NEWS

Iowa Party lieutenant governor candidate hopes to tap voter discontent

Michael Richards of Cedar Rapids running with Jonathan Narcisse

Michael Richards with various stages of production of Soy wax candles Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 1992, Richards developed soy wax as an alternative to more expensive beeswax. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)
Michael Richards with various stages of production of Soy wax candles Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 1992, Richards developed soy wax as an alternative to more expensive beeswax. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s not for the title or prestige that Michael Richards is running for lieutenant governor.

Getting elected is, of course, the goal, but the semiretired Cedar Rapids businessman says his campaign with Iowa Party gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Narcisse has two goals they can achieve win or lose.

First, they want to capture at least 2 percent of the vote in the Nov. 4 general election so their Iowa Party will be on the ballot for the next general election. They also want to establish the grass roots party as a model for like-minded candidates for the Iowa Legislature and in other states.

Richards, a self-described lifelong grass roots activist, doesn’t rule out winning.

“The level of discount in Iowa is so deep” voters should watch for a “Jesse Ventura-style surprise,” he says, referring to the former World Wrestling Federation performer who in 1998 defeated major party candidates to win a term as governor of Minnesota

He calls Republican Gov. Terry Branstad “intellectually void,” unable to innovate or problem-solve. He dismisses Democratic challenger Sen. Jack Hatch’s complaints that Branstad’s is giving away tax credits to big corporations as disingenuous because the property developer uses tax credits in his business “on a large scale.”

“Both parties have overstepped what state government is about,” Richards says. “It’s not to pick winners and losers” but to provide public education and basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

“Any tax credit, whether it’s to an Egyptian fertilizer company or a housing developer, it transfers the tax burden to the taxpayers ... the people who actually carry the freight,” Richards says.

Richards’ only other campaign for public office was a loss to a GOP incumbent senator in 1980. Capturing 42 percent of the vote was a moral victory, he says.

A “lifelong entrepreneur,” Richards, a 64-year-old Creston native, invented a soybean-based substitute for candle wax. His sons now manage the business, investing the royalty income in residential and commercial property in Cedar Rapids.

Despite their success, Richards and his wife, Lynette, a high-school guidance counselor, and their four sons have faced financial problems, which nearly cost them, among other things, their 121-year-old Matyk Building in the New Bohemia neighborhood. He attributes the problems to medical bills.

He also acknowledges that while he sees himself as a grass roots activist others see him as a gadfly — a title he accepts, but qualifies.

“I’ve never approached the City Council with a problem without presenting a thoughtful alternative solution as part of the same presentation,” Richards says.