Politics & Policy

Unlikely Veep

Thanks to an Iowa supreme-court smackdown, Vilsack's odds just got even longer.

The rumors about Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack’s veep chances are spinning faster than Ted Kennedy’s head halfway through happy hour. Currently the speculation is that he has made a short list including only Dick Gephardt and John Edwards. Yet thanks to a recent action by the Iowa state supreme court, any potential list may have just gotten shorter by one.

#ad#Now, there are plenty of reasons Vilsack should not be Kerry’s choice of running mate. Consider the fun the GOP would have with Vilsack’s lack of technological prowess. Last July, Vilsack was caught up in a controversy over the e-mails pertaining to the Iowa Department of Economic Development Foundation. E-mails requested by the Des Moines Register under Iowa’s open-records law had been “inadvertently” destroyed. Vilsack partially blamed the problem on himself, saying, “I’m 52 years old, and I don’t know much about technology. I don’t even know how to send a response to an e-mail, that’s how technologically deficient I am.” It resulted in a blaring headline in the Des Moines Register: “Vilsack: I Don’t Know How to Send An Email.” That from a newspaper that makes the New York Times look like the poster child for conservatism. It seems that while some Democrats take credit for inventing the Internet, others don’t even know where it is.

But Vilsack’s biggest problem reared its head barely two weeks ago on June 16, when the Iowa supreme court invalidated his economic development initiative (and arguably his only significant achievement while governor)–called the Grow Iowa Values (GIV) Fund–which is supposed to expand Iowa’s economy. The GIV Fund is little more than a corporate-welfare boondoggle, a fund from which the state government awards grants to businesses that are supposed to relocate to or expand in Iowa. However, unintended consequences are already beginning to emerge. Late last year the Iowa-based Wells Dairy Company, makers of Blue Bunny Ice Cream, threatened to build its new corporate headquarters in more tax-friendly Nebraska or South Dakota. Now, thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the GIV Fund, Wells Dairy has decided to remain in Iowa. What that means is that the GIV Fund is being used not only to attract new businesses but also to just keep existing businesses. One wonders how many other Iowa businesses will follow Wells Dairy’s example. So much for “expanding Iowa’s economy.”

Now that the Iowa supreme court has invalidated the GIV Fund, Vilsack has claimed, “I think the Values Fund possibly can be fixed without the necessity of a special session.” It is no surprise that Vilsack wants to avoid a special session, given the all-or-nothing attitude he takes toward governing. It was exactly that attitude that helped create this mess in the first place.

When Vilsack first pushed the GIV Fund back in 2003, the GOP-controlled legislature expressed a willingness to compromise in exchange for tax cuts and regulatory reform. After negotiations with Vilsack, the GOP leadership believed it had a deal. Indeed, the Association of Business and Industry, big advocates of regulatory reform, also believed it had a deal with the governor.

The first indication that Vilsack was not willing to honor the deal came when he wanted all three proposals in three separate bills. GOP legislators, perhaps smelling a rat, sent him two bills: one an appropriations bill, which contained the money for the GIV Fund, and the other a policy bill, which contained the legal structure for the GIV Fund and the tax cuts and regulatory reform. This is crucial, because in Iowa a governor has a line-item veto that can only be used on appropriations bills. But like most good Democrats, Vilsack thumbed his nose at the state constitution and item vetoed the tax cuts and regulatory reform anyway. The GOP sued in court, resulting in the recent ruling by the Iowa supreme court that Vilsack’s item vetoes were illegal. As a result, the court ruled, no part of the bill became law.

The last thing Vilsack needs while he is campaigning to be Kerry’s vice-presidential nominee is to have to explain to the media why the Iowa supreme court overruled him. He definitely doesn’t need the media focusing on what could potentially be very messy negotiations leading up to a special session. It appears that some GOP legislators smell blood in the water. “I don’t think our members are willing to say, ‘Put more money into the Values Fund and go home,” Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson recently concluded. State Senator Larry McKibben suggested that the matter requires Vilsack to “take time off from campaigning for vice president.”

Vilsack has no one to blame except himself. “He talks a good game of cooperation and bipartisanship but when push comes to shove he always walks away from a compromise,” says State Senator Neal Schuerer, a Republican. “I saw it when we served in the state senate together. It’s all his way or no way. Worse, he takes things personally and he never forgets.” Such an attitude would seem to be less than conducive to the rough and tumble of a presidential campaign.

The odds of Vilsack’s becoming the vice-presidential nominee always seemed long. And thanks to Vilsack’s inability to compromise, they just got longer.

David Hogberg is a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute, an Iowa-based think tank. His blog site is “Cornfield Commentary.”

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