The 4th District Interviews: William J. Meyers

May 20th, 2008 · No Comments

Fourth district congressional candidate William J. Meyers with his wife Raphaela Boehm at Old Chicago on February 9, when the two first met with the Progressive. (photo: Gavin Aronsen/The Progressive)

William J. Meyers is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, a job that took him to London, where he specialized on counterterrorism work and experienced the type of national health care system that he now swears by in his campaign for Congress. After sustaining a back injury in a training exercise in 2000 shortly before leaving the Marines, he became an activist for veterans’ rights. He has lobbied the Department of Veterans Affairs for years in hopes of improving care for veterans, driven by his personal experience having difficulty receiving help for his injury. He is a native of Humboldt and currently resides in Boone on a combined income of less than $2500 a month.

Meyers, alongside Becky Greenwald, Kurt Meyer, and Kevin Miskell, will seek the Democratic nomination for Congress at the June 3 primary election. The winner will vie to unseat Republican Representative Tom Latham in the general election this fall.

On May 1, the Progressive spoke with Meyers over the phone to get his thoughts on the upcoming primary and his future in political activism.

On his family and growing up in Iowa…

I grew up in a very average family and like to tell a lot of people I was brought up in a very law-oriented household. My mother’s been working for an attorney in Humboldt for nearly four decades now, so I’ve been running around there ever since I was alive.

That kind of gives my a different kind of view into farming. She’s been working for those four decades in assisting farmers with their probates, estates, and other taxes, so I’ve had a pretty good knowledge base about those things throughout my entire life. It’s a aspect of farming not a lot of people talk about.

Other than that, my father’s a heavy equipment mechanic for a construction company. My sister is a mathematics teacher at a high school in Fort Dodge.

On the Marines and his personal experience with health care…

After high school I worked a few odd jobs before I joined the Marines, where I’ve been known as a terrorism specialist. I really like to tout the fact that most of time in the Marines I was in fact stationed in London, England. We weren’t on an actual base there, we didn’t have an actual medical facility available to us, so we used Britain’s national health insurance system. That was the first time I had experience with a universal-type health care system that many politicians over here are trying to push.

After I left the Marines I returned to Iowa and [began] the battle that’s still going eight years long now at the Department of Veterans Affairs [over health care]. And that’s really what got me started more heavily into politics, fighting not only for my own rights as a veteran but for several veterans….

I was injured in a training accident and that’s what got me into my battle at the Department of Veterans Affairs. There came a point where I tried to utilize all three of my federally elected officials, and only one stepped to the plate and went to bat for me. That was Senator Harkin, and to this day I still tell everybody I really owe him my life….

As a veteran, I found the GI Bill system completely frustrating and screwed up as well. The first thing I wanted to blame was the school’s lectures. As a veteran, being disabled, I wanted to blame the VA. The first thing I wanted to do was blame the school, but of course it’s the way the entire system is set up. I was actually a month and a half into my class when I was dropped.

They don’t come out and tell you, really, you have to have a pot of money in order to even start school with the GI Bill.

There’s many other issues I’m just becoming aware of as well that the more I get into it it seems like every facet of the VA is more red tape and more absolute baloney going on. You have to fight for it every step of the way. There continues to be some sort of a battle when we’ve already given probably the best years of our lives up for our country, and then to turn around and have to fight the government once we get out for what we signed up for.

On working for veterans…

A key concern of mine right now is what’s happening to these brave young men and women who are just returning home from the war, and at the same time it makes me wonder what veterans are going through who have been home for decades already.

I’ve been doing everything I can to help raise awareness for that and bring about some change. It’s one of the reasons I became involved with the Iowa Democratic Veterans Caucus and also, recently, the Student Veterans of America.

A few years ago I ended up going to Europe once again, to Austria, which was second experience living under a universal health care system.

On his personal experience with immigration…

Being an immigrant myself, it actually built right into a firsthand experience with another country’s immigration system. I knew that ours had been failing for so many years and needs to be reworked.

Over the years, I carefully studied the Immigration Act of 1965, the Immigration Reform [and Control] Act of 1986, the Immigration Reform Act of 1990, and, again, another reform act in 2004. I’ve carefully studied those over the years and I can really compare them to what I went through as an immigrant myself in the European Union.

On deciding to run for Congress…

After the whole Austria thing, when I had formed an exploratory committee to see if it was feasible [to run for Congress] – my exploratory committee ran about 11 months – and right about the time Dr. Spencer dropped out of the race, that was the time I decided I was going to jump into the race.

That’s when we moved back. [My wife and I] had both been planning on moving back anyway and going to college. That’s the time all that was put into place.

On the Iraq war…

It’s been heartbreaking because right after it started I wrote some letters to The Des Moines Register, which ended up being published, and then a week or two later they wrote a letter spotlight on me and had more of my letters.

It’s been absolutely heartbreaking for me, as someone who put my life on the line for the country, to be called unpatriotic for standing up against the war.

Nothing can hurt worse than when you know what you’ve been through, in my case what I went through to earn the title of United States Marine, and then to turn around and have people who’ve never put themselves in that situation call you unpatriotic or communist or something like that. It absolutely ripped me in half.

And then all through that time … my health was failing me due to lack of treatment from my own government as well, so it’s been a long, hard fight. And then since the war’s gone on so long now, people are finally opening their eyes to the reality of the situation.

I’m not going to promise anybody a quick solution for the conflict over there. I want my friends to return safely and family members who are over there as well to return safely as soon as possible. I would like nothing more than to see us get out of there, but the fact of the matter is, as far as being very well read in terrorism and international politics, I watched in pain to see the Bush administration send Paul Bremer in, who had no experience, and oust every single member of the Baath Party from any sort of level of government from the local to the highest positions. And yet at the same time all of the military leaders were also ousted.

They were not directly involved with Saddam’s atrocities – a few of them carried them out, but certainly not all of them did. We know the set up in Iraq with the Baath Party was like a giant union, and in order to have any kind of a decent paying job or anything you had to belong to this union and had to belong to the party, and it’s set up much like that in many of the other countries too, depending on the party you belong to what type of position you can obtain.

Over 90 percent of the workforce under Saddam were members of the Baath Party and certainly not all of them were involved in the atrocities, but they were the only ones with experience and expertise in leading the country and keeping it stable and secure.

I think that we need to take a serious look at bringing some of those people back in the government to restore stability so we can eventually fall off and withdraw from there.

On holding leaders accountable for the war…

We’ve definitely got to hold our leadership responsible. We have not done so, and it’s interesting that the other party wants to hold our leadership responsible…. When they lie … and put our kids into harm’s way, they don’t think that they need to be held accountable. It’s absolutely hypocritical, and I think we all have to unite as concerned Americans regardless of party affiliation. And I’m sure that we’d hold these very leaders responsible for this nonsense.

On education…

I see future solutions to many problems within our borders that can be found through our schools, whether it be finding alternative sources of fuel to basically anything, that’s got to be done through our school system and training our future generation of scientists and writers and whoever through a very strong and progressive education system that has to be extremely well funded through our federal government.

I’m a fan of Senator Charles Schumer out of New York who wants to significantly emphasize math and science, and teachers teaching those subjects should begin with pay increases that would triple and especially starting salaries that would be triple what they are today. I think that’s the first stepping stone in getting serious that our education is significantly critical to our future.

On the effect of immigration policy on health care…

I think we have to couple health care with the immigration crisis that we’re facing. I’ve looked at other nations that are also having economies that are slowing down, but they’re still progressing forward whereas our own country is not anymore. Look at the countries that are doing better than we are, and they all have universal health care systems and they’re serious about their education, and also they have a very serious and stable stance on their immigration policies.

And ’65 was I guess what you’d call an extension of the civil rights movement to promote more diversity within our borders and that was a very, very good thing that was put into motion. However, in ’86 Reagan just went crazy with his reform act and we see in 1990 the first President Bush went and extended quotas by another 40 percent after they’d already been climbing out of control.

I just think that we need to look at the history and increase enforcement against all these employers who are hiring illegal aliens. By doing so they continue to create this desire to come here illegally, and it’s not only for our own protection but it’s for the protection of these illegal aliens turned into the very inhumane [and illegal] process. They have no rights, and they have no care, and those employers are putting the illegals at risk. They’re also putting legal American residents at risk with their financial security all the way down to our homes and our cars and whatnot.

Something has to be done to protect all the parties involved.

On his campaign’s grassroots efforts…

I think we’ve got a massive grassroots campaign going with normal voters and we’ve got a huge veterans outreach going on as well.

With regards to funding, all four of us are having trouble right now. There are some people who have claimed they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. They really haven’t. They’ve generated it, not raised it. I know the main money’s going to flow into whoever does win the nomination.

We’ve spent the majority of our time at the grassroots and the veterans outreach and getting out there, meeting people. We have a very diverse district and we have these larger scale cities that are very diverse and progressive, and then we have small communities like where I’m from which are still very conservative. And I’ve been able to reach out to all of them.

I’ve lived in London and Gmund [in Austria], I’ve lived in the progressive and diverse communities that some of our larger cities are striving to be more like, and at the same time I’ve continued to live in a small town close to the town I grew up in. So I know that the majority of our district, the majority of our counties are just that: they’re very small, conservative, average towns.

I’ve been out there on foot and at coffee shops and grocery stores shaking people’s hands and looking them right in the eye. And that’s what the voters want who are going to be out there voting. They remember you by being able to look them square in the eye and being honest and upfront with them. They’re going to remember that, and that goes over a lot better with a majority of our district than some fancy television ads or cardboard cutouts of myself or something like that.

On visiting with 2006 4th district Democratic candidate Selden Spencer…

I actually haven’t sat down and talked to him…. I’ve had a few 30-second quick conversations with him here and there.

At the Story County soup supper we had a brief conversation about communication apprehension, and then at at the district convention immediately after my speech I came down and he happened to be one of the first people who was there to stick out his hand to me.

He had big eyes and he’s like, “Wow, your speech has come a long way” and “You’ve got a lot better” and “Great job”.

And I know he had the same kind of issues that I had when he first started out with communication apprehension and other speaking-type abilities. From the brief conversations we’ve had, he’s had a little bit of encouragement about how he kept pushing forward with that.

I’ve just completed my own semester at a university speech course and that helped me tremendously. It’s nice to have some encouragement from him. I know he’s financially backed a couple of the other candidates, and I don’t know everything behind that, but I’d love to have the time to get to sit down and talk to him and get to his thoughts on the whole thing.

On his primary challengers…

A lot of people are very confused and are sitting on the fence in this particular primary with the candidates in general…. I think each of us has something very, very unique to offer and something that can reach out to different voters throughout the district.

Kevin [Miskell] knows farming laws and things inside and out, but [in] our district – farming’s a huge part of our district – but we have much more than that to offer as well.

Becky [Greenwald] has a few different things to offer. Kurt [Meyer]’s very good at raising revenue. I have international experience and domestic firsthand experience in many different areas. I just think that there’s something about each one of us that grabs a bloc, and that’s why people are so confused.

I don’t know how it’s going to boil down. Actually, more people are aligning with us regarding our own alignment with the remaining two presidential candidates. That may actually turn the tide in our primary here, and if that doesn’t then people are going to have to decide who they want to send in to remove Tom Latham from office.

The end of my speech [at the district convention] was pretty definitive with that … [with regards] to my alignment with Senator Barack Obama.

On future opportunities in the party should he not win the nomination…

Of course, we are expecting to go full force with this, but if it doesn’t work out then, yeah, I know for a fact as do many other people that I have an extremely bright future in Iowa politics or even national politics depending on where we may end up. And if this doesn’t work out then I’ll always keep my options open and we’ll see what may happen in this election.

I’ve seen some mistakes that have been made in this last session which I think could make a huge turning of the tide in the Iowa House and Senate. I’ll be watching those very closely. In my home area I’ve got a gal who is going to be thinking of retirement soon and we’ll see what happens with her race in general and that could be an option, too, starting here.

I may push more toward a state-level or national-level position with the Department of Veterans Affairs, too. That’s what’s closest to my heart, so that may be an area that I’ll be looking into, maybe working my way toward director of veterans affairs at some point, long-term future.

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