel standard and I think that is a good way to go moving forward.

 Cummings: On the issue of carbon and reducing climate change, what else needs to be done to stem that?

Scholten: I think two things. One, absolutely we need to enforce our anti-trust laws, empower the farmers and right now we're asking our farmers and we're talking with them about soil health, you're seeing that more and more prevalent, whether it's the derecho this year or the flooding last year, more and more of these extreme weather -- heck, up in Sioux County they said don't harvest right now because of the dry nature and because of the winds. I've never heard that before. And so it's enforcing our anti-trust laws, but it's also making policies and incentivizing them for ways that we can either take carbon out of the air and put it in our soil and create soil health, whether that is having cover crops, whether it's putting in buffer strips, all these things. But we can't ask farmers to do it when they're not even making cost of production. So I feel we need to have an on ramp for them and then long-term we need to pay our farmers for their environmental services.

Henderson: What role should the federal government have, if any, in water quality regulation?

Scholten: Well, I feel that there needs to be some common sense approach about this. I feel going forward we would have more water quality if we did pay our farmers for their environmental services, if we create those buffer strips, if we take the power away from these huge corporations who don't live here, they worry about their profits, and we give that power back to the farmer, empower the American farmer and the Iowa farmer.

Cummings: The Affordable Care Act may be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Is the country ready for Medicare for All?

Scholten: I think they are. I think it is clear that this system is not working. As we are going from town to town to town and, again, Lord knows we do our part in the RV for the ethanol industry keeping that alive, but almost every gas station has a donation box for someone who just got sick or someone who had just gotten out of the hospital. The amount of GoFundMe's, the amount of just pancake breakfasts that you see communities have to pay for medical expenses. And so what I see, my push is for universal health care. Now, it might take steps to get there whether it's a robust public option, if the ACA gets taken away that is a completely different game plan than what is happening right now. But as of right now, if the robust public option is the next logical step I want to continue to fight beyond that so we also include dental and mental and make it easier on people. One of my mentors, an attorney that I used to work with when I Was a paralegal, a very successful attorney, money wasn't an issue, four months into chemotherapy his insurance company told him that his doctor is no longer in his network. That is just a travesty. We've got to change the way the system is.

Yepsen: Kay asked a question about the role of the federal government. I want to ask you something about the role of the federal government in wind power. There is a lot of controversy developing in our state in that district over these wind turbines. Does the federal government have a role? Is there something more we should be doing as a state?

Scholten: Well, I feel investing in renewable resources like wind, I see solar as being the next wave of something bigger and what we can go towards, but as far as what the federal government does, I think it is more investing in a long-term plan and then having more local control.

Henderson: How do you make sure that Caroline gets Social Security?

Scholten: That's a good question and Social Security is more and more being on the chopping block and it's being more and more talked about. I feel the number one thing we need to do is scrap the cap. The cap is limited at $130,000 --

Yepsen: This is the cap, you pay Social Security tax on the first $137,000 of income and then after that you don't.

Scholten: I think it's fair to at least raise it if not get rid of it so everybody, if you make a million dollars, then the rest from $137,001 all the way to a million dollars is taxed into that. Then we will have plenty of money for Social Security.

Yepsen: What about raising the retirement age?

Scholten: I am not for that. I feel if we get rid of the scrap the cap, I feel will be plenty. We need to protect Social Security and expand it.

Cummings: Iowa State and a slew of other private colleges are in your district. What is the answer to students facing mountains of debt out of college?

Scholten: I think we need to invest in some sort of debt assistance program. But this is crippling a generation. So many kids I know that we talk about hey, go to college, get that education and then the come out but I think one of the big problems is the reality of the district. You look at Sioux City. We send our kids off to college, you come back and when I moved back a few years ago the best job I could find is $15 an hour and no benefits looking in the Sioux City Journal. And so right now we keep on adding to the tuition and saying, we've passed the buck on to the students, and we've got to realize that if we're going to, the rest of our lives, all of our lives, we're going to have an economic challenge against China and if we're going to have that vision of what are we going to do we've got to have the workforce that matches the moment and in order to have that workforce we need the educated workforce. And so we've got to invest in free college, community college. I'm for debt free college at universities. We've got to invest in Pell Grants. Education is the best way to get return on investment for a future in our economy.

Yepsen: Immigration. That's a very divisive issue in our society. What do you do about undocumented workers? One of the problems we have in this state is there are a lot of people who don't like undocumented workers. At the same time, rural economies depend on those workers for low, for cheap sources of labor, dairy, hogs. So what do you do about illegal immigration in Iowa and in the country?

Scholten: So a couple of things. I think the 4th District made a really good decision on the first step of this and that is getting rid of Congressman King. The second step is these folks, a lot of these folks work at places that were deemed essential during this pandemic. How on one side do we see these people as essential and then on the other side we demonize them? It's wrong. And so whether you're a man of faith or a woman of faith or not we're just Americans in general, we're a welcoming society. And what we're doing in the 4th District in allowing, we need to have a common sense approach to this. And so what I want to see, especially first thing we need to do is pass the Dream Act to keep up the promise that we had. When it comes to visa programs, our visa programs tend to match the coasts and their agricultural needs more than our needs here. Let's have a visa program that matches our needs. Let's have a pathway to residency to allow folks who want to work here but don't want to become citizens, let's allow that. And then let's have a pathway to citizenship if they want to earn the right to be here.

Yepsen: Are there any communities in the district that are getting it right? I'm thinking of Storm Lake, for example.

Scholten; Storm Lake tonight, we were supposed to have, I wasn't going to be there but my campaign was going to have a rally there, a family event, it wasn't even a rally, just a family event to bring in a lot of the Latino community. We have our texting program and we reached out to folks. There was somebody who was going to come and he said he was going to come with his Trump flags and his Confederate flags and we brought this attention to the police and the city manager, we ended up having to cancel the event because there wasn't enough resources there to make sure that the people who were going were prevented. And so we do have deep issues in this state on this issue. And so I feel that it's something that we need to figure out solving this problem.

Henderson: The Post Office, should it be expanded and become a mini-bank or should it be privatized?

Scholten: It definitely shouldn't be privatized. It is extremely important to a lot of these rural communities. We're going into town of under 100 people and when it's open, even if it's only an hour or two a day, it is extremely important to a lot of these rural, it's a lifeline to a lot of these rural communities and farms. And so I would be interested in looking if we can add banking into some of this. I know there's a lot of struggles with banking and the unbanked in rural America right now.

Yepsen: Gun violence. What do we do in our society to limit the amount of gun violence while at the same time protecting people's rights to keep and bear arms?

Scholten: I think this notion of gun safety or the Second Amendment is a false choice. I think there is an absolute combination that we can have on this. And I think it starts with my campaign we have five campaign promises that we hand out a baseball card to everybody that we see and on the back it has five campaign promises. The 5th one is secure our democracy from the special interests that are dictating it. And right now you see the special interests, the gun advocates having their way out in D.C. When 97% of Americans are for universal background checks and it's not passing in D.C. it shows a failure of our democracy. And so one of the things I would like to see is protecting the reputation of responsible gun owners and any time there is a suicide or gun violence it hurts that reputation.

Yepsen: We've got just a minute left and I wanted to ask you, you said you have visited all 374 --

Scholten: On Tuesday we'll hit the 374 --

Yepsen: What do we call that, a full Scholten?

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Yepsen: Okay, so what have you learned?

Scholten: I learned that there is an economic pain outside of Des Moines in this state and in the 4th District we haven't bounced back since the 2008 economic crisis. We have wealth just getting sucked out and we have -- one of the biggest things I learned at the every town tour last fall where we did it in towns of under a thousand people, local grocery stores are struggling and we have Dollar General coming in and undercutting sales at these local grocery stores, stores that have been there 50, 60or so years that have sponsored local baseball teams and been part of the community, Dollar General comes in, undercuts them and Dollar General offers $8, $9 an hour, the money spent there goes out of state -- go to Wall Street, they have these huge tax incentives and so we've got to find a way to revitalize rural America. We do it by enforcing our anti-trust laws. We could be the epicenter, we as the 4th Congressional District could be the epicenter of 21st century resilient agriculture and we get there by adding technology to the district, with broadband and different things. But we have to enforce our anti-trust laws.

Yepsen: And I have to enforce the clock. Mr. Scholten, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us.

Scholten: I appreciate you having me.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week to conclude our special Iowa Press Debates. On Monday, October 5th, 3rd Congressional District candidates David Young and Cindy Axne will join us for a live one-hour debate here at Iowa PBS and online at iowapbs.org. That's Iowa Press 3rd Congressional District Debate on Monday, October 5 live at 8:00 p.m. 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. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.

Iowa Bankers Association
Associated General Contractors of Iowa