Minnesota Governor and Iowa Democratic Party Chair

Iowa Press | Episode
Aug 11, 2023 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart discuss the 2024 campaign, the Iowa caucuses and the Democratic Party.

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for The Gazette, and Stephen Gruber-Miller, Statehouse reporter for The Des Moines Register.

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


[ recorded: 8/10/2023 ]



While 13 republican presidential candidates flocked to the State Fair, democrats are countering those campaign messages with their own. We'll talk with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart on this edition of Iowa Press.


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For decades, Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, August 11th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.


Henderson: Our guests on this edition of Iowa Press are headed to the Iowa State Fair. We are taping this edition on Thursday to accommodate their schedules and ours as well. Rita Hart is the Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. She is a former State Senator and she was the nominee for democrats for Lieutenant Governor in 2018. Rita Hart, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Hart: Thanks so much, Kay. It's a great pleasure to be here, especially in this week.

Henderson: Exactly. And joining us, a neighbor from the north, Tim Walz. He is the Governor of Minnesota. He is a former teacher and coach, member of the National Guard, and a six-term Congressman before he was elected Governor. Welcome to Iowa Press.

Walz: Thanks for having me, a privilege to be here.

Henderson: Joining our conversation, Stephen Gruber-Miller of the Des Moines Register and Erin Murphy of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Murphy: Rita Hart, the Iowa republicans have said they're going to caucus on January 15th next year. Are Iowa democrats planning to do the same?

Hart: So that's a process that we have to go through. The State Central Committee has to approve that date. I was disappointed that we didn't have any input on the date. It has been something that I think in the past republicans and democrats have worked together on determining that date, so it was disappointing that we did not have any input. And the date of January 15th is Martin Luther King's holiday and it is a federal holiday.

Murphy: Do you have concerns because of that?

Hart: And so, I'm being very careful to make sure that we're talking to as many folks about that because it is a holiday, there's a lot of events that have gone on, on that day historically that we want to make sure that we're not stepping on.

Murphy: I believe the caucuses have been held on Martin Luther King Day in the past.

Henderson: In 2004.

Hart: Oh, were they? Well, that is news to me. I didn't even know that. Well, at any rate, we're being thoughtful about that. I've talked to lots of, particularly our black leaders across the state to see if that is going to be agreeable. And so, we're going to continue those conversations and then we'll have the State Central Committee voting in that soon.

Murphy: So, not ready to commit to January 15th yet, is that what I'm hearing?

Hart: I'm not going to commit today. I think that is a consensus kind of decision. But, we're certainly having those conversations and hoping that -- we've said from the very beginning that we would have the caucuses on the same day as the republicans. I certainly would like to see that we are able to do that. But, we're going to continue to have those conversations.

Murphy: And do we have any more clear picture what those caucuses will look like, what you will be doing and/or, just as importantly, what you may not be doing whenever that date is set?

Hart: Well, we are going to have in-person caucuses. They're going to look a lot like they have in the past, doing our party business, electing our precinct officers, determining our delegates. The only difference is that those delegates will not be bound, they won't be bound until they get to the county convention. That is what is going to be happening at those in-person caucuses. And we're moving forward on the other phase, which is the mail-in presidential selection cards. And so, there's some ambiguity there as to when that window begins. But, we're definitely looking forward to the fact that we're going to be having very inclusive caucuses where people can have their voice heard on their presidential preference.

Gruber-Miller: Governor Walz, Minnesota switched to a primary system in 2020 and you saw turnout skyrocket. Should Iowa do the same thing?

Walz: Well, that will be for them to decide. I leave it to the Chair and the folks in Iowa. Our thing I think for us was the difficulty for folks to get there and it ended up being a challenge. I think it does matter when it's timed, especially when you get into rural Minnesota, just like rural Iowa, it became more difficult and ours were usually during snowstorms, as it would be. We just wanted to make sure everybody had a chance to participate. So, I have been a fan of the primary system. I think it is more inclusive. I think it has an opportunity. But, I think the Chair's point on this is a lot of good ideas happen at these. We kind of were a hybrid state where we did both. We have a convention, you try and get the endorsement, if you don't like that you to the primary. And those two together I think still, and we'll continue to do that with our endorsements for our party, as the republicans will. It gets more involvement. And I think any time you get people more involved it's a good thing.

Gruber-Miller: Minnesota applied last year to be one of the early states in the democratic presidential nominating process. You did not make the cut for the five early states. Did President Biden make the right call on starting with South Carolina?

Walz: Well, I trust the national party. I'm going to say that I was rooting for Iowa in this, that we're Midwestern states, I think it gives us a voice. I think there is value here. Demographically, whether it's population density, the great strength of this country is our great diversity, the diversity of our economy, the diversity of our people, diversity of geography. We did not make it. I think they're going for -- I'm happy that Michigan is there, South Carolina. I think we're a national party that we can participate and be competitive in all parts of the country. So, we're kind of looking to Michigan to be our Midwestern kind of representative. But, I think the tradition in Iowa, we always were very proud that that was here. I think we felt a lot of it. We felt the energy. I feel like this room has probably felt that energy over time with people coming here. And we certainly believe this, that Iowa is just as important now as it ever was, and that's one of the reasons I'm here to talk about what we can do together.

Henderson: Rita Hart, as I mentioned at the beginning of this program, you're headed to the Iowa State Fair. On Saturday, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Marianne Williamson are going to be there. Are they welcome to campaign in Iowa?

Hart: Well, you know, we have a longstanding tradition of candidates coming to the Iowa State Fair. I am concerned about the anti-Semitic comments that Robert F. Kennedy has recently said. And so, we're not very comfortable with that. But having said that, anybody has the ability to come to the State Fair.

Henderson: Governor Walz, you have a Congressman in Minnesota, democrat Dean Phillips, who met with some donors, talked about maybe running against President Biden. What was your counsel to him?

Walz: Yeah, well as I've said, Congressman Phillips is a personal friend, he's a great Congressman, he's doing great work. But my counsel to him is that we've got a nominee, we've got a sitting President. We have never had debates or challenges to that in this country going back to Gerald Ford. And more importantly, we've got a President that has been highly successful, lowest unemployment rates we've seen, we're seeing it in Minnesota. We finally got an infrastructure week actually happen, now it's infrastructure decade. We're seeing all of the rebounding numbers and a focus on climate and the things that we care about. We have got an incredible President doing incredible work and my counsel was on this is let's continue to do our jobs together. I'll do my job as Governor, do his job as Congressman, let's support the President and make sure we win this thing.

Henderson: Could Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West, who is mulling a run as an independent, a Green Party candidate, be spoilers?

Walz: Well, we're certainly a big party, we welcome folks to come in. I think it's clear, again, on the President's record that he has done well. I will express my concerns with Rita in a little different one with Mr. Kennedy. The decisions and the conversations he sparked around vaccines ended up killing people. So, I have very little time there. I certainly think that there, as you said, he's welcome to come to the State Fair. I would argue most Minnesotans, and I would argue most Americans, recognize and especially if they look globally, our inflation numbers are better than almost any other country, our manufacturing rebound is there, CHIPS Act, all the things that are really inspiring people, that is an agenda. I think coming to this with a fringe conspiracy theory, with anti-Semitic beliefs, or with no clear platform, doesn't really attract people. President Biden will win.

Murphy: Governor Walz, speaking of President Biden, you mentioned some of the things that you feel are accomplishments of his administration. Despite that, even in your blue state, his approval rating is under water there in Minnesota and it's even lower here in Iowa at 30 in a recent poll from Stephen's outlet. How concerned are you about next year's election because of those numbers?

Walz: Well, be clear, democrats are going to vote and they're going to vote for President Biden. They know what the alternative is and it's not just policy decisions, which of course we have, we'll be debating manufacturing job creation, they'll be debating whether slavery was good or not. Those things are going to set themselves. I Think the biggest thing about it right now is that none of us have very good approval ratings because we have a political party in the republicans that the personal destruction is nonstop, it's 24/7. Talking about impeachments for fictitious things that are made up. I sat and watched numerous hours of the Benghazi hearings and watched then Secretary Clinton endure 13 hours with absolutely nothing. That's just the modus operandi now is just to continue to try and tear folks down. Democrats are excited to get this done. They're going to vote in large numbers. States like Minnesota made it easier to vote, made sure that we got folks out there, making sure that the people's voice is heard. We saw it in 2020, President Biden won overwhelmingly, and we'll do it again. And I just think the personal approval numbers, types of things, people are just frustrated in general. And I have to be honest with you, as a member of Congress, I worry deeply that the strategy here is to continue to do that, just continue to make things seem bad, look towards government shutdown, don't get a Farm Bill done, don't get NDAA done, the National Defense Authorization Act. I feel like right now they're rooting against the country, they're rooting against success, and I think that is a bad bet. And so, I think everybody's numbers get pulled down, but when it comes time it's going to be a binary choice. A twice impeached and under indicted failed President versus one who has got us to the point economically where we are rebounding in a way we didn't think was possible.

Murphy: Rita Hart, how about here in Iowa that you have a democrat at the top of the ticket with low approval ratings here and there's no top of the ticket sort of race, there's no Governor race, there's no Senate race here in Iowa next year. How challenging will it be for Iowa democrats to win in this atmosphere next year?

Hart: I would say that any election is a challenge. And we are up to that challenge because we have a President who has delivered on so many things. And polls are polls, they are not often correct, and it is very early. So, as Governor Walz has said, I think that democrats are going to show up. They are recognizing that the things that this republican legislature has put through the state have not been good for Iowans and are not reflective of the average Iowan. And so, we're going to have a great turnout and we're going to re-elect President Biden.

Murphy: Governor Walz, do you have any plans on running for President in 2028?

Walz: That's not my plan. My plan is to make sure President Biden makes re-elected, continue to move Minnesota in a real progressive forward motion, support our candidates, make sure that we're rebuilding across the country. And I'm just excited about what can happen. We have a saying in Minnesota, the only thing standing between us and having nice things is the Republican Party right now. They're not standing for anything, they're not bringing anything out. We in Minnesota now have universal meals for our kids, we have reproductive freedom for women, we have a lot of things that I think Iowa would agree that this has been our tradition together in the past. And so, I'm going to keep focusing on those things.

Henderson: Rita Hart, during the last campaign, democrats, some of them, made an issue of senior Senator Chuck Grassley's age as being a disqualifier. Is President Biden's age a disqualifier for some voters?

Hart: Well, the proof is that Senator Grassley was re-elected in spite of those objections, right? So, I think Iowans recognize that it's not about a number, it's not about age, it's about what are they doing? And again, as Governor Walz has very clearly stated, there are so many things that this administration has delivered on and that are actually going to make a big difference in Iowans' lives. The 2,000 and some projects that are going up across Iowa are very impressive. The child care centers, the fact that we're putting such a huge investment finally into broadband and getting high speed Internet everywhere in Iowa, that is huge to people's ordinary everyday lives and that is what people care about.

Gruber-Miller: Rita Hart, democrats do not currently have candidates running for Congress in the First, Second or Third Districts next year. How is the candidate recruitment going? And are they going to be playing catch up as republican incumbents are already out there campaigning and raising money?

Hart: So, there's been great conversations and we've got people who are very interested in running for these positions. I think you're going to see some announcements very soon on that. And there's a lot of work that can be done before a candidate announces. And so, we're excited to see that we have some great candidates who are going to be stepping forward.

Gruber-Miller: Do you think we'll start seeing those this month? Next month?

Hart: I'm hoping very soon.

Gruber-Miller: Okay. Well, Iowa republicans this summer passed a ban on abortion at about six weeks into a pregnancy. I'm curious, as you're talking to members of the Democratic Party around the state who are recruiting candidates, who are trying to encourage people to run for office, is that something that comes up as a motivator for people to run for office?

Hart: Well, absolutely. I think always when you are recruiting for candidates and as people are considering running for office, it's the issues that often drive them. And this is an issue that is a great motivator not only because of the fact that this law is unpopular, that people recognize that it's not very workable, that to have a law where decisions are made at six weeks where most women don't even know they're pregnant, that that just does not work. And so, issues are really important to people and they will step up accordingly because it's far reaching. It affects how many OBGYNs are attracted to work in this state when we already have a shortage. It affects women's health care in general. And so, these are issues that are important to people and motivate them to run.

Gruber-Miller: Yeah, Governor Walz, we've seen referendums in states around the Midwest in the recent, the last year or so on abortion and abortion rights supporters have come out on top on those referendums. How do you think this issue plays both in the Midwest and around the country for democrats?

Walz: Well, it's huge. And again, republicans' ideological extremism forces this. Look, Ohio is in play now and we all know that and there is no path to the White House for republicans without Ohio. I would argue the same thing is true in Iowa. This issue motivates people because it is a fundamental issue of freedom. They feel that the retraction of those freedoms, every other day it's something else, it's Shakespeare, it's reproductive rights. And just to be very clear, women in Iowa need this reproductive care because it's health care and they are coming to Minnesota. We're glad to be good neighbors and to be there but it's absolutely outrageous that basically economically it's being put there. Americans know this. It's overwhelmingly unpopular. And they have made it absolutely clear with moves in Iowa, what you saw the pushback in Ohio, that they will do this nationally given the chance. It was all fun and games when they said we'll leave it to the states, and then they found out that it's super unpopular, states are doing these Draconian moves and there's not a single candidate that is going to be here at the State Fair that has the courage to stand up there and say that they trust women to make their health care decisions. Joe Biden does. Kamala Harris does. The Party Chair in Iowa does. And this is going to be a major issue. They are kidding themselves if they don't think it is. They want to fight these culture wars, but they have stepped into this issue of personal freedoms in a way that is just I think unprecedented. So, I think those worrying about low approval ratings and things like that, democrats will vote, and they will vote in large numbers.

Murphy: Well, in the recent examples we've seen on this issue of election results, they have been specifically about this issue. Do you have any evidence or confidence that when it's a general election and voters are considering myriad issues, maybe not just this, that it is still something that moves the needle? I'm curious if either of you have a thought on that?

Walz: Well, in my opinion yes, it still does move the needle because I think women feel this, that starts with this issue of reproductive care, it moves into the workplace, we're seeing it moving into school voucher issues or whatever, trying to take away freedoms from folks, kind of contract on things. And I think there's very little way to compartmentalize this and say look, we're going to take away your reproductive freedoms, but we're giving tax cuts to corporations, be happy about that. It's a message that is terrible. And I have not seen them break on it. They spent an entire week deciding that someone would have to say that slavery was bad. That is not going to change. At the same time, Joe Biden is out there talking about and touting what the CHIPS Act did and manufacturing. We're seeing it in Minnesota. And I'm telling you what I'm starting to feel is the fatigue of the cultural wars is there. I don't think the woke stuff really excites their base. But what excites our base is the thought that they are going to take away these freedoms and turn back this progress.

Hart: I would add that Iowans are very common sense and they recognize that this is not typical to take away somebody's freedoms with this legislation and that other things that have happened here are an overreach and that is because we don't have balance at the Statehouse. We have total control by a party that is going too far, being too extreme and taking away people's freedoms. And we need more balance back at the Statehouse.

Murphy: Well, and speaking of total control at the Statehouse, Governor Walz, because of democrats' trifecta in your state you recently legalized recreational marijuana. I know we're a few years, that there's a slow rollout of that program and implementation over a period of years. But, I'm curious from an Iowans' perspective, what is your state's message to Iowans if that doesn't happen here, which there's no indication it will any time soon, can they come to Minnesota --

Walz: They're welcome. You can't cross state lines.

Murphy: And that's what I was going to ask, what are the legal issues?

Walz: You can't bring it back. First of all, look, we know Prohibition doesn't work. We also know that cannabis restrictions fell most heavily on communities of color, basically the Black community. We also know that the illicit cannabis trade is also now dangerous with fentanyl and xylazine and some of the other things we see on the streets. And quite honestly, it goes about this freedom issue, I trust adults to make their own decisions. I have a 16-year-old and a 22-year-old. I'm not encouraging them to use cannabis. But once they reach an age of 21 they have the right to do that. Iowans are certainly welcome to come up and enjoy a baseball game or a Vikings game or whatever they want to do. They can partake legally in this. Just like anything else, you can't drive. If you're in a position where your employer tests you need to make sure you're clear on that. But, the biggest thing on this is, once again, trusting in this case, we hope Iowa goes along too, trusting Americans to make some of these own decisions whether it's your health care or whether it's the case of this as an adult to be able to use recreational cannabis.

Henderson: Rita Hart, House democrats have made this a priority issue. Is this a winning issue for democrats in Iowa?

Hart: I would go along with what Governor Walz is saying, is that people recognize that this is a freedom issue and that responsible adults ought to be able to make their own responsible decisions. So, as far as whether it's a winning issue or not, I think that remains to be seen. But, we certainly are interested in having this conversation.

Gruber-Miller: Former President Trump was indicted this month on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. He faces other charges as well. And these trials will be playing out during the election season next year. Is this something democrats should make a campaign issue out of?

Hart: Well, I'm not going to comment on ongoing investigations. But having said that, I do think we live in remarkable times that we have a former President who is being indicted, not just once but multiple times, is remarkable. And so, again, we have faith in the electorate and we are going to work very hard to get democrats elected and we'll see how that all works out.

Gruber-Miller: Republican voters on the other hand are concerned about investigations into Hunter Biden over gun and tax charges. Are those things, for either of you, are those things that are perhaps a liability for democrats running next year?

Walz: Well, I don't believe so. Hunter Biden is not in an elected position. But I will say this as a parent, I know that the President and First Lady love their son obviously and they want to make sure they try and see him through some difficult times. But, I also think this relentless trying to find information, trying to do things, we need to make sure our factory jobs are up and running, we need to make sure that health care is affordable, we need to make sure we're addressing climate change, which of course they will do nothing. And not to mention, we need to do something about gun violence that we continue to see. And so, I don't believe so. I don't know, maybe this motivates the base to try and do this. But I think when most -- I'll go back to the common-sense piece of this because we're cousins in this, Minnesota and Iowa, we pride ourselves on that. This personal destruction of families, things like that, the continuous investigations that don't get anywhere. I don't think it really at the time -- I think you're seeing it and I saw a story last week starting to show some of the polling around this, the fatigue on this stuff is wearing on people, which for me is good. Now, let's have a debate on how should we address climate change? How should we think about regulation? And how do we build power transmission lines for renewable energy projects? Those are things that democrats and republicans have done together in the past and I think they need to. So, I'm just excited, I think I see the President out there getting up every day, doing the job, not whining. Like all of us as parents I'm sure he's certainly concerned with his son's shortcomings. We all have them. But then just trying to get the work done for America. I think it's admirable and I think he's going to be rewarded with a second term.

Henderson: Rita Hart has answered this question before, but Governor Walz, the democratic nominee for Governor in this state last time around won four counties, all urban counties. What is the recipe for winning in non-urban areas? I mean, you benefit from the fact that more than half of the people in Minnesota live in the Twin Cities Metro.

Walz: Yeah, and this is a phenomenon, every week the New York Times does a story, what's happening in rural America? I say this as someone who graduated with 22 kids in my class, my mom is still on the farm of a town of 300, I represented one of the most rural districts in the Midwest, again in that Southern Minnesota district. In 2008, I won all 22 counties. That's not true now because of I think a concerted effort to divide us along geographic lines. As a geography teacher it breaks my heart. I am still looking for the person who put up that red/blue map in the 2000 election that I think changed how we view our country. Look, there's republicans and democrats, there's people on a spectrum that live in these areas, and I think the 24 hours news cycle, the continuous desire to divide us, you're going to have folks coming to the State Fair, they need to be able to talk about the Farm Bill, they need to know the price of corn. They need to know that milk prices, $17 a hundred weight doesn't get us by. And it's not because some LGBTQ child wants to live their own life, which they will try and make it. We need real solutions and so I think our solution to that is talk to people where they're at, tell them the story of where we're at, show them why this matters and that Farm Bill is a good start.

Henderson: Well, we have to end our conversation right now. Thanks to both of you for joining us on this edition of Iowa Press.

Walz: Thanks for having us.

Hart: Yeah, thanks so much.

Henderson: You can watch every episode of Iowa Press at iowapbs.org. For everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching.


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.

Elite Casino Resorts is rooted in Iowa. Elite's 1,600 employees are our company's greatest asset. A family-run business, Elite supports volunteerism, encourages promotions from within and shares profits with our employees.

Across Iowa, hundreds of neighborhood banks strive to serve their communities, provide jobs and help local businesses. Iowa Banks are proud to back the life you build. Learn more at iowabankers.com.