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An Interview With U.S. Senate Democratic Candidate Patty Judge

John Pemble
Iowa Public Radio

Senator Chuck Grassley's refusal to hold a hearing for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, has changed the landscape for Grassley's reelection campaign this fall. On June 7th Iowans will choose from among four candidates to determine which Democrat will face Grassley in the general election. 

Patty Judge is a former lieutenant governor, former secretary of agriculture for Iowa, and former state legislator. Judge spoke to Ben Kieffer on River to River.  Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity.

Ben Kieffer: What would your priorities be as U.S. Senator?

Patty Judge: Well, I’m in this race for one real reason and that’s because Washington is not working. Things are not getting done that are important to the people of this country. And we need to immediately start working again to get our economy going strongly, to make certain that the wages that people are receiving are adequate. We need to look at issues around the cost of education. We need to look again at affordable health care. The list goes on and on but you know things have not been working and that’s why we need a change.

BK: What is the reasoning that tells voters if things are not working, and polls tell us Washington is not working for most people. Why pick an establishment candidate such as yourself to fix things?

PJ: Well I’ve been sort of amused at the establishment label.  I’m not sure that I am establishment it’s been awhile since I’ve been on the ballot, I certainly have had a political career but so have my other opponents in the Democratic primary all have had political careers too.

BK: In what ways are you not of the establishment?

PJ: Well I think Chuck Grassley is what epitomizes the establishment. He’s been in Washington, he’s been in the Senate for 36 years, was in Congress before that, that is certainly the establishment in Washington today, and that establishment is not working. It is purposely obstructing the initiatives that are coming out of the White House. We need to do better and that’s why I’ve jumped in the race.

BK: You got into this race right after the death of Justice Scalia, also following Senator Grassley’s refusal to hold hearings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee--he is Chair of the Senate Judicial Committee--and then there’s this firestorm of controversy that followed. We spoke with Rob Hogg yesterday, State Senator Rob Hogg, who’s also one of the candidates you’re in this number for. He said specifically he was not running to retire Grassley, and in fact he likened Grassley to Hayden Fry, a football coach who had done a great job but at some point needs to be replaced. That’s not the way you see your run against Grassley and his tenure?

PJ: I’ve known Chuck Grassley for a long time, I worked with him, but over the past few years particularly since the rise of the Tea Party and since Barack Obama has been president, there has been deliberate obstruction coming out of the United States Senate. Chuck Grassley today is doing the bidding of Mitch McConnell and that is not acceptable to me. If he is not going to serve the people of Iowa then he needs to be replaced.

BK: So you’re okay with the Grassley tenure up until 2008, you mentioned the Tea Party, approximately when the Tea Party comes onto the scene. After that you say this is the reason to reject his further serving the country.

PJ: Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve always agreed with Chuck Grassley, I’m a Democrat and he’s a Republican but I think for many years he was a person that was willing to listen to everyone and willing to do what he could to help and I do not believe that that is true today.

BK: Patty Judge, a question from Dave from Brighton, he asks what committees would you like to serve on, if you’re elected.

PJ: Well, you know there are so many issues in front of us today that I would welcome most any committee assignments but, of course, my first choice would be the Senate Ag committee. I was the Secretary of Agriculture, I’ve been a life-long farmer and I would love to have my hand in the writing of the next farm bill which would begin in January. I also would like to be involved in Homeland Security because that was a role that I played both in the Department of Agriculture and as Lieutenant Governor and state’s Homeland Security advisor. I’m also a nurse by education and have been always interested in providing quality health care to the citizens of Iowa so those are also issues that would be important to me.

BK: You mentioned ag policy as being important, Maria is joining us on the line in Iowa City.

Maria in Iowa City: I’d like to ask Patty why she belongs to the Partnership for Clean Water in Iowa which is a largely Republican organization; Republican mayor Ron Corbett of Cedar Rapids belongs to it. It’s largely a corporation formed after CEO of Des Moines Waterworks filed a law suit against Sac County, Calhoun County and Buena Vista County for polluting the Des Moines River, which brings nitrates to the Des Moines Water Works, which they have spent hundreds and thousands, if not a million dollars, trying to remove from the water. Why would a Democrat belong to a Republican organization?

BK: In fact, you oppose the Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit. Is that true Patty Judge?

PJ: Yes I did oppose the lawsuit and as for clarification, I am no longer part of the Partnership for Clean Water. The issue of water quality is a very serious in our state. We need to address that and we need to address that quickly.  Through the many years I was Secretary of Agriculture, we tried over and over to obtain funding to put together a solid conservation on water quality program and really were not able to do that. It was not something that the legislature thought was worth the time. We are not at a crisis point, water, we have to address water quality and we have to do that very soon. I believe that the way we do that, rather than a lawsuit, is by funding the conservation trust fund, which was a constitutional amendment in 2010 and was established at that time passed overwhelmingly--over 60% of Iowans voted for it--but the funding stream for that has never happened. The funding stream that was attached to the legislation at that time was 3/8 of a cent sales tax, which is very modest but would provide us with over a hundred million dollars a year water quality projects. That did not get passed; in fact, it did not even come up on the floor of the Iowa legislature for a discussion. And that’s too bad, until we get very, very serious and we’re willing to make that commitment where we’re willing to put a program together that has some teeth in it, some research, some metrics, were going to continue spinning our wheels.

BK: How would you say you set yourself apart from the three candidates, vying for this nomination, in the most major ways?

PJ: Well I think we’re all three Democrats we all believe in many of the same things, I’ve had the occasion to hear the other gentlemen speak so I know they favor a lot of the same things that I do or think a lot of the things are important that I think are important. I think I really set myself apart because I do have the network across the state, I have the ability to go toe to toe with Chuck Grassley and truthfully he’s never had someone with a farm background stand up to him I think that really sets me apart and I really do understand both rural and urban parts of the state because of my years of service.

BK: You mentioned it’s been several years since you were in office, or ran for office, six years I believe. Why now? Did you get to this idea by yourself or was it a call from the Democratic National Committee?

PJ:  The first calls certainly were not from the Democratic Senate Committee, the first calls were from my friends, people that I know across the state, people that I know in other parts of the country that are concerned about the obstruction that’s going on in the United States Senate, and said, ‘You know, Patty, can you help? Can you do anything about that?’ I am in this race because of that, but it is not a single instance of obstruction over the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, it is a series of obstructions that go back again to the beginning of the Obama administration. You know when people are hired, or elected, to a position or a job there is an expectation that you perform that job and truthfully that is not happening today. It is time we put the politics down after the election and start trying to find common ground again and make government work for people again.

BK: One of our listeners, Patty Judge, tweeted, ‘I support Patty but I’m concerned about her social media presence, how does she plan to get her name out on the internet?’ Of course, modern political campaigns have more and more social media.

PJ: Well, they certainly do and, you know, even the last time I was on the ballot, we had some social media, but in the six years of that has just exploded and it’s just amazing to me how much it is now relied upon. And not just from millennials, but for all of us are using that as a source of information and news. We have a very aggressive campaign on social media. I also want to let you know that we are out with first commercials today on television, we will continue to be present and try to make our voices heard. I want to tell you one quick story about that though because I know Chuck Grassley has always been talked about tweeting, and I will admit I have not done that until recently when I joined this race, so the millennials [that] are helping me with campaign said, ‘We’ll show you how,’ and so we sat together and the first tweet that we posted said, ‘I’m the Judge Grassley can’t ignore,’ and I want to tell you that is a powerful medium because I want to tell you it was less than 48 hours until people were calling me back with that message.

BK: A little over a week ago you participated in a forum with the other three candidates to discuss foreign policy. We need to hear a few words that give listeners, Democratic primary voters, a feeling for your foreign policy.  How do you differ from others in the race?

PJ: Again, I think, as Democrats, there are some similarities in our positions but again from my perspective and the work that I have been able to do with Homeland Security through the years, I am very much aware of the seriousness of the situation in the Middle East and very much aware for the need of containment of ISIS and other terrorist groups, and to try to keep them at bay here in our own country. We need to be very vigilant. We need to engage in targeted air strikes. We need to engage in economic sanctions. And, here in our country, we need to be, again, very vigilant and watching carefully to make sure that we’re all safe. There’s probably nothing more important than the safety of American citizens.

BK: But the question is how to get there. When you look at President Obama’s foreign policy, the degree to which he has contained ISIS, would you be in lock-step with carrying on his foreign policy? Do you think it’s too little in regard to ISIS? Too much?

PJ: Well I don’t, I would not advocate at this time in time any additional troops, American troops, committed to the Middle East. Again I think we always should be using diplomacy first. That is the first and foremost weapon that needs to be employed and those talks need to continue. We certainly-- there is just a crisis du jour in the Middle East, and we again, we just have to be very vigilant. We cannot be timid, but we have to be careful and we have to be thoughtful.

Margaret in Indianola: I was wondering how you would respond, or some of the measures you would take to respond, to the climate change crisis on the planet, such as drastically reducing carbon emissions.

PJ: Absolutely, climate change is very real. It is a serious issue it should be treated that way and you’re right, Margaret, it is a global issue. It is not just ours here in Iowa or even in the United States. One of the things that we need to do immediately is try to move our self away from petroleum-based or fuels from carbon-based fueling of this country, and, you know, we started doing that here in Iowa and we’ve been very successful with developing our alternative energy programs. We started out with ethanol; we’ve moved to biofuels and then wind energy, which is tremendous and has taken us so far, and now the solar energy is starting to happen. So all those things have really put Iowa in the driver’s seat as far as starting to change that pattern, and, you know, we need to take that message nationwide and globally and hopefully some of our neighboring states in the United States and some of the countries that we’re working with and dealing with, we can teach them some lessons that we’ve learned right here.

Mark in Des Moines: With regard to Grassley’s so-called obstructionism going back to the beginning of this president’s term, what would you say-- I think it was a little bit unbalanced and I would like to know, what would you say to people that what he was doing protecting against waste fraud and abuse and saying no to excess of the government and politics as usual, was in fact doing what he was elected to do and doing it well?

PJ: Instead of saying no, I would like to see us say, ‘I understand you’ve got an issue, let’s see where we can find some common ground. If we do have a problem of waste, let’s figure out what we can do about it, rather than just an obstructionist viewpoint.’

BK: Would you be, Patty Judge, would you be in this race had Justice Antonin Scalia not died, had there not been this controversy, had there not been a vacant ninth seat and the refusal to have hearings on the nominee put forward by the president?

PJ: I really don’t know the answer to that. I know I have become increasingly frustrated every day for the last many months over the lack of activity by Chuck Grassley, over the fact that the United States Senate has had the lightest workload that they have had in years.  They are barely there, they are barely functioning, and I know that we can do better. I’m glad that I’m in the race I think that I can make a real difference and I think that we can get things working again.

BK: Mike from Indianola called. He asked, how do you feel about term limits?

PJ: Well I will make this pledge: I will serve not more than two terms and I guess I will challenge Senator Grassley to that. I think there is a point of time in time that you have served your political usefulness in a job. I spent two terms in the state Senate, I spent two terms in the Department of Agriculture, and a term as Lieutenant Governor, and I’ve never thought that a particular job was a lifetime job. I think there’s always room for new ideas.

BK: Quickly, I know this is not a quick answer but you mentioned overcoming gridlock in congress. A lot of disapproval with congress--what is your recipe? What is your how-to, in a nutshell?

PJ: In a nutshell, that has to be overcome one person at a time. We can change what’s going on in Washington if we are willing to sit down and visit with people and talk about where we have common ground. How do we move forward? I don’t have to agree necessarily with the people on the other side of the aisle on an issue, but I do need to appreciate their point of view. And that sadly is what’s missing today. 

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River