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2chambers
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 04/30/2012

An interview with Tom Latham

2chambers recently visited Iowa to explore how the state’s redistricting process has spawned two races that are likely to be among the most competitive and expensive in Iowa history.


Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa). (Lisa Nipp/ Office of Tom Latham)
The race in Iowa’s Third Congressional District between Reps. Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R) is one of just a few this year that pit incumbents against each other.

As we wrote Sunday, Boswell acknowledges that 2012 will be his toughest test yet — after years of close races.

Latham spoke with 2chambers in Washington before the reporting trip. A transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity, appears below:

Why run in the Third District?

“It’s more of a better fit, it’s more compact. Obviously, Steve [King] is going to run in that other district [the Fourth District], so it’s been my area that’s been my media market. I’ve worked with the Greater Des Moines Partnership for years, so it’s very familiar territory for me. It’s just a better fit.”

Considering that both you and Representative Boswell have served since the 1990s and have similar backgrounds, to some extent, does this race come down to a beauty contest?

“I think there’s real issues that certainly divide us and will become very apparent, I think. He voted for the stimulus package, I voted against it. He voted for cap and trade, I voted against it. He voted for the health-care bill, I voted against it. Dodd-Frank. There are some real issues out there that are very, very different and that will become — I think that will be the issue — the size and the scope of the federal government.

Of those issues, do any of those become more of a specific, larger fight?

“I think the wasteful spending certainly on the stimulus. The government takeover on health care. Cap and trade, which the local utility says would raise utilities 20 to 25 percent. You talk to anybody in the finance area — especially small rural banks — Dodd-Frank is just probably going to solve a lot of consolidation. Banks, because they don’t just have the ability to comply with all the new regulations.”

There’s been chatter about what happens if the health-care law goes down. Have you thought about that at all?

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s good politically, as far as I’m concerned. It’s whether it’s the right thing for the country — and that’s to repeal this [law]. In my mind, there’s no question that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. But it’s not about the politics. . . . We’ll deal with that political stuff later. To me it’s simply a constitutional thing so they’ve got to do the right thing.”

You’re very good friends with House Speaker John A. Boehner. How did that friendship develop?

“Back before I actually was elected, we got to know each other and it’s just been, just a personal friendship. But as far as being relevant in the race, I don’t think Nancy Pelosi or Boehner will have an effect. You’ve got two candidates running in that district. We just hit it off a long time ago.

“We got to know each other real well. He’s got two daughters about the same age as my two daughters. The families kept some time together and things like that. So it’s been great, a good personal relationship.”

Where do you come down on these concerns about the speaker’s ability to hold the Republican conference together?

“It’s very difficult, and it’s a tough job. Like he always says, if you do the right thing for the right reasons you’ll get the right results in the end. Obviously we have a conference with some different ideas out there, but that’s not unusual, either. His leadership style, though, he’s not going to dictate to people. He wants them to be adults and to have a discussion and come to their own conclusions. He’s always — and I think it’s the right thing to do — been an institutionalist, as far as the House of Representatives. Let the House basically do its will. That leadership style probably is not a controlling leadership so it’s trying to bring people together.”

Democrats have pointed out that there are groups or individuals who have given money to you and Boswell that this time may have been arm-twisted to not donate to Boswell. Are you familiar with that?

“Not really.”

Not really?

“I am not aware of that happening at all. I’m sure people make decisions as to who they support, so that’s up to them.”

What’s it like being a congressman who’s serving one district but running in another?

“I’ve always looked at it that I represent the state of Iowa. My first district was Northwest Iowa. In 2002, it became North Central Iowa hooking around Des Moines down to the south, clear up to the northeast corner of the state. But, you know, I still represent people that lived in the first district I represented. So I always look at representing Iowa in Congress. We do everything the same as we’ve always done as far as our own district is concerned.”

Are there differences between a voter in northeast versus southwest Iowa?

“Generally no, they’re all Iowans. They’re certainly different issues. Southwest Iowa the flooding issue last year along the Missouri River was huge. And I think there’s going to be an issue of twice Leonard voted against disaster funding to keep up funding for the electric car in Detroit. I think things like that. But generally, Iowans are Iowans no matter where you go. There are some different issues in Des Moines than in the real rural areas. But I haven’t seen any real difference outside of just local issues.”

What are you doing to introduce yourself to folks in your new district?

“I’m down there all the time doing public events, certainly working within the structure of the organizations down there as far as county organizations, but we’ve done, Grassley and I and . . . [U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety inspector Louis] Norley have done public town hall meetings together and just have people get better acquainted. That’s what we need to do. You know, 80 percent of this district, population-wise, is in the Des Moines media market. Those people are familiar with me. It’s always been my media market. . . . In the other 20 percent you have the Omaha media market, which is a little more expensive.”

When you go home, what do people talk to you about most?

“The regulatory burden today has really come to the forefront. If you’re a small-business person trying to comply with all the new regulations, like the health-care bill, which people are very concerned about, expanding their businesses, and the uncertainty that’s there. Tax policy — what’s going to happen at the end of the year. People are almost defensive trying to what they have rather than trying to invest and hire more people. And I think that probably the biggest thing today is that they honestly believe no one’s listening in Washington to them. They’re very frustrated with what they see going on here and rightfully so. They’re upset with everybody.”

So what do you do?

“I listen. I meet with everybody, I don’t care what their political persuasion is — whether it be a labor union or small-business folks or individuals who have problems. But I meet with everybody and listen. It’s a huge part of the job.”

Do you see or talk to Representative Boswell often?

“Just on the floor.”

But you’re not close?

“No, we’ve always had a good working relationship for the state.”

What is the one issue — beyond the obvious issues of the day — that you wish Congress spent more time on?

“I think certainly for Iowa, you’ve got a high percentage of more mature citizens and to make sure that they’re secure going forward, whether it be Medicare or Social Security, all those sorts of things. Certainly, with people in the National Guard and Reserves in Iowa, it’s been a huge issue. We have an issue right now with the 132nd Air Wing in Des Moines that they want to basically take away the F-16s and have it become a site for pilots to pilot drones that are not stationed there, they’ll be overseas, but not in Iowa. Which will cost about 500 jobs and an awful lot of economic activity.”

Democrats appear ready to hammer you in ads with the “Ending Medicare as we know it” argument. How do you respond to those attacks?

“People get it today. They know that stuff is not sustainable. They know that if nothing is done that it’s going to go bankrupt. I think that person who actually proposes things, who will save Medicare, will be in a lot stronger position than someone who demagogues the issue.”

So as long that you’re demonstrating that you’re trying to solve the problem, you think it won’t be an issue?

“I think it’s a positive rather than some of the ads they’ve done already that just fall on deaf ears, because people know that the system needs to be reformed for the security of it going forward for years to come.”

Why are you the best representative for this district?

“I’m in a great position to do a lot for the district as a chairman on the Appropriations Committee — the Transportation and HUD. I also serve on Ag[riculture] and FDA and Homeland Security. For Des Moines, Polk County, they haven’t had someone in this position since Neil Smith had it way back as a chairman on appropriations. I’m able to get things done, initiatives that we’ve worked on and have been successful on. I’ve got a record of actually accomplishing things and getting things done.”

Why keep doing this job?

“I think we’ve got one opportunity here in the next Congress. The only reason I’m doing this again is because I think we have to have people who will take tough votes, who will actually save the system for the future. This is about my five grandkids. If I didn’t think I had a chance to really change the direction in the next Congress with a new president, and a new majority in the Senate, it would be very difficult for me to run. But because I think we have a historic opportunity after this election to do some really good things, that’s why I’m doing it.”

But if Obama wins and the Senate stays Democratic?

“We’ll fight as hard as we can for Iowans.”

Read the full story on the Boswell-Latham race and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 04/30/2012

 
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