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Walker Supports RFS and Phase-Out of Wind Energy Tax Credits, but Not GMO Labeling

John Pemble
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at the inaugural Ag Summit March 7, 2015 in Des Moines

This is the Q and A between Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at the Ag Summit March 7, 2015 in Des Moines.

R: Governor Walker, thanks for coming.
W: Thank you. Thanks to all of you for sticking around. I understand it’s been a long day.
R: Wisconsin is a little closer to Iowa than some had to come. Hopefully, you had a good trip?
W: Yeah. Glad to be back. I just saw Congressman King on the way in, and said it was good to be back in Des Moines. Good to be back in Iowa.
R: And you actually grew up in Plainfield, Iowa.
W: Plainfield -- that’s right. In 1970, my family moved. I was born in Colorado Springs. My dad was a preacher there. But his first big church, well not big church, but his first full church was in Plainfield, which is just north of Waverly, not too far from the Little Brown Church in the Vale in Nashua. And so, from 1970 when I was about two until 1977, we lived in Plainfield where my dad was the pastor and my mom raised my brother and I. My brother was born in Waverly. So, actually I saw, it’s not out here, but I saw the bottles of HyVee water, kind of brought a smile to my face because I remember the HyVee was not too far away from the hospital where my brother was born, and not too far away from the pool we learned how to swim in.
R: How about we get started?
W: Yeah, go ahead.
R: Not that we haven’t gotten started…
W: Yeah, exactly.

R: You come from a state with a lot of dairies. Immigrant labor is a critical component of the stable work supply there, and those dairy farmers have challenges with the rules to make sure that they’re legal. What’s the solution to this immigration problem and how that gets fixed?
W: Well, there’s some big issues, and then there’s things specifically when it comes to agriculture, and the two got to go hand in hand. Clearly, and I’ve talked about this before, when you talk about immigration you’ve got to talk first and foremost about securing the border. Although it’s much bigger than immigration, I think it’s a national security issue. None of us would build a house and put a fence around three sides of it and not on the fourth side out there. So you’ve got to deal with it in that regard from a national security standpoint. I also think it helps you deal with the larger issue of immigration if you have a truly secure border. I don’t believe, I’m not a supporter of amnesty. I know there’s some out there, and I respect their views on that, but I’m not a supporter of amnesty. What I do believe though going forward is that we need to have a legal immigration system in this country that works. And, a couple different steps. I think the H2A program right now is a mess. I think it’s a bureaucratic mess for a lot of farmers and those in ag-related business. I hear it in my state. I’ve heard it from others in other states out there. I think going forward we need to be more aggressive in that. The folks who want to legally use the system and find a way to get help need to make sure that they don’t have the kind of bureaucratic mis-steps that we’ve seen in the past, both in terms of the volume of the bureaucracy that they have to deal with and also with the delay that we often see. And I think if we’re going to enforce a legal immigration system, we’ve talked a lot about E-verify, but you’ve got to find a way to make that work, as well. It’s something that I’d be committed to working with, not just the Farm Bureau, but with other ag leaders here and across the country, and to make sure that for our agriculture community as well as our small businesses and others out there that if we have a successful E-verify system in America it should be one that works. And I’m committed to making that happen.

R: You know, at this time of the day, I’m sure this will surprise you that, I’m going to ask you about the RFS. Where do you stand on that?
W: Well, we’ve talked about this before. In general, on any issue, I’m somebody who believes in a free and open market. I don’t like a whole lot of government interference. That applies to a whole lot of areas, not the least of which is the EPA with things like navigable waters and other issues out there. I’ve fought those challenges at the state and the local level, as well. But, I do believe, we’ve talked about this before, it’s an access issue. And, so it’s something I’m willing to go forward on, continuing the Renewable Fuel Standard and pressing the EPA to make sure that there’s certainty in terms of the blend levels, or in terms of the levels set. So, that going forward farmers know when they’re making decisions about how to plant crops what the process is. One of the frustrations I know from a lot of folks is that you’ve got an EPA that doesn’t set a clear standard on that. Now, long term, we’ve talked about this before, as well, my goal would be to get to a point where we directly address those market access issues. And I think that’s a part of the challenge, so that, eventually, you didn’t need to have a standard, just like you no longer need in the industry to have the subsidies that were there before to help ensure we had a strong system. I think eventually you can get to that. But you can’t get to that unless you deal with market access. We’ve talked about this example before, but you know, you look around the world, Brazil to me is an interesting example we’ve talked about where, you know, they’ve got those blenders, those station pumps where they, people, the consumer can make the choice as to what they want to do in terms of what blend they want and what sort of fuel choice they want. That’s ultimately the best way to let the market decide, but right now we don’t have a free and open marketplace. And so that’s why I’m willing to take that position.

R: Thank you. What about wind? Do you support wind energy? The tax credit just expired at the end of December. Is wind an important part of the renewable resource?
W: Well, two parts to that. You asked two different questions in one phrase there. I’d say yeah, I support wind as part of an overall, all of the above energy policy. To me, we could be competitive in the world economically, we can also shore up our national security issues if we are more dependent on the abundant supplies of energy we have here in America, and in North America in particular. And that means we shouldn’t be just single out one or the other, but we should say all of the above. I want as many different energy policies, or not policies, energy options as possible out there. And if I was in a position as President I’d advocate for that. In terms of the phase out of that, I think you know even four years ago in the last presidential election it was a lot different time than we have right now. This is one of those where I think it’s served a purpose. I do believe though it’s one of those where, in terms of where we stand today with the phase out, I would support phasing that out over a period of time.

R: You’ve taken a number of trips overseas promoting Wisconsin ag products, some of which are also grown in Iowa. But through that experience, do you think the President should have trade promotion authority?
W: I do, and I think not only should the President have it, I think the President should be a more active partner with the states. Part of my experience, some of you may know, comes, from not just traveling abroad talking about trade, but actually traveling with your governor. When I went to China I was honored to meet was… Terry Branstad and I were two of the first American elected officials to meet with the leader of China in the Great Hall of the People right after he took office. Part of that was because of Iowa hospitality. More than 20 years before that when you all welcomed him when he wasn’t the leader of China, it left such an impression. I’d like to think it wasn’t just Iowa, it was Midwestern hospitality, but you left such an impression on him that he actually met with Terry and I instead of meeting with another world leader at that time, and instead of getting a 15, 20 minute meeting we got about an hour out there because of what he remembered fondly about being here in the ‘80’s in Iowa. Thinking about that, thinking about a year ago being in Japan with Terry and other Midwestern governors out there, trade is really important. It’s particularly important to agriculture. My state, last year we’ve seen a tremendous increase in agricultural exports. I know Iowa has seen the same under the leadership of Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds and others out there, and that’s something we’ve got to build off of, but we need a President who is willing to lead the way on that. We also need to make sure that we go forward with a strong plan for free, open, and fair trade around the world, which means, not only on the Pacific side with the TPP. We need to have that because if we don’t do that China will set the standard for trade with that part of the world. We need to be the ones that lead that so that it is free, and fair, and open so that… we can compete against anybody in the world if we have free and open trade. We also need it on the other side, in the Atlantic, so that we have that same process.

R:  So, where does Cuba fit in that?
W:  Well, you know, some of the same challenges you face around the world are similar to Cuba.  I just feel, while some have talked about opening the doors out there, I just feel that we’ve had a policy in America through multiple decades, through multiple administrations of both political parties that said we were not, we had an embargo with Cuba based on their actions in the past, which have largely not changed. And I have a hard time pulling back on that. As President, unless they showed clear changes from where they’ve been in the past, I would not pull back from that, as this President has proposed.

R: One of the trends in the USDA, in talking about government farm programs for a second, has been decreasing farm payments and subsidies. And, instead of increasing farm payments they’ve substitute that with a sense of having a federal crop insurance program, and obviously free trade is playing an important part because you have profitability you don’t need government subsidies. But, what’s your view of that direction that the USDA is headed at?
W: Well, there has to be some certainty, and there’s got to be a certain risk assurance factor out there. Like I said I grew up for part of the time in Plainfield, I moved to the big city of Delavan when I was nine going on ten, which was 7,000 people and both communities, if you weren’t involved directly in farming, living on a farm most of the rest of the town had something to do with agriculture, one way or the other.  And, so over the years I’ve learned that farming isn’t just a business it’s a way of life. For most families I’ve met with it’s a (God bless you) it’s a way of life out there and it’s one of those going forward that I think there needs to be a certain sense, not of a safety net, but there’s got to be assurance out there. I had a few years ago, Wisconsin had in the southern part of the state a real serious bout with drought.  I know about the same time, in fact I remember I think it was the Dubuque paper had two pictures side by side, one was me in Iowa County, in the southwest part of my state, the other, was Governor Branstad in the northeast part of Iowa, both of us out in the field that was just wiped out from the drought out there. So, I know there needs to be a certain sense of protection out there, certainly crop insurance provides some of that stability.

R: So, one of the areas of the USDA that’s come under fire, and it’s the largest portion of the USDA funding is the food stamp program. What’s your perspective on that and what needs to be done to make sense out of that? 
W: Well, you know that’s one of the hang ups we’ve had in the past between food stamps and dealing with the overall farm bill, and some of the challenges out there. When it comes to food stamps in our state we’re one of the few in the country where I initiated a change a few years ago that says for adults without children, who are able to work, I don’t allow them to get assistance unless they’re signed up for employability training programs, because I just believe firmly, there are jobs to be had across our state, as there are across America, and I want make sure they have the skills to get those jobs. Now, we’ve taken a step further, and I don’t say that callously, but we have any given day on our state website about 70 almost 80,000 job openings on our website so we know we can plug people into work if we give them the skills out there. We’ve added to that, not just with food stamps, but with other areas of public assistance a requirement I just put in my recent budget that says you got to pass a drug test.  Because to me, and you’d be surprised, well maybe you wouldn’t be because you’ve seen some of the protesters I’ve had. I understand they were here earlier but they left, apparently the clock ran out. One of the times Bruce and I were together at this four years ago I think I had as many people as are here outside and they weren’t all in my fan club.  But things have changed a little bit. When I think about that going forward, we know there are jobs out there, the people in Madison in my state capitol, who, some of which are little more liberal than we are, say that when I propose things like work requirements or employability training or food stamps that somehow we’re making it harder to get government assistance. I got to tell you, we’re not, we’re making it easier to get a job.  My two boys are now in college, they’re 19 and 20, but when Tonette and I were raising them, one of the fun things I had on Friday nights was I’d watch my sons play football. And, Tonette and I would sit out there in the cold and, there’s many a Friday night now where I kinda wish I could still watch them play because it’s a lot of fun, but they were both wide receivers so they would run the play in from the coach on the sideline to the quarterback and then rotate back and forth, and I got to tell you in all the years I watched them play football there never once was a guy that got called in the game who was sitting on the bench with his helmet off, with his feet up. The guys who got called in the game, the players who were called in the game by the coach were the ones standing next to the coach with their helmet on, their mouth guard in, saying coach put me in I’m ready to play. And, that’s all we’re trying to do and I think we need that in America. We need to say we’re willing to help you out. We are good and decent people. We’ll help our neighbor when they’re down and out, but if you’re able and there’s jobs out there, we’re going to help you get back on your feet again because we expect that out of each and every one of our fellow citizens.

R: Switching gears -- food safety. Concern or issue around biotech? Your perspective on that?
W:  You know last year, every other year there’s a US-Midwest Japan Governors Association. And, last year, it rotates, one year it’s in Japan, that’s when I was with Terry a couple years ago, Governor Branstad. And, last year, it goes one spot in the Midwest, couple years ago it was in St. Paul, last year it was right here in Des Moines.  And, Governor Branstad, and Lieutenant governor Reynolds hosted us over at the World Prize, what is it, the Hall of Laureates, have I got it right? Did I remember it right? Where you certainly think about the great Noble Laureate who’s from right here obviously, and you think of what he means the founder of the green movement, the man who fed more than a billion people. Well, he was able to do that because he used innovation. And, we have that capacity. We are unlike any other place around the world, where we can take the hard work and the work ethic of the American farmer and combine that with advancements in technology that can not only feed people here in Iowa, and in the Midwest, and around the country, but around the world. If we’re looking at places like China and India that have tremendous needs for increased protein. If we look at the capacity that as the world continues to grow we’re going to need to figure out a way to double our food production out there. We need to do that through innovation out there, and I think that’s something where, we have, I want to be perfectly clear, I say it to my state, I’d say it around the country, we have some of the safest and most fresh food in the world right here in the United States. We should be proud of that, and we shouldn’t let anybody tell us anything otherwise.

R: So, any reason to label GMOs?
W:  No. I mean, to me I think that gives the false impression that somehow something’s different. Now, if somebody voluntarily, we got some, for example, we’ve got some dairy farmers and some Co-ops in our state who like to label things as organic, that’s fine. I have no problem with somebody doing that on their own. If you want to promote it, that’s great.  But, I do not think that the government should require that. What we should require is that the food that we sell, and grow, and eat is safe.  And if it’s safe, there’s no need to distinguish out there

R: So, you’re a governor of a Midwest state, similar to Iowa, with a little bit more of urban areas. We’re continuing to see an urban-rural divide in terms of jobs, opportunity, income, education, and health care. What’s your sense on how we fix that both nationally and what have you done in particular in Wisconsin to address some of those issues?
W:  It is a challenge. The thing about that question, I think about both my time, the seven years I lived in Plainfield, the town of about 450… We used to say back when Hee Haw was on the air, that was kind of one of those sa-lute moments when they’d talk about a town like that. I can tell who is my age or older, cause you got that joke, right? You young kids have to ask what we’re talking about. But even Delavan, which was a whopping 7000 that had both manufacturing, a little bit of tourism, but a fair amount of agriculture, as well, but I look at cities and towns like that across Iowa, across Wisconsin, across America, and there’s a real challenge out there. I mean, when I grew up my first job was washing dishes at the country side restaurant. I moved up to flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s. My mom was a part time secretary and my dad, as I mentioned, was a small town minister. My grandparents on my mom’s side were farmers. They raised my mother on a farm where she didn’t have indoor plumbing until she went to junior high.  My dad’s dad, my grandfather, was a machinist for about 40 years. And, I often think back, you know, from them I didn’t inherit fame or fortune but I inherited something more important. I inherited the view that if you work hard and you played by the rules, in America you should be able to do and be anything that you want. And
, I hope that’s still the dream of most people today. But sadly, for many in this economy I see a lot of people out there that think that’s not enough. And, I see it increasingly in rural parts. I see it in my state. I see it as I now travel as we’re exploring the possibility of running for the highest, the highest position of the land out there. So, I think to answer your question, I think there’s two things, two areas that I think we can do. One, is human capital, one is physical capital.  In human capital, some of the things we’ve done are things that can be done parallel around the country. We’ve invested in our rural schools. We put new incentives in to help with transportation costs and some of the other things that are exceptional challenges in our rural schools. We put a renewed focus, even this past semester, on our technical colleges. I believe you’d call here community colleges, but it’s the two year programs out there. Because increasingly, not just in agriculture, but in advanced manufacturing, in construction, in transportation, in information technology, and health care, the real careers out there are in two year colleges, even more so than other opportunities.  And, then in workforce investment programs, you know, the federal government has all sorts of programs out there for worker training, but there’s just this hodgepodge out there. And, we’ve tried to narrow that in. So, in each of those areas I think the President and the federal government could provide leadership. And, a good chunk of that, in my mind, would be take money in education, in higher education, and work force investment and send it block grants right back to the states and your local government. Because I’d much rather give that money to Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds and your state lawmakers than worry about a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington.  Because they’re going to be much more effective, much more efficient, and they’re certainly going to be a whole lot more accountable to you if you can do that to make sure they address the unique needs of real communities across this state and other states like it.  The second part, though, is in the physical, the physical capital itself.  And, that’s a couple different areas. You know, certainly it’s looking at things like transportation and infrastructure. That’s a real need out there whether it’s roads and bridges, freight rail’s real important particularly in agriculture and manufacturing in rural parts. Making sure you get product to and from market. It is things like broadband internet access. I know in my state that’s a big issue we’ve tried to address. We’ve put new resources in because we know in rural areas that puts people at a real disadvantage if they don’t have access to broadband. It’s certainly looking at cost effective and reliable sources of power, tremendously important. And, increasingly it’s health care. We invested not only more money in to help rural health care, we put more money in to train primary care physicians and other health care assistants. And, then we put money in to help our hospitals do residencies, so that we weren’t just training. We were actually getting physicians to do their residencies at rural hospitals with the idea being that if someone comes to a rural community they do their residency there, they make a connection with the hospital staff, more importantly they start to know the people in that town, in that community, in that county chances are pretty good they’re going to realize it’s pretty good living with the people around there. But if you try to recruit them from somewhere else from either coast out there, it’s a pretty difficult challenge out there. Again, those are things we’ve done, but my belief is whether it’s in Medicaid, transportation infrastructure, some of these other key areas, it’s all the more reason why I’d take blocks of that in federal money in those federal agencies and send them back to the states so that those decisions can be made on a state by state basis, in this case with unique ways of addressing rural needs.

R: Governor we’re out of time, thank you.
W: Thank you, I appreciate it.