Candidate Profile: Steve Rathje
Read this candidate profile of 1st District Republican candidate Steve Rathje. He was interviewed as part of IPR's 2014 Primary Voter Guide series.
Give me an example of an experience you had as a businessman that you believe prepared you to be a member of Congress.
There’s been a lot of them. I started this company that I own, International Procurement Services Inc., back in 1992 in an effort to do three things for people all across the country. And we have a lot of big name customers all across the U.S. But what we do for them is we eliminate their waste, we cut their spending and the jobs they feel they’ve been forced to send overseas to our competitors, we bring those back home to America where they belong.
Now that’s not an easy task, but we’ve been able to prove that 30% of everything that our customers send overseas is returned as scrap. They throw it away. Another 15% has to be reworked just to meet fit, form and function standards. Then, once I and my company remove the cost of let’s say of customs duty fees, tariffs if they apply, longshoreman fees, dock fees, insurance and freight from Nigbo, China where a lot of these parts come from and then to San Francisco and points beyond. Well, our company came within 3% of the Chinese, which is very, very good. We match the Mexicans dollar for dollar on a daily basis. We’ve beaten the Canadians by as much as 10%, the Taiwanese by as much as 41%, and I’ve got a letter to show you on that if you’d like to see it, but also the Europeans by as much as 70% in the aluminum extrusion industry.
But I think the biggest feather in our cap is a job we did for a local company -- Diamond V Mills. Diamond V Mills had a real problem with their extrusion process where they mixed their soybeans and their different enzymes and molasses and so on and they’d drop it down into a hopper and it fed into and out through an extrusion die, similar to what you’d have when you grind hamburger. Well, when you get a soybean wet and it takes on water, the hull pops and it looks like bee’s wings and opens up and it sticks to the back of the extrusion die. Well, they wanted me to come in and come up with a device that would wipe or clean off those bee’s wings from the back side of the die. And I said, “well I don’t think that’s going to work because it’s going to be awful labor intensive. There’s parts on there that are going to wear out and break down,” and so on. Well to make a long story short, I asked them what their end result had to be. They said, “we have to have a one inch long by quarter inch diameter noodle. So we have to extrude it through this die plate that’s 25 inches in diameter ¾ of an inch thick with 5400 little quarter inch diameter holes in it.” So, I said, well let’s change that to a slot. Well, the number of engineers that were fighting against it and middle managers that were fighting against it was pretty awesome to tell you the truth because they didn’t want anything to do with my idea. And I said, “Well, I tell you what. Let me just provide you with one plate for free.” Well, I’ve got a newspaper article that I’ll give you when you leave, and it shows how changing from that die that they were using to my die with the slots saves them $1 million dollars annually. Just by that simple thing.
You see, what we’re able to do with our company is to instead of divide people with the solutions we bring to the table, we bring people together. And when we bring people together, we get things done. You know, I’ve said for a long time that it’s time for Republicans to hang their hats over here (gestures right) and Democrats to hang their hats over here (gestures left) and then we all come together (in the middle). We sit around the table, we come up with a plan and every part of that plan, just like that plan I’ve put together that I hope we’ll be able to share in a bit, but the plan I’ve put together cuts $1.2 trillion in spending, creates 6 million jobs. But it does so by bringing people together rather than separating them. That’s how we get things done in business, and that’s what’s prepared me, for I think this job, this next job I’ll be taking on.
What do you think is the one thing you can do in Congress to help create jobs in Iowa?
To tell you the truth, that’s something I’ve been doing for a long, long time. You see, after graduating from high school, I went to work in a factory. And I was a janitor sweeping the shavings from the machine shop floor. I was laid off like a lot of people get laid off from time to time through that factory job and when I got back to work, I told my plant superintendent, you know if this is what I can expect every year, I’m really not interested. I left, my family owns a construction company here in town, and I said I would much rather work in manufacturing and that’s what I want to do so they blessed that effort. And he said, “well Steve you’ve got to learn a trade. You can’t just rely on coming in here and sweeping the floor as being a way of life. You’re going to have to learn a trade.” So, I taught myself how to weld. I’m an AWSD 1.1 certified welder, and still am. That’s all the way back from 1975 when I became that. Now I’m also a journeyman machinist. I went from those particular jobs into a supervisory capacity. I was a shop foreman. Then I became the youngest plant superintendent in the company’s history. I went from there into purchasing. I went from there to Director of Outsource Manufacturing, and no, I wasn’t the guy who sent those jobs overseas.
But then I left there to take a chance on myself and formed two companies that do exactly what I told you could do, and we eliminate waste, we control spending and we bring jobs back home to America. To answer your question about how we could best, or what I would do that would get these jobs back to America. It’s really as simple as you might think it is. We have to cut corporate taxes from 39% down to 15%. And empower these businesses with about $245 billion, that’s what we’ll get when we make that change. And when we do that they’ll make investments in new technology, new machinery, new brick and mortar and 4.7 million jobs. Now, these jobs will stretch all across America, but they’ll also come right here to Iowa. That’s what we’ve been doing within our company and our corporate structure for the past 22 years. For the most part, every job that we bring back to America, we put right here in Eastern Iowa.
A March Iowa Poll shows 65% of those polled support an increase in the minimum wage. And since we’re talking about jobs, is an increase in the minimum wage something you would support?
No. And I don’t want to begrudge anybody of anything. But, it’s like when I had that janitor’s job… I asked my supervisor what I could do to make more money to provide more for my family. I didn’t want a raise to sweep the floor. You know, that job was a job that was meant as an entry level job, for the company that I worked for, so he said, “Steve you have to learn a trade,” like I told you. So, I taught myself how to weld, I taught myself how to machine. I kept pushing myself further and further and further until I reached the level I felt comfortable with. And if I didn’t feel comfortable with it, it was up to me to keep moving forward. I believe that by raising the minimum wage, we tend to hurt the same people that we’re trying to help. For example, when we pay somebody that money in addition to what they’re making now… has to come from somewhere. The business owner will add that cost onto the products they sell. The products they sell are purchased by the very people that are getting the raise. So, they’re now going to pay more for the products they need, based on the wage that they got, and it’s almost an even match. You know, they’re still not making any more or getting any more than they would’ve gotten. I guess what I want… what I would like people to do is take it upon themselves to perhaps move on. Not to be like me, I just used that as an example, but I honestly believe that if people want to make more out of their lives, it’s up to them to make more out of their lives, and not depend on others to make that happen.
It’s going to be an unpopular position to hold though, if you think about that 65% that support the minimum wage…
It is. It is, but you know I’m a person of principle. And if I change who I am… If I sit here and tell you I support the minimum wage, and then I go to Congress and I don’t support the minimum wage, how am I any different than a lot of them that are in there right now? The people of Iowa and the people of America will know firsthand the kind of person that they are electing. I will do everything I can do to empower everyone to make more, to keep more… Look, what if you give them all tax cuts? I’d like to see every single person that has a job, rather than paying 18 to 20% in federal taxes, drop that down to 14% or less. That adds $130 of monthly spendable income to their gross. I can see where they would appreciate that more than getting an increase and then paying taxes on top of that increase. Let’s cut their taxes down, let’s quit spending so much money and at the same time give them more spendable income.
The proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard seem to signal that the administration is going to be shifting more back towards traditional fuels. We have so many grains here and rely so heavily on the ethanol industry, but it’s not necessarily something the rest of the nation supports. So, what kinds of energy solutions would you look for that could be supported widely across the country?
All of them. Whether it be wind, whether it be solar, whether it be fossil fuels. You know, nuclear energy. All of those energies have to be utilized. Golly, when you come to fossil fuels - we have more in fossil fuels than anyone in the world right beneath us. And you know we have to use those. I always refrain from using the word need because there’s too many people that use the word need and don’t back it up with anything. So, let’s come together with a common sense plan and a plan to get this done. But let’s not pick on any one industry, and let’s not pick winners and losers in the industries either.
So, does that mean no subsidies for oil and gas? No subsidies for wind?
No subsidies. I’d like to see private industry get more involved in this. That’s where we’re really going to grow. I think you’ll admit that when people receive subsidies or groups or entities receive some kind of subsidy, they work their tails off up to that certain level when the subsidy kicks in. And then perhaps not so much because they know that’s always there as their safety net, to carry them on. If we involve private industry and empower them with the ability to stand on their own, and start weaning them off… Now I also know that the subsidies that are in place right now are economically based. There are a lot of companies, there are a lot of different institutions, that rely on those, so we can’t just cut them off and end them. They have to be gradually reduced, but I don’t support subsidies for big oil any more than I support subsidies for anything else.
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 most cases. How do you think we got to this point?
No solutions. You know, I’m an individual who owns a company that has to provide solutions to our customers, and if we don’t we’re out of business. That’s what they hire us for. If they come to us with a plan on a blueprint, they expect more than for us to just make that part that’s on that blueprint. They want to know if there’s a better material, if there are more efficient means and methods… They want to know if there’s something they can do or we can do different that will enhance the part that will enhance the product which will then enhance their profitability.
We have to do the same thing in Congress. I think right now there are so many people in Congress so worried about their jobs, rather than doing the work of the people, that once we perhaps get more people involved in taking part in term limits, like I intend to do, then maybe we’ll get something done. For example, should I be elected, and I believe I will be, I won’t accept one dime more than what I receive the first day I go into office. So, if the pay is $175,000 per year, that’s what I’m going to get as long as I’m there. I’m not going to stay for more than four terms, that’s 8 years. Because the plan that I hope to put in place, or one like it, or to work with people to get something, I assume will take right at about 8 years. I’ve done a 2 year study on this plan. So after 8 years I come home to live with the consequences of the actions I took while I was in Washington. But while I’m there I will not accept any health insurance that’s paid for by the taxpayer, no life insurance paid for by the taxpayer. And when I leave I will not accept a pension whatsoever. I look at it this way… I will be going to Washington, D.C. as a contract worker, based on a plan I’ve put in place. Just like you would hire somebody to roof your house or do anything else, they’re there as a contract worker to get the job done. When they get the job done they go home. Under no circumstances do I believe that you or anyone else is responsible for my well-being or that of my family once I’ve fulfilled my obligation as a United States Representative.
Can you give me an example of a specific area where you think you could reach across party lines, of where you would be willing to compromise with someone from the opposite party?
Well, sure. For example, I know this is radio, so no one can see this, but this is my 6 tier economic plan. It creates as many as 6 million new jobs all across the country. Each page, each paragraph, every sentence, every punctuation mark, everything involved in that plan will have to be debated. It will have to be negotiated and it will have to be compromised. In business we get nothing done if we don’t do those three things, and unless we’re going to do them in government the same way we’ll continue to get nothing done and those congressional polls will continue to fall because they are not doing anything, I believe. I honestly believe that the people in Congress in both houses are physically yearning for real solutions to be put forward that’ll bring people together so we can end this stalemate. That will do it.
For example, if you don’t have a job, it will empower you with the ability to get one. If you want to start a business, it will empower you with the ability to grow one. If you want to grow your existing business, it’ll empower you with the ability to keep more of what you earn so you can grow that and create new jobs. If you’re a college graduate or soon to be, it’ll empower you with the ability to pay down or pay off your college tuition within 3 years. Those are solutions to the problems that people are discussing around their kitchen tables every single day. You know I meet a lot with business owners. There’s more than 143 business owners from all across the district that have gotten on board our campaign. And the resounding message I got from all of them was, “Steve, if you’ve come into my office with your suit and tie on and you know, your little flag lapel pin up here and your Republican lapel pin over here and you expect me to take you at face value and cast a vote for you, support you in any way or do whatever just based on what I’m seeing, forget it, I’m not interested. But if you’ll take the time to put solutions on the table that address the problems that we have to deal with and that the people around this state and this nation have to deal with, then we’re listening.” And that’s why I did what I’ve done.
Do you think we’re spending enough on national defense?
I think we’re spending enough on national defense. There are three military generals, you’ve probably heard of them. Lieutenant General Tom McInerny, Major General Paul Vallely, and Brigadier General Jimmy Cash and all three of them have told me about the waste that’s taking place in our military complex. I believe after we audit every single department, including the Department of Defense, that we will find areas where cuts can be made where we won’t skip a beat. In fact, our people will still be the best equipped. Our military will still be second to none, and that we will still be feared instead of being a tempting target to those that want to harm us. But it all has to start with an audit, and I’m a proponent, just like we do with our customers, we’re going to go in, we’re going to audit everything. We’re going to see where the problems lie, and we’re going to fix those problems. And oh yes, sure there are people out there that will say yes, that this money is for this and this money is for that. If it is… if it truly is, then we’re going to find that out. We’ll find that out. And if it’s working, we’ll find that out too. But we can’t just start cutting if we don’t know where we can cut because there will be places where we can cut an enormous amount and places where we can’t cut a dime and in fact they probably need more money. But it all has to start there.
There have been so many government efficiency studies. We hear about those all the time. What makes this any different than any of those?
It will be an independent audit done by independent auditors that will report to the people first and not the government. It’s not going to be a government entity that walks into the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, or any other department for that matter and just do their own study and then expect us to believe everything that they tell us. The people of America, the people of Iowa don’t feel very good about the government right now. They don’t trust the government at all. So, if we don’t trust the government, and we don’t trust the auditors that the government is hiring, then how do we trust the findings that they come out with? I’m going to push very hard for independent audits whether it be, like I said, whether it be with the Department of Defense, any of these departments. They’re all going to be held accountable for every dime they spend. You’ve seen or heard the kind of spending that’s been taking place in the IRS. You know, all the furniture they just bought for the millions and millions of dollars, the lavish parties, all of those things. You know, those are your dollars and my dollars. And boy I tell you what, I’d just as soon spend those dollars on my family than on their parties.
Are there reforms in the immigration system that you would support?
Actually I support the law as it is right now. I believe this country is a nation of laws and I find it hard to believe that any new law that the government would come up with would be a law whereby they would adhere to that any more than this one. I think the laws they want to change are going to be changed due to the political atmosphere – votes. And I won’t support that. I do not begrudge anyone that wants to come to the United States, so long as they do so legally. For crying out loud, my grandfather was an immigrant from Norway, Europe. When he sailed in to Ellis Island on a whaling ship, he got off, looked at a map, saw Iowa and thought well, that’s a nice… that’s right in the center of the country. I think that’s going to be a safe place. Then, he got to looking at the map and there was a Norway, Iowa. So, my grandfather from Norway, Europe came to Norway, Iowa. But, you know, when he came to this country he walked right through the front door. And, you know, he did so according to the law - the laws that have been put in place by the elected representatives of a free and sovereign nation, and I expect nothing more than that from anyone else. I think one of the things as well… the big argument is when the people come here they come here to make a better living for their families. I understand that, and I’m not holding that against anyone. Just come through the front door and then we won’t have a problem.
But some would argue we’re not letting enough people in through the front door…
How many people do we have to have? I think that’s the question that we… That’s an honest question. You know, we do a lot of business in California, in the Salinas area, and Salinas is considered to be the salad bowl of America. That’s where a lot of the fruits and vegetables are grown that we have on our dinner tables every night. Well, I believe that the United States of America is the most technologically advanced country on the face of the earth. We have a military that is second to none. We have the ability to send a spaceship into outer space as far as we want to. We can send a submarine into the furthest depths of any ocean on the planet. We can transplant your heart into my body if you’re willing to let the guy in the other room do it. So, I find it hard to believe that when people say well, they’ll do jobs no one else is willing to do. Well, if that’s the case, and we’ve gone from picking corn by hand to the combines that we have now… why can’t we design, develop, manufacture machines that will pick fragile produce off of a vine, a tree or out of a field. And think of the millions of jobs that would be created that would pay 10 times the amount that an immigrant farmer gets working in a field. That’s the way I look at it.
The U.S. House had held dozens of votes on repealing or defunding Obamacare. But, repealing it is not going to be an option, at least for the next two years with President Obama still in office. So, do you have a solution for reforming the law? It’s not a popular law…
It’s not a popular law. I think it’s important that everyone understand, regardless of how much people despise that law, and I’m one of those, because I can see that law, and I’m working with people right now that are refusing to add more people to their workforce. In fact they’ve decreased the number of people that they have working for them and they will be moving some of their jobs overseas because they can’t afford… they can’t afford either the fee or the fine or the penalty, whatever it is that they’re calling it nowadays. Nor can they afford to pay the exorbitant amount of money that it’s going to cost for this. So… and the reason they can’t afford it is because they have to take those dollars, add them to the cost of the goods they sell, and increase them to the point that you and I and other people, we start looking elsewhere for foreign brands, perhaps. Just like, I think if everyone looked at the label on the back of their shirt, they would see well, perhaps this isn’t made in America, you know what I mean? So, that’s what we’re asking for when we accepted, or when the government accepted that plan and then the U.S. Supreme Court, which I completely disagree with, that it is not constitutional…
But at the same time it has been passed, which means a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress, we’ll have to have in order to repeal it. If we only have simple majorities, we’ll also have to have the White House in order to get that done. You know I really don’t see that happening in the not too distant future. You know? And it’s like you said, it is, it’s there. Some of us are going to have to deal with it until we have the numbers to repeal it. And, but until then, I think if we take every single part and we look for free market solutions, as in my plan, it’s one of the stages of my plan, the free market solutions which allow us and you’ve heard it time and time again: let’s let the people go where they want to get their health insurance. If I want to go over to Maine, if that’s where it’s the least expensive for me and my family to get it or somewhere else, then let me go do that. It’s free market solutions that’s brought this country to where it is today. And the government has no right to tell us what to buy, how to buy it and for what purpose to buy it. So, let us do what we were meant to do.
According to figures from NASA, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends 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 same position. So, the questions for you are one: Do you believe the science?
And two: Do you think the government should act on this issue?
No. I find it hard to believe that this whole thing is anything but a huge hoax. And I’m speaking based on principle. When climate change was first introduced to us, who introduced it to us? It was a politician. It was Al Gore. It wasn’t a scientist. It wasn’t NASA, for example. It wasn’t any of these things. And you mentioned let’s say 97% of scientists with NASA?
Well, climate scientists…
Climate scientists with NASA? Well, I can probably give you 97% of climate scientists from some other organization that dispute it. OK, it seems like every one that says there is a problem, there’s one or two that says there isn’t. And if there is a problem… Why hasn’t every single, every single country across this globe gotten on board and say we’re going to do something about this because it’s going to affect us all? And why hasn’t every single politician gotten on board? They may not agree with how to fix it, but they would at least agree that there’s a problem and it has to be fixed.
But yet it’s become a political football… And I believe for the sake of votes. And you know, one day this will pass. One day climate change or global warming or whatever it is they want to call it from day to day, one of these days that’s going to change and they’re going to have to have something else… If it’s not immigration, it’s climate change, or it’s welfare, or it’s all these different kinds of things. And I just can’t believe, that if it’s truly the problem that they say it is, that more people would be involved in trying to fix it. And there just isn’t, it’s just not there.
Do you think maybe it’s too big a problem, and that’s why people are hesitant to get involved?
No. There’s a lot of money involved in this. There’s a lot of money. There’s a lot of votes. There’s a lot of politics and I think it’s probably 33 1/3% of all three of those that’s leading the charge for global change, or climate change, excuse me.
Anything else that I didn’t ask you that you’d like to talk about?
No, I think you pretty much covered it. I want to thank you for doing this, I really appreciate it. And it’s like I said, you know, there’s going to be people that agree with what I say. And there’s going to be people that disagree with what I say. That’s human nature, but at the same time, I want people to know that once I’m elected and I’m representing them in Washington, D.C., they know exactly what to expect. I want to be honest and forthright in everything I feel. I don’t want to pull any punches. I don’t want to hide anything. I just want people to know that they’ve got somebody that’s going to go to Washington, D.C. and work for them for 8 years, and 8 years only. And then I’m coming home to my wife and my kids and my grandchildren. That’s what’s most important to me.