Of all the Republican candidates to visit the Iowa State Fair this week, John Kasich certainly stood out in his speech at the Soapbox. Speaking inside to a decent-sized crowd of about 150 (the Soapbox, which he chose not to stand on, was moved inside due to threat of bad storms), Kasich left the red meat one-liners aside for other candidates to revel in, giving instead a thoughtful, introspective speech on the purpose of public service, and a bit on life itself.
After a 20-minute philosophical musing in which he argued we all need to be “a center of justice and a center of healing, and to realize that life is not just about ourselves alone,” Kasich brought up unprompted in Q&A his support for Medicaid in Ohio. That, along with some of his more moderate stances on immigration, make many believe he has simply no chance among Iowa conservatives (possibly why he’s campaigned here so little, focusing on New Hampshire instead). And indeed, while his speech at the Soapbox was one of the Fair’s most compelling, it completely failed to give Republican caucus-goers anything they wanted to hear.
And yet, that’s probably not the real reason Kasich will struggle to gain footing in Iowa. One key constituency he could capture – business leaders in rural Iowa – has already written him off thanks to his staunch opposition to the ethanol mandate and renewable fuels support. All of which is a bit odd for a candidate so eager to oppose hard-line conservative orthodoxy on so many other issues.
The difficulty became particularly clear for Kasich before his Soapbox speech when he met with Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds near a cow-judging contest. With the sound of mooing in the background, Branstad (who has made clear his preference for fellow governor candidates) pressed Kasich hard on ethanol and wind energy.
“My only problem with the tax credits is everybody wants to do a tax credit,” Kasich argued after Branstad brought up the topic very soon into their conversation. “The problem is, Terry, our income tax is now 4.9 and I want to get it lower, so every time we do tax credits it limits our ability to get it lower.”
“I understand that and I agree with you philosophically but I think sometimes on some of these new products, you need a tax credit to help launch it,” Branstad countered. “Now it’s less expensive to generate electricity by wind than it is coal or natural gas.”
Kasich questioned whether Iowa subsidizes wind and if the country wouldn’t have had the explosion in the industry without it.
“Here’s what we did – we didn’t subsidize it, we said that they had to put this on the grid at a certain price, so they’d get some stability to start and now the cost to produce it has gone down,” Branstad replied as he pointed to the Fairground’s large wind turbine in the background.
Kasich responded by defending how he’d protected the industry from more conservative Republican members of the Ohio legislature.
“Before I got there, they put in a renewable standard that wasn’t really achievable so there was a sense in the legislature that we ought to just stop it all,” Kasich said. “And I said no no no, we’re not going to do that. But we got to a number that’s realistic, because if we don’t, then our heavy industry has to buy everything out of state, and it puts people out of work. But we’re going to get it right.”
“It’s also generated more property tax for the counties,” Branstad offered as he continued to press the topic. “So it’s a win-win situation all the way around. When I first became governor in the 80’s we were totally energy dependent on fossil fuel, most of it imported. You know now we produce more ethanol than we consume in gasoline. We’re number one or number two in biodiesel production. We have 33 ethanol plants, 12 biodiesel, 2 celluosic ethanol plants … We lead the country in the percentage of our electricity generated by wind. And we’re also making substantial progress in solar. So we have gone from being heavily energy dependent on fossil fuels and now we’re a leader in the whole United States and it’s created some really good jobs … these ethanol plants are really growing our jobs, mostly in rural Iowa.”
The conversation soon turned to pork chops-on-a-stick, but the point was made.
by Pat Rynard