Immediately following his nomination as the Democratic candidate to replace Rep. Dwayne Alons, who passed away earlier this month, Iowa House District 4 candidate John Buntsma sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with The Iowa Statesman. Here is the complete exchange.
Describe for me your worldview and what role that would have in your position as legislator: I’m not sure what you exactly mean by that. Can you elaborate on that question?
Just what is your worldview and how will it shape the decisions you make as a legislator? Do you mean my religious views, my political views?
I don’t want to lead you one way or the other. It can be both: Well, I am an immigrant and that shapes you somewhat. I grew up in not very high economic circumstances. That does some shaping. I’m an active member of my church and that certainly shapes my view on things. I believe that the government has a role in supporting the people who struggle.
What is the purpose of government?: There are the fundamental sorts of things; protecting the citizens through fire and law enforcement, protecting us as a nation. Government, I think, also has a role in protecting those who can’t protect themselves. That would mean the handicapped; that would mean those in difficult economic circumstances that may not be due to their own conditions.
Some of the books, family influences and historical figures who have had the most influence on you are?: Well, of course the Bible has had a huge influence on me. I am a newspaper reader. I’m an old newspaper guy, so every morning I’m reading the Washington Post and looking at the Des Moines Register and The Guardian out of England. I sometimes will look at some Dutch newspapers. So that’s kind of where my basic focus is. The most recent book I’ve read was a thing on the religious history of our founding fathers. As far as any particular book that has more influence than another, I can’t pick one out.
What are some of the issues that you consider to be non-negotiable?: I hope that I’m not an ideologue. I think that government was designed – we have three different branches of government for the reason that we have to compromise on some issues sometimes. Maybe the compromise is not to any of our liking, but that’s what we’re called to do.
What is the law and where does the law come from?: The law is the rules by which people live by. It was written by the people, for the people.
At what point do you believe a human life is guaranteed legal protections of being an American citizen and what would you do to ensure those protections are provided?: At birth. I think we already have protections for people. If your question is related to abortion, my thought is that I don’t favor abortion at all, but if it comes down to between the life of the mother and the life of the child, I don’t know how I would make that decision if it was me personally. But that’s a decision that the mom should be able to take part in.
So you’d oppose a Personhood Amendment?: I think so. I don’t know all about it, but I think the Personhood Amendment has some issues that go beyond just the superficial things. I can’t elaborate on that – I don’t know enough about it – but my understanding is there are some issues there that would be prohibitive.
A lot has changed in the last five years with marriage. What your beliefs on marriage and what can you do as legislator to defend those or further those?: Well, I’m married. I hope someday my daughter will be married. But we had certain laws in that regard and those have been thrown out either by courts or legislators across the country. I’m not sure what we can do different. The courts have thrown out Iowa’s law as unconstitutional.
What can we do to protect religious liberty for business owners who wish to refuse service to same-sex couples?: I think businesses have that right to make those choices. I thought those rights were inherent in running a business. You have the right as a restaurant owner to not serve somebody if you don’t want to.
Where do you stand on the Affordable Care Act?: I support that. I think there are changes that need to be made. There are some weaknesses there. My daughter is 25 and still getting insurance on my plan because it’s available. Seven million young people have insurance because of that. Another 10 million who were uninsured before have insurance because of that. In the past insurers could limit the total amount of insurance they offered to people, like a million dollar cap, there were juveniles who reached that cap before they started school. They were locked out of insurance for the rest of their lives. There’s a lot of things like that that are hugely beneficial to the public.
Where do you stand on iIllegal immigration?: I don’t know for sure what a state can do. I think that’s in the hands of the federal government. That’s in the hands of Congress.
In the case of Arizona, who wants to enforce immigration laws but the federal government tells them not to do that, what rights do a state have?: I think Arizona is overstepping its bounds in that regard.
What should be done with those here illegally?: We need to find some sort of process for bringing them into the country. We can’t deport 47 million people. It’s just an impossible thing. (The) cost alone is impossible. So we’ve deported a lot of people in the last few years, a lot of criminals. If people are established they need to pay all their back taxes, pay their fine and then we have to find a process for bringing them in as citizens. It’s not a state issue. Iowa cannot grant citizenship to anybody.
The Second Amendment, what are your views on that? A lot of people are pushing for legislation to curb mass shootings: I think we need to expand the background check situation. If you are a law-abiding citizen, a background check shouldn’t bother you. People can go to gun shows and buy guns without a background check is something I don’t think is good.
What about the EPA and climate change?: The carbon exchange thing I think is probably the best solution they’ve come up with. There’s no doubt climate change exists. You can go to lots of places around the world and see evidence of that. Virtually 99.9 percent of all climatologists believe that is the case.
Have you ever supported raising a tax and if so which ones? Any current taxes you support increasing?: I was in the legislature supporting an increase in the tobacco tax. That has had a positive impact on reducing youth smoking. I think we’ve got to come up with some sort of solution that’s revenue based on fixing roads and bridges. They aren’t going to fix themselves.
Are you in favor of raising the gas tax?: Not necessarily. I think that’s part of the solution. Maybe increased user fees should be adjusted based on the weight of the vehicle or whatever.
What about those who drive all electric cars and don’t buy gas?: That’s where some of the user fees come in. They still put the same kind of wear on roads. If a bridge collapses, it doesn’t make any difference if it’s an electric car or a gasoline powered car – somebody is going to get hurt.
Education. Common Core. Are you in favor of school vouchers to encourage parental choice and would you offer tax incentives for homeschool families?: That’s something I have to research. My wife is from Washington state and there the public school system in Lynden, Wash., runs – and I’m guessing true in other communities – the public school system runs a homeschool operation in which they have some joint educational opportunities. I don’t know exactly how that differs from some opportunities homeschoolers have here, but that would make sense to me.
Would you be willing to offer tax incentives for families that homeschool?: I’m thinking in that regard, if you’re getting the benefits of some programs that are operated jointly, you would probably be getting a double benefit if you also got tax benefits.
What’s the role of the courts?: The courts are interpreters of the law. They’re making sure that two parties that come before it are fairly represented and that a just decision is made.
So when a court issues a ruling like Varnum v. Brien and changes the definition of marriage in a state without any vote or action by the governor, do you favor those decisions or is that not the proper role of court?: I think that’s probably the proper role of the court. Courts also decided on segregation issues over the years. They decided interracial marriage decisions over the years. Whether we like them or not, those are the court decisions. We have established the government that gives the court that authority.
Who was your favorite politician in U.S. history?: Abraham Lincoln. He was a person who was willing to stand up for his own issues. I think what’s interesting about him is that, except for a couple of things, he would not have been re-elected in 1864. One was the battle of New Orleans and the second was, for the first time (America) gave absentee ballots to soldiers.
What will you do when Democrat leadership does something against the party’s principles or against your principles?: I’m kind of an Independent person. I will speak out on things. I am never afraid to voice my opinion. I know a lot of times what happens in the state legislature is people follow the leadership line because they someday would like to be leaders themselves and would be shutout if they didn’t. That’s not where I come from.