Liberty & Justice Episode 9 Transcript:
Matt Whitaker [00:00:00] Welcome to Liberty, Justice, I'm your host, Matt Whitaker. You can, of course, see us every week on CPAC now and your favorite podcast channels in everything we're doing is on Whitaker Court TV. I'm excited to be joined by one of my closest friends in life and just a great overall person. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitford. Jack, how are you today?
Jack Whitver [00:00:22] I'm doing awesome. Thanks for having me.
Matt Whitaker [00:00:24] Well, Jack, as you know, when we've talked many times, I mentioned our friendship. When I go around this country and talk about politics and policy, and one of the things I always point to is how the state of Iowa is getting it right there, implementing conservative policies, and it's working to the advantage of the American people. But I thought having you on would be a great way to talk about the specific conservative policies you've implemented over the last couple years, legislative cycles and kind of how they're making a dramatic impact. And that includes things like cutting taxes by 50 percent and the like. So what why don't you tell us a little bit about what you've been working on the laws as you passed and how that's making Iowa a better place to raise a family and and live?
Jack Whitver [00:01:12] Well, thank you for having me on. It's always fun to talk about what we're doing here in Iowa, and I'd say largely a lot of the excitement legislatively is at the state level right now. We know the federal government is dysfunctional, not just with who's leading it, but just in general. The federal government has a hard time getting things done. And so what you've seen over the last decade is a lot of of people groups trying to make change. They've given up on the federal government and they're starting to go state by state to try to accomplish things. But we also know that I believe what we do here at the state level has a dramatic impact on someone's life, maybe even more so than what happens at the federal government and a lot of in a lot of cases. And so kind of the Iowa story was back in 2008 2009. We were a Democrat trifecta. Barack Obama won in 2008. Here they controlled the House, the Senate, the governor, and they really passed a very liberal agenda. 2010 came around at that time. Everyone said, Well, Iowa is going to be a blue state and we're going to write it off. It's a blue state for a long time. You were here, you remember those days. And I
Matt Whitaker [00:02:15] was like, I remember
Jack Whitver [00:02:16] what it was going to be a blue state. And 2010 and the Tea Party coincided with a guy named Terry Branstad coming back and running for governor. He had been governor for 12 or 16 years in the past, came back and ran for governor again in 2010, which started that Iowa comeback as far as Republicans go. But it took until 2016 when we finally got the Republican trifecta in Iowa. And so that was kind of the crucial time we finally got the Republican trifecta we hadn't had it in in over 20 years. And so we had a lot of things that were piling up on the list of must do conservative items. And so we started out hot and heavy back in 2017, really implementing a really conservative agenda, working with the governor and working with the House. And I think
Matt Whitaker [00:02:59] Jack, sorry to interrupt, but when did when did you first get elected? And I guess the other thing you said, a little more of that telling, you know, with the Democrats controlling everything. My recollection is that they had spent all the reserves down to zero. They were spending money is as fast as possible. They were making long term commitments. I remember the term vision, Iowa as one of the many things that was wrong. And so. So when did you come onto the scene? I know that the Republicans finally took back the majority in 17, but when did you get first elected and what you said? Just a little bit more of the table for how kind of bleak things were. And since you have young children, I'm sure you know that when the hyenas take over the Pride Land in Lion King, that's a very bad time. But it seems like that's what it was like in Iowa. Back.
Jack Whitver [00:03:43] Yeah. And and really, it was the 2010 cycle when I got elected actually in a special election just shortly after that. But that's the same time that across the country, people, Republicans and conservatives were standing up. And so the Tea Party movement and so forth that happen here in Iowa, too, and that that just happened to be when Terry Branstad said we've had enough. You know, the spending was out of control. The deficits were out of control. They were passing programs to put debt onto our kids that weren't even born yet. I hadn't even had a child. When I first decided I was going to run is actually about the same time that we had that first child. But they were putting debt on that, that child that was even born for the next 25 30 years. And that's why Republicans stood up here in Iowa, just like they did around the country at that time with the debt, and so got an elected in 2011 and spent four or five years in the minority. It was split chambers because Branstad did when the Republicans won the House. So a split chamber, but not a lot was happening. And so there is a build up of Republicans were starting to start to the comeback, but we weren't able to accomplish what we thought we needed to do to move the state forward.
Matt Whitaker [00:04:48] Yeah. And so what? So in that since you took over really just five years ago, talk about the policies that you've implemented. And, you know, I mean that all really conservative policies. Quite frankly, that I think many states would be envious of, but talk about sort of those and how they're making a positive difference in the lives of Iowans.
Jack Whitver [00:05:08] Yeah, I mean, it started the first year with with with issues that maybe weren't as sexy as far as the Republican platform or so to speak, but things that we thought we needed to do to control the growth of government and to really take back our state and started with collective bargaining reform. You know, we saw Scott Walker really lead the charge in Wisconsin back in 2010 and 2011 on collective bargaining reform. We did the same thing in Iowa five years later or so to really try to rein in government and get back control of what we do from a state perspective here in Iowa. But then it went on to we were working on election laws way before it was cool. You know, it became cool four or five years later, but implemented things like voter ID and really trying to reform our our election laws that have really been out of control with the Democrat trifecta and rein in it and to try to cut down the waste fraud and abuse abuse. And so it started with issues like that, but continued with things like tort reform, workers compensation reform. But then after we started to get the state turned around from inheriting a deficit to now we're running surpluses. Now we have the ability to go, try to change the tax code and try to make investments where needed, but cut taxes where needed. And so that's where, you know, five, six years ago, we took over a tax code that was probably the worst in the country. And that's not hyperbole. We had like the forty ninth or fiftieth highest highest tax rate in America. And so we really wanted to set set us on a path to be competitive with taxes.
Matt Whitaker [00:06:33] Yeah. And I know you also did some things on life, OK and Second Amendment issues. We've talked a little bit about that. I know that the people that watch CPAC now, those are issues that they care about and they, you know, they think a lot of people focus nationally. But in states like Iowa, you've actually moved the ball on this.
Jack Whitver [00:06:51] Yeah, I mean, we've we tried to move the ball and all the core principles of the Republican Party, including life. We passed a heartbeat bill six years ago or so when when the life movement was just regaining that steam that you see now is in front of the Supreme Court. So while those might be short term victories that get overturned in the court, it's changing the conversation and putting something in front of the Supreme Court to take a fresh look at the life issue. It's passing things on the Second Amendment. We're now a constitutional carry state here in Iowa. And so, yeah, we've really tried to take every tenet of the Republican platform and try to implement those conservative beliefs that we all share from the people that put us in power to to make changes for the state.
Matt Whitaker [00:07:33] Yeah. And in 2017, when you took over both houses of the Legislature, so for five years and you implement these policies, how have Iowans responded? Have they given you bigger majorities and even a bigger mandate to accomplish these things?
Jack Whitver [00:07:50] Well, that your listeners probably remember, you remember twenty eighteen. It was a really tough year, so we had just taken the trifecta in the 2016 cycle. So we had 2017 and 2018 to start these these reforms. That was a really difficult time to be a Republican. Then 2018 was probably the most difficult year for Republicans and maybe my lifetime. And so it was hard, but we fought through because we knew we were doing the right thing and we knew the results would come. And when it came time for that twenty eighteen election, for two years, we had heard all the blue waves Kofman. You know, you're going to get yours. The blue wave will get you. Well, twenty eighteen. The Iowa Senate. We were actually the only chamber in America out of the ninety nine legislative chambers that picked up seats. We picked up three seats. So we went from 29 to 32 at that time. And then it was two more years of, OK, well, we're going to get you this time. And we stayed at 32 and after the redistricting maps come out, I think we have a chance to get up to 34 35. So I think it's really simple. I think voters will look at you as a politician and say, Can I trust you? And you do what you say you're going to do. And there are so many politicians in this world that they'll go on the campaign trail to diners and cafes all over the state and make promises. They get down to Des Moines or they get out to D.C. and they forget everything they promise to people, you know? And so that's what we try not to do as a Senate majority leader. That's my number one goal is to when we get in our caucus room to start talking about what we're going to do, it's what did we promised the voters we are going to do? And then go, actually do it. And that's why I think we've been successful because we have done everything we've said we would do.
Matt Whitaker [00:09:23] And so you've cut taxes, you've defended life, you defended the right to keep and bear arms. You've sort of reduced the size of government. The impact you've just changed fundamentally change for the better the state of Iowa, you're heading into another election. What are you going to promise, as you know, sort of other than promises made, promises kept? Talk to me about prospectively what you're thinking about the agenda being.
Jack Whitver [00:09:51] Well, I think first of all, we're going to we're going to talk about what we have done. The last two years has been a really difficult time for everybody and every. Fashion, but it's been difficult for us to from a state perspective and trying to manage the budget, but also as policymakers. You don't run for office because of your strong stance that you had on mask policy. No one ever thinks of that or what you would do on different mandates. Or do you think kids should go to school like obviously kids who go to school? But 18 months ago, that was the hottest issue in America is should our kids be in school and we were in the first state and one of, I think, only two states in America that actually passed a bill that was signed by the governor that said, no matter what city you live in, no matter your zip code, if you want your kids in school five days a week, they're in school five days a week. And that got our kids back in school and I would go back to when I mentioned the governor there. One thing that we were all dealing with was executive powers, and I have to give her a ton of credit because as soon as the Legislature was back in, in business school or back in session, so many people were coming to her, well, you can do this by executive power. You can do that by executive power. And she said, No, we're going to do it through the Legislature. And so things like getting your kids in school. We did through the Legislature, banning mask mandates for our kids, taking their masks off of kids in classrooms. We did that through a state law. Wasn't the governor just unilaterally doing it? But because of the relationship that we have with the House and the leadership from her, we're doing it the right way and not everyone's doing it the right way, obviously.
Matt Whitaker [00:11:24] Yeah. And so much of this, you know, everywhere I go, there's so many directions we can go. But one of the directions that I want to talk about is on my travels around this country, you know, sort of advancing and defending liberty and freedom. I hear how great Kim Reynolds did in this State of the Union response. I mean, obviously, as you know, a lot of politicians, that has not been their brightest moment and some have, you know, hurt themselves by trying to give the response because the president in front of both houses of Congress is much different than sort of, you know, one lone person standing in front of a camera. But I thought Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, did a great job talking to me just a little bit about because I think the people that are watching are going to be very interested in your kind of day to day working with Kim and how she views it. You know, this is this conservative policy that you all are implementing in the state of Iowa.
Jack Whitver [00:12:26] Well, I think COVID affected everybody different. And I think that what the COVID pandemic did to her is it made her stronger. It made her tougher and it made her bold. And when we came back to session, she saw some of the wrongs happening, whether it's locking kids out of school and they're failing and the schools are failing with the communities failing or so forth. And she was determined to put forward a bold, conservative agenda. And we have done that over two years. And so when it comes time to to to go tell the story to the nation, that is an extremely difficult platform. As you as you mentioned, it's really hard to go follow the the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union and just do it by yourself in front of a camera. But it also matters if you have a good story to tell. And that's why I think they chose her is because the contrast between what's happened at the federal level and what's happened at states, but specifically what's happening in Iowa. And the day she gave that speech was the day that she signed the biggest tax cut in state history. You know, we took over a tax code that we're at nine percent. I think it was 49th in the country. We got that down to now the states that have an income tax. You know, there's nine or so that don't leave the state to have it. We're in the fourth lowest. So we're gonna go from nine percent to three point nine percent, which is dramatic reforms because of the things that we've been doing. So, you know? But she's put forward a bold agenda on tax cuts. We already got that done. School choice The Senate has passed school choice, real school choice for kids that are in situations that they can't succeed. They need a different option. They need a better option. And she's put forward that she stuck her neck out on conservative issue after conservative issue. And we've got those signed into law, something like the Protect women's sports bill that we passed. She led on that to say, You know, this is common sense. Girls should play against girls, boys to play against boys. But she has really let you. Don't you
Matt Whitaker [00:14:16] define those terms because I'm not biologist Jack
Jack Whitver [00:14:19] Ask our new justice, right? But now she she has been willing to lead, and you don't always see that in governors, right? I mean, so many governors will put out a milquetoast agenda because they don't want to fail. She's not scared. Coburn made her tough and has made her bold and strong, and she's really willing to push that conservative agenda.
Matt Whitaker [00:14:35] Yeah. And I think one of the things people don't understand about Iowa is, you know, they think, I mean, it just was with someone yesterday in Palm Beach, Florida, and they used the term, well, you know, some guy in Podunk, Iowa. And by the second time they said, as I said, wait a minute, you know, you don't you have a misconception of, you know, my home state that you know, that I'm a proud hog. Guy, as you know, Jack, I had to get that in. But nonetheless, the I think a lot of people don't understand how sophisticated is, whether it's on energy and renewable, you know, fuels, whether it's, you know, love it or hate it a lot, you know, wind energy. I mean, I think because of Mid-America Energy in the state of Iowa, I think they're planning on going to 100 percent renewable at some point in time and certainly can't do that with this without the state supporting it. And so it's not as if you know some of these issues that voters care about aren't being addressed in addition to, you know, these very conservative, you know, kind of top line policies as well.
Jack Whitver [00:15:39] Yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with our nature as Iowans, where we're generally pretty humble people. We're not one to go out and brag. You know, as as Florida and Texas and these other states are getting all this credit for the things that they were passing throughout COVID through the Legislature. We're sitting here saying we've done that. We did that two months ago. We did that three months ago, but we don't really go out and brag about it. So we're really a humble state by nature. But one thing that we did see throughout COVID is when people came to visit Iowa. They look around and they're like, Wait, I feel free here. I don't, you know, you're still going to Las Vegas, where you can do almost anything in Las Vegas, but you have to wear your mask. Yet you come to Iowa, they're like, I feel free here. So, you know, you're talking about freedom and liberty. That's what we've been in Iowa. And the more people that have come out to Iowa to see it, the more they like it. And you know, one thing that is somewhat irrelevant to politics, but you're talking about Iowa, that field of Dreams game last year where the White Sox and Yankees played. That was it. I won a national stage, and so many people are like, Wow, I might be a little different than I thought, or I was a lot better than I thought.
Matt Whitaker [00:16:42] Well, and you know, in my travels back and forth from Iowa, it was always just like two different worlds where you walk into an airport, put on a mask, get on a plane. And then as soon as you walked out the door, the Des Moines airport, Cedar Rapids airport, you would take off your mask never to be seen again until you were on the next plane. And like you enter this alternate universe, it was it was the strangest experience that's still happening. I'm being led to believe this. This, you know, may end eventually, like this month, but I mean, it's just it's it's nonsense. Half the people have, you know, is a chinstrap, you know, thinking that it's maybe half of a football helmet or something, but it is the weirdest surreal experience to do that.
Jack Whitver [00:17:27] And you mentioned that chinstrap, you know, where I kind of just determined we lost all common senses when I saw a picture of my local band concert and everybody had a mask on. They all had a big slit in their mask so they could play their instrument. So we've lost our minds, and I think that's what this election's going to be about, largely. Not just that, but common sense in general. You know, my first rule is what we're doing here at the state level is look at what D.C. is doing and do the exact opposite because there's no common sense out there. But you look at issues that are going to be forefront on people's minds when you move to defund the police. It's pretty common sense what you're going to get, you're going to get more violence and that's what you're seeing. And so we're going to support our police here when you're trying to tax people to death. They're going to flee your state before you kill them with their taxes. And so they're going to states with low taxes, you know, so this is going to be about Kofman sense.
Matt Whitaker [00:18:18] And let's you know, another question thought that I had is, you know, I spent a lot of time in Florida, a lot of the time in Texas, a lot of time in Nevada and Arizona. You know, I mean, just places. You would expect our battleground states where folks you know that I want to support and want to help and in causes that I want to help would be. But you know, one of the biggest concerns they have are all these people moving in from out of state California, New York. And so the question is, as you're reducing taxes to now, you know, 3.9 percent, are you going to see people from Illinois and Minnesota that are used to the the weather in the Upper Midwest? Are you going to see them pouring in to the state of Iowa and how is that going to change the character makeup of the state?
Jack Whitver [00:19:04] Well, I think you do see that and I hear the same thing and specifically Arizona and Colorado and Texas, where the California they're playing in Texas, but they're bringing their bad ideas with them and changing the electoral politics there. So that's an issue. I'm not particularly worried about that right now in Iowa, at least, you know, we're trying to keep our people here. You know, we have so many people, as you know, from our hometown of Ankeny, they're there. They're down in the in in Florida or Arizona six months and one day like, I get that people want to spend time down there, but they're six months and one day for a reason, and they might want to spend three months there. You know, one
Matt Whitaker [00:19:37] of the I think, one of the smart policies that you all passed in this last Legislature was getting rid of retirement and climate change. Talk to me a little bit kind of what's in that? What's out, you know, kind of how so if I want to retire in Iowa, what should I expect? Because, you know, my dad and mom are in in Ankeny and represented by you? You know what? They were very excited about this, but I want to tell. The people watching as to how you solve some of these problems about retirement in Iowa.
Jack Whitver [00:20:03] Well, it really comes down to too many of our citizens. We're moving out of state at retirement. Once they had a choice of and they saw the difference in tax bills, they were moving to Florida or Arizona or going down there. Like I said, six months and one day, we want to keep those people here because they're the ones that are volunteer. They're the volunteers at the local events or the charities. They're the pillars of the community and a lot of ways, and we're losing them. And so in our march to try to get our tax rate as low as we could. We also said we want to take the retirement income tax to zero. Well, that's 401k, whether that's your pension, whether that's some stock you had in an ESOP or, you know, an employee stock option plan, it's going to be zero. And so now we're on equal footing for retirees with states like Florida and Texas. And so it really just expedited the track to zero the path to zero that we want to get to. For retirees to get them there now. And so starting next year, it's a zero right now.
Matt Whitaker [00:21:00] That's that's fantastic. It's hard not to talk about Iowa and not always be thinking about the caucuses, not going to ask you who you're supporting this early on, but talk to me a little bit about the Democrats appear to be vacating the state of Iowa. I think it's going to be to to their detriment because it's going to they're going to go to bigger states where it's a different system and you're ultimately the people that are well-funded and, you know, more liberal. And so they're going to they're going to, I think, face some challenges, not starting in Iowa. New Hampshire is always going to defend their first in the nation vote and they'll move it as early. They'll move it to tomorrow in 2022. If if it protected them as first in the nation, what is going on both on the Democrat side and then as you, you know, are you seeing candidates that are thinking about running for president in Iowa? Obviously, I know the real politic of it that, you know, kind of the guy that I served in the Trump administration is still talking like he might be running. And so that's obviously, you know, freezing the field a little bit. But as someone that's there on the ground every day, all day, what are you seeing both on the left, on the Democrat side and on the Republican side?
Jack Whitver [00:22:11] Yeah. I mean, first of all, it does look like the Democrats are doing everything they can to lose it here, including a lot of the high profile guys just giving up. And so it certainly looks like the Democrats are going to lose the Iowa caucuses. I think we're still in a fairly good spot from a Republican standpoint, and I understand why other states might look at Iowa and not appreciate the fact that every year we get to go first. What I think a lot of people that have been to the Iowa caucuses or been around through that, you know, really the last month, I mean, the last four years, as you know, but that last month, when people come here and see how serious Iowans take their vote, they at. I mean, the joke, as you know, is, I don't know what I think of them. I've only seen them once or I've only seen them once. And that's absolutely true. Like, people will go and see the same candidate two or three times before they make up their mind. And so they take it extremely serious, and it's unfortunate that the Democrats are going to lose it because it probably makes it less likely the Republicans could keep it long term or harder to keep long term. But I think right now, Republicans are in a good spot and in our party strong here, our chairman strong. We're in a good spot. But there are candidates starting to come through on the Republican side, really the Democrats, I think from what I can tell, I've ignored it. Although Joe Biden is coming to Iowa Tuesday, I couldn't be happier that Joe Biden's coming to Iowa. I can't wait to see, you know,
Matt Whitaker [00:23:31] everybody that stands up there on stage with him and remind him about our current situation of.
Jack Whitver [00:23:37] But the Republicans are starting to come through. I'm not going to name anyone to put a Cyclops eye on them or anything. But but there are Republicans starting to come through. I would say it is way tone to back from where it would normally be at this point. If it's just a wide open without kind of President Trump kind of still in limbo or hasn't announced what he's going to do if he were definitely not running, it would be almost full speed by now. And really, it's not really anywhere close to that. But but people are starting to make inroads and they're starting to come through and do that, do the events or county events or whatever.
Matt Whitaker [00:24:09] Well, and we're certainly on liberty and justice here. As we head into 23 and 24, we're certainly going to highlight, you know, the Iowa caucuses and I'm planning on having you back on on a regular basis. But you know, you and I have both actually chaired candidates Iowa caucus campaigns. So you and I have seen it very close up and you know, and and talked about it ad nauseam. I mean, I think about all the meetings that you and I had back in the old law firm days where, you know, we would we would talk about candidates almost to the detriment of anything else that we did.
Jack Whitver [00:24:51] That's true.
Matt Whitaker [00:24:52] It was fun. And maybe, you know, maybe we'll get to do that again as we head into 23 and 24, but when the final? Minutes here, Jack, what how can people learn more about you, what would you what else anything else you'd like to share kind of with this nationwide audience and they're probably getting their first look at at you as I would? Senate Majority Leader.
Jack Whitver [00:25:13] No, I'm not one to really be great at self-promotion. And so I'm I have to do it. I have faith. Yeah, you do plenty of that for both of us, OK? But I have I do have a Twitter account. I have a Facebook. Frankly, I'm not on there a whole lot. Try to stay under the radar to just get things done. But I would say pay attention to what's happened in the states because a lot is going on. Whether you know, you talk about pro-life, pro-choice, the states like Colorado that are legalizing abortion up until that point of of a birth 40 weeks, like the media wants to say, Oh, this is just about choice. They don't tell you the truth about this is to the point of birth. So what's happening in the states really matters. And so whether it's Iowa, your state, any of the other conservative states that are making good progress, what we're doing really does have a huge impact. So definitely pay attention.
Matt Whitaker [00:26:03] All right. Well, Jack Whit Ver, the Iowa Senate Majority Leader, a great friend of mine. Thanks for joining us on Liberty and justice and look forward to having you back again so we can not only hear about the progress you're making there in my home state of Iowa, but give us the the caucus handicap as we head into 2024. So Jack Whipper, thanks for joining me on Liberty and Justice.