Ed Fallon speaks with the Progressive at his campaign headquarters office on January 28. (photo: Gavin Aronsen/The Progressive)
On his shift to national politics…
Well, I had thought about where I could most make a difference in the world, and I spent a long time thinking about that because, personally, I like being in Iowa. There’s nothing I relish about being in Washington, D.C., but I think it’s where I’m most needed; I think it’s where I can have the biggest effect.
And as I looked at Leonard Boswell’s voting record, it became even more clear that we are very, very different on the issues, that I would present a very distinct approach to how I would be a congressman, and [that] I would present a very different voting record.
It seems like voters in this district deserve a choice, and I have a real strong sense that people are really eager for candidates that are not part of the status quo, that truly represent change and an agenda that begins to minimize the influence of the powerful and the wealthy and the special interests, and [that] try to reformulate government so it’s more in line with what average people need in their lives. And I think I could bring that approach, that agenda of change, to Washington, D.C., and I think this is the right time to do it.
On his commitment to Iowa politics…
There’s no reason I would ever change. That’s part of who I am, part of what I believe in.
We need clean elections as much or more [on the federal level] than we need it here in Iowa. Yeah, the focus of my work is going to be shifting to national politics but even as we speak – I’m running a campaign for Congress, of course – Lynn and I are both still managing I’M for Iowa, and I’M for Iowa’s focus is on clean elections in Iowa, on regulating hog confinements, [and] on what we can do in our local communities at the state level to address climate change. And a big part of that – the top issue – is voter-owned clean elections, so we’re still going to do everything we can to promote that here in Iowa.
But I’ll tell you, I’m really frustrated. We’ve got two presidential candidates [who] just finished first and second in Iowa without ever taking a penny from a [political action committee] or a lobbyist. I think nationally people are understanding how important that issue is and even some of the leading Democrats in the country – Obama and Edwards –are understanding how important it is.
It’s a real shame that the Democratic leadership in the Iowa legislature doesn’t understand how important it is. So while I remain very, very committed to doing everything I can to push for campaign finance reform here at the state level, I’m not optimistic that the Democratic leadership is going to let it happen.
I’m also not optimistic that Chet Culver is going to keep the promise he made to me to make this a serious issue in his agenda.
They’ve got to show me. They’ve got to prove to me that they understand how important this is and that they’re willing to take it on. I haven’t seen a lot of indication of that yet.
So while I’m going to continue to push it, and while I think everybody should be pushing it, and we need to hold our state leaders’ feet to the fire, realistically I think it’s going to be a tough road to hoe this year.
On Iowa Governor Chet Culver…
The last time I was really in contact with Chet was when he was trying to line up my support right after the [gubernatorial] primary in 2006. We met three or four times, and we’ve sat down once briefly since then. Some of what he’s doing I’m impressed with; some of it is I think a distraction from some of the main things we need to be doing. And again, when somebody says to me that they’ll promise to work on something and they promise to do something and I don’t see it happening, I get a little discouraged.
So I’m still waiting to see Governor Culver make campaign finance an important issue in his agenda. That and regulating hog confinements, local control specifically, and doing something about urbal sprawl. Those are the things he said he’d address.
On his congressional campaign platform…
One of the first things I want to do when I get elected to Congress is to make it clear that I’m going to do everything I can in that position to help assure that this war in Iraq comes to an end as quickly and expeditiously as possible. That’s very important to me. And maybe it’ll be resolved by then, but the way things are going I’m not optimistic.
But beyond that, the five issues I really want to take some leadership on:
Global climate change. You know, we see plenty of action at the local level, the state level, and there are a lot of ideas being generated in Washington, but, again, the leadership has been very loath to jump on board and really understand the gravity of addressing that issue.
Again, campaign finance reform. That’s something I want to be a part of. There’s a good bill in the Senate – the Durbin-Specter bill – and I want to do everything I can to help push companion legislation in the U.S. House.
Fiscal responsibility. You cannot run a budget Congress is running a budget right now. Part of the problem, one example of the problem, is the whole earmarks system. Back in 1996, we had somewhere around 950 earmarks that were included in budget bills; in 2007, 11,000 earmarks were included in budget bills. Sometimes they go to good work, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s a violation of any kind of sound, intelligent budgeting practice. You don’t just slip something in because you’ve got somebody back home that you want to help, oftentimes a big [campaign] contributor. You don’t bypass any type of competitive bidding process; you don’t avoid the opportunity for the public to have a say in how these decisions are made.
Republicans have done a terrible job at managing the budget. We were fiscally in better health under Bill Clinton than were under George Bush the elder or George Bush the current. But as a whole, Democrats have not filled that void. Democrats need to be much more aggressive about talking about fiscal responsibility. And I think a great place to start is with getting rid of this whole process of earmarks.
Poverty is something I care deeply about. It’s a big part of why I supported John Edwards. This nation needs to be doing more to address poverty.
And then tied in with that is health care. It’s time for universal health care. What we have isn’t working very well. We have great care if you can get to it. If you can’t access that care, you’re in big trouble.
On reforming health care…
What’s ideal is probably not what’s realistic, but we have to push for as significant a reform package as possible. We shouldn’t set the bar low. The bar’s got to be set high or we won’t accomplish anything. I don’t mind discussion about the single-payer approach. I don’t think it needs to be the only universal proposal on the table. You can have universal health care that’s not single-payer.
One distinction I do want to make is that sometimes candidates talk about universal coverage. That’s just a great way of making sure the insurance companies have more business. I’m not so much interested in seeing that everyone has insurance; I’m interested in seeing that everybody has adequate care and fair access. That does not necessarily mean you’ve got insurance.
I like the idea of making Medicaid available to anybody who wants it. Right now you’ve got limited constituencies that can opt into that system. Medicaid has proven that it’s much more cost-effectively managed than private insurance. Three to five percent overhead compared to 20 to 30 percent overhead in private insurance. Medicaid is working for those who are able to use it. Let’s broaden the pool; let’s let anybody access Medicaid. If you want to have a separate insurance plan beyond that, much as they do in Germany, everybody has a basic level of care they can access, but if they want to do something beyond that they can do that.
To me the discussion should not be about universal coverage but universal care and access. That doesn’t negate the role of insurance companies in managing the risk. It probably relegates them to a less significant role than they play currently. Right now they’re dominating it, and that’s what has to change.
And a big part of it – I do not want to ignore the responsibility of the individual in this discussion. People have to take better care of themselves. That’s got to happen; we’ve got to take responsibility for our own health. Again, I think society should make it easier to do that.
We could get into a long discussion about that, but people have to be more proactive about making sure they’re making intelligent health care decisions for themselves so that really their choices shouldn’t be – let me say it this way: health care shouldn’t be about how do I deal with myself when I’m sick. Yeah, when you’re sick or injured you have that discussion, but the most important part of health care is the preventive part, the maintenance part, the early detection of possible problems, and basically making decisions that allow you to avoid as much sick care as possible. So what we’re really talking about as a system is health maintenance.
On 3rd district constituents’ opinions of Boswell…
There are a lot of people who are very, very dissatisfied with Leonard Boswell. They don’t like his voting record; they don’t like where he stands on the war [or] on the Patriot Act. He supported No Child Left Behind; he supported the $14 billion for the tax breaks and incentives for the oil and gas companies; he supported repealing the estate tax. The estate tax is a great way to try to maintain some fairness in the tax structure. He supported limiting that. He’s been a big user of earmarks, and I just think overall there are a lot of folks who feel very dissatisfied.
I think he’s an honorable man who has served with integrity and dignity, and he’s done some good things. Certainly he’s done some great things for veterans. But I hear a real, strong sense that people want somebody who votes differently, [and] they want more energy; they want more passion, more engagement.
And I would bring an approach to constituent service that is much more proactive. I’ve got a long record in the [state] legislature of [having] an approach to constituent service that takes everybody seriously. You don’t have to be a big donor or have an important name to get access to your elected official in my opinion, and, again, my record is emphatic on that, and that’s something I want to bring to this job and something I think people are eager for.
On whether Boswell would endorse Fallon should Fallon win the primary…
Well, I would hope so. I would hope that we don’t create a situation where we’ve got another [Connecticut Senator] Joe Lieberman.
Establishment Democrats need to be consistent. They are always demanding from those of us who are more independent, who are more maverick in style; they’re always accusing us of not being faithful to the party. And then you go ahead and see somebody like Lieberman, who lost his primary and decided that once he lost he wasn’t going to play by the rules anymore.
I think if you decide to run in a primary you’re committing yourself to the process identified by the party whose primary you’re running in. And if you don’t want to do that, don’t run as a Democrat; run as an independent. But if you make the decision to run in the primary, you’re committing yourself to that party’s process. And so I hope – I assume – that Leonard Boswell will have the integrity to endorse me if I win the primary.
On responding to fears that he could cost the Democrats their 3rd district seat…
Boswell’s been an incumbant for how long? Twelve years? And he won by nearly half of what Culver won by. Culver was a first-time candidate for governor. He won by more than twice as much in the 3rd district as Boswell.
Boswell should be doing a lot better than that. In 2002, the last time that Harkin ran, Harkin won by a much bigger margin than Boswell [in the 3rd district].
A Democrat that is truly connected to people on the issues that they really care deeply about should be winning by a lot bigger margin.
So they’re going to label me [as an out-of-touch liberal], sure. But look at my voting record. I’m socially progressive but I’m fiscally very, very responsible. I’ve got one of the most conservative voting records on money matters at the Statehouse. I’m a staunch defender of the importance of keeping the government from meddling in the free market. You want to look at socialism, that’s a lot of what Democrats and Republicans in the establishment have promoted.
I mean, all this meddling in the free market with government subsidies and incentives, tax income and financing, okay, now that’s not the free market; that’s a form of corporate socialism. And I’ve been the one leading the charge against that.
On Harkin’s endorsement of Boswell…
It’s a buddy thing. Harkin and I have a lot more in common on the issues than Harkin and Boswell do. But Harkin’s very comfortable in the establishment even though he’s progressive. He’s not going to buck that ship.
It doesn’t bother me. I kind of expect it. It kind of helps show you, though, which one of us is the change candidate and which one is the status quo candidate.
On media coverage of his campaign…
Well, they can [continue to label me] if they want to be disingenuous, but the Nader thing is about as old and tired a piece of news as you can get.
And again, it ignores the fact that over the years I’ve helped more than 30 Democratic legislative candidates. I’ve even run the campaign of one Democratic candidate, Bob Crandall – he didn’t win, but he came really close, 30 votes. I’ve spent most of the past year helping John Edwards. I’ve helped Chet Culver. It gets really old after a while.
On the concept of “change” and the status quo…
When I first ran in 1992, my agenda was “we need change.” I talked about campaign finance reform, universal health care, and making the environment a more important issue. That continues to be my agenda.
What’s exciting to me is that this agenda is becoming more universally embraced and is becoming more widely accepted. It takes a while, sometimes, for the main body of the Democratic Party to catch up to those of us who have kind of been leading the charge, and that’s happened.
Again, they’re the establishment. They don’t want change. They’re the establishment. They’re comfortable. They like the status quo; it’s been very good to them. This is why you don’t see leadership in the Iowa House and Senate wanting campaign finance reform. They’ve got their power based on the current system. They like the status quo.
So yeah, there are elements in the party leadership that are going to resist change at all costs, and resist it very strongly. But rank-and-file Democratic activists, county, party leaders, precinct committee people, precinct captains, the volunteers, the folks who really are the Democratic Party, want change in a big way.
And what’s really exciting to me is it’s not just them. It’s rank-and-file voters who are fed up with the status quo. To me, it’s exciting to have been on the cutting edge of that and now to see it finally really coming into fruition.
On his expectations for the primary campaign…
I’m going to discuss where Leonard Boswell and I disagree on the issues. That to me is a necessary part of presenting my case to the voters, and it’s very fair and it can be done in a way that’s clean and positive. I’m not going to get negative and ugly and personal.
If Leonard does, I will respond, but I won’t return it, because I don’t think that’s right. I think people are really fed up with that, in fact, and I think people respect that and I think they expect me to defend myself if I’m attacked, but you can defend yourself against mud being thrown at you without throwing mud back. I think more and more people are eager to see that happen.
On the results of the Democratic presidential caucuses…
Edwards or Obama won every county in this district, and for every county that Obama got first, Edwards got second. So this is not really good Clinton country. … Boswell endorsed Clinton, and Clinton didn’t do very well in the 3rd district.
Obviously, Clinton didn’t do that well statewide, but she did particularly poorly in the 3rd district.
On repenting for endorsing Nader in 2000…
[Responding to criticism from his party following the 2000 election, Fallon held a “public flogging” in which he was placed in the stocks and allowed people to throw fruit at him. He split funds raised from the event between his state legislative reelection campaign and the state Democratic Party.]
I think people appreciate a sense of humor, and I figured that if they were going to nominate me as a candidate they’d most like to see publicly flogged I would have to oblige them. So we had a blast.