Iowa Caucus Day Frenzy with O’Malley, Santorum, Bush

Kevin Rutledge on February 10, 2016
Within a few hours before the Iowa Caucus, we talked with three candidates in Des Moines. Martin O’Malley called for openness, transparency and accountability in the Defense Department. Rick Santorum learned more about the immigrant detention quota and for-profit prisons. Jeb Bush wants to modernize the nuclear triad with an aspiration of reducing nuclear armaments.

On February 1, the day of the Iowa Caucus, my friend Matt and I talked to three presidential candidates in Des Moines. At 9 a.m. we started the day off at Smokey Row, a coffee shop where National Public Radio interviewed Martin O’Malley, who held a rally outside. Matt, a retired Army medic, caught up with O’Malley in the parking lot.

Matt said, “I was actually wondering about the military-industrial complex and the Pentagon basically giving blank checks to military contractors to charge whatever they want for things as simple as hammers and toilet seats....”

O’Malley responded, “We need more openness, transparency, accountability in the Defense Department budgeting. We need to stop the way they spend down at the end of every year. Obscene amounts of money get wasted on that final month.”

“How can we do that?” I asked.

“With openness and transparency,” he repeated. “I mean, I’ve balanced budgets for 15 years. I’ve gotten awards from the Kennedy School for openness and transparency in government. We need to put all the eyeballs on this like the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Everybody said there’d be all sorts of waste, fraud, and abuse but there wasn’t because it was all mapped, it was all tracked. It was on the Internet where everybody could see where their dollars were going.”

Before O’Malley left, I expressed the need to take a look at these issues now with a growing fear of ISIS and more war.

While waiting in line for coffee and breakfast, we were surprised to see Dr. Ben Carson finishing an interview with NPR. We left our spot in line to trying speaking with him, but a staffer directed us away from the door so he could leave with Secret Service.

After we ate breakfast and gave a couple TV interviews, we travelled a few blocks downtown to Java Joe’s hoping to see another presidential candidate during MSNBC’s live broadcast of Morning Joe. While Matt was outside and I was about to leave, I saw Senator Rick Santorum shaking hands with people.

“I was wondering,” I said before he walked into the green room, “if you’ve heard of this 34,000 immigrant detention quota? It’s lobbied for by for-profit prisons. It’s actually in the Department of Homeland Security’s budget.”

Santorum looked confused and said, “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Okay, I think you should look into this quota because they’re driving mass incarceration and driving immigration policies.”

“Quota for what?”

“To detain 34,000 immigrants every single day. A majority of those are in for-profit prisons. So I was just wondering if you’d look into it and if you’d be against it.”

“Don’t know anything about it. Okay, I don’t know.”

I asked again, “Is this something you could look into?”

“It depends how many people we have that need to be detained.” As he walked away, I added, “It costs about $2 billion a year, too.”

A 12-year-old boy from Illinois watched my exchange with the senator and told me, “Wow, that’s a good question. He didn’t even answer you.” He was intrigued as I explained the detention quota, the private prison industry, and our work of talking to all the candidates about these issues.

Jeb Bush’s town hall meeting was our last event of the day. Following an introduction by a Medal of Honor recipient and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Jeb Bush gave his stump speech and asked for questions in the hotel filled with media.

I raised my hand and asked, “Your father’s and brother’s administrations both accomplished nuclear arms reductions through negotiations. So I’m wondering in your presidency, will you follow in their footsteps and resist this push from the nuclear arms lobby to invest one trillion dollar in new nuclear weapons?”

“Yeah so, I appreciate you coming,” said Bush. “What’s the name of the group that you guys are a part of? I never heard that.”

“The American Friends Service Committee,” I responded.

“The trillion dollars,” Jeb Bush began, “if you could give me that information because that must be over 30, 40, 50 years. Because, I’ve talked to experts about this and there’s no evidence that the Obama administration is spending nearly that kind of money as it relates to modernizing our nuclear capability, which we need to do. I think we need to modernize it and, yes, I think we ought to aspire to reductions in arms at the same time.

“And my brother, and President Reagan, and my father, and President Clinton,” he continued. “I mean that’s generally been the kind of aspiration and I think it’s a good one. But we now have bigger threats which are not the East, West, Soviet, US threat; it’s the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons. This is why I oppose the Iran deal because making Iran a nuclear threshold country in and of itself without the verification is scary. But then it means people who are threatened by Iran, which is the entire region around them, will feel compelled to do the same thing. And part of this has to be that we are all in as it relates to foreign policy to pressure these rogue nations, North Korea, Iran, and our allies to make sure that we don’t have many other countries that become countries without the protocols the protection that we once had. That to me is the first and biggest challenge.”

Bush concluded by saying, “Modernizing the triad, I think, is important as well and we should always do this with the aspiration of reducing the amount of nuclear armaments that exist.”

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Kevin Rutledge

Kevin Rutledge AFSC Governing Under the Influence Presidential Campaign Project

Kevin Rutledge is the Grassroots Education Coordinator with AFSC’s Presidential Campaign Project in Iowa.  Kevin has deep family roots in Quaker activism for peace and social justice.  A graduate from Iowa State University in Sociology and Criminal Justice, his previous work includes: United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) organizer, Public Citizen online organizer to overturn Citizens United, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, and a youth residential treatment facility.  Kevin hopes to one day return to Brazil and live by the beach.

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” – Napoleon Hill .