Rick Stewart

Iowa Press | Episode
Aug 19, 2022 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Libertarian candidate for Iowa governor Rick Stewart (L-Cedar Rapids) discusses his campaign and policy positions. 

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Katarina Sostaric, state government reporter for Iowa Public Radio and Ian Richardson, Statehouse reporter for The Des Moines Register.

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



Voters will see the names of three candidates for Governor on the 2022 General Election ballot. Rick Stewart, the Libertarian candidate for Governor is our guest on this edition of Iowa Press.


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. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.


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 19th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson. 


Henderson: Our guest today is Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Rick Stewart of Cedar Rapids. In 1976, Mr. Stewart started a company called Frontier that sold organic herbs and spices. He retired from the company in about late 1999. He has run for office five times in Iowa. You may have seen his name on the ballot in 2014. He ran for the U.S. Senate as an Independent. He ran for Linn County Sheriff. He has run as a Libertarian for the U.S. Senate. He was recently in 2018 a candidate for State Secretary of Agriculture and now he's back on the ballot this November. Welcome to Iowa Press.

Stewart: Well, thank you very much. After five runs it feels really good to finally make it onto the Iowa PBS station.

Henderson: Joining our conversation today are Ian Richardson of the Des Moines Register and Katarina Sostaric of Iowa Public Radio.

Sostaric: Let's start with the basics. What is a libertarian?

Stewart: Well, the first thing to understand is we're not a republican and we're not a democrat. Do you want me to elaborate on that?

Sostaric: A little bit.

Stewart: All right. So we're the party that has principles who are 50 years old and our principles are the same principles that we started with. In a nutshell we're the non-aggression party, we have a non-aggression principle. We don't initiate force against anybody. We defend ourselves but we don't start using force. We're the party of liberty. We're the original American political party and we're the original Iowa political party even though they didn't have that name back then. But most people in America are libertarians, they were liberating themselves from the oppressive rule of the European monarchs. And Iowa is a libertarian state, right, our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain as our state motto on our flag. So libertarian is really the original political philosophy of this entire country and that's what we stand for, the original liberties and rights.

Sostaric: With the Libertarian Party's interest in having very limited government, the state budget in Iowa is about $8 billion right now. Most of that goes to education and health care. How much would the state budget be if libertarians were in charge of state government in Iowa?

Stewart: Well, it depends on what timeframe you're talking about. You don't just slash the entire thing in the first year but you start working toward that. You start working back to let's just say 1950, I don't know the exact number, but the state budget was a lot smaller. I can tell you this, we had a state income tax of 2%, not 7% or 8% depending on where you are. And you just slowly start to trim it down. You get rid of all the unnecessary, I call them barnacles that have accumulated on the ship of state. You don't want to sink the ship but you want to get rid of the barnacles. So I can anticipate a future where the state budget was, I don't know in today's dollars which aren't worth as much as they used to be, but I'm sure you can probably get that down to let's just say $2 billion.

Henderson: Let's give viewers an idea of the top three barnacles.

Stewart: Well, the biggest barnacle we have is the drug war. The drug war is the worst mistake that America ever made.

Henderson: But in terms of state programs that you would eliminate, the barnacles that are holding down.

Stewart: Right, well the drug war. The state of Iowa has a drug war that is costing us an enormous amount every year in enforcement actions, in imprisonment, in taking people out of the workforce so they can't pay taxes and forcing them to live in a cage. That's the biggest barnacle on the ship.

Richardson: Well, let's talk about the drug war. You said that ending that is your most important priority. What steps would you take as Governor to do that?

Stewart: On day one I would issue a pardon to every non-violent drug offender in the state of Iowa. These people have been maligned by a vicious set of drug warriors who haven't given up even though the drug war is already over. They're like the Japanese soldiers on the islands in the Pacific that didn't retire, didn't give up for 20 or 30 years, they're fighting a war that is over. The drug war, it's done. They're legalizing marijuana all across the country. They're almost on the verge of legalizing psychedelic assisted therapy, LSD, MDMA, they're all going to be legal within the next year or two. We now know that opioids themselves are not dangerous but illegal opioids are extremely dangerous. We had what, over 400 Iowans died because of illegal opioids. These are the kinds of costs that are, they're more than a barnacle, they're like the whole side of the ship. It's completely unnecessary, it destroys the fiber of the country, it alienates us from our police forces, it alienates us from just about everything. So yeah, get rid of that and you've solved a lot of the problems that Iowa has.

Richardson: What restrictions on drugs would you support? Do you support certain age limits? Should certain drugs be off limits?

Stewart: Well, we don't sell cigarettes and tobacco and alcohol to minors, we're certainly not going to sell drugs to minors. That's just common sense. Nobody is proposing that minors get their hands on these. But other than that, yeah, I'm not in favor of most drugs being sold in a convenience store or in a tobacco shop even though that's where we sell liquor and tobacco, the two most dangerous drugs after sugar. I would say that if you want any of these drugs you need a safe supply, number one, so you don't die. And you should go to the pharmacy and it shouldn't be on the shelf, it should be where the pharmacist is, but you don't need a prescription. So you go in, you talk to the pharmacist, the pharmacist knows you because you go back to the same place all the time, they give you the warnings, they say be careful, be safe, thank you very much. That's my restriction.

Henderson: In a speech at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register's political soapbox you said as Governor you would immediately sort of try to circumvent federal law and allow psychedelic treatment for mental health and that would involve LSD, as you mentioned, and psilocybin, which many people may recognize as magic mushrooms. Do you think an Iowa Governor would have the authority to circumvent federal restrictions that outlaw those two drugs?

Stewart: No, it's the same as the Colorado Governor doesn't have the authority to sell marijuana but they do it anyway. Yeah, sometimes the federal government just needs to be told go away, we're not interested in your laws, we have our own laws, leave us alone. That's what they do with marijuana, that's what we would do with psychedelic assisted therapy. I'm just proposing that we, I'm not proposing that the Governor can say okay, sell it in the pharmacies. I'm saying the therapists that are already out there can use the extremely valuable product and they don't have to worry about the federal government getting involved in arresting them. I will stand between the federal government and the therapists and the federal government is going to have to go through me if they want to arrest -- but they're not going to. A lot of people don't understand what's happening. These products are safe and they're effective and there's nothing that works better than them. They're cheap. It's not hard to figure out how to use them. It's going to happen. So let's make it happen tomorrow. We have what in the United States, 5,000, 6,000 suicides a year of veterans alone. That's 20, 25 a day. Why would we wait one day and allow 25 veterans to commit suicide instead of giving them the treatment which we know works? That's just not right.

Henderson: You have also said as Governor you would not allow the government's eminent domain power to be used to seize land along these three proposed carbon capture pipeline routes. Why?

Stewart: Well, eminent domain is part of the Iowa Constitution but not for private gain. These are private pipeline companies. If they want to become a public company, let them become owned by the state and we'll talk about that. But I don't think it's a great idea. But what they should do is they should negotiate with the people who own the land and they should pay them the amount that those people want and if somebody doesn't want to sell it to them or lease it to them then they should have to go around it. This is the way private companies work. So yeah, I'm not going to let the state come in and take people's land away from them so that a private company can get private gain. That's just not right, that's not in the Constitution and it's not going to happen on my watch.

Henderson: You're also an advocate for local government is the best government as I understand it, right?

Stewart: Well, I didn't ever say they were good, I just said they were the best.

Henderson: So in Iowa there is state law that forbids local governments from, for example, regulating where livestock confinements can be located and there is a statewide rule about smoking, so there can't be local ordinances about smoking. Are those things that you think need to be done away with?

Stewart: I would actually probably do away if it were just me with almost everything in the entire Iowa Code which is this big, the Iowa Code if you look at it is this thick and when I was a law enforcement officer in 1971 and 1972 it was this thick. So I would just start with let's get rid of all the extra because most of those laws weren't necessary in the first place, they haven't made us any happier, they haven't made us healthier, they haven't made us wealthier and all they've done is irritate us and now we don't like our government anymore. Almost nobody likes the government. In our booth at the Iowa State Fair we ask the question, is the government doing a good job? 90%, obviously not a scientific poll, but when 90% of the people say no you know that there is a problem. And it's really just bloat, it's government bloat, it's government barnacles, get rid of all of them. On the specific ones that you said, yeah those are obviously local issues. We don't need somebody in Des Moines telling us whether our neighbor has a hog lot. We don't need somebody in Washington telling us that. How about the local county decides? How about the local town decides? Let them decide. They're not always going to be right and they might be different. That's okay. Some of them are going to be right and then we're going to copy them, some of them are going to be wrong and we're going to not do that. Local is so much better than state or national, yeah.

Sostaric: On that note, do you think Iowa should have any regulations on abortion?

Stewart: I don't think any government should have any regulations on abortion. What would the government know about that? Abortion is an issue that has been with us for thousands of years. It's not like it's brand new. It didn't start with Roe v. Wade. The greatest thinkers, the greatest philosophers and the best people in the world have been thinking about it for thousands of years ad the answer has never been let the government do it. The answer has always been something different. Different religions have come up with different solutions. But it has never been the government and it shouldn't be the government today. Now maybe because I personally believe that life begins at conception and if the scientists want to change my mind I will give them a chance but so far they haven't. But that doesn't mean that the government should get involved in the question. Maybe abortion is murder. It could be. Do we know? Well I can tell you this, I don't know and I don't think any politician knows and I would never give that decision to a politician. I would obviously give that to the person who is in the position of being pregnant and I would pray that she does not get an abortion and we know it's a she because it's not going to be a he. But I would not interfere with it because between her, her spiritual advisor, her partner, her family, her relatives, her neighbors, all the people that are important ot her and that know her far better than any government will ever know her, they are the ones who should help her make a decision which is arguably the hardest decision a woman will ever have to make in her life. And I pray for the solution but I'm not going to interfere with it.

Richardson: Switching gears to education, Governor Kim Reynolds is pushing to allow some parents to use state dollars to switch from public school to either private school or homeschooling. How would you change the way state dollars are used for education?

Stewart: Well, number one I wouldn't call them state dollars, those are taxpayer dollars. That's my money. Here's how public education works. We all agree to pay taxes from birth to death and the only time we get them back is if we have kids. And when we have kids they get educated for free. That's the whole concept. Now, the concept does not mean that it has to be educated in a state school or a private school or homeschool, the concept is we all pay all of our lives taxes and when we have children then the education is free. I would have the dollars follow the teacher, not the school, because teachers teach kids. That is the only thing that teaches kids is teachers. Schools don't, schools are just a bureaucracy that organizes them. So let's have the money go straight to the teachers, let's have the parents allocate the money and they can allocate it to different teachers. They can say you, I want you as a teacher, you're a private school teacher, I don't care about that, I care that you are a good teacher for my kids and that you want to teach my kids, you get some of the money. You, you teach in a public school, that's fine, I don't care about that, what I care about is that my kids want you to teach them math. And you say yeah, I'll be glad to teach them math. Good, you get some money. And you're a homeschooler and you teach your kids about science at home because you're a scientist so you get the money. They money should follow the teachers, not the system.

Richardson: How do you see that transition looking? How would you switch to that way of funding?

Stewart: Well, the best way to learn to swim is not to jump in ice cold water in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. First you put your toe in. So you just do it gradually. But this is what businesses do. I'm a CEO. Businesses, they don't just turn their whole ship around immediately. If they have a great idea -- trust me I've had a lot of great ideas in my life and about 10% of them were actually good ones -- but the business changes slowly. Let's try it here, let's have a trial thing, let's expand the trial. That's the way state government should work too but you need to be able to make decisions quickly.

Henderson: Well, Governor Reynolds has said her proposal is a trial run, a pilot project. Do you agree?

Stewart: Well, everything is a trial if it's a change. So --

Henderson: So you think her idea would be a good first step?

Stewart: Well, my idea for a first step would be a different idea. But any step in the right direction is a good step. The argument isn't how to get to Rome, it's like can we start going to Rome because that's where we want to be. So yeah, let's do whatever it takes.

Sostaric: The state of Iowa collects a fuel tax and spends it on roads and bridges. You've said that libertarians believe that roads should be private. How would that work?

Stewart: Well, I didn't bring it with me but just use a transponder, I drove to Chicago a couple of days ago and put the transponder, it's about as big as a cigarette lighter or something like that, all I did was put it on my dashboard, I drove all the way to Chicago, I paid tolls half the way, I don't even have the slightest idea exactly where I paid a toll because I never even had to slow down, I just drove. I know they took some money out of my account. Well, why isn't that, we have the technology today. Why don't we use it everywhere and then we'll lease the roads to private companies, we don't give them, we lease them and the private companies take care of the roads, they have the rules for the roads, they pay a fee for the privilege of doing so and they try to make a profit in the process. It's really easy to do, especially with technology today. There's no reason, there's no such thing as a free street. The one in front of my house, it's not free, there was a lot of money put into that street. Why should I be able to use it for free? And so yeah, you just get completely out of this fuel tax idea, which it might have been the best idea a long time ago, that was a long time ago. Today we just use transponders. They're so small, you just carry them in your pocket like your keys and you get a bill at the end of the month and you pay for how much road usage you use, a combination of how many miles and where you drove them and when you drove them and how heavy your car is. The roads would be a lot better if we implemented that system. It's so simple. We could have that done in five years minimum.

Henderson: What about public transportation? Buses, trains. The country has very much invested in roads. Do you think that investment should shift, that more private companies should be running passenger trains, high speed passenger trains?

Stewart: Well, I don't know if private companies want to run high speed passenger trains but if they do let them. If it's a good idea they'll make money. If it's a bad idea they'll go bankrupt. But it won't cost us anything, it'll just be their problem. So yeah, start to privatize. It's pretty simple. You just don't have the government trying to do things that the private market can do faster, more efficiently, less expensively, better service, better quality. That's what the real world is about is the private market delivering goods and services to people and some of them get rich and some of them go broke and the rest of us get to buy good stuff at low prices and very convenient too.

Richardson: You have said that you oppose government mandates. As Governor, which ones would you want to get rid of first?

Stewart: All of them. Why should the government have a mandate?

Richardson: Can you name a few that would be the top ones for you?

Stewart: Well, anything that says you can't do this. All the drug war is, is a mandate. It's a mandate. You can't do that. So there's one, get rid of that one right off the bat. But everything else is the same thing. How about this, here's a mandate. I don't understand where this came from although I'm afraid I might know. But we have a mandate that you can't run a child care center unless you get registered with the government and you have to follow a whole bunch of rules that the government implemented. That's just a mandate. Well, I'm old enough to remember, you guys are too young, but there used to be a time when there was no child care regulation in the state. Were all the kids being poorly taken care of? No. No, the kids were being well taken care of and it was a lot less expensive and it was a lot more free market and it worked just fine. Let's get rid of the idea that the government knows how to run a child care center. I ran a child care center at work because we had on-site child care for everybody in my company. So I do have some experience with this. There is no value added, it just makes the prices higher, which rich people don't mind and it hurts poor people. Let's get rid of it. Let's unmandate child care. Kids aren't going to suffer.

Richardson: There has also been a lot of discussion about vaccine mandates lately with the coronavirus. Would you support any requirements for vaccines in schools for children?

Stewart: Absolutely not. My body is my body. I have body autonomy. You can't violate that. The government can't say you have to have a shot. The government has no right to stick a needle in my body anywhere. If you'd like people to get vaccinated then ask them politely. Please and thank you works really well and that's what the government should do. That's completely an unconstitutional mandate that you can stick a needle into me or force me to get a needle stuck into me for something that I'm not interested in. No.

Henderson: Let's circle back to the barnacle discussion.

Stewart: I love the barnacles. In Iowa we don't have a lot of ships with barnacles.

Henderson: I understand that you are not a fan of the income tax, correct?

Stewart: Absolutely correct.

Henderson: Okay, so if you eliminated the state income tax that would maybe cut the state budget by a third. If you do that, what agencies, what functions of state government would go away, the barnacles?

Stewart: Well, the reason that the income tax is bad does not mean that on day one when you get rid of it you should just cut the budget by that much. You replace it with a different tax.

Henderson: And what would that tax be?

Stewart: Well, it depends but the two taxes which are actually a very good way to collect taxes -- let me backtrack just a little. The income tax is the worst way to collect money. There is nothing worse than the income tax. It taxes work. You tax things that you don't want like liquor and cigarettes, you don't tax work. Number two, it's just a playground for politicians which is why the income tax, the federal income tax is 41,000 pages long. Let me as a simple question, did you do your own income taxes last year? You did it yourself with a pencil and paper, right? You didn't use a computer.

Richardson: I did use a computer.

Stewart: You didn't do your own income taxes. How about you, did you do your own income taxes?

Sostaric: I used a computer program.

Stewart: Didn't do your own. Did you do yours?

Henderson: Computer.

Stewart: Okay, so nobody here except me did their own income taxes and that is a travesty. It's unbelievable that we allow computers, which you do not understand, to do your income taxes for you so you can avoid it. Income taxes are a cesspool of corruption by politicians. They are the worst kind of tax. So get rid of them and if you need something, because you need some more money, right, do sales tax or value added tax or property tax. Those are so simple. Did you spend any time calculating your property taxes last year or your sales tax or your fuel tax? No, you spent no time whatsoever. Income tax irritates people and it causes them to be liars. It's a horrible tax.

Henderson: Property tax is not very popular either.

Stewart: Just because it's popular doesn't mean it's not efficient and effective. It's really hard to avoid your property tax. What are you going to do, pick up your house and hide it from the tax collector? No tax is popular but we need to do the ones which are efficient, which are effective and which don't irritate people. That is not the income tax.

Henderson: Okay, circling back to the barnacles.

Stewart: Let's go back to the barnacles.

Henderson: So you've said no more drug war. What other functions of state government should end?

Stewart: Well, everything that isn't in the Constitution I would say -- let's talk about what are the functions of state government. The responsibility of the state government in Iowa is to provide education. That's in our Constitution. They took it out of the Constitution within a few years but they put it into the law. The public order, so safety. The state should provide me with safety so that if I'm in danger I don't have to go and hire a private army to attack you because you took my stuff. And a court system, right? Our court system is so underfunded. You should be able to go to court and get a fast and speedy trial. Have you tried that recently? Because it doesn't happen. So we need to actually put more money into the court system. Beyond that you tell me, what is it that is so important for the state to do? I don't see it. I just don't see it. None of that stuff was done in 1857 when the Iowa Constitution was passed. The state does things today which were completely out of the realm of possibility. And people tend to think that life must have been miserable before we had this big of an Iowa Code. It was not. It was a wonderful place. Technology makes it even more wonderful today. But government makes it worse.

Sostaric: On your campaign website you mention a universal basic income as being a solution to poverty. Do you think Iowa should have a universal basic income?

Stewart: Well, there's three possibilities. One is we just keep on doing what we're doing, which is a hodgepodge, a complete mess of individual benefit programs and laws and regulations and stuff that is attempting to solve a problem. There's so many of them you can't even count. That's what we're doing today, that's option number one. Option number two is just you get rid of the entire thing, there's no government welfare. There shouldn't be any government welfare. We know this for a fact. There wasn't any government welfare until, what, until FDR came around so that's in the 1930s. But since we are there we need a way to get out of there and into something rational and a universal basic income is the only rational thing. Iowa's most famous philosopher or political thinker, Charles Murray, will explain that in excellent, excellent detail. But if you're not going to go to the two extremes, the universal basic income is the only way to go and it's going to happen. All these things which make sense, they're going to happen. Maybe they're not going to happen next year, maybe I can't make them happen if I'm Governor, but they are going to happen because that is the right way to do it. So eventually government does learn. It's just a very slow process.

Henderson: We have about a minute left. Without going into great detail about your travels you have lived in a lot of different places, visited a lot of different places. Is there a country out there and a government that you see elsewhere that you think this country should transition to?

Stewart: Well, there's not one country that has everything but there are some countries which do really, really good things. Switzerland is one of them. Singapore is one of them. Those are a couple of places that have done some things really well.

Henderson: So what form of government, for people who aren't familiar with Switzerland --

Stewart: Well, you better go with democracy because nobody has figured out a better one. Switzerland has cantons and so really it's not, it's a country but the cantons individually have most of the power. The President of Switzerland has no power. And so because they're competitive with each other, I forget there's seven or something like that, they're small, they're competitive --

Henderson: There's no test.

Stewart: Well, I'd fail if there were. They're small and they have, people get to vote a lot on referendums and they vote stuff out, they vote stuff in. So it's a very rich country. Their health care is fantastic, it's much cheaper than ours, probably better. Yeah, that's just one thing that would spring to mind. But there is no perfect country. We need to make this country perfect. That's the only solution because we are the best country in the world and this is the best state in the country.

Henderson: Well, thank you for joining us today to talk about your views and your ideas.

Stewart: It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you very much to all of you.

Henderson: And thank you for watching this edition of Iowa Press. You can watch every edition of Iowa Press at iowapbs.org. For everyone here at the network, 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. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.