Read this candidate profile of 1st District Democratic candidate Pat Murphy. He was interviewed as part of IPR's 2014 Primary Voter Guide series.
Can you give a specific example of an experience you’ve had working in the Iowa House that you believe has prepared you to be a U.S. member of Congress?
Numerous ones. Probably the biggest one would be the whole issue of passing the Civil Rights Bill for the LGBT and protecting the marriage equality ruling when it came down from the Supreme Court. And the reason I say that is, one was an expansion of civil rights but the other one was a civil rights issue as well. Making the decision not to allow any Constitutional changes, I knew there would be a lot of pressure from the Republican Party and I knew in the Democratic Party that there would be a lot of people uncomfortable with me taking the strong position that I did with Senator Gronstal, but I think it was the right thing to do. It was about doing what’s right versus today’s argument of doing what’s politically expedient. I made the decision that I thought was the right thing to do and that was to protect people’s civil rights.
You’re campaigning to join Congress at a time when its approval ratings are some of the lowest in history, hovering in the low to mid teens in many cases. How do you think we got to this point?
I think the reason that the numbers for Congress are so low at this point has a lot to do with the fact that there’s a lot of gridlock. I have a history of working across party lines in the legislature. During the 1990s, I’ll never forget, I worked on the Hawkeye Trust Fund. Republicans were in control. We had a Republican governor the first year and a democratic governor the next year. But we created the Hawkeye Trust fund so that money that went into the fund for children we knew was going to be spent on health care for kids. And so we were able to get that passed. I talked to republicans and they agreed the most important thing to do was protect the rights of children getting access to health care, so we were able to pass that.
In addition to that, I worked with the former Speaker of the House, before I became speaker, who was Christopher Rants. When he was the speaker pro-tem and I was the ranking democrat on the Appropriations Committee. Neither of us could pass the bond referendum, so we came up with the One Cent Sales Tax Bill that was a bipartisan effort. There were Democrats for and against it, just like there were Republicans. We were able to work in a bipartisan fashion to make sure that we could address infrastructure needs for our schools. It is now statewide and if you take a look at the different communities, whether they’re large communities or small, it’s addressed overcrowding issues in the urban centers, but in rural areas the single most important thing for a community to have, whether it is an elementary, middle, or high school, is the ability to have a school that’s updated and modern and adds vibrancy to the local community. We were able to get that passed, and I worked with Republicans to get that done. We passed it without knowing whether Governor Branstad would sign or veto the bill.
Give an example of an area of federal policy where you can imagine compromising across party lines.
There are certain things I won’t do. I will work with Republicans. There’s the argument of changes that need to be done to the Affordable Care Act. As long as we keep the current program intact and we guarantee the current 8 million Americans have health insurance and we expand the programs, I’ll be willing to work with Republicans. I think most people in America will agree the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. We need to see if we can work on areas where we can tweak the law. Maybe change the taxes on it or increase the ability of people to have access to health insurance without drastically changing the program. I think that’s an area where even some Republicans are starting to admit that’s a possibility.
What do you think is the one thing you can do in Congress to help create jobs in Iowa?
I think there are a number of things that we can do to help create jobs in Iowa. The single most important thing when it comes to creating jobs is making sure we have that good education system that people need that ties their education with the jobs that are out there and available today. When you take a look at our community college system, we’ve got to, first of all, make sure that the Pell Grant is well funded so kids that are from low income homes have the ability to get access to higher education. Especially give them skill sets in areas like science, technology, engineering, and math, so that those students can have access to: One, a good education; Two, not be knee deep in debt; and then along with that, making sure we get the education in areas where students know that they’ll be able to go out and find good paying jobs.
We have programs currently in Eastern Iowa, these CNC programs, where the incomes are paying between $15 and $20 per hour. The CNC Program is a nine month completion program. We need to make sure that students get access to those types of programs and expand these opportunities so that businesses know that the skill sets are there with the students that are graduating so that they can fill their needs, but along with that, making sure that they get into those types of positions so that they have a good job and they can raise a family on it.
It sounds like what you’re saying is make sure there’s a prepared workforce and jobs will come.
It’s not just a prepared workforce so jobs will come. A lot of the jobs are here already, and part of the problem is finding the skill sets that employers are looking for from employees; setting up an education system so that it meets those needs. The community colleges are doing a good job now, but we need to make sure that that continues to be a very high priority. And we need to make sure that at the federal level that those types of programs are out there and the financial assistance for students to be able to go to school so that they aren’t mired in a lot of debt.
A March Iowa poll shows that 65% of those polled support an increase in the minimum wage. Would you support a minimum wage increase?
As Speaker of the House I raised the minimum wage up to its current level of $7.25 an hour back in 2007, and we did it two years before the (federal) government did. This year in the legislature I was the lead legislator to introduce raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour here at Iowa, so the answer is yes. I would support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It’s a huge issue that helps families become self-sufficient. I think the big part that you have to remember about this as well is 28,000 Iowans would go off of food stamps. This helps make families more self-sufficient. They’re able to take care of themselves. A big part is you want jobs that people can take pride in. They still don’t qualify for every single government program that’s out there, so I think this is a big step in the right direction. I support raising it to $10.10 an hour.
Immigration reform is an issue that’s important to Iowa, one that has stalled in Congress. Are there immigration reforms that you would support?
Yes, I think immigration is an issue where we do need to do something. I will just tell you right now, it’s estimated that there are 13 million Americans that are undocumented. What I think we need to approach is packing people up and moving them out of the state, as some congressmen have proposed, including Steve King, isn’t going to work. If you take the raid on Postville, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for each person that they ended up deporting.
We have to create a pathway to citizenship. The way you create that pathway to citizenship is by allowing people to do community service, allowing them into programs like the AmeriCorps program or other programs like it, where, if they do a certain amount of community service, they’re allowed the opportunity to gain citizenship. One of the other things they should be allowed to do is military service. I think there’s a number of ways to create opportunities for those people that are currently here. So, I think that’s one of the directions we need to go in. I supported the Dream Act in the legislature about 10 or 11 years ago. We need to make sure that we make people who are undocumented here in the United States the ability to get citizenship in this country and to be able to do it within a limited time, even years.
The proposed changes to the renewable fuel standards seem to signal that the Obama Administration may be moving away from grain-based alternatives to conventional fuels. What could you do in Washington to work in a bipartisan manner on energy policy that would benefit Iowans but still have national appeal?
Quite frankly, what we’re doing here in Iowa does have national appeal. If you take a look at what’s going on currently, ethanol has become the major fuel standard in the country. I think the big reason why is MTBE, which is an oxygenate that’s used in gasoline, leaches out of tanks. States like New York and California are now building ethanol plants to address the need. Quite frankly, that fuel standard needs to remain there. Plus, Iowa’s on the cutting edge of most of the areas that are already being looked at, whether it’s solar, wind, as well as ethanol and soy diesel. Iowa’s been on the front end of this for about the last 8 to 10 years, and Iowa continues to be on the front end of it. We need to continue the tax credit for these types of fuels.
The other part we’ve got to move into is the area of making sure cars continue to use less fuel and increasing our fuel standards so that we get more efficiency in them. That’s where I’m at and I think Iowa’s on the front end of most of the things that are being done at the federal level, so they really shouldn’t be changing the fuel standard. I would support the current tax credit and not allow it to be repealed.
Nearly every candidate that’s running for office says they want to cut government waste and bring down the national deficit. Can you name a department or program you would cut?
If you’re going to be looking at cutting the federal budget, the first thing you need to do is be willing to look at everything. In the legislature, we have always looked at programs to see if you can make them more efficient. I think that’s the first thing you need to do, where you can make programs more efficient. But you have to be careful of what you’re cutting. The whole issue that’s coming up currently with the VA administration is a prime example of where, if you don’t have enough government oversight, you fail in the services you intended to provide in the first place; especially to our veterans since they’ve served our country. I think people have got to be careful about what they talk about. You can you look at the defense budget to see if there are areas there where we can find cost savings.
The other part is looking at finding it being done in a smart way versus just saying that you want to cut. I know Governor Branstad, in the legislature, proposed cutting early childhood when he was running for governor in 2010. Shortly after he got into office he saw that it was one of the most popular programs in all of our education system. I don’t think you can go out and say we need to eliminate a particular program. I think you need to focus on finding efficiencies in the government and moving forward with those efficiencies to save taxpayers’ dollars. I have a long record of doing that in the legislature.
Are we spending enough on national defense?
The big part with national defense is we have become a more sophisticated country in the area of national defense; whether it’s the whole issue of using drones or using smart technology so that you actually are using technology to benefit our country and our national security. That’s the issue we need to continue to focus on in defense. Making sure that we’re getting the most advanced technology, there are certain things that you’re never going to replace the human element from. But when you take a look at national security and what we’ve been able to do, especially in the last six to eight years, we’ve got new advanced technologies; whether it’s drones, whether it’s smart technology, that we are able to use that cuts down on the human casualties of war. Especially when you’re seeing troops coming home with PTSD, we need to see what we can do to advance the technology within the defense department so that we do not have the human tragedies that we have coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with our veterans currently.
According to figures from NASA, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends during over the past century are very likely due to human activities and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing that position. Do you believe the science?
I believe the science. I believe that climate change is real. I can’t believe there are only 97% of scientists that say that man is – I think it should be 100%. I’ll just tell you right now, we have real issues with the climate change in this country. Plus, you have the whole federal lawsuit with the Marshall Islands, that are suiting both China and the United States because those are literally the islands off the Pacific Ocean that are expected to go underwater in the next 50 years primarily due to the polar ice caps melting. I think we do need to deal with this, and this goes back to our energy policy of cutting down on coal fired plants, switching to nuclear or looking at hydro, putting everything on the table to see if we can address those needs – especially in the areas of what we can do with wind and solar. Also, cut down on our carbon footprint when it comes to gas emissions.
So, I think this ties into some of the earlier questions, but it is a real science. It’s a real issue and if we want to leave this planet in a better condition then we as people came to be here in this country, we need to make sure that we improve how we deal with the issues of this science to prevent global warming. The best example we can use is we do have the ability to do this. I tell my 12-year-old grandson, and he is shocked when I tell him, that when I grew up I never saw a bald eagle in this country. It was due to a number of things, but due to DDT and numerous other chemicals, we almost wiped out the eagle population. You look at where it is today, my grandson is able to see bald eagles on a regular basis, not just in the winter but throughout the year here in Iowa. One of the things we need to continue to focus on is protecting the environment and making sure that it’s here for our children so that someday, hopefully, my grandson will be my age and say, “I remember when my grandfather told me that someday there would be no North Pole because we had melted the polar ice caps, and that didn’t happen.” So, I think that’s something we have to keep a little focus on.