Iowa Press Debates: Libertarian Gubernatorial Debate

May 25, 2018  | 27 min  | Ep 4537 | Podcast | Transcript


Republicans and democrats dominate the headlines as well as voter attention ahead of Primary Day. But Iowa Libertarians are holding a gubernatorial primary of their own. We sit down with a pair of Iowa Libertarian candidates on this special debate edition of Iowa Press.

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For decades, Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, May 25 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. 


Yepsen: When Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson received more than 2% of the Iowa vote in 2016, it paved the way for so-called major party status for the Libertarian Party in Iowa. Under state law, the party can hold official primary elections, including one for Governor of Iowa. Joining us at the Iowa Press table today are two candidates seeking the Libertarian Party nomination. Jake Porter of Council Bluffs and Marco Battaglia of Des Moines. Gentlemen, welcome to Iowa Press. It's good to have you with us.

Porter: Great to be here.

Yepsen: Also joining us are Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director at Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Mr. Porter, let's start by telling viewers who may not be familiar. What is a libertarian?

Porter: Well, libertarians believe that you should be free to live your life as you see fit so long as you're not harming anyone else. I have to say we take the good from the democrats and republicans and we toss out the bad. Democrats tend to believe in more personal freedoms but fewer economic freedoms. Republicans tend to believe in more economic freedoms but fewer personal freedoms. And we believe in maximum personal and economic freedoms.

Henderson: Mr. Battaglia, you're shaking your head. Do you have anything to add?

Battaglia: I do agree with that. I would add political change through non-violent means, non-violent communication, no force people pointing guns at you, just a peaceful means of change.

Murphy: So gentlemen, tell us a little bit about yourselves and why you have decided to run for this office. Mr. Porter, introduce yourself to voters.

Porter: So I live over in Council Bluffs I'm a business consultant. In 2010 and 2014 I was the libertarian nominee for Iowa Secretary of State, both times got over 30,000 votes in those races, I did very well I think. I served on the Libertarian National Committee as an alternate and I also have worked as Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Iowa. So I do business consulting over there, I understand politics pretty well and I've been traveling the state since last July.

Murphy: Mr. Battaglia, how about yourself?

Battaglia: Yeah, I never thought I would wind up being a politician, I still don't feel like one. I've worked for over a decade for local, state and federal political campaigns and I really just was inspired by getting someone out there and getting a name out there in the race that is not kind of a Plutocrat or someone that has been a politician their whole life, just getting an Iowan out there.

Murphy: So tell us, this is a primary for the party's nomination for Governor, and important for the party in that you need 2% of the vote to remain recognized as an official party and remain on the ballot in the next election. So why are each one of you the better candidate to earn that level of support that the party needs, starting with you, Mr. Porter?

Porter: Well, I've ran for office before. Both times I got enough votes that we would keep major party status with that. So I've got the experience to do that. I've also got more media coverage. I've been doing this for quite a while now. And the endorsement from the Des Moines Register in the primary the other day. So I think I'm the right candidate to take this message across Iowa.

Murphy: How about you, Mr. Battaglia, why are you the right person to keep this party's flag flying?

Battaglia: I think what we have is organization all throughout the state and we've had allies throughout the state. That's how I got on the ballot when even some democrats and republicans failed in their campaigns to meet that step. I've been at different types of gatherings and protests throughout the state. My dad grew up on a farm just across the northern border. And my mom immigrated here from Italy. So I have a lot of different communities that have reached out to me and it has been great. I think it is really, there's this wave of people that don't want your status quo politician and I am definitely not that.

Yepsen: Let's start talking about some of the issues. Help a libertarian who wants to vote for one of you on the issue of taxes. Mr. Battaglia, what is your position on taxes?

Battaglia: We need to address the tax code immediately and I actually quite agreed with Ron Corbett when he was in the race on that. Our tax code is not that far off from the absurd tax code of the federal government.

Yepsen: So what do you want to do?

Battaglia: My tax plan does call for a phase out of the income tax entirely. This is gradual and we do add numerous revenue sources before we really can accomplish that.

Yepsen: Mr. Porter, what is your position on taxes?

Porter: Well, I think the first thing we need to do is look at the budget. The budget is in crisis right now. The state is stealing money from the emergency funds every year to continually have these, they don't project right, and so they end up, what they do is they steal money from the emergency funds or they do these midyear budget cuts. So they have already allocated money and then they're telling departments and agencies that we've got to cut this back. They don't even pay tax refunds on time right now because the money is not in the treasury. Now, they may lie and say, well for security reasons we're withholding your tax refunds. The truth is they don't have the money in the treasury. The first thing we need to do is to address the spending before we start to get into taxes. I'm a fan of eventually phasing out the Iowa sales tax over time. But before we even get to that I want to address spending first.

Yepsen: Well, let's talk about this. You want to phase out the sales tax, Mr. Porter. Mr. Battaglia, you want to phase out the income tax. What is wrong with the other guy's position here? What are the merits of this? Mr. Porter?

Porter: Well, I think one, to get something through the legislature you're going to have to have consensus of both democrats, republicans and libertarians and multiple people. Also when you look at the sales tax, my plan the local option sales tax would stay around, we cannot undo that. The local governments should be able to set their own tax rates as far as that goes. But what we can do is we can phase that out and we look at who the sales tax primarily impacts and that is the poorest Iowans. It creates a lot of problems. It creates problems with people lifting themselves out of poverty because everything that you buy, or pretty much everything that you buy with the exception of food, is going to be taxed with the sales tax.

Yepsen: Mr. Battaglia, if you phase out the income tax, you're going to have to go someplace for the money, aren't you? Would you raise the sales tax?

Battaglia: I don't disagree with anything he has said. I'm not really a fan of the sales tax either. But I have studied the make-up of the legislature and that is really why I threw my hat inthe ring. I think a lot of our active legislators and people that are running in this cycle want the Governor to have a bolder plan. Right now it's just this incremental phase out where we don't really see the end game of no income tax. We do have a place, an example in the country of New Hampshire, that actually has no income tax and no sales tax, so it is an achievable goal and they still have top notch education, world class health care, affordable by the standards of the rest of the country.

Henderson: Mr. Porter, if you look at the Libertarian Party of Iowa's website, one of your five core goals is to legalize marijuana. Would you tax it? Would it be available in that scenario that you're outlining for recreational use?

Porter: Okay, so first of all, the Governor is not a dictator and so we need to get that understood and make sure that I don't think that I'm going to be dictating on day one. That's something that would have to go through the legislature. I would encourage them to, if nothing else, to start out with decriminalization. I don't think we should really be putting people and spending state resources to put people in jail, especially with our prison populations over capacity as it is, expected to go up to 142% capacity. Is marijuana something we should really be focused on? I would be in favor of legalizing it and taxing it as well. But like I say, that's something that would have to go through the legislature and that's important that we run more people for legislature and also elect more libertarians for that.

Henderson: Mr. Battaglia?

Battaglia: Yeah, the time is here to be bold because I've heard from thousands of Iowans since starting my campaign on this issue and I personally got in here because I know Iowans, I know a mother that it works wonders for her child to stop his seizures, I know a man that died in prison for simply making his own medicine and other Iowans that have pleaded to me. And what I want to stress is we, in this state we need a Governor that is passionate on cannabis and hemp, ending those prohibitions, because that's the only way it's going to move. It either has to get signed by the Governor or the appointments that the Governor makes are going to have to make those changed to the scheduled items.

Yepsen: Just so I'm clear, you both would favor legalizing marijuana period, for recreational use and medicinal use.

Battaglia: Yes, my plan is actually I was happy to see it comparable to one of my protégé’s from an early age, Dennis Kucinich, who is also running for Governor in his state. It was a complete end to prohibition of hemp and cannabis and also expunge their records of any Iowans that have been charged with non-violent crimes related to those things.

Murphy: Gentlemen, in the theme of the Libertarian Party's stance on personal liberties, the national party's platform says abortion should be, that decision should be left to the individual. Are we talking about, do libertarians, do each of you believe there should be no regulations on abortion? Should that be the mother's decision all the way through a pregnancy? Mr. Battaglia?

Battaglia: I have made it clear I agree with the plank. I want to see fewer abortions but I think the way we get there is sound economics, sound money, lift more Iowans out of poverty, reduce their tax burden and also education. What I spoke at a Planned Parenthood event, I was the only non-democrat and I think a lot of people appreciated that. But yes, I want to see fewer abortions, it has to be a choice at the end of the day.

Murphy: Mr. Porter, no regulations at all on that?

Porter: Well, let's first of all define that not all libertarians are going to agree. This is one issue that we do disagree on. And we could make a libertarian argument both ways. Now, the way I look at it though as we look at countries like Chile where this has been done before where we have had outlaws, prohibitions, they don't work. Even when we had prohibition here in Iowa of abortion it actually did not decrease the amount of abortions, it led to very unsafe conditions. And when we look at laws like are going on right now eventually the state of Iowa is going to have to pay somebody else's attorneys whenever this gets shot down in court, which it almost certainly will. So we've got to look at that. And do we really want to investigate every miscarriage that happens? I think abortion is an important moral issue. I think it's something that we should discuss. But the idea that the government is going to step in here and somehow prohibit it and it's just magically going to stop, it's not going to work, it hasn't worked with marijuana, it didn't work with alcohol, it's not going to work with this.

Henderson: What about gambling? There is now an opportunity for states to offer sports gambling. Mr. Porter, do you think Iowa should legalize sports gambling? And if so, what sort of regulations, what sort of sports? Can we bet on high school teams?

Porter: I don't know about betting on high school teams. But I think we should go ahead and legalize it because it's going to happen anyway, it is happening. We can go ahead and legalize that. Now, we also have to realize that I think gambling is something that is not a good idea to do. I personally would not do it and I would not be in support of people doing it. But if they're going to I don't think the state should necessarily tell them no.

Henderson: And tax it?

Porter: Yeah, we could tax it, yes.

Henderson: Mr. Battaglia?

Battaglia: I do agree with several people from all over the political spectrum on we need to have funds to help people that are suffering from the MCO situation, from the mental health situation, we need more spending there. And we're not going to be able to do that if we don't find new innovative ways to bring in revenue. The Supreme Court, I was so happy, I've actually been happy with a lot of things they've been doing lately, and they're leaving this up to the states. So I think we need to jump on quickly. My platform calls for allowing for sports betting and also online poker. Friends that have made livings through online poker and I get these arguments on the trail of a poor tax or something of that nature and to me the state lotto or the slot machine is a lot more of a poor tax than actual sports betting or online poker. These things already happen. Look at the amount of money people spend on the Super Bowl. This is an insane amount of revenue that most people can agree with.

Murphy: How about on gun regulations? If I read the national platform correctly it sounds like the party is against basically any type of restriction on the Second Amendment. So does that include, am I understanding right, no need for permits, background checks, any of that kind of thing? Where do you two fall on what are reasonable firearm restrictions?

Battaglia: Where I stand on that is if we want to reduce gun violence we need to reign in the war on drugs now. I don't see an active legislation that is going on in Iowa that is going to stop any of these tragedies that have been happening. What this legislation is going to do is keep guns from people that don't have the means to do this kind of horrible --

Murphy: -- other things that are already on the books? Do you feel there's no need for requiring a permit to carry a weapon?

Battaglia; I honestly, I think that we're doing positive things in terms of that area. That is one area where I agree with the Governor on. Moving towards more freedom, concealed carry, even constitutional carry. I really think if our goal is safety and reducing gun violence there are things we can do that move away from some of the failed attempts at gun control.

Murphy: Mr. Porter, where do you fall on this?

Porter: Well, to address that, no I don't support more gun laws. But at the same time there are certain circumstances or instances where people should not be allowed to carry guns. And this, for example, those convicted of domestic assault, domestic violence, they should not be allowed to, obviously, for obvious reasons. And that brings up another issue too of a lot of these crimes are either not reported or never prosecuted. And a lot of times we're finding out they're just not being prosecuted. And so that is another issue. But definitely making sure that if you have used a gun or have violently taken action against your neighbor or someone else that you should not be allowed to.

Yepsen: But otherwise, other restrictions, other things Second Amendment, you should do --

Porter: No, I would not support additional legislation, no.

Battaglia: If I may add, I have met with law enforcement throughout the state and a reoccurring thing that they have told me is it is a problem they're running into guns on the street. But these are guns with the serial number scratched off, these are guns from straw buyers, these are guns that have been stolen from people's houses. So if we really are making sure people secure their guns and gun safety is a priority --

Henderson: The national platform emphasizes choice in education. Mr. Porter, if you were Governor would you sign a law establishing what is essentially a voucher system for K-12 education?

Porter: No I would not. I would take a look at what I would like to do on education is I'd like to make sure we have open enrollment because a lot of our rural schools, we're not going to see a lot of private schools open up, not very much population in a lot of these communities. I would like to make sure open enrollment stays where people can send their kids to whatever school they can. And I would also like to have more local control over education so the local school board as opposed to the state or federal government making a lot of requirements on education.

Henderson: Mr. Battaglia?

Battaglia: Yeah, I have a teacher on my team, a special education teacher from Woodward-Granger, I'm thrilled to have his input. I don't think that vouchers are ideal but I do really think, I have a problem and I would really go with a fine tooth comb over any legislation related to education because I feel like we're almost pitting home schooling, private charter schooling and public education against each other. I don't want to see those kind of funds mingle. I don't want to see any of, Iowans to see any of those paths that's not viable if that's what they choose. We've seen great people come out of all three or four of those things.

Henderson: There is a raft of state laws that require students to have vaccines before they enter school. Do you support those laws?

Battaglia: I think anything that the state is going to do, if there is harm involved it has to be a choice. I wouldn't support any kind of mandatory --

Henderson: Is there harm involved in immunizations?

Battaglia: Even if it's as simple as a bruise on your arm I believe it has to be a choice, it has to be voluntary. I'm not against a parent choosing whichever path they want to choose. I just think, like I saw the Secretary of State, not the Secretary of State, the Lieutenant Governor advertising flu shots on his social media and I just, I don't think that's the government's place.

Henderson: Mr. Porter?

Porter: Well, so I think, I don't think there's anything wrong with vaccines but I think it's more of an educational thing that we should educate people a little bit better rather than helping at the state because people are not going to follow what the state tells them a lot of times. So I don't think that is the solution. I think better education would be the solution for that.

Yepsen: Mr. Battaglia, if I have my child in a public school and someone with your point of view doesn't want to get your child inoculated, isn't your child now exposing a whole bunch of other kids to health care problems? Doesn't government have something to do with public safety and public health and well-being?

Battaglia: I want to leave that up to people's doctors and to local control. If the school, if the parents that send their kids to school decide that, that's different than the state mandating that you have to do this.

Yepsen: Mr. Porter, your child has a right to make mine sick?

Porter: No, absolutely not.

Yepsen: If you say it's optional --

Porter: What happens if that kid cannot have an immunization? What happens if it puts them at risk?

Yepsen: That's different. That's a medical condition.

Porter: That's a medical condition but they're still going to school with your kid.

Yepsen: Right, but there is a difference between someone with a medical condition and someone who just says, we don't want to do immunizations, we don't want to immunize our child.

Porter: But who decides that? Who decides that? If we're going to have government separated where they're not getting involved between the patient and the doctor, who makes that decision?

Yepsen: Who would? Would you take a majority vote of people in the classroom and decide everybody gets a vaccination or they don't?

Porter: Well, why not decide this at the local level?

Yepsen: Mr. Battaglia?

Battaglia: I would argue that our, take a look at the campaigns of all the recognized political parties in Iowa and that we have the most pro-science campaign, platform out of any of the parties. It's not so much that we disagree with all of the arguments on vaccination of either camp or any camp, it's more as simple as that, it's the same that doctors use to take an oath, if there's harm it's a choice.

Murphy: We're going to move on, gentlemen, and ask you about eminent domain. It has been used here in Iowa in some high profile instances regarding energy transmission lines and oil pipeline. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the libertarian view in general is to push back against the use of eminent domain. If that's the case, is there, are there instances where the use of eminent domain by government is acceptable? Mr. Porter?

Porter: There certainly is and I can think of one and that is where your property is causing harm to other people. So if you have an old building, for example, that is crumbling down, that's very unsafe, it's causing problems for your neighbors, that would be a case for eminent domain, obviously. Things like we've seen with the pipeline where we're using eminent domain to take someone's land or the rights to their land to give to a private corporation so they can make a profit or like we saw in other states where we're taking someone's private land so a developer can build something that they can make even more money off of, regardless of what you're going to do with it that's something wrong.

Murphy: Mr. Battaglia, is the use of eminent domain wrong in that case with the pipeline?

Battaglia: I think so. And another, the appointments that someone like a governor makes and nepotism, cronyism, run rampant and corruption in Iowa. I want to take these things on. I want boards and appointments that are, they definitely deserve the position they're going to be given. But we need more ballots, not three people that agree. And I actually think us as a country and a state need to review eminent domain and move it more towards the individual, supporting the individual over the corporation. I actually protested with the Tweedy's on their land in regards to the pipeline, I was on the front lines there, and also agreed with the Cleverley's on their eminent domain situation. So I have been on the front lines. I think we can move it a lot more towards protecting the property owner.

Henderson: We haven't much time left but I do want to ask you about an issue that a republican, who is libertarian leaning, Rand Paul, has talked about nationally, the need to reform laws which prevent felons from voting. What do you think Iowa law should be in regards to felon voting rights? Mr. Porter?

Porter: Well, this is actually the first thing I said on day one that I would do as Governor was sign an executive order restoring voting rights to anyone that has served their time, paid for their crime. I think it's very sad that we have about 25,000 Iowans that cannot get their voting rights restored, people that want to get back into society but they cannot because we have created a bureaucratic process that is almost next to impossible to get through and maybe a couple hundred people have actually had their voting rights restored. So I think that's a real shame, it's not very Iowa nice and it doesn't follow the state motto to do that.

Henderson: Mr. Battaglia, you're shaking your head again.

Battaglia: I agree wholeheartedly. Door knocking this comes up a lot. These are people that can't sign your petition, that can't vote for you, but want to. They're some of the most enthused people that someone is taking this on. Me and my running mate, Farica Robertson, criminal justice reform, civil justice reform, I think this can be a tri-partisan issue, a lot of principal democrats and principal republicans can agree and I would say 100% of libertarians can agree.

Murphy: Just a little bit of time left, I want to ask some political questions. We have two libertarian members sitting here running for Governor. There's only about another dozen candidates in the party for the other 125 legislative seats and other statewide offices. What needs to be done here? Why has there not been more party building to have more candidates running for office now that you're on the ballot?

Battaglia: What happened is we have been working every cycle since 1971 as a party to earn every debate access, every access to the polls, every access to the ballot. Kind of the polls is the last hurdle. If they put us in the polls I think you'll have libertarians winning left and right.

Murphy: Mr. Porter?

Porter: Yeah, there has been a lot of change obviously with the party. We are going to be announcing more candidates. We've got the special conventions where we can announce more candidates and run more candidates. A lot of it has been a lot of party building, we had to get the caucuses prepared for, we obviously want to make sure that we keep major party status. A lot of work is going into this race. I think we're going to run more, we're going to run people, city council may not be partisan but we're putting people in there, they do very well whenever they're in there and they can run for higher office.

Yepsen: We've got less than a minute. Give me the best sound byte, Mr. Battaglia. What is the most important thing you want a libertarian to remember about you?

Battaglia: Right now hemp and cannabis freedom for everyone in Iowa, people that want to use that as medicine, they need that. And also reduce the tax burden for all Iowans, not just rich or poor, all Iowans.

Yepsen: Mr. Porter?

Porter: I've got the experience, I've done this before. I can keep the major party status. I can get the media. I am endorsed by the Des Moines Register in this primary. So I think I am the best choice to take this message to the people of Iowa and keep doing that and keep our major party status.

Yepsen: Thank you both for being with us.

Porter: Thanks so much for having us. This is a great opportunity. I appreciate it.

Yepsen: Thank you. And thank you for joining us. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next week. On the eve of the 2018 Primary Elections we'll sit down with polling expert Ann Selzer. So join us for Iowa Press, 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday on Iowa PBS's main channel, with a rebroadcast Saturday morning on Iowa PBS World. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


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. 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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