DES MOINES, Iowa -- Helen Miller knew she was a bit different from most others around her Saturday. Miller, a state representative from Fort Dodge, jokes often about being a rare African-American in the mostly white state of Iowa. But for most of the day Saturday, she found herself in the minority in a different way: She was one of the few Democrats gathered to hear 9 potential Republican presidential candidates.
Miller was among the 900 or so invited guests to the first-ever Iowa Ag Summit. Miller knew the speakers wouldn't win her over. But Miller figured since she represents a district with many agricultural families, she should pay attention to the conversation, no matter which party discussed it. "I love it," Miller said, "I think it's going to bring a lot of attention to an issue that would never be talked about."
That issue is actually two combined into one: agriculture and renewable fuels. Bruce Rastetter, CEO of The Summit Group, hosted the event. He's not just any Iowa CEO. Here's Rastetter's resume:
--hog and ethanol producer
--made millions of dollars over the years
--prominent donor to Republican candidates
--frequently hosts big-name candidates at his Alden farm
Nine potential Republican presidential candidates accepted Rastetter's invite to sit down with him, one-by-one, for 20 minutes to answer his questions about food and fuels. Here's what Rastetter and the audience heard from the Republican guests:
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush--Said market would decide the Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates ethanol in the nation's fuel supply. Wants to see wind energy tax credit phased out in 3-5 years. Backs allowing some undocumented immigrants to eventually earn legal status.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham--Supports the RFS. Also would allow some undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship. Would reduce Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees ($200,000 in retirement income) and would work to raise minimum retirement age to receive benefits.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker--Backs the RFS. Also supports making welfare recipients pass a drug test. And if they don't have children, they must also enroll in employment training. Name-checked Iowa Governor Terry Branstad numerous times.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie--Pledged to enforce RFS. Also, dropped Branstad's name a bunch. Got heckled by protesters until police escorted them out.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry--Doesn't support energy mandates. Spent first few minutes of time on stage, pushing his farm background. Said immigrants with guest visas should have a card federal government can track, so government always know where they are.
Former New York Governor George Pataki--Opposes energy mandates. Also wants to rewrite the tax code, eliminating deductions to lower overall rates.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum--Supports RFS. Wants more focus on rural areas. Said he invented health savings accounts while member of senate.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz--Opposes energy mandates. Said no one in D.C. fights harder against President Obama's push to let some undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee--Supports RFS. Opposes path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
No Shows--Three other potential candidates canceled their appearances.
Organizers say New York business developer Donald Trump didn't come because of weather-related travel problems. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore was ill. And Florida Senator Marco Rubio had a conflict because of a wedding.
Number of Democratic potential presidential candidates who accepted Rastetter's invitation: Zero.
Number of Democrats who spoke on stage: One, former Iowa Lt. Governor Patty Judge.
Credentialed media: about 250, according to organizers.
After sitting through about seven hours of Republicans talking, Democrat Helen Miller acknowledged she won't be changing her support for the 2016 caucuses. "Doubtful. Very doubtful," Miller said, "It's still a 'D.'" (Democrat)