I sat down for an hour yesterday morning with Robert Cramer, a Republican candidate for the 3rd District Congressional Seat. We met at his office in Grimes.
My project: My goal is to have a discussion with each of our candidates for the 3rd District U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate to improve my understanding of where they stand on some of the key issues. I do basic research on their positions so I can focus our discussion time on issues or positions that are of interest to me and other likely primary voters. I prioritize issues where I disagree with them and/or where they appear to disagree with the 2012 Iowa GOP Platform. I then write as concise a summary as possible for sharing in social media. I am not a professional journalist so set your expectations accordingly.
#1. Before addressing the issues that I had prioritized for discussion, I asked if we could discuss a few areas of interest from the 2012 Republican Party of Iowa platform.
I asked him about his thoughts on the criminal justice system. He said we’re not doing a very good job of reforming prisoners and he also believes strongly that appropriate punishment is an effective and necessary deterrence to criminal behavior. He would be opposed to easing penalties.
I asked him to comment on legislation in general, e.g. narrow vs. broad focus and use of “earmarks”. He said he preferred legislation that is narrower and to the point. He is against politicians seeking “pet projects” in return for their support. As an example of “the right way” to prioritize spending he gave a very strong endorsement of the Iowa process for prioritizing road and highway infrastructure projects. It is more scientific and formulaic with nonpartisan oversight by a committee of citizens.
#2. I told him that economic growth was my top priority and that I would appreciate more details about policy changes that he would support in addition to his strong opposition to excessive regulation.
His overarching vision would include a 5 Year Plan that would transition the country from the current high annual deficits to zero deficits. Such a plan would also provide more certainty for businesses. After five years, he would work on paying down the current debt. In the longer term, he would favor tax reform that was fairer, flatter and simpler. He would approach budgeting by starting with full funding of those responsibilities defined by the Constitution. He believes national defense is at the top of the list. But, he is not a “neo-con” and that highest priority would be reserved for real threats to our national interests. At the bottom of the list, he would put the Department of Education. He would not be opposed to eliminating it and would certainly scale back its’ mission and size. He shared an observation that the Federal bureaucracy has a relatively painless one-time opportunity to scale back as baby boomers retire. He feels this demographic reality should be a driver for streamlining government and cutting costs now.
#3. . I asked him to share his thoughts on global alignment with U.S. vital interests. I have already shared his view in point #2 that national defense would be fully funded.
One guiding principle would be that U.S. forces should always be under the control of the U.S. leadership. He believes we can only achieve lasting peace through strength; hence he would be committed to retaining our role as the preeminent superpower in the world. He would favor military intervention only when U.S. vital interests are at stake. He would expect our allies to carry their fair share of the burden for sustaining military alliances capable of meeting defined threats. He generally does not believe that we can “buy friends” around the world. International aid should be spent more wisely.
#4. I wanted to talk about energy and returnable fuels because I am of the opinion that the subsidies for ethanol and biofuels are too expensive and can’t be justified. It turns out that the Republican platform agrees with me.
He said that like the others, he was a supporter of an “all of the above” energy policy. He believes energy independence is a worthwhile goal. He believes that all sources of energy must prove to be economically viable over the long term. In the short term, he would favor immediate approval of the Keystone pipeline and adoption of reasonable environmental standards for the “fracking” process so oil and gas production could advance more quickly. He would maintain current mandates for alternative energy but would want to look at the costs and trends more closely. He would be opposed to the government picking “winners and losers” by investing in specific companies.
#5. I asked him about education, specifically “common core”. He has extensive experience as a 9 year member, several as co-president, of the Johnston School Board. I was anxious to hear his thoughts on this.
He feels strongly that high quality education can never be designed by a Federal bureaucracy. He would greatly limit their role. He is concerned about the adverse impact that No Child Left Behind and Common Core have had on the effectiveness of the schools. He talked about the Johnston schools “7 year cycle of continuous improvement” that has been interrupted by the Federal intrusion. He feels that the excessive amount of focus on test results has distracted the teachers and the students. He is certain that local school boards and staff will figure out the best answer for their students.
I asked him to address the millions of students (think Detroit as the poster-child) who have been failed by their local school districts. What would he do for them? He said that the Federal government has not and cannot solve that problem. He said we must first look to improve school choices (charter and private schools) for those areas. And he would rather the government assist parents with the costs of accessing those choices than to have a federal bureaucracy trying to run education from Washington .
#6 . What is your position on health care beyond repeal of the Affordable Care Act? Is there anything you like about it?
We need a market based approach, allow insurance companies to sell across state lines, address portability issues, and address pre-existing conditions issues. He mentioned that his company is now offering a Health Savings Account option coupled with a High Deductible health care plan. He likes the way that encourages individual control and responsibility. He favors more cost transparency for procedures so patients can make an informed decision when selecting a provider.
Overall Conclusion: One thing I noticed about Robert was his “engineers approach”. When asked a question, he thinks about an overarching principle or wider view, then responds with context to the question posed. I don’t know if that works well in political duels but it worked well for me. I found Robert to be a principled, concerned, caring and thoughtful candidate. He said part of leadership is helping others see “when it is time to fight and when it is time to get things done”. That attitude might be helpful in Congress.
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