Senator Chuck Grassley, the longest serving member of Iowa’s congressional delegation, is up for reelection this November. Four Democrats are running to be the party nominee to challenge him in November – and they face off in a primary election June 7th. The Democratic race heated up a few months ago, after Grassley refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. This week, we’re publishing interviews from all four Democrats on the primary ballot.
Bob Krause is a former state representative and president of the Veterans National Recovery Center. Krause spoke with Ben Kieffer on River to River.
Ben Kieffer: Start off, Bob, by telling us a little about your background, your expertise that you think would qualify you for U.S. Senator.
Bob Krause: Well, I think I have the widest background of any of the candidates. I was raised at a farm up in Northwest Iowa. I graduated here in Iowa City from the University of Iowa and immediately was elected to the state legislature. I served for six years from a rural area in Northwest Iowa. I was named by the Des Moines Register as one of the top ten most effective legislators. And after that, I ran for Treasurer of State, I joined the Carter Administration after losing--that was in a bad year like 2014 for Democrats, and was in charge of the reorganization of the Rock Island and the Milwaukee railroads, at least the response in the field by the administration. Both railroads were bankrupt, in liquidation at the time and so I did quite a bit on that and then Ronald Reagan won and I went off to do other things. Concurrent to all of this, I had a very active military career. I was 28 years in the National Guard, in the army reserve, and I did some interesting things there. I participated in writing the war plans in Korea, I did a top level study of the drug war in Panama, I was in Europe a number of times, and, even in civilian life, that followed me and I was able to spend some time advising the government of Dubai on transportation policy. So that’s a nutshell some of the highlights I could talk more on it if you want or we could go onto other topics.
Kieffer: List your top three priorities as a U.S. Senator should you be elected.
Krause: Well, I think the number one thing that we have to look at is incomes. The bottom is rotting out of the middle class. We see wage stagnation in this country. We see people that have been at the minimum wage level since, I believe, 2007. And it becomes progressively harder and harder to make a living. And what’s happening in this state is, especially for our children, this has huge ramifications. 42% of the children in Iowa are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program and the Department of Education, the Iowa Department of Education, has determined that those kids on that program because of the stress of poverty actually lose about 20 points on their standardized tests, 13 points on their IQ. So, conversely, what happens is: what’s the most important education issue in Iowa? It’s poverty. Childhood poverty caused by low minimum wage, low working wage.
Kieffer: And, briefly, what would be your approach to solving that?
Krause: Well, obviously, I advocate for raising the minimum wage.
Kieffer: Across the U.S., $15 an hour, as has been suggested, incrementally up to that point?
Krause: Yea, it would have to be stepped. But I think it’s in the right direction. We’ve been experimenting with trickle-down economics in this country since George Bush was elected and it obviously has not worked. NAFTA, North American Free Trade Agreement, and CAFTA have caused wage earners, not salary people, but wage earners, about 18 hundred dollars a year according to the Economic Policy Institute. So another thing we have to do to fix the bottom and the middle class is, I think, reject the Trans-Pacific-Partnership. And go back and re-look some of the problems with NAFTA that caused so many factories to go overseas.
Kieffer: Okay, free trade, a big issue in this election. So re-negotiate the major trade agreements made in the last couple of decades, most recently the trans-pacific-partnership, the TPP and NAFTA, that would be on your docket of things to do?
Krause: Those are high level because they affect wages and they directly affect wages. TPP is not actually implemented yet. That could come up for a vote possibly after the election or into the new presidency.
Kieffer: Give me one more priority before we move on.
Krause: The third priority for me would be veterans. I’ve been a very vocal veterans advocate and we’ve had some successes. I’m president of the Veterans National Recovery Center and we were successful in getting a bill passed in the state legislature on military sexual trauma because we had discovered some instances in the National Guard where sexual assaults had been suppressed within the command. We sought legislation to correct this for National Guard members on state duty and it wound up being a national first and there are people in California and other states that are pushing similar legislation to what we did. We also did the veterans Black Armband Day for PTSD which was March 23. There was a gentleman who had severe PTSD in Des Moines, Iowa that about a year ago he froze to death in a city park. He had an episode and went off the rails and we’ve gotten some national coverage with that and we can continue that but looking at what happened, it’s a very emotional story of how I got involved with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is one of the primary drivers of a lot of your veterans problems. I was a young company commander at a National Guard unit in Mason City and we lost one of our sergeants one day. And we didn’t find him ‘til the end of the day, we looked all over. He was, um, we found him, he’d crawled under a truck and had a flash-back. He had been a tunnel-rat in Vietnam and he imagined that he was in a tunnel and there was a Viet-Cong in front of him and he couldn’t move any direction. So he stayed just frozen in time for about 8 hours. We pulled him out, he was embarrassed, I turned and I talked to one of my other sergeants and I asked him, ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ And he says, ‘Sure, it happens to me all the time.’ And his story was that he had been driving a truck out of a military compound and a rocket had hit the gate guard and splattered him all over his windshield. So the gentlemen says, ‘I’ll be driving down the road and all of a sudden my windshield will go red, and I’ll pull over wait for a minute and drive back onto the road.’ And he said it would happen 2-3 times a month forever, two or three years had gone by since the war. And after that, I was sensitized and I could just pick them out. And if you spend time in the military there’s a surprisingly large number of people who had been in combat or had been around situations where they get PTSD. And it, for many of them, it destroys their lives. It’s a driver to divorce, alcoholism.
Kieffer: What would you do now that we aren’t doing right now?
Krause: Well, first, I’d fund the darn program. You know, I blame a lot of it on Charles Grassley. Charles Grassley was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, one of the most powerful committees in congress when the war was ramping up. And they didn’t plan for it. They left a vast funding void and so when the soldiers with PTSD started coming back, there was no place to go and there’s one person in congress that you can blame very specifically on this and that is Senator Charles Grassley, because he failed and his staff failed to recognize the need for vastly increased funding.
Kieffer: Joe on our Facebook page has a question for you related to the military. Joe asks, ‘Which of our recent wars have you supported and which ones have you opposed?’
Krause: Well, I, uh, the 9-11 wars I was actually opposed to.
Krausse Yes, I was on the District Central Committee for the Democrats and an antiwar resolution came up, right when the Afghanistan thing was taking off. And I engineered the compromise, which was, we oppose the war but we support our troops. And that’s what I’ve always been. When you take the commissioning oath to become an officer in the military, you pledge to take orders you pledge to follow the constitution, you pledge to follow the laws of the country. I’ll do that, it doesn’t have anything-- I can oppose a war personally, but still be in it because of my war as a military officer.
Kieffer: So you oppose both the war in Afghanistan, the invasion there, and also the invasion in Iraq?
Krause: It’s solidified as I went, but the by the time the Iraq invasion started, it was pretty obvious that there were things funny. There were back-channel discussions about some of the intelligence, and even before Collin Powell got talked at the United Nations to try to develop the Coalition of the Willing, there was stuff out there indicating that this wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Even then people were talking about the fact that within the group of the 9-11 suicide pilots, the majority of them came from Saudi Arabia. There were none from Iraq, there were none from Afghanistan, and even Afghanistan, if you look at it, the whole Taliban thing was a side-show that became our number one thing. We wanted to get Osama Bin Laden and he was holed up in the Mountains of Hindu Kush, which was basically a pinprick operation. Or it could have been, but it was not.
Josh from Waterloo: Hi, I was wondering how Bob, how you felt about the legalization of marijuana or at least the decriminalization so that it can be used for medical purposes or if potentially in the future for recreational purposes federally, such as in Colorado.
Krause: I’m opposed to the recreational legalization, however, I am in favor of changing the schedule of marijuana to Schedule II and III, some of the subcomponents could be III. And the reason is there are legitimate medical uses. One of the reasons it was so widely used in Vietnam was because of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One of the side effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is really, really, really bad insomnia. People will go for two, or three, four days because they’re always on an adrenaline rush and they take a drug such as marijuana and it will calm them down enough so they can get to sleep. And so there were a lot of users of that for that purpose. The, of course, there’s things with glaucoma and Crohn’s Disease where it’s been proven. We need to change it so there’s medicinal use and for research, but I’m not in favor of recreational use at this time.
Kieffer: Senator Grassley has been in the Senate since 1981. He’s been in Congress since 1975 so over 40 years of service. Of course, when you get that much seniority you have a lot of weight in Washington, a lot of weight pulling for Iowa, Senator Grassley would argue. How would you as a newcomer who’s never argued that system before do better for Iowa than this forty plus year veteran of the process?
Krauss: Well, I think you’ve got to compare it to what he’s actually done for Iowa. If you look here in Coralville you’ve got the rainforest concept that was a, kind of a crony-driven process that fell flat on its face. There was a similar thing with a light rail process up in Sioux City that never went anywhere because it was kind of popped into their universe. So in terms of what he has done specifically for Iowa, it is not as much as people say. What I think I can give that is most effective is the driving force to make sure that incomes go up. He has shown no interest in that. He has voted against Obama’s advocacy of the $10.10 minimum wage which would have affected 300 thousand Iowans plus a couple hundred thousand children. One sixth of our population would have been affected but last year he was bragging about repealing the estate tax, which affects only one dead Iowan every five years. So what do you want? Yeah, he can get something done, but is it for you or is it for somebody else?
Kieffer: Okay, before you would face Senator Grassley, you would have to win the nomination. Others in that race: Patty Judge Rob Hogg and Tom Feigen. Set yourself apart in a few words. In a nutshell, how are you different then the three I just named?
Krauss: Well, first, I think is the prioritization of incomes. They’re all good issues but Rob talks about climate change, which is very important. Tom talks about clean water, which is very important. Patty Judge talks about all the time that she’s had in office, which. I guess, is important. But you can’t do a lot of anything without money. We talked about the relationship between money and education. It’s still there for water quality. We still need to find a half a billion dollars to clean up our surface waters. Likewise, climate change, there are a lot of infrastructure things that need to happen. But they all require taxes. We can’t get taxes unless we stabilize our incomes so we can focus on that. Beyond that, I have the most international experience. I’ve been in Panama. I’ve been in Korea. I’ve been in Europe. I’ve been in the Middle East, in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. I have related to cultures on a geopolitical basis, and on a hands on basis. And no one else can say that, and we are going into some rough times with our international policy. China is a worrisome thing right now. ISIS obviously is still something that has to be dealt with. I’ve seen videos, I’ve worked with Arabs, and I kind of understand them or at least I understand them more than somebody who hasn’t been there. And I think that’s very important.
Kieffer: Okay back to a big issue currently in domestic politics: LGBTQ rights. Where do you stand on that? I mean, most recently, in the so-called bathroom controversy, where do you stand?
Krause: Well, you can’t-- I am supportive of civil rights and equal rights for those who need themm including your LGBT. And the bathroom controversy-- I don’t know if many of your listeners won’t remember the equal rights amendment but I was in the legislature when that was going on and there was talk about we would have unisex bathrooms at the time and people that were opposed to the ERA, the state Equal Rights Amendment, were just fixated on this idea that men and women might use the same bathroom. It’s a good shell argument but that’s about as far as it goes.
Kieffer: So you would support Obama’s call that says schools should allows transgender students to use the restroom that agrees with their gender identity?
Krause: If it’s a complete identity, and that’s part in parcel of the thing. Now the regulation that’s out there or the letter that’s out there is an advisory letter and it does not have the force of law, but obviously they’ll be watching it. I think that because it does not have the force of law, there will be probably some incremental negotiations but I do know that some of the bedrock elements of it are that you can’t just be a young teenage boy with prurient interests that says, ‘Oh, I’m a girl now, so I’m going to go into the restroom.’ It doesn’t work that way they have to be transsexual in every phase of their life. In the school, they have to be recognized by their peers as being on this route; they have to be recognized at many different levels. And I think that screens it. There may be intermediate things. I know, honestly, there probably weren’t that many unisex bathrooms in public areas when the state ERA was coming on deck but afterwards, just the idea broke down the walls and all of a sudden you had these unisex bathrooms everywhere.
Jeff in Iowa City: Earlier you had tried to repurpose the not so VA facility, when the same people were yelling about the VA now not serving purposes and cut the funds kind of created the situation. I was just wondering if you had some follow-up to that.
Krause: Back in 2010, shortly after they closed that facility, we put in a proposal to use it as a residential facility for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we lost the competition and it was given to a private group that still owns it or still owns the lease but has done nothing with it. A couple of years ago I called in to see if I could relink with that group, but I got no call-back, so we moved on.
Kieffer: Why get into politics amid this hyper-partisanship, at a time when 86% of Americans disapprove of the job congress is doing. Why do you want to be part of it Bob Krauss? Just a few seconds, please, just for that.
Krause: I think the best answer is that I believe I can do better.
Kieffer: You believe you can do better, and break gridlock, how?
Krause: Well, there still has to be an element of bipartisanship at some point. When I was in the legislature, I passed a large gas tax. I passed it with Republicans and Democrats. I have worked across the aisle. Probably were it to be known, about 90% of your votes are non-partisan in Congress and in the Statehouse.