CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids businessman and flood recovery leader Christian Fong plans to join the race for governor this afternoon as a candidate for the Republican nomination.
The son of a Chinese immigrant who fled Chinese communism and a Midwest farm girl, Fong said he grew up living the American Dream, the Iowa Dream.
“I’ve been blessed to live the Iowa dream. Sadly today I see the dream being ripped away from future generations,” the father of three said in explaining his decision to challenge first-term Democratic Gov. Chet Culver. “The dream has to be restored. That’s why I’m running for governor.”
“The choice to use generational debt to borrow and spend our way out of a crisis is the wrong approach,” he said. “To deliberate and delay on flood recovery is the wrong approach. Playing political games with marriage, with reflecting Iowa values, is wrong approach.
“Bottom line Iowa families can’t shoulder the burden Gov. Culver has placed on their shoulders,” Fong said. “I’m a businessman and it’s clear when a business is off track you need a new CEO and we need a new CEO for the state.”
Fong’s vision, energy and ideas will enhance the GOP race, especially in Eastern Iowa, according to blogger and Linn County Republican Party Chairman Tim Palmer. Other GOP hopefuls include Bob Vander Plaats and Rep. Christopher Rants, both of Sioux City, Rep. Rod Roberts of Carroll, U.S. Rep. Steve King of Kiron and Iowa Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone.
Fong, 32, who grew up in southwestern Iowa and has lived in Cedar Rapids since 1997, has never held public office. Instead, his experience comes from being a “grass roots, get your hands dirty” public servant.
“I don’t think identifying and solving problems has a minimum age requirement,” he said. “Whether it’s a budget deficit, an attempt to borrow our way out of a recession or keeping Iowa’s youth right here at home and making this a place where we can retain our kids and grandkids, problems abound and I think I’m qualified to provide leadership to restore the Iowa dream.”
He’s ready to stack his 13 years of experience in the private sector, his service on the Generation Iowa Commission and work as CEO of Corridor Recovery and chairman of its small business task force up against the “experienced governmental officials who have given us $1 billion deficit, the experienced politicians trying to borrow their way out of a recession, the experienced politicians that denied Iowans the right to vote on marriage.”
Age shouldn’t be a factor, Fong’s fellow Generation Iowa Commission member Mitchell Gross said. “It should be about vision.”
Besides, Fong added, holding elected office isn’t always an asset.
“The experience I bring is not the experience of elected office, not the experience of government that is broken and doesn’t reflect the values of its people,” he said.
Fong will talk to Iowans about his story, which he calls “the” Iowa story. He graduated from high school in Underwood at 16 and Creighton University at 19. After working at AEGON in Cedar Rapids, he earned a master’s degree at Dartmouth. He and his wife, Jenelle, returned to Cedar Rapids and he continues to work at AEGON.
Fong describes himself as a conservative who wants not only change, but restoration.
As a candidate and as governor, Fong said, he would “reflect values that most Iowans share” and draw on his broad set of experiences that help him understand what “regular, everyday, hardworking Iowans are going through.”
As a businessman, Fong said, he craves a commonsense approach to dealing with the recession and a budget crisis.
“I want to go around the state to talk to Iowans about what gaps they are seeing,” he said. “I want to hear how Gov. Culver is not reflecting values of Iowans people. I want to understand their needs to make sure we can restore a government that reflects people’s values.”
Fong, like the other GOP candidates, lack any vision at all, Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Norm Sterzenbach said. Republicans “oppose (Culver’s) bold action to help Iowa’s families and are rooting for Iowa to fail so that they can gain politically.