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Marco Battaglia: Libertarian Wants to Give More of a Voice to Independents

John Pemble
Iowa Public Radio
Marco Battaglia is campaigning to be the Libertarian Party's candidate for governor of Iowa.

The Libertarian Party of Iowa has full political party status for the first time this election cycle. That's because of a record-breaking showing in Iowa for presidential candidate Gary Johnson in 2016.

There are two candidates running for their party's nomination: Marco Battaglia and Jake Porter. Battaglia has been an active member of the state and national Libertarian Party for five years. He was a nominating delegate to the last national convention, and he’s worked for a number of state and national political campaigns. 

Battaglia spoke with IPR's Clay Masters. A transcript of the conversation follows:

I'm asking everyone who is running for governor. The simple question: Why are you running for governor? Marco, why are you running for governor?

What got me into the race was seeing the money coming in from out-of-state to both of the establishment parties. Millions of dollars, and it's kind of happening across the country. This idea that you have to have millions or billions and pit a, you know, plutocrat versus plutocrat sort of thing has been really disturbing to me just growing up in Iowa and really over the last couple of decades.

And another big one is independent participation. Our largest voting bloc are independent voters. And this idea that they can't participate unless they register and, like, for example, June 5th in the primary if independent voters want to participate, they want to have a say, they’ll have to register as Libertarian, Democrat, or Republican. Giving independents more of a voice in politics, maybe working towards getting them a caucus, that sort of thing was really important to me. And lastly I know people that are personally suffering right now due to policies here in Iowa, the cannabis oil is a big one. I know families and friends that are just waiting to be able to do this legally here.

Tell me about your background. Many people don't know you. What do you bring to the table in this Libertarian Primary?

I think an interesting development is that I do have name recognition throughout the state. I've been a musician growing up and traveled all over the state. And I think even though I've spent less money than the other candidates, I have similar name recognition to most of them. But my background is born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. I went to Woodlawn Elementary, Meredith Middle School, Hoover High School. I actually came to know my running mate very well, Farica Robertson, and she actually graduated from Hoover High School as well, and we didn't know that as far as our activism, how we had met. But I've been in media most of my life. I do have experience in finance, economics, banking, home mortgage. Kind of a jack-of-all-trades in that regard, like many Iowans are right now participating in the job market. I know I'm a strong union supporter but that's mostly because of my actual participation in unions. Longest was U.P.S. but – so it's been on the frontlines where most of my experience comes from. I worked at Iowa Public Radio for a couple of years and really radio’s always been my passion. Media, journalism, that's kind of what I've been seeing in journalism has what kind of inspired me to step out from behind the scenes. I feel like libertarianism is under-represented in terms of the actual Iowa, number of Iowans that are interested in this party and our ideas.

That's a nice segue into just talking about the Libertarian Party and why there is a contested primary in the Libertarian Party this year. A lot of times when people talk about libertarianism what rises to the top of mind are the Pauls - Ron Paul and Sen. Rand Paul. They're Republicans but have a libertarian view. And during this last election cycle we talk a lot about people who voted for Donald Trump who felt like they'd been left out or that this is a large blue-collar, rural part of the state, in many states across the Midwest. One of the other stories of 2016 where the people that felt like they didn't have a good option on the ballot and a lot of people voted for Gary Johnson. And that's - that's why libertarians are at the table this year.

Yeah, indeed. I actually have worked for a number of local, state, and political campaigns previously behind the scenes, not in a candidate role. And it started out seeing people like Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich who actually - Dennis Kucinich has been a Democrat his whole life. But he would be one of the more liberty Democrats, if you will. And really branched out from there to more supporting people that I've felt like were pushing individual liberty no matter what party they came from. But it has been big with the Gary Johnson campaign. I actually was a delegate to our national convention and I supported a guy named Dr. Mark Feldman and another guy named Larry Sharp who's now running for governor of New York and he's been brilliant for the liberty movement. Another rising star is Glenn Jacobs who actually just won a primary this week for - he's running for mayor of Knox County, Tennessee. And we have victories kind of across the board in Iowa. A lot of smaller victories like city council, Cedar Falls has been a strong libertarian streak there, and it is really especially traveling through rural Iowa even more so opposed to the city just people that feel - I think that Trump support was really, really came from people feeling like the government was getting into puddles in their backyard of a small farmer. Just feeling like there is no one - you know the farm bill, even though we have people here that supposedly are, you know, responsible for that. They're still feeling left behind, like this is more of a big agricultural movement as opposed to actual farmers and farming families that are really feeling left behind right now.

Curious to talk about some of the issues that have been dominating a lot of the reporting and conversations happening both on the campaign trail and at the Statehouse recently. The privatization of Medicaid - this was the management, was something that was done in 2016, former governor Terry Branstad did this without legislative approval. Current Gov. Kim Reynolds has even said there have been problems with Medicaid. This was seen as something to contain costs by the governor's office. There's a lot of talk about getting rid of privatization of Medicaid. But the initial reason for stopping doing the fee-for-service model was that it wasn't containing costs. Can you go back to the old model? What are some thoughts that you have about how to make Medicaid in the state more sustainable?

I think addressing entitlements is necessary and it's urgent. I think that oftentimes we see - unfortunately we see it a lot in Iowa but all across the country – where politicians offer us problems and then offer us solutions to those problems in the next cycle. In general, my platform tries - we open up the opportunity for moving towards a freer market in medicine, towards - away from this comprehensive government-mandated insurance, people having to work a job that maybe they don't have a passion for just for the insurance. In terms of comprehensive care, we want to move towards a more cash-for-care, more localized model in general. I don't think just going back to the old model - I mean we keep jumping back and forth between Affordable Care Act, was it going to be Romney care or Obamacare? Is this going to be Branstad care or Reynolds care? I do agree that it's been a failure, what the Republicans have done, but I think they've moved us just to another form of crony capitalism as opposed to really what libertarians or even a lot of Democrats and Republicans would call privatized medicine. In general, it's more of choosing these companies to delegate this issue. And if you don't have - you don't have numbers to support that. You don't have this idea that we're saving money and yet you have families with people with disabilities, people that need specialized care, some of our most vulnerable Iowans are the ones that get left behind from these haphazard cuts. So I think we need to actually address the problem head on and not just kind of bounce back and forth between who the Republicans picked to manage health care and a more, you know, what some of the Democrats are pushing - a more state ran - you know there's a number of Democrats that are pushing the national single-payer. I think, I think we can help Iowans and leave less - you know, leave nearly no vulnerable Iowan behind with the free-market model.

Mental health is something that is being addressed a lot during this campaign as well. This is something that seems to not know, you know, the size of a population of a city. It's something that affects rural and urban centers across the state. There has been some bipartisan legislation this session to address mental health. Does it go far enough? And what kind of conversations do you think should be taking place?

I don't think it does. I feel like this is almost a case of - especially with Reynolds and the politicians currently in office - sort of, kind of trying to buy support with their actions. I think that's the idea that they're talking about, and moving it to the forefront is positive. But I think we need to go further. I have championed mental health reform throughout my whole campaign. It's an issue that's near and dear to my heart. I was honored to be able to represent the Libertarian Party at the Des Moines Register's mental health forum and I felt like I really stood out from the crowd at that forum. A big - I've visited quite frequently with a group that's actually right here in Des Moines called Passageway, clubhouse codel of mental health care and I'm a champion of this model. It is actually, in short, it's a model where patients and the people that work at the clubhouse kind of work side by side. If you're going there, you volunteer and learn how to make food, how to look for a job if you're struggling, getting that next job because maybe you had a breakdown. Their model is such that they don't turn anyone away. You know it can be 24 hours, it can be you have to come back, you know, someone that's maybe been cut off of a different type of help due to cuts by the government. I do think we need to restore access to mental health and actually greatly expand upon mental health services. We do need to spend money on that but we need to spend it intelligently and actually get results. I would like to see this kind of mental health access in every - within transport to every Iowan. You know, within access to every group of counties. And also I've worked with another citizen that has championed this issue, his name is Ross Trowbridge from Northern Iowa and he's helping to - he has a project called #Iamnotashamed, where we're working on ending the stigma with coming out and talking about it to your family, to your co-workers, to your employees, to the state because there's a lot of people that are struggling, be it with the wide array that we lump into mental health. And I think that's another issue. In terms of government funding, we really need to separate addiction support, separate that from mental health crisis as opposed - and then also addiction support, whether it's a mental health issue that is more like PTSD, or something that can actually be solved by helping someone learn to get better sleep, get more nutrients, even special dosing of nutrients. I think we really know the solutions. And I kind of compare that to the nitrate issue in terms of what we're looking at in Iowa. We know the solutions that we have really –

Talking about water quality now, yeah -

But yes, same with mental health and the nitrate issue. We know the solutions, we have brilliant Iowans that have been kind of shouting that we can address these problems and it's more getting people involved in government that are willing to talk about the source of the problems, willing to talk about solutions, not just what, you know, what I'm going to do for you, what I think. We need solutions from our representatives that we're electing.

Earlier you were talking about addressing entitlements. One of the things that you said when we were talking about Medicaid is that - a desire to have the free market have more of a say in what's going on. Republicans would make the argument that the privatization of that management into the managed care organizations that - that is turning things over to the free market. You say otherwise.

I say that they are still picking winners and losers. They're still - they're still coming in and saying, “These are your options.” And it's pretty much across the board. That's why I put medical freedom into my platform, whether it is a family that is now cut off from access to care for someone - they have a family member that's disabled, can't take care of themselves. I actually added a position to my campaign team. I have a guy named Scott Overton that I've known pretty much my whole life. He is in a wheelchair. He's disabled himself, and he's adviser on issues and policies regarding disability inclusion and these kind of matters. I know families that have been cut off because they have a person that they care for, a child with mental disabilities, and now they don't get the same care so they could work. It's really when the government comes in and says, “Now we're doing things this way, you're picking from these three companies.” It's Iowans on the front line that - they get hurt. And I want them, I think they - they have to know that. But we need people out there that are running for office that are aware of this, if they are not.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said that her first priority, the first bill that she wanted to sign, and the first bill that she did sign, would be a water-quality bill. This allocates more funding for water quality projects in the state. What do you think of that when you assess the situation that's going on regarding water quality and that everybody is saying there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Is the conversation where it should be?

I think it is truly getting there but I think we have a long way to go. Like I said, we know the solutions. We know farmers that have found more success in yields with cover crops, networks of wetlands, prairie restoration, adding more grasses, perennials, cold weather crops. And the bottom line is using less fertilizer. I've met with farmers all over the state and there really is a concerted effort. And same with land owners that rent out their acres to other farmers. There is a concerted effort to move in the right direction. And I feel it's almost more of government needing to get out of the way in some aspects, especially right now. Our subsidies encourage fields and fields of monoculture. I've made it loud and clear that I think we need to move away from things like the Renewable Fuel Standard if it's just going to deal with corn ethanol. We're encouraging, you know, over 60 percent of the corn crop goes to ethanol, and that's a big source of monoculture, a big source of nutrients going into the water, going downstream - all the way to the dead zone in the ocean. So I mean I think the libertarian take is very misunderstood in that if you have a business model and you're not building in the costs of everyone having their water bill go up because they need to get the nutrients out. A farmer next door or farmer downstream landowner or even someone in the city that their business is hurt whether that's recreational, getting in these Iowa waters for fun, for fishing. Just being outdoors in general, if you're harmed by what a largely subsidized operation is doing, that needs to be built-in to the cost of the business model. And we need a functioning civil justice system where if this can't be addressed neighbor to neighbor or at the community level - it is going to have to be a better system of justice to get things done. I think we do need - I can commit to the nutrient reduction strategy. I think we need - we need to do this. And I actually met with - had a phone call with a guy named Jerry McGrane, who's worked on nutrient reduction for - he's dedicated 10 years of his life to this. And we know the ways that we can greatly reduce the nutrients running off into the water. We need to take action.

So you're bringing up the nutrient reduction strategy. This is something that Iowa State - IDALS and the DNR - came out with six years ago or so. It's a list of different priorities that farmers can put into place on their land to reduce nitrates and help with soil erosion, etc. Are you saying that these things should be regulated upon farmers?

I think that's - that it's - I think it's framing this incorrectly to say kind of the state versus the farmer. I think it's more neighbor versus neighbor, citizen versus citizen. If you are doing harm to your neighbor, I think that's what the government is there to - that's my biggest reasoning for why we have government: to make sure that people who are suffering can get medicine, if it's the case of cannabis oil, to make sure a farmer that's getting harmed by what their neighbor’s doing or a citizen who's got, you know, poor drinking water quality or who needs to pay a higher water bill to get these nutrients out. So yes, I think action needs to be taken. But I think - I think we're actually hurting ourselves by framing it as kind of the state versus the farmer as opposed to justice, you know, civil justice, in that case.

Before your name were to make it on a general election ballot, you have a primary to get through. That's why we're sitting here talking. Why are you a better candidate than the person you're running against, Jake Porter?

Yeah, I actually have known Jake for a long time. I’ve supported him when he ran for Secretary of State. And I see just some of those pitfalls there that kind of come from being a politician for over a decade. That, it’s very hard for anyone to stay away from some problems. And I don't have any of those being this my real first run at - I ran as an independent before, but my first run as a major party candidate. We earned this. We have the numbers. We're growing, the only growing party in the state. And throughout my life, really, since going to Hoover High School in Des Moines, I've traveled around the state working for political campaigns. I have political allies around the state, things like Hughie Tweedy and the Tweedys and their land. I was at eminent domain protests. I think that's a big thing that we've championed that really not too many other people have talked about in this race, including Jake. I think they - a lot of the other candidates are - they're talking a lot of talk and not a lot of substance, not a lot of solutions. He is - one of his big things is taking on the sales tax, first and foremost. And I actually think that the time is right between the legislature, the makeup of the legislature, and what I'm hearing from Iowans on the ground to completely phase out the income tax. And we're going to do that by opening up more and more revenue. Opening up more markets - be it from things that were formerly prohibited, like cannabis and hemp, by reviewing occupational licensing and certificates of need. State - pretty much across the country, states are looking at occupational licensing right now. And it's a great example of what libertarians can accomplish because we had a senator in Nebraska, Laura Ebke, who just got a occupational licensing - a huge reform pushed through and that is a great example of what libertarians can do. There might be this concern of some of the more out there ideas that come from the party, but this is not what's going to get through the legislature, especially in the next four years. That and really my whole platform is based off looking at the legislature, what is actually going on, and what can we champion? What can we get done in days, in years, in the next 10 years. And I really think that my platform is what the most Iowans are looking for. Out of all the candidates, not just Jake. I think if I am one of those three people in the, in the debates I think we have the best shot to have a historic victory.

All right, Marco, thank you.

Thank you.