Rep. David Young (R – Van Meter)

Dec 14, 2018  | 27 min  | Ep 4616 | Podcast | Transcript


November's elections ushered in two new Iowa congresswomen for the first time in history. Iowa's third district Congressman David Young narrowly lost re-election to one of them. We look back at a two-term tenure in Washington with republican David Young on this 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, December 14 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.  

Iowa's third congressional district, stretching from Des Moines westward to Council Bluffs encompasses 16 counties. On election night 2018, incumbent republican Congressman David Young received more votes than his opponent in 15 of those 16 counties. But high voter turnout in Iowa's most populous county, Polk County, pushed democratic challenger Cindy Axne to victory in the district. A month later Congressman Young is winding down a lame duck session as his two terms in the U.S. House come to an end. He joins us today at the Iowa Press table. Congressman, thanks for being back with us.

Young: It's always a pleasure. Thank you.

Yepsen: Good to see you. And across the table, Erin Murphy is Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Let's start by asking about this lame duck session. Will there be a government shutdown?

Young: Well, it's going to be, it has been a pretty active lame duck session already. We just got the Farm Bill done. And so the big issue is with the current continuing resolution expiring on the 21st what's going to happen after that? And so both sides, and I speak specifically with what we saw with the President, and then the Minority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader Pelosi have, things are kind of coming to a blow. And so the first thing I look for is just to find out what is in the appropriations bills that we have coming down the pike and measure that as a whole. But I don't think the first thing you should always look for and talk about is, is there going to be a shutdown. Vote not whether you want to shut down the government or not but vote on the policy that is coming before you.

Henderson: Well, the big issue for the President is enough money to build the wall. Is that something you support?

Young: I voted for the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill earlier this year which had the $5 billion in it for border security, a lot of it giving a green light for whatever amount of wall needs to be built. Whatever works at any given area that is what you need whether it's fencing, whether it's new technologies, Coast Guard down by San Diego, what have you. But I think the President and this Congress has to be very, very careful because if we push too hard this could go into next year and the President and those who support strong border security are going to get probably less than what they want.

Murphy: So, Congressman, you were in a very close election here. Your opponent won by roughly a percent or so in a district that you have won in the past by double digits. Was this just a two year setback? Should we expect you to run for office again in two years?

Young: Well, the first thing I want to do is finish out this session strong, make sure then my staff has a place to go and they have jobs. And then I'll kind of do a forensic analysis of the race. All doors are open for me but I'm not making any decision today.

Murphy: What will you be looking for when you do that forensic audit of the election results here? What will you be looking for to help you decide whether to run again?

Young: Well, you compare it to the last election cycle of 2016 and then the one before that and you just find out where the votes came from, where votes weren't as strong as you wanted them to be and whether or not a presidential season has that much of an impact or not. I think it tends to. But I don't think this is a real realignment of the district. It was a midterm election and so you're going against history, but the turnout in Polk County partly I think because Hubbell was on the ticket and he really worked that pretty hard to get that out. But I think there was an effect as well with the midterms and the party of the President not doing so well. That was a big issue.

Henderson: President Trump went to Council Bluffs, had a rally, invited you on stage and told the crowd a vote for David Young is a vote for me. Did that help you or hurt you?

Young: It's hard to tell but a vote for David Young is a vote for the third district as I've always said. And so I'm very, very proud of our work the last four years and it has been a great honor for this guy from Van Meter to be able to serve the four years that I did for the third district.

Henderson: You lived in D.C. and worked for two U.S. Senators including Chuck Grassley as Chief of Staff. Would you consider relocating, spending all your time in D.C. and taking a job as a lobbyist out there if you don't decide to run for re-election?

Young: Home is Van Meter. Home is Iowa. And the only reason I had done my work in Washington, D.C is that's where the capital is, that's where Congress is and that's where I was really able to really serve not only as a staffer for Senator Grassley but also as a member of Congress. And so I'm not answering too many phone calls regarding those who want me to go lobby or consult for them. I want to be home.

Yepsen: Congressman, I want to drill down into something you said a moment ago, the effect of Trump on the ticket. Do you think having Trump on the ticket is a help or hindrance to you? You have run both ways. Surely you have some idea of whether this was a good thing or a bad thing?

Young: Well, it's interesting because in 2016 the President won the district by about 3.5 points and I won it by 14 points and so I don't know if he needed me as much as I needed him or if it was a wash. But it's really, really hard to tell. The electorate right now is, we're all finicky when it comes to voting, and each cycle it can really change. And this was not a realignment but a real swing and I think you saw that a lot as well with independents.

Yepsen: Well, so to put a finer point on it, Fox News had a poll out this week and they show that maybe a third of Trump's 2020 voters don't want to vote for him, I'm sorry, 2016 voters aren't keen on voting for him again.

Young: Yeah, and so maybe where those questions was were the people who came out in 2016 for the President, were they voting for the President or were they voting against maybe the lesser of two evils, against Hillary Clinton?

Yepsen: Right, and they might have been voting for change. There was a big segment, I want to say 10% or 15%, of Trump's vote were Obama voters twice before. So if people want change what do republicans say to provide them with that message?

Young: Well, you have to put out a platform of solutions and I think we did do that here in the last few years, especially with when it came to tax relief, rolling back rules and regulations, we got a Farm Bill done, the opioid crisis, things like that. And so this is, and I've said this before I think to you, Kay, politics is a game that moves as you play and it can be different from one day to another, not just one election season to another.

Murphy: So, to that end, Congressman, and you touched on this a little bit, so democrats right now are, in Iowa are trying to figure out how they win in rural areas. Do republicans need to start worrying about how they win in the suburbs? You mentioned Polk County that went very heavily for democrats and usually does but even more so and even right next door in Dallas County which has typically been a republican stronghold republicans still won but by a lower margin than they have in the past. Are the suburbs an area where republicans need to refocus and figure out a message and risk losing those voters in those areas?

Young: Well, you don't give up anything and so you figure out how not just you win in rural areas but how you win in suburban and urban areas as well. Yeah, Dallas County and the growth around Polk County is seeping into Warren County, Story County, Dallas County. And more urbanized areas people start trending towards the democratic side.

Henderson: You have been back in Washington for several weeks. Is there a period of self-evaluation among your House republican colleagues who will still be there and sort of prosecuting the House republican campaign in 2020 to sort of figure out what went wrong in 2018 and what they can reconnoiter for 2020? And what advice have you given them?

Young: I think some people are still kind of scratching their heads to see what happened. And things are different in districts. You can look at, try to look at this in a macrocosm way and then there's a microcosm way district by district. For instance, Southern California, Orange County, which is traditionally a very republican area, they had some new things on the agenda there called ballot harvesting which was something that the democrats really took advantage of. And so people are looking in a microcosmic way but they have to look at the macrocosm as well. And some are still scratching their heads. Some are I think reluctant to admit that maybe the President had a deeper effect than they thought.

Yepsen: Why wouldn't you run? I realize you want to do an audit and everything but you lost by such a close margin, presidential year turnout will be bigger, you've considerably learned some lessons here. Is it a good job?

Young: It's a great honor, it's a great job. I've found it fulfilling. I believe that I was effective. I got three bills signed into law, many amendments being on the Appropriations Committee. And, by the way, I think this will be the first time in about 50 years where we don't have an Iowan on the Appropriations Committee. But there may be some other fantastic opportunities out there to serve Iowans in a different way whether it's foundation work or some other cause or teaching or maybe down the line running again. But right now I just want to finish out strong. But yeah, the door is still open.

Henderson: What was the impact of Paul Ryan, your spiritual leader and actual leader, not seeking re-election in this cycle?

Young: Well, my spiritual leader is God.

Henderson: But what was the impact of a guy that is supposed to be rallying the troops and let's go win saying, hey but I'm not going to put my name on the ballot this time around?

Young: Well, he had a great career, about 20 years and he wanted to see his kids grow up and he was missing that and I think there are a lot of other colleagues I have as well who decided not to run for that reason or maybe their tenure expired as a chairman of a committee. I think you're going to see as well some colleagues on the republican side especially over the holiday season evaluating whether they run again.

Murphy: You said you can look at the results at a micro or macro level. Let's look at them at an Iowa level. Iowans voted to support state level republicans, kept the republican trifecta at the Iowa Statehouse, republican Governor, control of both chambers of the legislature, but they changed their minds at the congressional level by flipping two seats from republican to democratic representation. I'm curious if you have any thoughts as to why Iowans voted republican at the state level but democrat at the congressional level for the most part?

Young: Hmm, good question. Maybe they were forced to really dive deeper down into the candidates this time because we didn't have that straight party ticketing. That could have been an issue. All politics is local, all politics is personal and so I think Iowans are pretty discerning and they like a check and balance here. They'll give, Iowans are finicky, I'm finicky and this is what we do.

Yepsen: I want to go back to Erin's question for a minute. What do republicans have to do by way of candidate recruitment or messaging to reach suburban voters, women? Again looking at those weak spots and what happened to the Republican Party, what specific things would you recommend the party do?

Young: Well, first of all, you have to look at who you lost and where and then figure out why you lost them and then figure out whether it's an issue of I'm just bad messaging, bad policy all together and not give anything up. You have to go face-to-face with people and I'm still finishing off my 16 county tour here in December and I'm going to be asking a lot more questions this time. I usually keep my mouth shut but I'm going to be asking a lot of questions.

Yepsen: Would the republicans need to recruit more women?

Young: That's fine with me, must quality candidates up and down the line, women or men. And just make sure that we can find the person who connects the best with those who we have recently lost.

Henderson: What questions are you asking people in the 15 counties where you won? You said you have questions --

Young: I'd say did you vote for me two years ago and did you vote for me this time? And if you didn't, why? Tell me why. If some say well they wanted a bigger check and balance on the President, I understand that. We like checks and balances. If there's certain policies that they didn't like I want to know what those were.

Henderson: What are you hearing? I'm sure you've had some of these conversations already.

Young: Well, in the more rural areas as you said, Dave, we won 15 of 16 counties, folks were a little bit more disappointed and they're not so sure they're going to see the new representative in the district in their counties. And I say I think she'll do that. I encouraged her to do that because when I made the concession call that night on November 6th I said, Cindy, take care of this whole district. And I think she'll do that.

Yepsen: But are Iowans becoming like the rest of the country, so very partisan? That is, a practical matter democrats are passionate about their candidates, republicans are passionate about theirs, there's no middle ground. If you're asking -- suggesting she go out into the rural areas of the district politically wouldn't she be better off jacking up the turnout in Polk County?

Young: Politically, yeah. But I want what's right for the people of the third district.

Yepsen: Oh well, I would expect you to say that. But I'm talking about politically what do republicans do going forward about social issues? The emphasis on anti-abortion, some of the social issues involving gay rights, turned off a lot of people, particularly younger people. Republicans aren't getting a whole lot of votes in the 30 and under crowd right now. What do you do? What's the formula?

Young: Well, that was primarily I think a larger issue at the state level regarding abortion. At the federal level those issues have generally just are starting to go to the courts and staying there and being defined and so it's a hard question to ask without me going out there and starting to really ask people what's going on.

Yepsen: But isn't it a fair question?

Young: All questions are fair.

Yepsen: Don't you have to come up with an answer here if you're going to have any kind of electoral success?

Young: Mm-hmm.

Yepsen: What does the caucus process do to republican hopes? We're going to have a caucus for Trump that appears to be a coronation ceremony on your side. The democrats are going to have 10, 20, 30, 40, who knows how many democratic presidential candidates pounding away day in and day out on the messaging out there. Who is going to answer for the republicans? Won't democrats get a huge advantage out of the caucus process?

Young: I think they probably will. You want to see how many people are going to be running for President just spend 10 days at the State Fair with me because I'll be there. It all depends on what this Congress does under Speaker Pelosi, and I assume she is going to be Speaker, what they do regarding investigations, the word impeachment is still on the tongues of the democrats there, they have already pretty much said that the President is guilty of these crimes. If that gets head over heels you may see some republican candidates popping into challenge President Trump.

Yepsen: Did you just say you were going to spend 10 days at the State Fair?

Young: Yeah whether I'm --

Yepsen: Then you're running again aren't you?

Young: No I just --

Yepsen: Why would you spend 10 days at the Fair if you weren't --

Young: I worked at the Fair growing up and I just love the Fair, I love people. It's the Fair.

Henderson: Why would someone in the modern era want to be a politician since they are so disliked, you have to spend so much money, so much time raising money for a campaign? What's the motivation?

Young: The motivation is the people that you meet and wanting to try to better their lives. And this country, this state, this district is worth fighting for. And so I like competitive races, I like competitive primaries. I was in one. If I were to get into this again I would expect there to be a primary and that's okay. I'm not somebody who is going to clear a field nor would I want to because it would make me better and make me work harder for the people and really get to know the passions of the people that I represent, where they want to go with this country and this district.

Henderson: What does it say about modern politics that you had an online ad that was sort of funny? You were running around on a --

Young: Segway.

Henderson: -- segway. You didn't air it on broadcast television because it might have been just a little bit too funny?

Young: People I don't think were ready for that kind of message. That wasn't going to be the deal breaker or what would get you their vote. We really had to message some things out there on issues. But the accessibility of what that online ad brought about is very, very important.

Henderson: So much of your campaign supplemented by folks who were coming in and running ads on your behalf had Cindy Axne sort of morphing into Nancy Pelosi. Was that helpful?

Young: Well, $15 million were spent against morphing me into somebody that I'm not so I don't think they're helpful. I don't like those outside groups coming in and meddling in our elections. I don't like those super PACs and I wish they would stay out. I can say that publicly, I can't coordinate with them because that's against the law. But I like candidates to be in charge of their own image, their own message because these super PACs have taken that away from not only the candidates but the party as well.

Murphy: I'm curious what you think, you talked about a primary is a good thing. David was asking about the process, the caucus process that is upcoming. Should there be a primary for a sitting republican President?

Young: I think it's not a bad thing. The President would say differently probably. There's some names out there that are surfacing but I think a lot of them are watching to see what maybe the House does regarding that impeachment issue and I think the democrats in the House could be boxing themselves in on this issue because I think a lot of them want to ride the investigations and the impeachment issue out to 2020. But if they're talking about the President has been guilty of crimes then there is going to be a cry to do it sooner rather than later, these investigations and possibly --

Yepsen: Do you think it's possibly Donald Trump will not be on the ballot as the republican candidate in 2020?

Young: Possible but not probable. And if he's not it's probably at his own will.

Yepsen: Do you, put a little finer point on this, if a republican presidential candidate were thinking about running, Senator Sasse from across the river, Senator Flake, Governor Kasich, have you talked to any of them? Are they inquiring of you what do you have to do in Iowa? What do you think?

Young: I have not.

Young: I got a lot of those calls three years ago and I went around with about 15 of them around the district and at the Fair. But I would encourage them to come in. I think primaries are good.

Henderson: This past week the deputy secretary of agriculture came into Iowa and said, there's a disagreement in the Trump administration. The USDA would like to release the second half of the $12 billion in bailout money is what it's called to farmers to sort of buttress them against the impact of the tariffs and Office of Management and Budget doesn't want them to do it. Have you been involved in sort of trying to resolve that internal battle in the Trump administration? And what do you say to farmers who are saying, clock is ticking, I've got to meet with my banker, I have to figure out what my tax liability is?

Young: Yeah, farmers need this help right now and so I would obviously be on the side of the USDA to get this out there because we need to make sure that we are doing what we can right now for our farmers because the trade issue is a big issue. Now I know that finally the President, President Trump and President Xi finally got together. And I've always been advocating that because from that conversation I think that is where we really get the headway. And so 90 day kind of hiatus on tariffs until March and then China says they're going to get back into our markets and start buying soybeans and other agricultural goods. This is very, very important. The Farm Bill helps, it gets things done, it gives certainty to farmers, E-15 helps year round, but trade is really what matters here and markets are really what matters.

Henderson: Do you think you lost votes because of the trade war?

Young: I don't think so. That really wasn't an issue that came about in our polling or as well, we didn't see that as well from my opponent or any outside group talking about that.

Yepsen: Could it be too early to be seeing the effects, political effects of this trade war? I'm thinking about during the Farm Crisis of the '80s, started in the early '80s, wasn't until '88 that Mike Dukakis carried this state because farmers were dissatisfied and same thing happened in the Great Depression. Could we be in a period of lag time where the effect of this on the electorate is still to be determined?

Young: It could be. I think you have to look at each individual farmer and how they are situated financially. Some of the younger farmers are really having a tough time right now, Dave. But those who have lived through the '80s, through that crisis, prepared maybe for something like this. But by March I think that’s' really the telling date, this 90 day cooling off period.

Murphy: Congressman, we have about a minute. The criminal justice reform bill that your colleague and good friend Senator Grassley has been pushing is finally going to get a vote in the Senate. If it makes it to the House are you planning to support that bill?

Young: I think this is something that is long overdue. I think it will be bipartisan and I think we need to give people second chances, those who are non-violent offenders, very, very important and give them the skills and training they need to go out and live a productive life and not turn back to crimes again. And so I like it. I wish the sheriffs were endorsing this. I know the Fraternal Order of Police are and other groups. But I think it's a good start.

Henderson: You were a Chief of Staff for Chuck Grassley. Would you like to be Chief of Staff for the President? He's looking for one.

Young: I have already given them your resumes and your direct numbers. But I don't want to go back to Washington, D.C. in that capacity. If I were to go back it would be to serve some way in elected office. But I have not walked through that door yet.

Yepsen: Congressman, we're walking through the door of time and we're out of it. Thank you very much for being with us today. Stay in touch.

Young: I will be in touch. Thank you. Thanks for what you do.

Yepsen: And thank you for joining us. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next week. We'll gather a unique roundtable of Iowa journalists from the Main Streets of our state including Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times, Doug Burns from the Carroll Daily Times Herald, Bob Leonard of KNIA Radio in Knoxville and Pella and our own Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa. You can catch Iowa Press at 7:30 Friday night on our main Iowa PBS channel and again Sunday at Noon with another rebroadcast Saturday morning at 8:30 on our .3 World channel. So 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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