Staci Appel, a former State Senator from Ackworth, would be the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress if elected. She says it's time for politicians to start working with, not against each other.
She talks with River to River host Ben Kieffer about her rise from minimum wage to manager at a Younkers department store and how that influences her thoughts on raising the minimum wage. They also discuss environmental and immigration policy. Read the transcript below:
Kieffer: I understand you worked at Younkers, starting at minimum wage and worked your way up to management level. And as a state senator, you’re first bill was to raise the minimum wage in Iowa. Why do you feel so strongly about this? And I assume, you’re supporting the federal minimum wage move too?
Appel: I am supporting the increase in the minimum wage. It is extremely important. One of the very first bills that I voted for in the state Senate was increasing the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. And that was seven years ago, and it is about time that those folks had a raise.
Kieffer: What do you say to concerns that this would cause some businesses to eliminate workers because they would have to have more pay?
Appel: Well when folks, when we increase the minimum wage, that is more money in our economy, so that spurs our economy, and small businesses grow.
Kieffer: How do we know where to set the raise in the minimum wage? You said it hasn’t grown when we adjust for inflation for a long time, but how much do you raise it and how do you know?
Appel: Well you know, this is a bill that Senator Harkin put together. And I think raising it to $10.10 an hour is going to be fantastic for folks that need that raise.
Kieffer: How do you find that sweet spot though, $10.10 an hour?
Appel: You know, it’s a compromise in trying to find out what works best and we need to raise it at least to $10.10 an hour.
Kieffer: OK, congressional pay. Let’s talk a little bit about that because you’ve talked about a freeze on congressional pay and the elimination of some other congressional perks, a so called “no perks” pledge that you’ve taken. Members of congress are paid something like $174,000. Talk about this pledge that you’ve taken.
Appel: Well as, as you know and a lot of your listeners know, we—Congress is not getting anything done. They are not increasing the minimum wage. They are not doing pay equity. And I pledge not to take a pay raise until we get that done. We have got to start working together, listening, and getting things done for the people of Iowa.
Kieffer: How do you think not taking a pay raise would get things moving in Washington? Or is it sort of a feel good thing? We punish the Congress, they have an all-time low approval ratings. We don’t want to give them a raise—or would it actually get the gears of bipartisanship moving?
Appel: That is my hope. We need to get out of the partisan gridlock. We must change what is happening in Washington, D.C. That is the number one thing that folks talk to me, as we’re traveling all over the different counties within my district. They are saying, “Please, we need to get things done. We need somebody up there that wants to work hard, that wants to listen, and do that. And I did that in the state Senate. You know we did so many pieces of legislation—
Kieffer: Give us, give us a concrete example please.
Appel: Well, one of the pieces of legislation I did was the statewide texting ban. I had to work with both sides of the aisle to get that done. And I could not accomplish it, with just by working on my side of the aisle. I needed to reach out to the Republicans to get that done to make it more safe here for Iowans. So now that’s statewide law. That we cannot text in Iowa while driving.
Kieffer: Question on our Twitter. A tweet from Kevin echoes what we’ve just been talking about. How would you reach across the aisle to get things done in D.C.? Is cooperation still an option? You would enter what is the most partisan era of our politics in recent times.
How do you do that? I mean, I have had many candidates on this program, many elected officials talking about this as being the number one problem. It’s reflected in polls—concerns across the state, across the nation. I guess the question is, how to break the gridlock?
Appel: Well I did it in the state Senate. When I was chair of state government and I found out that we hadn’t reorganized state government in 25 years. And so I decided we needed that to make government more effective and efficient.
But that’s not something you could do on your own. I worked with both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats; the House and the Senate. I worked with employees, managers, citizens to find out ways we could make government more effective and efficient.
And we did that, we saved a quarter of a billion dollars. And that’s a gift that just keeps giving. We keep—the savings keep going on. But I couldn’t have done that without support from everybody that was working together. And you took listening to each other and talking to each other. ‘Cause you know, Democrats don’t have all the right ideas, Republicans don’t have all the right ideas. It’s somewhere in the middle and we need to listen to each other and work together to do that. And I learned how to do that in the state Senate and that is what I plan on taking to Washington.
Kieffer: According to some data from the month of June, the Iowa Department of Workforce Development, five counties in the 3rd Congressional District saw an increase in unemployment since this time last year, even though our state’s jobless rate has fallen slightly. What would you do in Washington to bring jobs to your district?
Appel: One of the big things we need to do, you know small business creates the most jobs here in Iowa. And we need to make sure we fully fund the Small Business Administration to make sure there’s loans available for small businesses to grow. That is the best way to create jobs here in Iowa and in the 3rd District.
Kieffer: OK, let’s go to our callers.
Caller: Well I want to know, if Staci is in favor of term limits? And also in favor of depriving Congress people from being able to become lobbyists after they leave office?
Appel: Absolutely, the lobbyist part. We need to get rid of the revolving door. As soon as folks leave Congress they go and they make seven-figure salaries and we need to stop that. We-they’re cashing in on what, their term as a congressperson.
I think it’s extremely important that there’s a certain amount of time that you spend in Congress. For me, when I serve on boards here in the State of Iowa, I don’t stay on a board longer than 10 years because I think you need new ideas. You need new ideas, fresh ideas coming in. And so I think it’s extremely important to make sure that we do that.
Kieffer: What would you set the term limits at for Congress?
Appel: You know, I think 10 years would make sense to me.
Caller: Hi, I have a question about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the ability of closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby to withhold access to birth control for their employees based on the employer’s religious belief. And I was interested in what Staci thought about how the court made that decision and if they made that correct decision?
Appel: Well I, I think the U.S. Supreme Court got that wrong. And I think, any decision—a woman has a health decision should be made between her and her doctor. An employer should not be anywhere in the room.
Kieffer: OK, let’s talk a little bit about immigration. You have said you support the immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate. It’s not passed the House, it’s been blocked by House Republicans. With that essentially dead, according to most political analysts, what is the path to comprehensive immigration reform that you see?
Appel: Well you know, we do have a path. It’ s unfortunate the U.S. House and Speaker Boehner has decided not to move that piece of legislation until a presidential year because he believes that he will get more votes at passage.
This is another prime example of the dysfunction in Washington and Washington insiders not getting the job done for the people of Iowa.
So that piece of legislation works. It increases the border control, it creates the Dream Act for folks, for kids that go and they serve in the army, that they’re willing to give their life for us, that they become U.S. citizens. I think that’s the right way to go.
Kieffer: OK, so you think after this midterm election, the political climate will be such that this Senate bill will pass also the House?
Appel: It is my hope. And I think it’s the hope of many Iowans that we get something done on immigration control.
Kieffer: Let’s talk about the crisis sprouting from our lack of immigration control, many would say. The crisis along the border with these children. Yesterday Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. will be judged by how it treats the thousands of young immigrants showing up on its border.
He warned that the U.S. will be forced though, to send some minors back to dangerous, unfortunate environments. Nonetheless, “These are not somebody else’s kids,” the Vice President said, “These are our kids.” Do you see them as our kids, Staci Appel?
Appel: What I see is we definitely need to increase our border control down there. We need to find out who those kids are? Why they are here? Wow they got here? And are they refugee status?
Kieffer: Do you see them as refugees now?
Appel: I can’t make that decision until we find out where they actually came from, why they are coming here. There’s processes and rules in there, and we have to let that part work through. And then—
Kieffer: What is your understanding now, knowing, having read what you have read about them? What is your understanding about why they’re here? Is it the condition at home that is driving them to our border, or is it something that we did in our legislation that drew them to us?
Appel: You know there’s, there’s kids coming in from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and they’re coming from horrific conditions. And as soon as that gets worked out through the rules and processes they would deserve refugee status. But we have to go through the process.
Caller: Hi, I’d like to ask, just a stance on water quality. It seems that air, water, food and security are kind of basic necessities and I’ve seen some bills recently that it seems our governor is even turning away.
It seems as though some of the candidates like Joni, I think if they had their way, would do away with any of the regulations on water runoff. We’re seeing water runoff from our farmers.
So what’s your stance on water quality?
Appel: Water control is extremely important. We need to make sure that our water is safe and we are able to be out there and our kids can swim in it and fish in it, and eat the fish that we catch in there.
I think it’s extremely important—you know the environment, if we don’t get this right, nothing else matters.
And I’m surprised that Governor Branstad vetoed some of those bills because these are good economic development tools, also. You know, companies that are looking to come here, they want to know. They ask about our education program, they ask about our water quality. So these are important issues.
Caller: Hi. I just wanted to ask Staci about her stance on the oil pipeline that’s to go through Iowa.
Appel: So I think she’s talking about the one going through Iowa. We just don’t have enough information on that. They’re just going forward. Getting kind of primarily meetings with the utility board. We just, we don’t have enough information on that. But what I would tell you, I don’t support the use of eminent domain.
Kieffer: To build a pipeline?
Appel: To a build a pipeline through Iowa.
Kieffer: Ok, let’s keep on the environmental page here. Our talk shows just finished a series, Staci Appel, exploring environmental challenges facing Iowa, “Called Ripple Effects.”
We put out on informal survey for our audience and from those who responded we learned that many Iowans who are concerned about water quality as our caller was just there. 85 percent of our respondents said they will make decisions in the fall partly based on environmental issues.
What is your view on the science of climate change? Do you believe that our climate is changing and that humans are responsible for it?
Appel: Science shows us that this is man-made and we have got to do something about it. As a mom of six, this is vitally important that we leave our world better than we have it. And we need to make sure it’s better for our children and our grandchildren, and the children who come after that.
Kieffer: In Washington, how would you work to address this issues?
Appel: You know, this is something we got to sit down and work together. I am willing to sit down with anybody and talk it through, and find ways to make that happen. We need to bring citizens in, we need to bring our scientists in. And we need to find ways to work together, which is not happening now. And we’ve got to do this.
Kieffer: Staci Appel you served a single term in the Iowa Senate, I believe in 2007. You lost a reelection bid against challenger Kent Sorenson. What’s your view on why you were defeated as an incumbent?
Appel: You know it was a hard year for Democrats all across the nation. And I think that’s what happened.
Kieffer: It’s as simple as that? Because the Republican Party says, in a statement, you were voted out of office because you supported wasteful spending during your time in the Iowa Senate.
Appel: Well, I think you could take a look at my government reorganization work. And where we saved $250 million, a quarter of a billion for tax payers, and that continues to help. We have made so many efficiencies in state government. So that’s what I would point to.
Kieffer: Let’s talk about renewable fuel. This is a question from Casey on our Twitter. “Do you support the renewable fuel standard?” Let me just expand on that a little bit. The proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, seem to signal that the administration may move away from grain-based alternatives to conventional fuels. Of course that would have a big impact on us here in Iowa with all the ethanol produced here.
What would you do in Washington to work in a bipartisan manner on the energy policy that would both benefit Iowans and also have some national appeal?
Appel: I am strongly in support of renewable fuels. This is so important to our Iowa farmers and their families. We need to make sure that folks are up there talking about it that believe in renewable fuels. I will bring anyone here to show them how many jobs it’s creating and how it’s helping our environment. That’s what I would do in Washington.
Kieffer: Alena, on Twitter asks, “Only a handful of states have yet to elect a woman to Congress. If elected, how would your presence affect Iowa?” is the question from Alena.
I guess to the larger question, being the first woman elected to Congress from Iowa in Washington…how does that change the equation for Iowa?
Appel: Well I think the most important thing, Iowans want to elect somebody who is up there fighting for middle class families. That’s the voice you need. I think bringing a woman there changes some of the discussion on a lot of things. Like it did in the state Senate, where we increased the amount of women that were serving in the state Senate.
We passed seat belts in the back seat for kids under 18, the number one cause of death for children. The statewide smoking ban. We passed quality preschool for every 4-year-old in the state of Iowa. When I started, there was only 5,000 kids getting a great early childhood start. Now we have over 26,000 kids getting a great start, including my last two children who just went through the quality preschool program that I helped create.
Kieffer: Why do you think it is that Iowa is in this tiny minority of states of only two, that have yet to elect a woman to represent us in Washington (or as Governor)?
Appel: I think we haven’t had an open seat available for a long time. And it’s not that we haven’t had a qualitied woman ready to run, Roxanne Conlin, Bonnie Campbell. We’ve had great candidates, but now it’s an open seat, and this is where we will elect the first woman to Congress.
Kieffer: President Obama—let’s talk a little bit about polling. We have just over a minute left. Polling from yesterday showing six in 10 Americans dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy. More than 70 percent believe the county is headed in the wrong direction. 80 percent are down on the country’s political system. This is the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Frustration carrying over to the nation’s political leaders. President Obama’s overall approval rating hitting a new low at 40 percent. With this low approval rating, what do you think the president needs to do better?
Appel: Well I think we need to be out there talking to each other. I mean, that is something we must do. And Congress needs to talk to each other, both sides of the aisle have to talk to each other.
Kieffer: What does President Obama have to do better though?
Appel: Well, he needs to continue to encourage it, like he has been encouraging that. We need a new environment there, and that is why I am running to be part of that.
Kieffer: 88 days until midterm elections, what other issues do you want to mention as we say goodbye here?
Appel: Well, I want to make sure we’re increasing the minimum wage. I want to make sure we’re getting equal pay for equal work done nationally. I want to make sure that people know that I’m a voice for middle class Iowans and their families. And making sure that we’re out there fighting hard for those folks.
Kieffer: OK, former state Senator Staci Appel from Ackworth, the Democrats’ candidate to face Republican David Young for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District seat. Staci Appel, thank you for coming into our studio today.
Appel: Thank you, I’m honored to be here today.