[by Guy Gerhard]
Guy Gerhard, progressive activist from Council Bluffs, conducted an in-depth interview for Blog for Iowa with Mike Denklau, candidate for U.S. Representative for Iowa’s 5th District. This is the last of three parts.
BFIA: The previous President cut tax rates on the wealthiest of Americans in a time of war, something that had never been done before. That’s another part of the reason that we have headed down the path that we’re on. We have infrastructure crumbling; there was the I-35 bridge [collapse] in Minneapolis that comes to mind. We still have two wars that we’re fighting and those costs continue to add up. Do we need to restore the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, who can certainly afford it, back to where they were?
Denklau: If you look historically, tax rates were obviously much higher, and everyone did quite well. If you look at the ’90’s, I don’t think too many of us were complaining….
BFIA: Exactly. Bill Clinton raised taxes on wealthy people and the economy got better. The rich got richer, the poor got richer, everybody did better. Yet, all we ever hear out of the other side is that it’s going to destroy the economy if we raise taxes. The economy has already been destroyed, the way I see it.
Denklau: I’m very much focused on the federal debt and making sure we’re paying that down. However, I don’t think that means tomorrow we need to be paying it down. Right now, we are still in this crisis and we need to make sure we fully recover before we start taking actions to start addressing other issues.
If you’re going to cut taxes, then you need to cut spending. I think what we’ve seen is that tax cuts for those who will spend that extra money is where that growth lies and that’s the middle class. So, I think a lot of those cuts were misplaced and if we have a stronger middle class, we’ll see more demand and a better economy at this point.
BFIA: With a stronger middle class, everybody wins.
Denklau: Yes, exactly.
BFIA: Where do you stand on net neutrality?
Denklau: I think this is one of the beauties of the Internet. Obviously, one of the wonders of having free speech is having an open Internet without cost. To be charging people to have their posts rated higher on a search, or to limit access altogether is a serious threat to that. So, I am in favor of keeping net neutrality.
BFIA: Without net neutrality, sites such as Blog for Iowa might not be given any weight at all by some of the corporations. Along the same line – talk radio. A recent study showed that 90 per cent of the content on talk radio is conservative. In this part of the country, we have no access at all to a progressive, or even alternative, point of view. The only option we have is satellite radio or internet streaming. Everybody seems to be so afraid of the Fairness Doctrine. But, these companies are using the public airwaves and they are supposed to be operating in the public interest. We give them those airwaves. Shouldn’t they be required to allow an opposing point of view?
Denklau: Private corporations having the ability to control their broadcasting, I think, is very important, as is free speech. The unfortunate part of this is that people are not necessarily aware that they are listening to a commentator and not the actual news from a reporter who is reporting facts, not just giving their opinion. There should be a better disclaimer on that. As far as requiring opposing view, I watch the News Hour almost every night and they generally have two opposing views. It makes for a good debate and a more informed audience, I believe. However, I will stop short of requiring that, but I think it is a very important component and we should try to promote that whenever possible.
BFIA: I do not have cable television, I have satellite programming at home. On my satellite system, Fox News is considered basic programming. I have to go two tiers up to get MSNBC, which is arguably more liberal.
BFIA: Can that be balanced? Is that something that the FCC needs to step in and mandate so there is a balance of opinions?
Denklau: That’s very interesting, I wasn’t aware of that.
BFIA: Comcast does that, Time Warner does that, Cox Cable does not, but most of the other big companies do. I have Dish Network and they do that.
Denklau: I would need to know more about how their pricing works, to be honest, as to why that is happening. But, again, I think the major problem with these networks is that people are taking these shows as being fact-based, when, a good portion of the time, they are actually opinion and commentators.
BFIA: Well, they do call themselves “Fox News.”
Denklau: I think there are some real reporters at Fox that do report news. But the loudest [voices] at the station are commentators, who are not necessarily reporting facts and that is something that people need to be aware of and to make sure that we’re not getting disinformation. Especially when we have so many important debates going on, it’s really critical that people understand the difference between a commentator’s opinion and the real facts that are out there.
BFIA: Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize the difference, so wouldn’t it make sense to require broadcasters to air opposing points of view, to at least give them the opportunity to hear both sides?
Denklau: To the extent that we do have the internet, which is open, and, of course, other television outlets, there is the opportunity to go out there and search for opposing points of view. Obviously, you and I are people that would do that and I would hope that others who are interested in what’s going on in the country would take the time to think about what they are hearing and check their facts.
BFIA: Another debate going on right now concerns the Employee Free Choice Act. Should workers have the right to organize a union if they choose to?
Denklau: Absolutely. Workers should have the ability to organize, particularly to protect themselves from unfair practices and unsafe working conditions.
BFIA: Finally, an issue that is important to me. Earlier this year, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in Varnum vs. Brian, upholding the lower court’s ruling that struck down the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Iowa became the third state in the union, at that time, to allow same-sex marriage. My partner of more than fifteen years and I were married in June. But, while we have legal protections in our home state, we both work in Nebraska, where we have no legal protections. One, do you support the court’s decision and two, what will you do in Congress to protect the rights of gays and lesbians in general and same-sex couples in particular?
Denklau: I think it’s very important that we think about what all of this means. This is really a free choice and individual rights issue. And also about limited government. I feel very strongly that we should keep the government out of our personal lives, whenever possible. I mean, what could be a more personal decision than who you marry, when you marry, or even if you marry. And who is to tell you how you should make that decision? The fact of this matter is, that without that ability, there is a whole litany of rights that are being denied.
BFIA: Over eleven hundred.
Denklau: Right. So what we’re getting to is an issue of fairness and dignity. We need to make sure that we’re taking care of all people. If two consenting adults don’t have the right to enter into a legal contract, that opens the door to many other rights, basic rights such as pensions, health insurance and protecting your children. That is a serious issue. I think the Supreme Court got it right in this case, that this is an issue of free choice, limited government and providing fairness and dignity to our neighbors.
BFIA: Democrats lost the Senate Seat held by Ted Kennedy for the past 47 years. This is the first time since 1972 that Massachusetts, a liberal stronghold, has elected a Republican. What lessons do Democrats need to learn from this?
Denklau: We cannot take for granted the recognition that the economic crisis of today is a consequence of 8 years of failed economic policies under the last Republican administration. Democrats must do a better job of explaining why we offer a better economic record and better plans to fix the economy. Plans that must also address education needs, energy conservation and efficiency and healthcare costs. Contrary to what some Republican officials have been arguing, these things are not mutually exclusive, but complementary pieces to the solution of rising unemployment and the long-term prosperity of our nation.
BFIA: How will it affect the Democratic party going forward?
Denklau: We should all bear in mind that special elections over the past year have been a mixed bag for both parties. In Iowa, Democrats won the house district 90 race in a Republican district, and as our campaign previously noted on our blog, on November 3rd Bill Owens won a congressional seat that hasn’t been held by a Democrat since the Civil War, proving that Democrats can expand their congressional majority by challenging in rural red districts.
It is my hope that these victories will lead the party to focus on expanding its majorities in 2010 so we can put an end to the partisan gridlock that is crippling progress for our country and for Iowa. I hope to do so with the help of many Republican supporters across the 5th District who want change in Washington.
BFIA: What changes do we need to make to ensure that we don’t have more losses come November?
Denklau: Democrats need to be focused on the issues that matter most in the day-to-day lives of their constituents. With Sioux City losing 1,500 jobs due to the closing of the Morrell plant and Clarke County struggling to deal with a 9.3% unemployment rate, the reality on the ground is that, in the words of President Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That’s why I have been talking about job creation since I launched my campaign last year. We must do everything we can to create jobs in western Iowa and get the over 110,000 unemployed Iowans back to work.
BFIA: And finally, how will it affect the Democratic and the President’s agenda for the country?
Denklau: I don’t think the Massachusetts result will significantly change the agenda of either the Democrats or the President. Both will continue to focus on supporting the American people and improving their day-to-day lives.
I believe we will see a greater focus on job creation, but we must not forget that many other issues are intertwined with promoting growth and putting Iowans and Americans back to work. We must strengthen the financial system so our community banks and businesses have access to capital; we must work to reduce health care costs for individuals, businesses and the fiscal strength of our country; and we must continue to invest in our future through education and infrastructure improvements. All of these initiatives – led by Democrats and currently being obstructed by those who think things are just fine right now – are designed to get our economy back on track to producing jobs and real growth.
Guy E. Gerhard is a life-long liberal who
has been involved in many progressive causes and campaigns including
civil rights, voting rights, reproductive rights and a woman’s right to
choose, nuclear disarmament (he was arrested with 200 of his closest
friends at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site in Mercury back in the ’80s),
workers’ rights and union organization and civil rights for gays,
lesbians and same-sex couples. He currently is focused on getting Steve
King, the embarrassment of Iowa, out of office. He occasionally blogs
under the pen-name Iowa Guy at swiowaguy.blogspot.com and can
be contacted through Facebook. He lives in Council Bluffs with his
spouse of 16-plus years, two cats and three rather unpleasant little