While the presidential candidates got a late start at building their own organizations in Iowa, one issue group, Strong America Now, didn’t waste any time in building an organization of it’s own in the First-in-the-Nation caucus state. The group, which is dedicated to eliminating the nation’s deficit by 2017, made its first foray into Iowa at the 2010 Republican state convention.
On Saturday, Strong America Now flexed its organizational muscle at its Deficit Free America Summit at the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines. Nearly 900 people were in attendance for the all day discussion on how the country could become debt free without cutting entitlement programs if Congress and the President would adopt Lean Six Sigma, a waste reduction strategy that was developed by the organization’s founder and pitch man, Mike George.
Fortune 500 companies like Caterpillar and Xerox have used Lean Six Sigma to find waste and efficiencies that have saved them millions of dollars. The U.S. Navy and Army have both used the concept to reduce costs 25%. According to the Strong American Now website, those efforts have contributed to a cost savings of $100 billion per year according to Bob Gates, Secretary of Defense.
Now George wants to encourage President Obama and the Republican presidential candidates to sign a pledge that states that they will eliminate the deficit by 2017. Signing the pledge also commits the candidates to a two day briefing by George and his team where they will be required to complete a Lean Six Sigma project.
A total of five candidates made an appearance at the summit, three in person, one live via Skype, and one by recorded message. Former Minnesota Tim Pawlenty was the first candidate to take to the elaborate stage. Pawlenty worked in bits and pieces of his recent speeches. He repeated his opposition to subsidies for ethanol and also talked about the need to means test the cost of living adjustment for social security.
Harkening back to his announcement speech, Pawlenty again reminded the audience that the Republican candidates for president are all going to say that they will cut spending and that they will reform government, but he is the one who actually has a record of getting those things accomplished. Pawlenty also made sure that the audience knew that he had implemented Lean Six Sigma is his state.
Following his remarks, Pawlenty had to defend his record as governor during the question and segment with Hugh Hewitt, a radio talk show host and blogger, who was part of the program. Hewitt questioned Pawlenty on the projected $5 billion budget deficit with which Minnesota is currently dealing. Pawlenty explained that every one of the budgets he passed was balanced, which was required by law.
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson awkwardly began his remarks by telling the audience that he is in love with his fiancé, and they share a passion for fitness. When Johnson began to share his story about getting elected, as well as his fiscally conservative views, he hit his stride and won favor with the audience.
Johnson’s speech was well received, but his segment with Hugh Hewitt was disastrous. Hewitt pressed Johnson about his support of legalizing drugs. Johnson explained that his support the legalization of drugs stems from his desire to advocate “harm-reduction strategies.” Instead of looking at drugs as a criminal justice issue, Johnson said he would look at to the problem as one of reducing death, disease, crime and corruption.
Johnson added, “2.3 million Americans are behind bars, the majority because of drug issues. China has four times the population and 1.5 million people behind bars. This is America – freedom, liberty, and the personal responsibility that goes along with that. This is not a populous authoritarian dictatorship, and yet if you looked at the numbers without the labels, you would think we’re China.”
Johnson also said that aircraft carriers are obsolete since military aircraft can fly anywhere in the world today. All and all, Johnson would have had a great day in Iowa had he stuck to fiscal issues.
Herman Cain was the final candidate to address the conference in person. As always, Cain’s personality and speaking ability shined. His speech was short on specifics, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. He made a wise move by working the crowd while they ate their boxed lunches after he spoke. Hewitt probably aided Cain the most of any candidate during their segment together. Hewitt allowed Cain to address his previous support of T.A.R.P, as well as a recent statement on the Second Amendment.
Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich also addressed the crowd via video, which organizers said was made up of 25 percent Democrats. George also said that the crowd of 900 or so was also partly made up of people from Illinois, Nebraska and other surrounding states. One organizer told TheIowaRepublican.com that four buses came from Illinois. That’s an impressive commitment by those who traveled to Des Moines, but it also puts into question the strength its Iowa organization.
One candidate who wasn’t there but shouldn’t be overlooked is Texas Governor Rick Perry. One of the speakers at the summit was Texas State Representative Raul Torres, who introduced and passed Lean Six Sigma legislation in Texas. He told the audience that Perry intends to sign it. Torres later told TheIowaRepublican.com that Perry plans to “make it campaign issue.” The Lean Six Sigma legislation on Perry’s desk is the first of its sort in the country.
The organization claims to have had 15,000 Iowans sign its pledge to only support candidates in the Ames Straw Poll and Iowa Caucuses who sign the organization’s pledge. The group does have a heavy staff presence in Iowa. Nicole Schlinger and her company, Campaign Headquarters, have been working for Strong America Now for over a year now. Schlinger is also Pawlenty’s straw poll coordinator.
Other prominent Iowans are also on the organization’s payroll. Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn, Polk County Co-Chair Dave Funk, Richard Schwarm, and Doug Gross all have paid positions. Additionally, the group has also hired some of the state’s more conservative activists like Vicki Stogdill, Chad Steenhoek, and Tim Grover.
The next step for Strong America Now is to influence the Iowa Straw Poll. Organizers have said that the group will be providing bus transportation to Ames from different parts of the state for those who have signed the group’s pledge. George has also promised to provide tickets to those individuals as well. With Pawlenty’s straw poll coordinator also doing to the same work for Strong America, one has to wonder if Pawlenty will have a built in advantage at the Straw Poll in August.
Photos by Dave Davidson
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