U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate

Iowa Press | Episode
May 18, 2020 | 1 hr

Candidates Michael T. Franken (D - Sioux City), Kimberly Graham (D - Indianola), Theresa Greenfield (D - Des Moines) and Eddie Mauro (D - Des Moines) answer questions and discuss their platforms, concerns and future plans for Iowa and the nation.

David Yepsen, host of Iowa Press, moderates the debate. Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, joins Yepsen.

Iowa Press Debates: U.S. Senate Democratic Primary precedes the June 2, 2020 primary election in Iowa. Due to current social distancing guidelines, there is no studio audience during the debate.


Running for office during a global coronavirus pandemic and the Iowa primary election is only two weeks away. Where do democrats running for the U.S. Senate, the right to take on republican Joni Ernst, stand on the issues? We gather four candidates here at Iowa PBS for this special live Iowa Press Debate.


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. 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.


For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Live from the Iowa PBS studios in Johnston, Iowa, this is a special U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate. Here is moderator David Yepsen.


Yepsen: In 2020 Iowans had barely transitioned away from the presidential caucus season before a global pandemic changed daily life across the country. But election year realities and the gears of democracy still churn forward with a June 2nd primary only weeks away. Joining us tonight for a live debate at Iowa PBS studios are the four candidates seeking their party's democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. We're hosting this debate with increased public health precautions with a minimal staff joining us inside this empty 300 person auditorium at Iowa PBS Studios. There is no audience on site tonight and candidates are separated by more than 6 feet with Plexiglas barriers between them. Now, to introduce those candidates.

Yepsen: Kimberly Graham is an Indianola based attorney and advocate for children and families. Eddie Mauro is a Des Moines businessman and former coach and teacher. Mike Franken of Sioux City is a former U.S. Navy Vice Admiral. And Theresa Greenfield of Des Moines has worked in urban planning and as a real estate and development executive. Welcome to all of you. Thanks for being here. 

Thank you for having us.

It's a pleasure.

Yepsen: And joining us in tonight's debate questioning is Kay Henderson, News Director for Radio Iowa. I would like to open the questioning with a question about electability and we'll just go down the line. I'll start with you, Kimberly Graham. Why are you the most electable democrat in this race? Why are you the democrat who can beat Joni Ernst?

Graham: Well, there are several reasons. I think that first we need to look at how somebody has campaigned so far. It is absolutely possible that a more progressive democrat can win a statewide race in Iowa. I have a couple of words to say about that. Tom Harkin. He once won all except 1 county in this state and Tom Harkin went everywhere and listened to everyone, especially those with whom he disagreed. And that is how you win. I have been an advocate and attorney for abused kids and for parents in juvenile court for the last 20 years and I have also been a family law mediator. If you want to get good at actively listening to people, become a mediator, because that is the number one skill. And I believe that Iowans are going to give any candidate a chance that they believe is doing this for the right reasons, that is there for them and that is going to always put people over profits.

Yepsen: Mike Franken, why are you the democrat best suited to beat Joni Ernst?

Franken: Well, thank you. So I'm born and bred Iowa, rural Iowa, the youngest in a big family, small town. Little did I realize that that opening to life, hardworking, disciplined, educated lifestyle would do me well in almost four decades in the military and almost a decade as an Admiral. That in turn, that worldwide perspective in legislative experience and executive experience, interagency, broad understanding of Washington, D.C. and also maintaining Iowa core values throughout it all and understanding where Iowa core values connects with good governance. Consequently I believe I have the tools necessary to defeat Joni Ernst.

Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield, why are you the best democrat in this race?

Greenfield: Thank you, David. Yeah, I'm Theresa Greenfield and I'm a businesswoman, a business leader. I am a mother of four. And I am a really proud farm kid. And I'm running to put Iowa first and I'm not taking one dime of corporate PAC donations and I think it's important for Iowans to know that. On the farm where I grew up my dad always said, there's no boy jobs and there's no girl jobs, there's just jobs that need to get done. And I think Washington is the same way, we need to get some work done on behalf of Iowans and all Americans. And I'll tell you what, Joni Ernst, she disappoints me. She puts her corporate PAC donors first and I think that hurts Iowans. I'm running for hardworking families, I carry their fight in my heart. I was widowed at the age of 24 and my first husband was a lineman for the power company, so he was a union member, IBEW. And when he died I became a young widow, a single mom with a 13 month old and another one on the way and it was Social Security, hard-earned union benefits and family and friends that gave me that hand up to get on my way. And so when Senator Ernst talked about cutting Social Security I got in this race.

Yepsen: Eddie Mauro, why are you the most electable democrat?

Mauro: Because I'm the democrat best suited because Iowans deserve a Senator ready to lead this health and economic recovery and address our shared challenges with the courage, the compassion, the urgency and the progressive vision that we need in this moment in time. I'm a lifelong Iowans, a proud father and husband, a former teacher that built a progressive business that provides paid family leave, that has 65% of our leadership being women and when times were tough during the last Great Recession I took a pay cut, didn't lay off a single worker. Others in this race can't say the same, especially Joni Ernst. I'm bringing progressive values, supporting health care for every American and a woman's right to choose, making sure we're protecting Social Security and not accepting corporate PAC money. And when I'm elected, I'll treat the climate crisis like the national security issue it is and support the Green New Deal. I'm here because Iowans need to have a voice. I'm asking for their vote because tomorrow we'll build a better America for everyone.

Yepsen: Thank you. Kay Henderson?

Henderson: Mr. Franken, this question will go to you first. Last week the U.S. House passed a $3 trillion economic stimulus package with the support of Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack, a democrat from Iowa City. But Abby Finkenaur, a democrat from Dubuque, and Cindy Axne, a democrat from West Des Moines, voted against it. Which of those democrats made the right choice?

Franken: I believe the Congresswomen did. There were issues with that bill. Certainly there is a high level of urgency to provide relief for the COVID, but we need to be more shepherding of our national resources and I believe there were aspects of that bill which placated the uber rich, which we've had a history of doing in such bills, and I believe we ought to get something from those bills that lead to a better tomorrow such as a broad infrastructure package or addressing the medical care or addressing those most impacted by this down to the small businesses and the workers, including those who are undocumented in society.

Henderson: What provision did you find most objectionable about the uber rich?

Franken: There was 1,800 pages so permit me a little bit of allegiance here, or allowance off the script. But there was an aspect of it which promoted a tax break associated with some previous aspects. I don't know the aspects but it is, I found it offensive.

Henderson: Kimberly Graham, would you have voted for that bill if you had been in the U.S. House? I know you're running for the Senate. But did Congressman Loebsack make the right decision?

Graham: Well, that's a good question. Actually we had already recorded a different debate and during that debate I actually said that I'm not sure that I would have voted for it because if, and this is the big operative word here, if it was basically a dressed up additional giveaway to already wealthy corporations that do not need those funds, then perhaps I would have voted against it. However, as Mike Franken just said, it's about 1,800 pages long and here is what you learn when you deal with laws for a living, the devil is always in the details. And so not having read those 1,800 pages first I can tell you that any legislation I will ever vote on I will do the hard work and I will read every sentence and every line. So I don't know exactly what is in it. I have not read all 1,800 pages yet.

Henderson: Theresa Greenfield, what is your judgment in terms of that bill? Should it pass the U.S. Senate as is?

Greenfield: Well, we have to take action, urgent action and I am glad that Congress and the Senate has taken action on the previous CARES bills but there's so much more to do and I certainly haven't had a chance to read 1,800 pages of that bill either. But I'd want to make sure that it really focused on the folks and the small businesses that are being injured as part of the COVID pandemic and of course the economic crisis, focusing on hardworking families that are struggling right now to make ends meet and pay the bills. And so I'd want to take another hard look at that. And because when I was asked, I hadn't had a chance to do that, I said I wouldn't be ready to vote on it.

Yepsen: So you have no position, you couldn't say I'd vote yay or nay. What we're trying to get at here is which other Iowa democrat would you agree with?

Greenfield: Well, I think that I want to be able to see what is in the bill. What little I have learned about it I was concerned about the transparency in it, the follow up, making sure those dollars go to those small businesses because I think that our federal government has fumbled that football a little bit there in the previous CARES Act and the dollars haven't gone to all of the small businesses. And I want to be assured that what is in that bill will help Iowans first before I'd be ready to vote for it. So if I had to vote today it would be a no.

Henderson: Eddie Mauro, how would you vote?

Mauro: First of all, in order to address this COVID pandemic we need to talk about leadership. We need to have leadership that wants to make sure that they're working for the family farmer first, for the worker, for the unemployed, for the small business owner. And I've demonstrated that leadership for a long time. I run a small business, I provide paid family leave and when we're having a crisis I take a pay cut so we can make sure we keep them all employed. In the midst of this crisis I'm doing the same thing. My job is to lead catastrophes, fires, hurricanes, floods. I'm doing that today.

Henderson: And so how would you have voted on the bill?

Mauro: I'm going to get to that because Joni Ernst right now and Donald Trump are not leading in that way. I've got to tell you that I'm concerned about leadership within this race right here.

Henderson: So did Nancy Pelosi show leadership by putting that bill forward and would you have voted for it?

Mauro: Well, I appreciate a chance to finish really quick. I want to make a point on the leadership and then I'm going to answer your question.

Yepsen: Yes, please do. Yes or no. Would you vote for or against that bill?

Mauro: I think that bill needs to be stronger and I'll tell you three reasons why because I have read the bill. I think it's missing automatic triggers that are in for UBI and automatic unemployment insurance. I think right now it's asking to put Cobra payments in and I think we need to be expanding the health care exchanges so that we can save money and ensure more people, provide health care to more people. So it's not strong enough right now. If I'm a United States Senator I would make it stronger and then send it back over to the House.

Henderson: Next question also about the pandemic and this will first go to Theresa Greenfield. As Iowans know, livestock producers are losing money on the cattle their raising, some hog farmers are having to euthanize their pigs. Consumers are seeing higher meat prices in the grocery store. As a U.S. Senator how would you as a policy maker balance the needs of livestock producers, the meatpacking industry, the employees inside the meatpacking plants and consumers?

Greenfield: Thanks, Kay. Well, absolutely COVID-19 is probably going to be one of the most consequential events of my lifetime and it has disrupted our lives, our health, our jobs, our education system, travel and certainly our supply chain. And I grew up outside of a little small town where we worked together to solve problems and we have to work more like that in Washington, particularly when it comes to solving not only the health crisis, but the economic crisis. So it starts with making sure we're protecting workers and that they are safe and can be on the job and make sure that we are investing in the small businesses who need help to get through this crisis and some of those support payments have been going on. But when it also comes to our livestock producers we've got to investigate the big corporations that have been fixing some of those prices. We have to make sure that our livestock owners are getting a fair deal. I had the opportunity to talk to a beef producer down in Warren County and they're very concerned about being taken advantage of by these large corporations during this pandemic.

Henderson: Mr. Mauro, how do you deal with price fixing in the beef market? And how do you balance the rights of workers in meatpacking plants and the meatpacking plant owners?

Mauro: So again I'm going to go back to telling you that the first thing we need to do is address the leadership issue. We have a crisis leadership that is going on with Donald Trump and Joni Ernst. And until we address the leadership aspect and send the right Senator to the United States Senate that is going to lead than we can't address those things in a meaningful way. And again, I'm out here telling people that we have people on the stage that are lacking that leadership and that is an important contrast that we need to have a conversation about.

Henderson: On this stage you have people who lack leadership?

Mauro: Yeah, so Theresa Greenfield, for example, has run a couple of businesses through crises and both times she has chosen the wrong route, laid workers off --

Yepsen: Mr. Mauro, the question was about the meat industry. Could you focus your answer on how we deal with that?

Mauro: Again, we deal with it because we have the right kind of leadership. In order to deal with that you've got to have somebody that cares about workers first, that is going to care about the family farmer first, not big ag, not big corporations, which is going on with the leadership that we have now and that's why I think leadership is a very important element of what is happening. So right now we're being told to open up these plants and put people in harm's way. That's wrong. We've got to take care of the worker first. We're not thinking about the family farmer either, we're only thinking about big ag and big corporations. We've got to talk about how we overhaul our agricultural system and have a Farm Bill that meets the needs of the family farmer first.

Henderson: Theresa Greenfield, he mentioned you. How do you respond?

Greenfield: You know, what I'm doing right now in this pandemic is focusing on the workers. I put out two plans on how to deal with COVID-19 and it starts with making sure our workers are healthy and safe. Essential workers need essential protections and we can do that. I would as the Governor to ask the administration to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up testing and PPE so that everyone can go to work whether you're working in the grocery store, whether you're in a delivery truck, whether you're delivering the mail or whether you're working in a meatpacking plant.

Henderson: Mike Franken, you grew up in an area of the state where pork producers are taking hogs to plants in Dakota City and in South Dakota which have had outbreaks. How do you balance the protection of workers against those pork producers who are facing the very real prospect of having to euthanize their animals?

Franken: Well, ma'am, so I worked in a hog kill plant for multiple years. So initially things needed to be implemented. The owners of these plants needed to run them like they owned them and the employees are essential elements of their ownership. So slow the line, PPE, OSHA standards need to be reinforced and not guidelines but enforcement, a number of other things. But this comes at a very inopportune time for Iowa agriculture, as you know. We are facing not the 1980's but something worse for Iowa agriculture. There are very few lines of effort in agriculture today that are profitable, compounded by the supply disruptions that this processing now has entailed, both on the beef and the pork side, we have problems. And we're going to see supply disruptions of an essential food element in society today. So something broader from agriculture, big ag, to something that is more resilient needs to occur. And the worker is job number one. We need to change our focus.

Henderson: Kimberly.

Graham: Thanks. So you asked how you balance those interests and I'll be very clear with my answer. Initially you don't balance them. In other words, you have to put the worker first. There is no burger, I don't care how good it tastes, that is worth anyone's life. So first you initially need to shut down every one of those plants where there are massive outbreaks, you need to get testing done of every single worker who was in that plant, probably not just once but down the road several times, you need to get PPE in there, you need to also ultimately reconfigure the plant probably to keep people farther apart, sterilize everything, sanitize everything and then you can safely reopen. But initially there is no balancing, you have to put people first and then also eventually you need to hold owners accountable. These owners of these plants knew what we all knew for a very long time, the way this spreads, that it spreads in close contact and yet they still had people right up next to each other with no PPE in some cases, no breaks to wash their hands, etcetera. That is unconscionable and the owners need to be held accountable. I don't see that that happens hardly ever, if ever. And then down the road you invest in inspectors and you make sure that you have on the ground inspectors going in and making sure that all of these measures are in place that need to be in place.

Yepsen: As Mr. Mauro points out, there's a lot of criticism flying about this campaign of each one of you. And I want to go to, turn to a segment here in our conversation about some of the negatives that have been raised about each one of you and give you a chance to respond. So I'll start with you, Theresa Greenfield, the criticism of you is that you're a tool of Chuck Schumer and that establishment democrats have endorsed you and given you their blessing. How do you respond to that notion that a bunch of out-of-state democratic leaders are trying to foist you onto the Iowa Democratic Party?

Greenfield: Thanks, Dave. Getting in the United States Senate race is a serious decision and I spent months preparing to get into this race, called county chairs, party leaders, activist friends, people I trust to really make that decision. And on the day I announced last June I decided to focus on building the strongest grassroots team and it wasn't but a day or two later 19 leaders from across the state, elected leaders, endorsed my campaign and from there we have just kept building a strong, strong team. So today we just recently announced our 24th union that has endorsed our campaign representing together I think about 70,000 workers across the state. Two weeks ago the Iowa AFL-CIO endorsed our campaign. And look, we've had 15,000 contributions from Iowans in all 99 counties. I stay focused on building a strong grassroots team here to win here for Iowans because I'm putting Iowa first.

Henderson: Mike Franken, the term that is used for you is the negative carpetbagger, that you spent your career outside of your home area in Iowa and you have come home just to run for the U.S. Senate. How do you respond?

Franken: Well, the optimum word was I came home. Yes, indeed. So I'm a fourth generation Iowans. And indeed I spent my first 23 years here, the formative years, doing the assortment of jobs as you would expect in rural Iowa. But then I joined the Navy and I didn't know I was going to stay so long but almost four decades, a great career, no apologies. And every job I've ever served in I was with Iowans. And anybody who knows me knows exactly where I'm from. So I was privileged, exceedingly privileged to have the spouse that permitted me to do this race and also the physicality and the verve and the effort that I would put my life aside to make sure I won. Joni Ernst ran on three qualities. So to ensure you have a candidate that wins you need to negate those out of the gate. Rural, the pig thing, which is unfortunate, and military. I do those trumped by a long shot. And ultimately with my legislative experience I lay bare her voting record. And that is her biggest weakness. That's why I came into this race, to win it.

Yepsen: Mr. Mauro, the criticism made of you is, first of all, you're from Des Moines. The track record of Des Moines based candidates in statewide races for democrats is not good. And secondly that you're something of a perennial candidate, you've run for other things before and people really shouldn’t take you seriously. How do you respond to those charges?

Mauro: First of all, I want to commend Michael Franken for his great service to this country, he has been really good. But the fact of the matter is when he retired he told an Iowa newspaper that he was going to make his home in Virginia. And he bought a million dollar house and has that house in Virginia. And that's a problem for us that we need to talk about. He should be running for the United States Senate in Virginia because he'd be a great Senator --

Yepsen: How about talking about yourself?

Mauro: No, I appreciate it. I know I've learned a lot from my opportunities and my experiences in running for office. And one of the things I learned was that the D.C. establishment does like to weigh in these races, I learned that in 2018 when they chose Theresa Greenfield and pushed Cindy Axne off to the side and I saw what that does to people. In fact, Iowans don't have a choice right now in this race because they're trying to tell us that Theresa is the only choice and you don't have a say in that and we need to reject that. And I learned from that that we need to go do something to combat that and beat that back. And what we have done is build out the broadest coalition and the best infrastructure, builded up 92 counties before we moved to this kind of campaigning, 100 virtual campaigns. And now there is a poll that shows that I am tied with Joni Ernst and that's better than the D.C. establishment candidate. So I've learned an awful lot from those experiences, I'm going to take them to the United States Senate. I'm the strongest candidate in this moment in time to take her on in November.

Yepsen: Mr. Franken, he took a shot at you. How do you respond to that?

Franken: Yes, just to correct the record, when I was in a combat deployment, 13 month deployment, I was alerted that Barack Obama, the President of the United States, selected me to be the Chief of Legislative Affairs for the Department of the Navy. I consequently needed to move my family from Tampa, Florida to Washington, D.C. This is what is done in the Navy. For 28 moves I have moved, four continents, 28 moves. So indeed what you would do is you would buy a house. So that is the house, it was 2012 when I purchased that house, just to correct the record. Thank you.

Henderson: Kimberly Graham, you at the onset of this evening said you are a progressive. Others who are concerned about your candidacy use two words and they say you're too liberal. How do you convince Iowa democrats that they should select you in a year when they're selecting a more centrist candidate to lead the ticket in Joe Biden?

Graham: Right. Well, I think we need to remember who, with a little controversy arguably I understand, who won Iowa and you could argue that that was Senator Bernie Sanders. So I think that says a lot about where a lot of Iowans think this country needs to go with our policies. The only neutral poll done in this race so far by the Des Moines Register in early March had our campaign coming out on top for both name recognition and favorability. I think that says a lot about the traction that our campaign has been able to gain over the little over a year now that I've been traveling all over the state. We got to 85 counties out of the 99, we did the rest online, so we've been to all 99 counties either in person or virtually now. Again, I would say we need to remember that Iowa has a very lengthy history of electing progressive or progressive for their time at least candidates. Berkley Bedell, Tom Harkin, and let's not forget the self-described skinny kid with a funny name and the big ears who came here in 2007, campaigned all around this state on universal single payer health care I will also remind everybody, and was elected twice by this state. He won twice, Barack Obama did. I think that it's just ridiculous to say that somebody is too liberal for Iowa, actually that is what the Republican Party is calling me, too liberal for Iowa.

Yepsen: But Ms. Graham, you have not run for office before, have you?

Graham: No, none of us have held elected office before.

Yepsen: Tom Harkin got there on his second go, Berkley Bedell got there on his second go to Congress, Barack Obama served in the Illinois Senate, served in the legislature there. You've not run for office before.

Graham: No, none of us have held elected office before and I think two of us haven't run before. So that's not unusual for this particular slate of candidates. I believe that we actually need more of us, regular working people, to be representing us. And so when we get that we will stop getting this nonsense of voting for tax breaks for wealthy corporations that don't need them and we will start investing in regular people. And until or unless we get regular people like me, a single mom with massive student loan debt, who has been representing people mostly in poverty in Iowa for 20 years and standing up and fighting for them, we will not see a change ultimately for our country.

Yepsen: Okay, I want to switch to policy issues and I want to talk about trade. We'll start with you, Mr. Mauro. What do you do about China? How do we conduct a trade policy that keeps the Chinese from stealing our secrets? And how do we deal with the tariff question that President Trump has put on the national agenda?

Mauro: We'll start with the tariff question first because it was ill-advised and it has cost rural Iowan dearly and throw on top of that the COVID pandemic now we have doubled down on how farmers are struggling and how our communities are struggling today. Overall what we need to be doing with trade is trying to instill the stealing of intellectual theft and forcing those regulations using our diplomatic efforts, not tariffs, not trade wars, that's harming farmers in Iowa, harming Iowans, harming other people in other industries that have been impacted by that. We want to make sure that we do press China. But we also need to stop misleading people. There has been a deceptive conversation going on that we need to have equal trade and that's not accurate. There's nothing wrong with having a trade imbalance. We've been benefiting from that trade imbalance for a very long time and Donald Trump has been trying to use that to create this division between China and the United States. Yes, do we have work to do with our trade balance with China? Do we have to do some work with the intellectual theft that is going on? Absolutely. But we shouldn't be doing it on the backs of farmers which we've been doing up to this time and Joni Ernst hasn't said a word about it.

Yepsen: Kimberly Graham, trade.

Graham: Yes, well you mentioned also trade secrets and stealing, theft and that kind of thing, one of the investments that I don't think we're making at the level we need to is in cybersecurity. We've had a lot of problems with that and I think we need to be really focusing on it a lot more than we have been. Regarding the tariffs and the trade wars, again this just takes us back to this current administration that continues to put profits over people and/or centers their ego, the ego of the person in the White House over what is good for working people. We also need to start consulting regular people that will be affected by policy before we implement it and I don't see that happening enough in this country. We're making these decisions up here and those decisions should be made in consultation with those that it is going to affect the most and they should have the most input.

Yepsen: Mr. Franken, trade.

Franken: To answer your question specifically, you don't do trade policy individually. The way you do this, and I have written and signed numerous international agreements, is you develop a consortium of like-minded entities, countries, corporations as it may be and then you go together as a block. And you know where your trade space is, you know where China's trade space is and you find an accommodation and you're tough and you use experts. This is where this administration falls. They're neither tough nor are they experts by a long shot and they do trade by tweet, absolutely wrong. And consequently from agriculture to intellectual property to cyber theft and a whole broad list of items, this administration has ostracized us from our partners, it has gone it alone and consequently we will fail with China.

Yepsen: And Theresa Greenfield.

Greenfield: Thank you. Strong international relations are good for peace and they're good for prosperity and they're good for Iowans' pocketbooks. And I'll tell you, as someone who grew up during the Farm Crisis my family struggled, with the Russian grain embargo, I watched tractors roll into Washington, D.C., our farmers are struggling again and I take it pretty personal. I went to auctions where families lost everything and it was sold off from the hay rack and they left our communities. As I have traveled the state and talked to farmers in O'Brien County and Fayette County and Floyd County and Guthrie County, they want their markets back. Between haphazard trade, ethanol waivers, net farm income is down 75% since 2013. Bankruptcy rates are at an 8 year high. Joni Ernst, she is no friend to our farmers. And we need to elect a Senator that will be a friend to farmers, our Main Streets, our small manufacturers because we're a state of small towns and small businesses.

Henderson: This will first go to Kimberly Graham. Iowa's ethanol industry is hurting. What if anything should federal policy makers do to support the industry?

Graham: Well, for starters, federal policy makers and namely Senator Ernst should not be just kind of looking the other way and singing tra-la-la while these waivers go in place for these giant corporations that those waivers were never intended to work for. Those waivers are supposed to be for very small refineries that actually need them. And again, this is a perfect example of this administration just doing whatever is going to benefit the already wealthy corporations. So I would be standing up and fighting for policies that would in the short-term get rid of those, those waivers, and make sure that the ethanol industry has what it needs to keep employing the tens of thousands of people that it employs in Iowa with good jobs.

Henderson: Eddie Mauro, there is a proposal in Congress that would give ethanol producers a per gallon incentive right now to sort of supplement their income in the wake of these huge profit, losses in profits. Would you support that kind of move?

Mauro: I would ask that it goes further because it's not deep enough, it's not strong enough. We need to do more with that, there's no doubt about it. But we've got to talk about overall, again, we talk about waivers and the ethanol industry we've got to talk about campaign finance as well because campaign finance money is getting in the way of Joni Ernst and others keeping them from really standing up for farmers. That fossil fuel money is a big problem and without her standing up strong for Iowa farmers they're going to continue to be left behind. And again, campaign finance money in this race, primary is also a problem. We have candidates who are taking fossil fuel money, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of fossil fuel money and that's a problem. It's going to be hard for them to stand up for those family farmers instead of the oil industry as well.

Henderson: And who are you accusing of that?

Mauro: That would be Miss Greenfield who is telling us that she doesn't take corporate PAC money. But that leadership PAC money that she gets is full of pharmaceutical money, of fossil fuel money, of big ag money and all kinds of money. And her and Joni Ernst both get to hide behind that kind of dark money.

Yepsen: Ms. Greenfield, do you want to reply to what Mr. Mauro just said?

Greenfield: I think it's important for Iowans to know that I've taken a pledge not to accept one dime of corporate PAC donations and I'm thrilled to do it. I've been endorsed by Citizens United and I'll tell you, one of the jobs that needs to get done is to end political corruption and it is the very first plan that I put out because of all the things we're going to talk about tonight, none of it is going to get done until we end dark money in politics. And Senator Joni Ernst, she voted for a fossil fuel lobbyist to head the EPA who promptly issued those 85 ethanol waivers that have devastated our market. They need a Senator that won't take one dime of corporate PAC donations and I'm ready to be their next Senator.

Yepsen: Can we go back to Kay's question?

Greenfield: What was Kay's question?

Henderson: You've all talked about the waivers except we have yet to hear from Mr. Franken. Do you support the per gallon package that would be going to ethanol and biofuel producers?

Greenfield: I do.

Henderson: Mr. Franken, what should policy makers do? Should there be a difference between the plants that are owned by farmers and the plants that are owned by corporations?

Franken: So the corporate farm, it depends what corporate you're speaking of. Big oil, that's a separate matter. Corporate associated with farming industry I don't believe so. I don't know the specifics exactly but I would segregate those two under the broad category of corporate. But the RFS exemptions are a killer and the Trump administration frankly, EPA is breaking the law. This is existential for our farmers and our corn growers in America and ultimately this is one more death knell to agriculture that Joni Ernst is not helping at all.

Yepsen: Mr. Franken, we'll go onto another issue and I'd like to hear from each one of you quickly about this. There is some proposals that different groups have made about the Supreme Court. Do you believe the size of the Supreme Court should be expanded?

Franken: Well, I believe it ought to be depoliticized.

Yepsen: And that is one idea that people have for trying to do that.

Franken: Right. I have not studied that. I would leave this to the constitutional lawyers to come forward with an estimation on what the puts and takes are associated with this. I'm not really, the goodness of a person who has been in executive management for 25 years is when I don't know, I say so and I look for guidance.

Yepsen: Fair enough. Theresa Greenfield, should the size of the court be expanded?

Greenfield: We need a fair and impartial Supreme Court and certainly as a United States Senator it's a solemn duty to advise and consent, but I don't believe we need to expand the Supreme Court.

Yepsen: Okay. Eddie Mauro, yes or no, do we need a Supreme Court expansion?

Mauro: So if it's continuing to be politicized like it is right now, if we're going to be appointing judges and awarding judges based on political ideology, then absolutely yes we need to expand the court.

Yepsen: Kimberly Graham, expand the size of the court?

Graham: I would agree that it's one really good option for trying to end the politicization of it. And after watching Kavanaugh confirmation hearings I can tell you that if an Iowa judge, I've worked with Iowa judges for 20 years, if an Iowa judge behaved that way during an interview for becoming a judge that person would never have been confirmed or hired to become a judge in Iowa, I'm glad to say.

Henderson: Another lightening round. This one on a subject that was debated on the presidential campaign trail. I'll start with you, Eddie Mauro. Should the federal government guarantee free college?

Mauro: No, but they should guarantee debt free college.

Henderson: Theresa Greenfield?

Greenfield: I'm the product of some progressive leaders who invested in college education and I went to Iowa Lakes Community College and the cost was such that I got a job at Pizza Hut and I was able to buy my books, pay my rent, pay my tuition and get a beer on Friday night. I would focus on trade schools, community colleges, make sure they are debt free and support our apprenticeship programs where people can earn while they learn.

Henderson: Mike Franken?

Franken: I paid for my college through working at a hog kill plant and as a blacksmith in essence. I believe that the wage scales are no longer applicable that we can do that. We've got a problem. But ultimately a voluntary expanded national service program as an assistance, very similar to the GI Bill, other matters and no cost loans for college students where the federal government isn't making money on loans which is ridiculous. So there's a few measures we should do but I don't think it ought to be no cost, no. Although we should work for junior colleges and trade schools, yes.

Henderson: Kimberly Graham?

Graham: Yes, I believe that trade schools and public colleges should be at no out of pocket cost. How we get there exactly whether we expand Pell Grants, whatever we need to do to make sure that nobody leaves college or trade school with debt is what we need to do. We've got to make those investments.

Yepsen: Let's switch to health care, Mr. Franken. Medicare for all or public option?

Franken: I'm a proponent, and having spoken to the drafters of the Affordable Care Act, I'm a proponent of fixing what is wrong with the Affordable Care Act and then putting the Medicare option on that and ultimately bracing up Medicare. And there’s a number of other measures that we ought to do. The end state ought to be what I received for many decades, from seaman to admiral, from cradle to grave, for every American, preventive health care, dental, mental and physical health care for every American and it ought to be, even our 1B and 2B workers. We ought to make this a birth right of Americans and for the working class of America.

Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield, this has been a big fault line in the Democratic Party. Where do you come down on this question, giving everybody Medicare or just expanding public options?

Greenfield: Thanks, Dave. I believe health care is a right and I want all Iowans to have health care. And I'll tell you, I kicked off my Heartland tour at the Boone County Hospital and got the chance to visit with them about the community they serve, their patient's needs and of course understand a little bit more about the business of the hospital and found out of course that Medicaid expansion has been a lifeline for our rural hospitals in this country. I support expanding and strengthening and enhancing the Affordable Care Act. We have all the tools we need there. We need to add in a public option on top of that so absolutely every Iowan, every American could get health care. And then finally, Iowans are being gouged by pharmaceutical companies on prescription drug prices. We need to make sure that Medicare is negotiating to bring those costs down.

Yepsen: Eddie Mauro?

Mauro: So I believe in health care for every American. It's a human right. Right now 73 million Americans do not have health insurance. Millions of Americans have insurance but can't afford the deductible to get the care they need. And as a result 45,000 Americans die every year because they don't have access to quality care.

Yepsen: How do you get there?

Mauro: That's not acceptable. By providing health care for every American. If there is a bill that comes to the floor for Medicare for all I would vote for it, I mentioned that in 2018. But also in the immediate future we should lower the eligibility age of Social Security to 55. We need to expand the children's health insurance program for every child under the age of 18. And in the midst of COVID we need to expand the ACA, open up all the exchanges so that the 37 million people that are unemployed right now can get the care that they need.

Yepsen: Kimberly Graham?

Graham: So I'm a little confused by other democrats who say health care is a human right and then go and talk about it the way that they do. If health care is a fundamental human right in a wealthy and moral nation then it is a human right period. It's not a human right if you have the money to write your check for an insurance premium or to pay a deductible or a copay. That's not what I define as a human right, a human right you just have it. So a public option unfortunately, I wish it were some great fix, it's not. It's like putting a Band-Aid on an infected, dirty wound. It looks great from the outside for a while but it is not going to be sustainable. And our health care should work like it does in a lot of other wealthy, developed, capitalist countries where it works like a public library. We all decide we're going to invest in libraries, right, they're important, we all pay for them. They're not free, we have to pay the librarian, the books, the building. But when you walk into a library you just hand them your library card and you leave with a book. You don't pay anything at that time of service and you never get a bill and you sure as heck never go bankrupt. And that is what health care needs to look like in the United States of America.

Henderson: Let's turn to a subject again from the presidential campaign race by Andrew Yang, universal basic income. A form of that was in the first stimulus bill, Theresa Greenfield, in that every American who earned less than $75,000 a year got $1200. Is that a wise use of federal funds?

Greenfield: In this time of COVID pandemic and economic crisis that, again, I believe will be one of the most consequential events of our lifetime, to provide direct relief to workers is absolutely a wise use of funds. It's an investment in Americans. And in the plan that I put out I focused on how we help keep our workers healthy and safe, how we invest with direct payments, how we work to make sure that small businesses have the capital they need to stay open. And one other thing that I think doesn't always get talked about here is we need paid sick leave in this country. Workers should not have to decide whether they go to work sick or whether they stay home and possibly lose a paycheck or lose their job. And so those investments in our workers are the best thing that we can be doing right now.

Henderson: Mike Franken, was the $1200 payment wise?

Franken: I saw a wiser choice to extend unemployment benefits and be quicker in putting people on the unemployment roles and to also expand the SNAP programs. We have working programs in place where we don't dawdle with those who don't necessarily need those funds, they're not spending those monies because they're still working. And those that did receive those funds, it's been 10 weeks. Consequently $1200 in 10 weeks it's nothing, it doesn't do anything. This needs to be continuous. So we seeded a large population base with $1200 and a lot of it didn't go into circulation and those that needed it didn't get enough.

Henderson: Kimberly Graham, what are your thoughts in regards to this subject matter?

Graham: Well, I do think that the $1200 one-time payment was absolutely a necessary investment. However, I don't think that it, it's kind of pathetic crumbs to the working people in this country and that bill had over $500 billion in subsidies and giveaways to, again, huge multinational corporations, some of which don't even pay taxes in this country, by the way. So it should have been like other developed nations are doing around the world, anywhere from maybe $2000 a month for three months upward. Other developed nations are doing more than that actually. And I think it needs to dovetail with unemployment. I agree with Admiral Franken, if somebody is getting sufficient unemployment then perhaps they don't need the additional amount but I think we need to take a look at that. But for most people at least a couple of thousand dollars a month for a three month time period is at least something that is going to keep people safe, keep them home if they're able to stay home unless they're an essential worker, and also inject money into this economy which desperately needs it right now.

Henderson: Eddie Mauro?

Mauro: So this COVID financial crisis we have right now can be a great accelerator and we can go two different directions. We can accelerate downward to lower income, lower employment, lower health care, lower standard of living or we can accelerate forward and upwards to a stronger country. And again, my background in working in business and the great financial background I have lends itself well to this moment in time. I think we should, if you go back and look at our COVID response that we put out several weeks ago on our website, eddiemauro.com, you'll find that we advocated for a UBI payment that goes on throughout this pandemic and that we need to make sure we have an accelerator in place so it doesn't expire. We don't want to wait for Congress to come back and then hem and haw and argue. Every person right now should get at least $1200, $1500, $1800, maybe $2000 every month right now. People need to have that stability, they need to know when they get up in the morning they can pay their rent, they can buy food, they can get the prescription medicine they need. They don't want to wait until next month to see if the government is going to step up for them, that should already be a given and be taken care of. And you know what's great about that? Is if we do that then we'll have an experiment about UBI and then we can determine if Andrew Yang is right and if we should extend it permanently or not. But we would at least be able to collect some data. We need to go stronger, we're not going strong enough to solve this crisis. I'm the strongest candidate to do so.

Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield, let's switch gears to immigration. Should it be a crime to cross the border without documentation?

Greenfield: Dave, our immigration system is broken and we need to modernize it, we need to address issues like that, we need to make sure it's humane, we need to make sure that it does keep our borders safe and that we keep families together. And certainly Iowa has a rich history of welcoming immigrants and refugees, Governor Bob Ray showed us how to do that, and our communities are very welcoming. Right now there is a group called Iowa Compact on Immigration that is talking in a bipartisan way about how we can modernize our immigration system in a way that grows our economy, grows our jobs, keeps families together and also keeps, focuses on public safety.

Yepsen: But anything specific about this particular question of coming into the U.S. without proper papers?

Greenfield: The whole system is broken, Dave.

Yepsen: Mr. Mauro, what is your thought about immigration and specifically whether you should decriminalize illegal entry into the United States?

Mauro: Thanks for asking. So in addition to being a teacher and a business owner, I spent a lifetime in community organization, a founding member of an organization known as AMOS has done some great work on immigration for over 20 years. So the first part of your answer is no, you shouldn't be arrested for that, it's a misdemeanor at most. But we need to talk about our immigration policy, right, we need to talk about comprehensive immigration reform. We need to make sure that what we're looking at aiming to do at our border is to keep out extremism and human traffickers. We need to make sure we're closing up those inhumane detention centers. We need to talk about reunification of families. We need to talk about reconstituting ICE. There's a lot of comprehensive work we need to do. We need to talk about climate change as well which is impacting mass immigration across this world. And we need to talk about forward thinking diplomacy again that will help people stay at home, not feel like they need to flee.

Yepsen: Kimberly Graham, immigration?

Graham: So, seeking asylum is not a crime. You're supposed to be able to seek asylum in this country. This past September I spent five days volunteering at the southern border, volunteering my legal service to help asylum seekers and what I saw there was that the United States unfortunately is violating international asylum law, it is violating due process which is supposed to be one of our basic foundations here of our legal system, not sending proper notices to people about their hearings and so on. And we really need to fundamentally remake our immigration system so that people who are here, who are DACA recipients, can be citizens immediately so they can stop living in fear of deportation. We deported a young man from Des Moines here a few years ago, he was killed in Mexico, I remember that was in the news, and that just shouldn't be possible. It shouldn't be possible to deport someone who was brought here as a child and doesn't even know the country that they came from. So we have a lot of remaking our laws to do. We need to get rid of the 3 and 10 year bans. We need to make workers visas more easily available so people can work here with documentation and so on.

Yepsen: Mike Franken?

Franken: It's not a crime. Get the kids out of the cages. The wall is idiotic.

Yepsen: Thank you for that.

Henderson: Another lightening round question. When Joe Biden was a U.S. Senator he helped shepherd through a bill in the U.S. Senate which banned assault style weapons. Let's start with you, Mr. Franken. If you're elected to the Senate would you vote for a similar bill?

Franken: I would. And I've got a lot of experience with guns, as you can expect. No one is going to gun-splain me in this Senate.

Henderson: Theresa Greenfield?

Greenfield: I think it's long past time where we have enacted some policies to keep guns out of the hands of people who could hurt themselves and hurt others. We have got to take that action and for me it starts with some bipartisan action. We need to ban gun show loopholes, we need to have universal background checks, and we need to invest in research so that we understand why we have so much gun violence in this country and what our next steps are going to be.

Henderson: Eddie Mauro?

Mauro: As somebody that owns a gun and respects the Second Amendment the answer to that question is absolutely, we should reinstitute the assault weapons ban in this country. It saves lives, it demonstrated it saved lives in the 10 years it was in play, it will save lives again.

Henderson: Kimberly Graham?

Graham: So, my dad is a former Marine and a Golden Eagle NRA member, he has been an NRA member for over 50 years and I was talking to my dad about this question and he said this, if you need an assault weapon to hunt you have no business hunting, if you need an assault weapon for anything else you don't need one because what they're really good at is killing a lot of people in a short amount of time and I'm with my dad. I think we should reinstate the assault weapon ban.

Yepsen: I want to move to the issue of climate change. We've talked about pieces of that. But, Mr. Franken, what do Iowans do about this problem that doesn't hurt our economy? I'm thinking of restrictions on the cattle industry, for example.

Franken: Sure. It doesn't hurt our economy now but the flooding and the erosion and the soil depravation, all of those things it does indeed. Ultimately we should start local, individual, what can you do about it and then expand internationally, reinstitute, rejoin the Paris Accord, make it more strict. Iowa is going to be a net beneficiary of climate addressing issues including carbon sequestration. This will be good for Iowa. There's a whole plan to execute and ultimately we need to get on board and embrace this and make Iowa agriculture simpatico with climate change.

Yepsen: Theresa Greenfield?

Greenfield: We need to confront climate change. The science is very clear. We have a manmade global crisis on our hands and we need to take urgent action. Iowans know what climate change looks like. It's the flooding we've had in Southwest Iowa and Southeast Iowa, it's those three inch rains that really affect our agriculture industry here. And so for me, I think we start with reducing our carbon footprint, getting back into our international accords, working towards our 2050 goals. But there is an enormous opportunity here to grow renewable energy jobs right here in Iowa and we need to invest in that research so that we grow jobs and our leaders in renewable energy.

Yepsen: Kimberly Graham?

Graham: Well, we need to implement this resolution called the Green New Deal. Back when we had the first New Deal that produced a lot of fantastic infrastructure building, a lot of which now is crumbling, right, because that is the last time we made major investments in our infrastructure and we have to do that again only this time we have to do it in a way that includes everyone, that makes sure to include people of color and women in all of these good news jobs, these good union jobs that we're going to be creating. We need to electrify rail, we need to bring more solar power, more wind power, we need to replace our lock and dam system on the Mississippi River. There's so many jobs that we need to do and we can do them in a way that is also going to help the environment at the same time including localizing our food sources. Here in Iowa we are the third state in food imports and if we grew more of what we ate here that would help the climate at the same time helping our farmers.

Yepsen: Eddie Mauro?

Mauro: I think the climate crisis and chaos is hurting our economy. My business is covering floods and hail storms and tornadoes and winds and the severity of rain and then drought with farmers has been impactful and we need to make sure that we're turning that around and actually making that positive for farmers. Our climate solution should be about carbon sequestration and cap and trade and also carbon fee dividend. There's a lot we can be doing for farmers that would bring vitality into those areas.

Yepsen: I've got one minute left, 15 second a piece. What have Kay and I missed here? Mr. Mauro, quickly.

Mauro: We haven't talked enough about rural Iowa today and breaking the rural and urban divide.

Greenfield: We have a child care crisis in Iowa and as someone who is a single mother and relied on it we have got to focus on how we get more child care throughout Iowa.

Yepsen: Mike Franken, what have we missed?

Franken: We've got a national debt problem and we've got republicans who are dismissive of it.

Yepsen: Kimberly Graham.

Graham: Right, so I have been drafting the American Child Care Act so I would echo what Greenfield said and that is we need to start working on the child care crisis. And, by the way, one-third to one-half of our child care spots are vanishing during COVID-19 and a lot of them may never come back so our crisis has now become an extra crisis on top of that.

Yepsen: Thank you and thank you all for answering our questions. I know we're pointed at some point, but thank you very much.

Thank you. It was fantastic.

Thank you very much.

Yepsen: Thanks again to all of the candidates joining us at Iowa PBS Studios tonight. And a quick reminder, the November 2020 elections are 168 days away, but only 2 weeks remain until the June 2nd primary in Iowa. For our hardworking Iowa PBS crew in Johnston, 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. 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. 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.