Ballot Box: A Conversation With Sen. Ensign

Sen. John Ensign, one of the first Republican to spend time in Iowa before the 2012 campaign, talks with the Yonder about immigration and farm programs.

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Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, was in Iowa this week. Politicians who visit Iowa are thought to be running for president, and Ensign has done nothing to put off speculation that he’s a candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Ensign is considered an “ideas” leader of his party. He is chairman of the Republican policy committee, and when he came to Sioux City he delivered an American Future Fund lecture.

After Ensign’s talk, the Daily Yonder’s Doug Burns and La Prensa, an Iowa Spanish-language newspaper, interviewed him. Here is an excerpt from that discussion:

Daily Yonder: On your way here from Le Mars and Sioux Center you went through farm fields and saw wind turbines that are subsidized by the federal government. You’ve advocated free-market principles, keeping the government out of as much business as possible. In your view, what should the federal government’s role be in Iowa agriculture?

Senator Ensign: First of all, let’s look at energy. We subsidize oil with our military. That is the bottom line. I think we subsidize oil to a great degree. So for a period of time to subsidize some of the alternative energies until they can become more competitive, I don’t have a problem with that. If oil was truly a free market and we didn’t have to use our military to subsidize it, then put everything on a level playing field. But because we do subsidize that right now I have no problem subsidizing some of the renewables.

As far as farm subsidies, you have to remember,  I come from a state that gets no farm subsidies, even for the farmers that we have. We don’t grow any of the crops that get that, so I’ve voted against farm bills in the past because they don’t benefit Nevadans and I represent Nevada.

Daily Yonder: (Joking) Just make flights cheaper from Omaha to Las Vegas.

Senator Ensign: (Laughing) Well, we have a new airline that at least makes it reasonable for people to come Las Vegas called Allegiant Air. I encourage people to check it out.

 La Prensa: In 2007 you opposed the immigration reform bill. Your state is one with more immigrants. What are your thoughts on that issue for the Hispanic community?

Senator Ensign: That bill itself was actually never voted on. That bill was pulled from the floor. What I believe should have happened with that bill, if we would have taken the so-called amnesty, the green card, out of the bill so we could have proven that we were securing the borders, that we were sanctioning employers that were not following the law, and that the program was working, that for instance people who were here were getting signed up — we were doing background checks, eliminating people who were criminals. A certain percentage are going to be criminals. We want them out of the country.

And then we also want to encourage people, for instance, with work visas to give them more time in this country that they learn English, they learn it well, that they learn what it means to be an American, that they have a job with health insurance. Reward them for things that are good for America that are also good for the immigrants.

In six, seven, eight years down the road, once we’ve proven all those things work, then revisit the issue of green cards and citizenships and things like that.

The problem is in 1986 all of those reforms were promised when they gave amnesty but they never did the reforms. So let’s prove to the American people that the reforms are working first and then we can talk about the green-card issue and things like that down the road.

Daily Yonder: Senator, do you think the United States is less safe today than it was on January 20 of this year and what evidence would you have to support your answer?

Senator Ensign: I believe that certainly we’ve put ourselves in a much more difficult position to keep us safe because we’ve taken away some of the tools that potentially could be used. Enhanced interrogation techniques without a doubt have kept us safer. We have stopped several terrorist attacks against the United States using enhanced interrogation techniques. We no longer have those tools available. So if we get a situation to prevent the next 9/11 and now we don’t have those, could it potentially? It’s potentially less safe because we don’t have the tools that kept us safer in the past.


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