Business and Disaster Experience Driving Teahen Campaign
“The next disaster we need to fix is Congress,” Peter Teahen says on the stump. The Cedar Rapids funeral home owner and Red Cross disaster relief expert is one of three Republicans facing off in the 2nd Congressional District primary for the right to challenge first term Democrat Dave Loebsack in the fall.
Teahen faces Ottumwa physician Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Hillsboro minister Lee Harder on June 3.
“I have literally seen the country at its worst and I've seen at its best,” Teahen says of his disaster work at sites like Ground Zero and Hurricane Katrina, and those experiences combined with his small business career color an economic world view based on self-reliance. “I know what it takes to improve on a crisis and make problems better. It's not doing things for people. Most of us want to make the decisions on what's happening to ourselves, our children, our families. What I do in disaster work and what I want to do in this crisis we're in right now in this government is really help people help themselves. We don't need another mother figure represented by the government making those decisions.”
“As a small business owner I bring a practical approach of looking at budgets, working with staff, making a healthy staff environment, working with benefits, that type of thing. So I know from a practical day-to-day life what it's like to run a business,” Teahen told Iowa Independent. “What goes into writing your name on the front of the check is a lot of risk, a lot of decision making, a lot of fiscal responsibility."
“One of the things I've discovered doing crisis work is that the most basic human need is the need to feel safe,” Teahen said. “And that's what I'm finding out right now. People don't feel safe about the economy, about jobs, about health care. They're scared about what the future is going to be for the country with terrorists. They're afraid the government's going to come in and tell them more and more what to do, and tax them to death to pay for all these `wonderful' programs that they can't afford to do.”
Teahen’s disaster work also influences his views on the Iraq War. "Last year in Darfur, I was 25 feet away from a truckload of Janjaweed rebels. That's the group responsible for murdering 200,000 to 400,000 men women and children. And you look into the eyes of those terrorists, and you look into the eyes of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, you know that their only goal in life is to destroy everything the United States stands for,” he said. If we pull out of Iraq, where the war is really going on right now against terrorists, we're going to lose the much broader war. This is a war of survival."
Teahen’s business recently won an award for working with military families, and he said the experience has given him the opportunity to speak with many of the troops. "The majority of the soldiers say we're making progress over there. We're bringing peace and democracy to that country. We can't walk away from this war. This is a war on terrorism,” he said. “When we look back at the history books, at the birth of this country, it wasn't pretty. All the way up to the Civil War, we were still fighting about what was right. It took us a long time to make us into the country we have now. Why do we expect a country, which has been under a brutal regime, and think that within a few years they can pick themselves up and be a successful country? I think we need to stay the course."
"We have to do whatever we can to protect the civil liberties of American citizens,” Teahen said of concerns about domestic surveillance.” I don't believe we have to go out of our way to protect the civil liberties of those who are trying to kill us. If we're looking at tracing phone calls from some one from the Middle East, to a terrorist group in the united states, I'll be the first one to say follow that phone call. But if they're tapping your phone call, no. The American public has to draw a line and I think can legitimately draw a line." Teahen said officials who abuse surveillance laws should be held accountable.
Teahen supported Mike Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses, and his campaign manager, Wes Enos, headed the Huckabee campaign to its Iowa win. But Teahen now says he’s fine with John McCain at the top of the ticket.
"You've got a gentleman that has high integrity," he said of McCain. “We don't ask elected officials to be quiet and not thoughtful. We're asking them to be statesmen and look at the bigger picture, to come up with the best plan available."
“The last thing I want is a leader who works off the opinion polls. I'd rather have a leader who gets up there and falls flat on his face and then has the integrity and the courage to say 'I really screwed up on that one, but let's move forward,'” Teahen said, citing McCain’s failed efforts at passing an immigration reform bill in 2007. “That person who falls in the dirt and gets up will eventually succeed."
"First thing we need to do is build the fence and build it quickly," Teahen said of immigration reform, adding that those efforts should include increased border patrol efforts. "There's a lot of energy being focused right now on blaming the Hispanics for flooding the southern border. But they're coming in from many ways, and we need to look at the whole immigration system. Our immigration system is overwhelmed."
Teahen says he opposes amnesty but that it would be impossible to send every undocumented alien back. "We have to take responsibility for not doing anything about it after 1986," when Ronald Reagan signed the last major immigration bill. "Then we have to set up a plan to say 'OK, you're here, we have to address that. You're not getting a free ride. You have to pay a price.'" Teahen said such a price could include going back, or a long admission process. "Whatever the response is, it has to be a humanitarian response."
"I think language plays a role in anything,” he added. “If you want to be prosperous, I think you need to learn the primary language."
Miller-Meeks and Harder have both attacked Teahen's Republican Party loyalty. They cite a 2002 campaign contribution to Democratic congressional candidate Julie Thomas, and note that Teahen was a registered Democrat until December 2007. Teahen stands his ground, saying he registered as a Democrat to support "pro-life, pro-business" candidate Mike Blouin in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. He says the Thomas contribution was made out of personal gratitude to the Cedar Rapids pediatrician, rather than political agreement. "Dr. Julie Thomas saved my daughter's life," he said.
Teahen goes into the June primary with a geographic advantage. Linn County, his home base, is the largest county in the district, and Republican turnout in Linn County is expected to be high in June because of hotly contested local races. "The Republican Party believes that to take this seat back they need somebody that can carry Linn and Johnson counties, and it's probably more likely that a candidate from Linn County could have more influence in Linn and Johnson than others could," he said.
"I think 2006 was not necessarily a vote against Jim Leach,” Teahen said of the 30-year incumbent who lost to Loebsack in one of 2006’s biggest upsets. “I think there were several factors in play. First of all, I've had conservative groups say they tried to take Jim's numbers down because he had gotten too liberal for them, but didn't realize how far they'd come down,” he said. “They never meant him to lose. I've had other people say that they were upset because he evidently made a comment on radio one time that he would not vote for funding of the troops. And I think it was the whole atmosphere, we saw Republicans losing seats all over the country. It was more of a statement of what was taking place at that time throughout the country, rather than embracing Mr. Loebsack for what he was campaigning on."