Representative-elect Randy Feenstra

Iowa Press | Episode
Dec 18, 2020 | 27 min

From the Iowa Statehouse to Congress, Iowa's Fourth Congressional District will have new representation in January. We sit down with Congressman-elect Randy Feenstra on this edition of Iowa Press.


(music) 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 (music) 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, December 18 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. (music) Yepsen: For the past 18 years, large swaths of Western Iowa were represented by republican Congressman Steve King. In June, King was defeated by Iowa State Senator Randy Feenstra for the Republican Party nomination in the Fourth District. Mr. Feenstra went on to comfortably win the general election over democrat J.D. Scholten. Congressman-elect Feenstra joins us today at the Iowa Press table. Congressman, congratulations on your victory. Feenstra: Thank you. And thanks for letting me be here today. I've always looked forward to being on this show. Yepsen: Okay, well thank you for taking time to be with us. Also joining the conversation, across the table is Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson, News Director at Radio Iowa. Murphy: Congressman, on January 3rd you will be sworn in, Congressman-elect I should say, then you will be sworn in as Congressman on January 3rd. A few short days later the House will tabulate the Electoral College results for the presidential election. Do you plan to object to those results as they currently stand? Feenstra: I'll tell you what, the great thing about our country is that we have 5this foundation of this electoral process and we saw that play out this past Monday when the Electoral College cast their votes and then we have the opportunity to do that on January 6th and I look forward to that opportunity. Murphy: But are you not signed onto a letter that is asking Speaker Pelosi to investigate the presidential election results? Feenstra: I did. I signed onto that and if you look at our elections in totality and what has happened, when COVID happened in late February, early March when it all came about, that dramatically changed the landscape when it came to the electoral process. And Iowa, along with all other states, had to look at absentee and mail-in voting. And we were very prepared. I'd love to thank the colleagues at the Iowa legislature that two years ago we passed voter ID to handle these issues. And yet even Iowa, as prepared as what we were, we had county auditors that sort of blew past the stop sign and said, we don't have to abide by Iowa law, whether that be Woodbury County and Linn County I believe and Johnson County. And we had to take them to court and say, wait a minute, the law is the law, you can't do this. And they wanted to put their thumb on the scale. I look at that and say, we saw this in Iowa, what is happening around the rest of the country? And that is why I think every one of us, because of what we have in our representative democracy, this cornerstone of our elections, that we have to protect it with everything we have and make sure that it is fair and balanced. And that is what we're doing and that is why we have to let everything play out. Murphy: So to be clear, do you have concerns -- you want to see the processes examined, but do you have any doubt about the outcome of the presidential election? Feenstra: No, I just want to say, I want the processes all to be played out and I want to make sure that we have this foundation that we have to secure and protect and we'll come out of that on January 6th and look forward to saying, all right, what do we need to do? Murphy: Do you at this point consider Joe Biden the President-elect of the United States? Feenstra: I tell you what, I look forward to January 6th. We had the Electoral College do their thing this past Monday and part of the Constitution says that we have ours come January 6th. Yepsen: Why is it so hard for conservative republicans to say the words President-elect Joe Biden? Feenstra: As I said, I think it's the circumstance of what we're in. And literally if you look at the circumstance, and this is the first time ever in our country, ever in our country that we have had mail-in ballot predominantly. So I think we all want to make sure, protect what we have, and there is still some litigation out there. And for me it's all about, all right, let's make sure that litigation is done and let's move forward. Henderson: Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Rita Hart in the Second Congressional District had a race that went down to a margin of 6 votes after a recount in the entire Second Congressional District. We have been told that Rita Hart, the democrat, intends to appeal to the House leadership in Washington, D.C. for another recount or a review of that race. Do you support that move? Or do you consider Mariannette Miller-Meeks the winner? Feenstra: Yeah, again, you look at that, very interesting how that all played out where you had Dr. Miller-Meeks winning on election night and then there was a request for a recount, the recount happened. Dr. Miller-Meeks came up again winning, I think by 6 votes. So there is a process and the process was followed in Iowa. To me, the next process would be if Rita Hart does not like that outcome or thinks that it was in question that you have to take it through the courts. And yet she is circumventing the court system. Here you have President Trump that said, all right, we're going to take it through the court system. And yet she has taken it to her political colleagues, her political arm and saying, hey Pelosi, help me out and seat me. I think that is, that's scary for our electoral process and the foundation of what we believe in a democracy. Henderson: You used the word scary. You hear some of your republican peers use that word about the election process. How do you as an elected official restore confidence that balloting in this country is secure and that a winner is a winner? Feenstra: Wonderful question. First of all, I think that we have to build trust back in this country and that starts with people in Congress, people that create policy and from our leaders and everybody. And we see time and time again that we let down the public. But that being said, I think in Iowa we did something very special, that we created voter ID and we made sure that Randy is Randy and that my ID shows that I am. And whether I go pick up my clothing or whether I go to a sports arena and they ask for me ID at will call or whatever, I have an ID. And I think we have to protect that process and I think Iowa has done a great job of that. Murphy: Speaking of trust in government officials, President Trump has been reported to be considering pardoning himself. Is that something that you think would be good for the nation moving forward in a post-Trump presidency? Feenstra: I think President Trump, I'll leave that up to him, but I hope he makes a wise decision and has discernment when he goes down that path. Yepsen: Some people, as Erin implies, that would be controversial, it has never been done before, to pardon himself. It would serve the same purpose as Ford's pardon of Nixon, get the issue, get his presidency behind us. Is that a wise decision? Feenstra: Yeah, you bring up history and you're exactly right. I just think that all these things, I'll leave it up to the President, and he has to make those decisions. I can't make those decisions for him. Yepsen: Fair enough. Let's move on to some issues facing the Congress. It looks like the next Congress will be asked to continue to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. What additional legislation would you like to see in the next session of Congress to deal with the fallout from the pandemic? Feenstra: Yeah, this pandemic has been really tough on our economy, it's a real struggle, and I see that in our rural Main Streets in the fourth district. I live in Hull, Iowa, a small community, and you just go up and down these Main Streets and who is it really hurting? It's the hospitality industry, it's the mom and pop restaurants, it's the theatre, it's the person that has a travel agency. And it pains you because our Main Streets in rural Iowa were struggling already. So I think we have to do everything possible to help that industry and make sure that these mom and pops in these areas, these restaurants, get to stay open and I think there is an area that we need to protect. And then also the other area that needs protecting, we saw this in March and my family was affected by this, I should say my in-laws, that when the supply chain shut down all of a sudden there was this grave concern of what do we have to do with the animals. Do we have to euthanize them? So we have to do everything possible that we protect that supply chain and make sure that those worker inside that supply chain are also protected. So that is part of the COVID package that I think is important. Henderson: So does that mean that Congress passes a law that food service workers and food production workers are next in line for the next batch of vaccine? Is that what you're talking about? Feenstra: I have not thought of that but you think of who is in line, obviously the most vulnerable we want in line and our health care workers, we want to absolutely protect our health care workers. But it comes down that path of who is vital to keep our economy going? It would be part of that supply chain. And you bring up a very good point, Kay, that could be a part of it. Henderson: Are you expecting another round of PPP loans to small businesses? And if so, should they just be grants and not be subject to taxation? Feenstra: Yeah, so these are all discussions that are currently happening. And Congress is looking at passing a bill before maybe the end of the week before they go on recess or when they finish up their business and that is a big discussion of how that plays out. I will say that when PPP came about it was wonderful to help small businesses, especially on Main Street, and I had so many people that appreciated that and I helped fill a lot of these forms out and working with the businesses and SBA and everything to get this done. And I look at our economy today and if that didn't happen we would be in a strong recession. And so there's certain things to help out what we can do. But I'll say this, I think we have to be very cognizant that we have a significant debt too and whether it be me or my four children that all this money that we're doing has to be paid back. And with $28 trillion in debt we have to be very careful of how we appropriate money. Yepsen: Wasn't that inflation? We're going to reinflate the economy. Feenstra: Yeah, reinflate -- you can grow the economy but you've got to stop your spending also, right? It goes both ways. Murphy: So, Congressman, going from a State Senator to Congress now your constituents will expand, you now have Iowa State University in your district. Feenstra: Go Clones. Murphy: There you go. How do you plan to work with the university? Have you been in touch with officials there yet? And do you have any priorities related to public universities? Feenstra: It has been wonderful, I have always been a passionate supporter of Iowa State and talked with their president, I went through their research park. I tell you what, they've got it going on. I'm just so proud at what they've got going and I look forward to -- back in my younger time Iowa extension was so big and most people don't realize this, in my community, my hometown, the Iowa extension was actually started 100 years ago, actually 110 years ago, we had a celebration on that. But I look forward to working with them and not only them but they have the research center and so much going on and then you have Iowa and the hospital and all the things they've got and UNI with education and they're doing a lot of things with military. For Iowa those are such jewels that we have and we must work with them, protect them and advance their causes. Yepsen: But a lot of people in higher education think the Republican Party has sort of got it in for higher education, that people with college degrees are voting for democrats and higher ed is being left out of the mix. Can you offer any hope for some additional appropriations for those three institutions? Feenstra: That's painful for me, I'm a professor of business and economics. No, I tell you what, all of education, it's all skills -- the thing that we need to do, and it comes down to our economy and to me rural Iowa, that we have to give the kids the skills and the ability so that they can stay in Iowa. And we've got to match them up with the jobs that are here. And that is what, whether it be Iowa, Iowa State or UNI, or whether it be our private colleges, I teach at Dordt University, I think we're all trying to do that. Community colleges, they're doing a great job of trying to advance these skills and advance the kids and finding jobs for them. Henderson: Last week we heard from Congresswoman-elect Ashley Hinson and she said to solve the dilemma of Social Security system's insolvency in future years that she would be open to the idea of raising the retirement age for younger workers. Is that something you would be open to as well? Feenstra: You know, I've looked at this a lot. Being in economics, I would not do that. I have great concerns about that. I think myself and everybody my age, I'm 51 years old, people my age you look at and say, all right, is that going to be there? And we made promises and people have put money into the system. How you make sure that that system is sustainable is managing your debt and managing your budget and right now we have an out of control system. And so I'm sort of a fiscal hawk simply saying, you've got to control your spending. If you control your spending then you can start making sure that everything else is sustainable like Social Security and Medicare. In Iowa we did this. You think about Iowa, we have a 99% spending limit, we have about a billion dollars in the bank right now and we have met all our initiatives or all the things that we need to do. And we can do this at the federal level. We just have to have the passion to do it. Yepsen: What in Social Security would you like to cut? I assume you don't want to raise the payroll tax? Feenstra: No, like I said, I don't think you need to cut anything. Yepsen: You don't need to cut any Social Security benefits to make it -- Feenstra: It's an unfunded mandate right now, it's unfunded, but it's unfunded because we have out of control debt right now. And if you can start controlling your debt and getting to a point where you have a balanced budget everything then falls in place. And I'll tell you, I'm fearful, this is probably the most concerning thing I have is where our debt is going right now. Murphy: Congressman-elect, one of the issues facing your district in recent years has been the flooding along the Missouri River. Do you see a role for yourself in Congress advocating for anything to address that whether it be infrastructure, for example? Feenstra: I want to play a very active role in that. I'm only 50 miles from Sioux City and it pains me, I saw it multiple, multiple times where Dakota Dunes and other parts of Sioux City get flooded and see these businesses go under and families -- we have to figure out a way. We have to work with the Army Corp of Engineers and then as you go down the river to Missouri Valley and things like that, I just came through, it's funny you say that, I just came through there this morning and I remember there is a dealer on the corner that sells wagons and dollies and stuff like that and they are completely under. I get Mother Nature but we also have to protect our businesses and do everything we can in that arena. Murphy: And it's not just down the river, it's also up the river. Feenstra: Absolutely, absolutely. My family, we go there a lot, Gavins Point, Fort Randall, these are areas that it's fun to camp around. But again, it really comes back down to the Army Corp of Engineers. And I think they have learned -- I was just talking to a gentleman that works with the Army Corp of Engineers and they have really lowered their, dramatically lowered their reservoirs, there is no water going through them at this point. So I think they're ready for winter to occur and then hopefully for spring that there is enough capacity to hold all of the snow runoff. Henderson: Infrastructure also involves transportation infrastructure. And as Americans drive vehicles that get better gas mileage the federal gas tax collection goes down. Does Congress need to figure out a way to tax mileage? Or how do you address the idea of raising enough money to support this massive transportation infrastructure that the country has? Feenstra: It's not only just vehicles that are having more miles per gallon, you think of electric vehicles. I just look at, being Ways and Means Chair, what we did in Iowa is saying, all right, we're all using the roads, it doesn't matter what vehicle it is, but we put a fee on electric vehicles saying, all right, when you do your license you have to pay for that fee. And again, I go back to you think of taxes in general, I like to oversee taxes, but a family pays probably about 30% to 35% of their proceeds coming in to tax, property tax, sales tax, income tax. You buy a candy bar, you're paying tax. Businesses pay approximately 50% to 60%, that's a lot of money, and that doesn't even include gas tax. So there's a lot of dollars that are coming out of people's pockets that are going for all these things. So my feeling is you've got to look at the structure and say, all right, we're taxing enough, we're taxing enough, so what can we do on the flip side of reducing the cost and reducing the budget? Murphy: You've mentioned, speaking of the budget, you've mentioned a couple of times that you're concerned with the national debt, which is something that seems to have gotten away from republicans in recent years, used to be a republican staple to talk about that. And you mentioned the Iowa budget rule, the 99% spending rule. What will be your standard, your North Star when voting on federal budget bills? Feenstra: Again, I am a fiscal hawk and I would have to have a strong reason, I can't think of any, I'm just not a person that raises taxes. I would rather look at different things, you think of where the dollars lie. Our agencies have created fiefdoms, they have created these grand employees after employees, thousands and thousands of employees and I think we've got to get back to who is in control. Congress creates policy and law. Agencies make sure that they are carried out. And sometimes I see that that got flipped around where the agencies create law and Congress is just sort of looking, all right, you did that. We've got to get back to the three judicial, executive and legislative branch. Yepsen: Another issue in rural America is expanding fiber broadband, not just high speed, but fiber broadband, the real fast stuff. That takes money. Is there a federal role there? Feenstra: I think there is. And I like what we did in the Iowa legislature, you can do it via a tax, I look at it like tax income and financing and say you build it, maybe we hold your income taxes for X amount of years, three or five years if you build it. But you think of broadband, and you mentioned the speeds, what the federal government did several years ago was a problem, they said, you put in broadband and we're all happy and glad. Well, it was so slow that it's obsolete. So you have to have speeds, very fast up and download speeds. And then including in that is you think about what happened, and we learned a lot from this COVID, that you have our kids online teaching, or learning from teachers, you also have rural health care through telemedicine now and then you also have precision farming. And we need the speeds. Yepsen: Okay, but how do we get there? Feenstra: You have to incentivize it. And like I said -- Yepsen: Grants? Feenstra: -- I think you incentivize it through grants, but for me you can do tax grants, meaning that all right, you want to build X, Y and Z, maybe we saw in lieu of that we'll hold X amount of income tax from you for doing X, Y and Z. Henderson: You expressed hope that you would be assigned to the Ag Committee in the House. If you get that assignment, will you push for changes in the Packers and Stockyards Act to address monopoly practices in the livestock industry? Or how do you plan to attack that problem? Feenstra: Thanks for the question. You know what, that act has been on the books for decades and we don't use it. And there is a problem, there is massive concern. Again, my family, my in-laws and my kids work there periodically on the farm, we have cattle and hogs and it's just painful to see, especially when live cattle is at $1.05 if you can get that now and then you have boxed beef at high 227, somewhere thereabouts. The packers, they're making all kinds of profits. And who is in the painful driver's seat? That's the producer. So we've got to change it, we've got to break up the monopoly. Henderson: So do you depend on the U.S. Justice Department to do that or does Congress have to get involved? Feenstra: I think both sides. I'd like to see what is happening in Congress, there's a couple of bills out there, I'll create my own bill. I would also like to see what Senator Grassley is doing. He has a bill. But I also, we wrote a letter to the Department of Justice and said, you've got to investigate this. And I appreciate that now Senator Grassley has said, all right, the first thing I'm going to do in January sitting on the Judiciary Committee is we're going to investigate. And I think that is what rural farmers want. We just want to make sure that hey, we want a level playing field and get monopolies, we can't have that, it's going to crush Iowa. Yepsen: This is one place where republicans and democrats might be able to work together? Feenstra: I think absolutely. I think agriculture in general. I really do, I think agriculture in general. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Axne who sits on the Ag Committee right now and we can get a lot of things done. Murphy: If the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, what would you like to see Congress do, especially if after these runoff elections in Georgia, if republicans still hold the Senate and democrats the House, any solution would have to be bipartisan? Feenstra: First of all, you remove and replace, you've got to have a plan to replace. And I think if you look back several years ago they never had a plan. You have to, if you're going to go down that path, which I fully agree you have to go down that path, you've got to replace it. The issue is that just this past year in October and November everybody got their renewals for their health care premiums and they went up 25% and 30%. Families, businesses, they can't sustain it. So you have to go back to, yes you have to have pre-existing conditions in the plan, but you also have to have pricing transparency, you have to have competition, again, you look at monopolies, you have to have competition across state lines. And then you have to have a cafeteria plan that says, okay, what do you need as a family? My family is going to be different than some family that has little children. And right now it's one size fits all and that is just crushing businesses. Henderson: We have one minute left. Will you run for the U.S. Senate in 2022 if Senator Grassley retires? Feenstra: Oh boy, Kay, I have not thought of that. No, I am absolutely here. I am passionate to be the Congressperson for the Fourth District in Iowa and to deliver results just like I did in the Iowa Senate. I am very passionate, we've got a lot of work to do and I want to get things done in Congress. Yepsen: Real quickly, your committee assignments. What have you asked for? What have you heard? Feenstra: Two things, two things, I'm very passionate about two things. A, I want to get on the Ag Committee, very passionate, we're the breadbasket to the world. And number two, I want to be on the Budget Committee. Why? Because that would be my biggest opportunity to make sure we get a balanced budget. Yepsen: I have a passion for time. We're out of it. Congressman, thanks for being here. Good luck to you. Feenstra: Blessings to each one of you on Christmas and a blessed New Year for each and every one watching today. Yepsen: Same to you, thank you. And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and again at Noon on Sunday. We'll convene a Reporters' Roundtable as we look ahead to the issues and events of the New Year. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today. (music) 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