I sat down for an hour Wednesday afternoon with Mark Jacobs, a Republican candidate for United States Senate. We met for coffee at the Timbuktuu coffee shop in West Des Moines.
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 noticed in his biographical information that he served for 6 years on the Board of Kipp Charter Schools. Kipp is a large charter school district serving primarily financially disadvantaged Latino students. I asked him to talk about this experience and his views on education. He said first and foremost that he strongly values the public education he received in Iowa and that it has been the foundation of everything he has accomplished. He believes the Federal government’s role in education should be limited to block grants, without strings attached, to states in need of financial assistance. States should set standards for what is to be taught and local districts should decide everything about how education is to be accomplished. I asked what he learned working with Kipp that might apply to the millions of students whose local districts have totally failed them. He thought that charter schools like Kipp were one example of an effective option when public schools are failing. There are many options other than a Federal takeover of education. He also expanded the discussion to include education after secondary school (high school). He emphasized the high % of adults who need technical skills to fill job openings. These skills are vital to meeting the needs of many different sectors of the economy. He is an advocate for community colleges that can best meet local needs. He is an advocate for modernizing Federal financial aid programs that help traditional and non-traditional students to access training programs.
#2. I asked him to talk about Agriculture and his thoughts on biofuels and other alternatives that directly impact the Ag. Economy.
He believes the Federal role in energy should be one that enables new technologies to develop and grow to achieve a critical mass necessary for commercial success. He feels the biofuels industry is a good example. He considers himself to be an “all of the above” supporter of energy alternatives as long as there is a reasonable expectation that the technology will be competitive in the long run without subsidies and mandates. At this time, he is a supporter of the RFS mandate for biofuels.
#3. I asked him to share his thoughts on controlling costs in politically sensitive areas, specifically military and entitlement spending.
Regarding the military, he believes that the cheapest war is the one we don’t have to fight. He believes in a strong military, not to police the world, but to meet the changing threats that we face today. As an example, he believes we need more special forces. He believes strongly in maintaining cutting edge technology in our warfighting capabilities.
With respect to entitlement spending, he believes that we can reduce Medicare expenses by at least 15% just by implementing private sector practices to eliminate fraud and abuse in the system. We can best meet our entitlement commitments by growing the economy in a way that provides good jobs for a higher % of Americans. Simply put, as we get more Americans working, we will reduce the demand for entitlements and public assistance programs. He also offered that the Federal government owns substantial marketable assets. As in private sector debt restructurings, they should sell off assets to help meet entitlement commitments. This would buy time to restructure programs for the long term. He specifically mentioned oil & gas rights as one example.
#4. I asked him to share his thoughts on immigration issues.
He said he is for secure borders and holding employer’s responsible for making reasonable efforts to hire only citizens or legal immigrants. He believes that the rule of law must be honored; therefore he is for fines and penalties against those who have come here illegally. After paying such penalties, an illegal resident could qualify for a legal status but would never be eligible for citizenship or voting. With respect to the normal process for legal entry, he feels it is too complex and it takes far too long to complete it. The process should be reengineered to meet the needs of our economy and labor markets.
#5. I asked him to summarize his views on the economy, jobs and regulations.
He favors a balanced budget amendment. He believes we could achieve a zero deficit in 10 years by managing the growth of spending. He strongly believes that every Federal department should be required to complete a “CBO like” assessment of all new regulations. All such assessments would be completed by an independent 3rd party. The regulators would be required to report to Congress on the cost/benefit impact of their regulations. He believes we need a more competitive tax policy but we did not have time to discuss the details. He certainly sees energy production across all sectors as one of the key drivers of job creation both directly in the production of energy and indirectly by lowering costs for industries that consume a lot of energy. He repeated the importance of improving availability and access to technical training to meet labor shortages in growing industries.
#6. I asked him for a few quick comments on Obamacare. I told him that I knew from his website that he favored full repeal. He has stated that: all citizens covered, pre-existing conditions addressed, marketplace driven, consumer choice & price transparency. What else?
He said we don’t need the Federal government dictating everything. He referred to the “homeowner’s insurance model”. It doesn’t pay for every maintenance problem. It is there for big problems. He likes the idea of consumers having “skin in the game” and the ability to spend their health dollars more wisely by providing more information to them about services, prices and quality. He also noted that the current system puts far too much fixed overhead in place, i.e. expensive capital investments that are underutilized within the community. The incentives for excessive investment need to be changed.
Overall Conclusion: We talked some about what type of approach he would take as a Senator. He said he thought there were two critical components. First, he would be accessible to the citizens and listen to them. Second, he would be committed to delivering results without sacrificing core principles.
During the interview we got a little off topic with discussions about management style. I don’t know how relevant management style is to being a United States Senator, but Mark Jacobs struck me as the type of leader who would keep his office door open. I think you would find him eating in the company cafeteria rather than the executive dining room. He is also the type of leader that has proven he can play “old fashioned hardball” with 23 bankers to restructure his company’s debt, avoid bankruptcy and save jobs for thousands of employees. Maybe management style does count for something!
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