As an environmentalist and supporter of Ed Fallon for governor, I was deeply concerned when Chet Culver selected Patty Judge to be his running mate. During her tenure as secretary of agriculture, Patty Judge never stood up to the Farm Bureau on any issue that I was aware of.
Instead of advocating for sustainable agriculture and family farmers, she was a mouthpiece for the corporate ag lobby that has too big a voice in Iowa politics already.
As governor, Chet Culver has mostly exceeded my expectations. I didn’t even mind too much that he replaced Jeff Vonk at the DNR, because the new DNR head, Rich Leopold, is a strong environmentalist.
However, my worst fears about Patty Judge’s influence have been realized with the recent changes to the Environmental Protection Commission.
Some of you may have seen this article in the Des Moines Register a few days ago.
Culver replaced four members of the nine-member Environmental Protection Commission, which
oversees the natural resources department and writes rules to implement state environmental laws, including setting limits on air and water pollution.
Environmental groups including the Sierra Club had urged Culver to reappoint the four commissioners, who include Donna Buell, a strong advocate of local control from northwest Iowa, and Francis Thicke of Fairfield.
Two of Culver’s new appointees to the commission have great credentials: Iowa Environmental Council research director Susan Heathcote and conservationist/philanthropist Charlotte Hubbell.
The other two are probably going to do their best to prevent the Environmental Protection Commission from doing anything to rein in agricultural pollution: former secretary of agriculture Dale Cochran (a Democrat but not a sustainable ag advocate) and former Republican lawmaker Ralph Klemme, who is involved with the big corporate ag groups.
Thicke showed up at his last commission meeting this week wearing a t-shirt that said "Environmental Protection Commissioner," with commissioner crossed out in red and hand-written words below: "fired for protecting the environment." You can see a photo of him here.
I’ve heard the arguments for why Culver was smart to select Patty Judge. She had already won two statewide elections. She supposedly helped him in rural areas and small towns, perhaps providing his margin of victory over Blouin in the primary. (For the record, I think Blouin would have been a worse governor than Culver overall.)
But now four strong voices on the Environmental Protection Commission have been replaced by two strong voices that will be cancelled out by two voices from the other side. I’m all for bipartisan appointments, but no one as tied into the corporate ag interests as Klemme belongs on this commission.
During his last meeting of the commission, Thicke blasted the Culver/Judge administration for deferring "to the dictates of agribusiness special interests who lobbied for our removal" and told a revealing story about one of his neighbors:
"A few days ago, it became clearer to me where at least part of the Culver/Judge administration is coming from. I spoke with one of my neighbors who is proposing to build a 4,800-hog confinement about a mile and a half upwind from me. When I talked to him about it he said Patty Judge is his ‘champion’ and the reason he is planning on going through with this in spite of the objections of his neighbors. He said Patty Judge told him that Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn’t like it can leave in any of four directions."
Got that, people? If we don’t like having our air and water poisoned by large hog confinements, we can leave Iowa in any of four directions.
Thanks a lot, Governor Culver.
Feel free to take the poll and comment. Chris, I seem to remember that you’ve got a soft spot for Patty Judge. Maybe you can say a few words in her defense.