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Local News

March 16, 2010

Supporter turns challenger in race to be Iowa’s governor

Jonathan Narcisse calls himself an honest, effective politician who isn't afraid to take on corruption and who absolutely will put the interests of Iowans first.

Centerville — A Des Moines man who appeals to both the left and right has decided to challenge Iowa Gov. Chet Culver in the upcoming Democratic primary.

Jonathan Narcisse, 46, talked about Gov. Culver, a candidate he supported in the 2006 election, real Democrats, public school and government reorganization and other social issues during a campaign stop Thursday morning, March 11 at the Daily Iowegian.

Narcisse said his message resonates with both Democrats and Republicans. In the last few weeks he has received endorsements from a prominent Republican, a Tea Party organization in Spencer and a Democratic county co-chair.

"When Jon Narcisse steps into the political room, liberal,  conservative, Republican and Democrat don't exist," he said. "I know Republicans like what I'm saying. I spoke to the Iowa Federation of Republican women. And yet I know that I appeal to Democrats because Democrats elected me. In fact some of them were very liberal Democrats. And I dominate in the most liberal Democratic areas of Polk County."

While he insists political ideologies melt away, he does insist he is a "real Democrat."

"I would say the 'D' behind Culver's name is a technicality. The 'D' behind Michael Kiernan's name is a technicality. I don't even think they know what it's like to be a real Democrat."

Narcisse has a vision to reoganize the state’s public school system, saving Iowa taxpayers $1.5 billion. His education plan on the one hand calls for firing 10,000 "educrates," centralizing the educational bureaucracy and discontinued funding of non-existent students.

"On the other hand I want to create a system where we not only can fully fund education for three or four year olds, but where we provide a free college education to every student in this state that wants one," Narcisse said.

Getting to that point would collapse the state's education bureaucracy into one, similar to the Department of Commerce, Narcisse said. And would bring education in Iowa under the same roof.

"This eliminates vast duplication of effort by centralizing the bureaucracy," Narcisse said. "You literally save huge resources. To me it makes a lot more sense to actually spend education dollars educating kids instead of spending education dollars maintaining a lot of bureaucracy.”

Narcisse claimed some school district’s student to administrator ratio is skewed and flipping that ratio would account for even more savings.

“Why should a school district have three principals and a superintendent when there’s only 200 kids in it?” Narcisse asked. “We have literally voted people money because they have PhD's and master’s degrees and they don’t have the capacity to justify their existance.”

Narcisse said expansion of the education bureaucracy began when the state started consolidating school districts. Narcisse said Iowa’s educational system needs to join the 21st Century and centralize certain functions to deliver better services at the local level.

“And we save huge amounts of money. Education is more local. It’s more effective. It’s more impactful. We can offer better curriculum, better learning,” Narcisse said. “Or we can continue to pay adults six-figure salaries to produce an education system in this state that is in crisis.”

Narcisse next talked about his vision for free college education and how he would accomplish that. Forty hours of community service every summer was part of the equation.

“And stay in this state a year for every year we pay for their education,” Narcisse said. “And every young person I’ve talked to has said, ‘I would take that deal.’”

Narcisse said his plan has been endorsed by educators, who also helped him formuate it.

“I’ve been around this state meeting with educators and others and there’s not an educator who says, ‘This isn’t a better way. This isn’t a better plan,’” Narcisse said.

Narcisse, a former Des Moines school board member, said education, or the lack of it, is everything. It means the difference between success in life or failure.

“There’s a strong correlation between academic failure and incarceration. Academic failure and social welfare dependency. Education and the viability or the lack thereof our economy,” Narcisse said. “Education is the hub. The spokes are prison, welfare, economic stagnation. If we don’t have a strong viable education system and an educated population, the economy suffers. Folks end up in prison. Folks end up in the welfare system.”

Narcisse backed up his assertions by pointing out the state spends more on health and human services then it does on education. Fix education and fix a whole host of other societial issues, like prison and welfare, he said.

Don’t think of Narcisse as a one-issue candidate. He does have ideas to reduce, reoganize, realign and reprioritize state government.

Start with aligning purposes, like community colleges, DHS, judicial, AEA districts and workforce development because they tend to serve the same clients, Narcisse said. For example, a clean and sober former drug user would access just about every one of those agencies on the way to a productive life.

“As opposed to each of these entities existing in isolation as if none of them impact each other,” he said. “We have all these agencies that exist in isolation, separation. None of them cognizant or aware of what is happening with the other. As opposed to realizing there’s an interconnectedness.”

As governor, Narcisse would consolidate agencies so those with similar proposes would exist in the same bureaucratic structure. Not as easily done as said because it would reduce state employees, department heads and open people’s eyes to government inefficiencies.

“It is the nature of bureaucracies to preserve their turf and their existence,” Narcisse said. “So they can’t even work together ... because as soon as they start working together, somebody actually realizes that they ought to just be two divisions within one department and they loose all their secretaries, and all their clerks and all their administration.”

Another thing he would do is to make sure boards and commissions are represented by a cross section of rural, urban and other Iowans who bring unique interests and talents to the table.

"If you look at how Culver has constructed board and commission appointments, it has nothing to do with the status and everything to do with the reward system," Narcisse said.

And Narcisse said he would break partisan gridlock and stop governance by headlines and special interests. 

Narcisse talked about former Iowa governor Republican Terry Branstad, who served from 1983 to 1999, and who has decided to run again. He said he expects Branstad to be the Rebublican candidate in the November election. And one way or another, Narcisse plans to be there, even if it means running an independent if he loses to Culver in the Democratic primary.

"Either it's going to be Jonathan Narcisse, Chester Culver and Terry Branstad in the General Election," he said. "Or it's going to be Jonathan Narcisse and Terry Branstad in the General Election."

Narcisse also spoke about Iowa's property tax system, which he claimed was creating a generation of "share-croppers" and how government programs have neutered men from providing a living for their families.

"A man with a family doesn't want the government to have to give him food stamps to pay for his kids to eat at home or to have the government to have to buy his kids lunch," Narcisse said. "He would rather be able to give his kid money to buy lunch."

Narcisse said politicians have become an class of elitists.

"Find me a Democrat that isn't a child of aristrocracy now," Narcisse said, pointing out Democrats Michael Kiernan, Roxanne Conlin and Culver are out of touch with the realities people face today. "Chet Culver still thinks that you can feed a family off of $7.25 per hour."

On other social issues:

• Same-sex ruling last year is more about judicial usurpation than it is about gay marriage, Narcisse said.

"The courts have no province in civil recognition of marriage. That's a legislative issue. The courts clearly overstepped their Constitutional authority. That is an abuse of power that is unacceptable in a democracy."

Narcisse said he couldn't critize Culver for not acting on the same-sex ruling because his convictions are not consistent with his actions.

"Basically Gov. Culver put his finger in the wind. He promised he would take action. But he decided that it was politically unexpedient. Gov. Culver has proven again and again that his decision making is based upon what is in his own best political interests. And we've seen no consistency between his convictions and his actions. And Iowan's need a politician who'll tell them straight up, what they're going to do and do it whether Iowans agree or not. We need honest politicians and honest leadership. But right now we don't have that."

• He supports the death penalty, but has doubts the government is competent enough to ensure innocent people are not put to death.

• He supports gun rights.

• He wants to "rebuild" welfare recipients.

"I'm saying, you know what, there's dignity in work," Narcisse said. "Because it's not good for them to be a ward of the state."

Options would be to get welfare recipients working part-time at county farms or filling potholes, doing community service with non-profits, volunteering or vocational-education training or academic remediation.

• He does not support gambling, something he called a "travesty" that "has wrecked families and has ruined our economy and it's devastated our state."

Narcisse said the voters are angry.

"People are tired of the Republicans and the Democrats playing the extremes against the middle and then just lining their buddies pockets."

Narcisse said the only difference between the Branstad and Culver administration is that Branstad was a little more competent.

Iowan's have become used to politicians who cannot get results and have come to accept that as reality, he said. The political standard has boiled down to who can best feel the people's pain, rather than achieving results.

"Iowans are just very naive, which is why they keep getting molested by the political class," Narcisse said. "The better a politician cries with you, the more they care. It doesn't matter that they can't get results. Everywhere I've gone I've always gotten results."

Narcisse is campaigning on a four point message: Fixing government, fixing education, fixing the economy and getting Iowans healthy.

Narcisse is divorced and has two daughters and a stepson. He is the editor and publisher of two community newspapers in Des Moines. He likes to bowl, play chess and is a former boxer.

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