Weekend thread: Big Iowa problems

A majority of Iowans think mental health services, student loan debt, child welfare services, state university tuition, and the state budget are either a “crisis” or a “big problem” for Iowa, according to the latest Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. Among nine issues tested in the survey of 801 Iowa adults in late January, mental health services registered as the top concern: 35 percent of respondents described the situation as a crisis, 38 percent as a big problem. No other topic registered above 20 percent for “crisis.”

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Pat Grassley not running for Iowa secretary of agriculture

State Representative Pat Grassley tweeted this afternoon that he will seek re-election in Iowa House district 50. The six-term Republican lawmaker was widely seen as a likely 2018 candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture, since the current office-holder Bill Northey will leave the state upon confirmation to a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture post. Grassley doesn’t seem to have been laying the groundwork for a statewide campaign, though. He reported just $31,900 in campaign contributions during 2017. About three-quarters of his haul came from political action committees that give to many state legisators.

The House Appropriations Committee chair represents what should be a safe GOP seat, even in a less favorable election climate. House district 50 contains just 3,773 active registered Democrats, 8,953 Republicans, and 7,244 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Donald Trump outpolled Hillary Clinton here by 64.4 percent to 30.4 percent. I enclose below a map of the district, covering Grundy County and parts of Hardin and Butler counties.

Another prospective secretary of agriculture candidate, former State Representative Annette Sweeney, accepted a federal job in November as state director for USDA Rural Development.

At least two Republicans will seek to succeed Northey. Former Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Lang announced his candidacy in October. He is keeping his cards close to the chest; his campaign financial disclosure showed only $5,600.00 in contributions, including a $5,000 check from himself.

American Soybean Association Chairman Ray Gaesser created a campaign committee last week. Scroll to the end of this post for background on the latest GOP candidate.

Governor Kim Reynolds has not said whom she will appoint to lead the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship through 2018. Recent rumors have centered around a placeholder with no plans to run for the office: Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

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Independent bids for Iowa governor are a waste of time

Brent Roske has ended his independent candidacy for Iowa governor, explaining in a December 26 Facebook post that he will be “stepping back into the media world” soon.

At least one other gubernatorial candidate, Gary Siegwarth, is trying to qualify for the general election ballot as an independent. Like Roske, he has little chance of moving the ball forward on the issues that are driving his candidacy.

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If all Iowa candidates had to win under rules Republicans forced on unions

“There’s not one Republican in this state that could win an election under the rules they gave us,” asserted AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan after the first round of public union recertification elections ended this week.

He was only slightly exaggerating.

A review of the last two general election results shows that Iowa’s capitol would be mostly devoid of office-holders if candidates for statewide and legislative races needed a majority vote among all their constituents–rather than a plurality among those who cast ballots–to be declared winners.

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Get ready for a competitive GOP secretary of agriculture race

Craig Lang didn’t wait for Governor Kim Reynolds to decide. He is running for Iowa secretary of agriculture, no matter whom Reynolds picks to replace Bill Northey.

In his first comments to journalists about his campaign, Lang advocated more crop diversity and better land management practices, asserting that the dominant approach to farming in Iowa is not “sustainable.” That’s an unusual message for a Republican. Stranger still is hearing a former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation talk about soil health in terms more often heard from environmental experts than from Big Ag heavyweights.

Though he’s a first-time candidate, Lang has plenty of political connections and should have little trouble raising enough money for a credible statewide primary campaign against State Representative Pat Grassley or other contenders.

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More names surface as contenders for Iowa secretary of agriculture

Governor Kim Reynolds is considering at least four Republican farmers–all current or former state lawmakers– to replace Bill Northey as Iowa secretary of agriculture, James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette today. In addition to State Representative Pat Grassley and former State Representative Annette Sweeney, whom Bleeding Heartland discussed here, State Senators Dan Zumbach and Tim Kapucian are in the running, according to Lynch’s story.

“I’ve had a couple conversations with governor about it,” Zumbach, 56, said Wednesday between meetings on housing development and soybean production. “I’d certainly be available and honored” if appointed to fill out Northey’s term that runs through early 2019. The position will be on the statewide ballot in 2018.

Zumbach, whose “heart, soul and passion has always been in agriculture,” said serving as state secretary of agriculture would be an “opportunity to share my lifetime of experience to guide Iowa agriculture in a good direction.”

Zumbach chairs the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee, having previously served as its ranking Republican. Kapucian, who has long served on the Senate Agriculture committee, “could not immediately be reached for comment” by Lynch. As the top Republican on the chamber’s Transportation Committee, he was a strong voice for raising the gasoline tax in order to fund better maintenance of farm-to-market roads. Grassley and Sweeney are both former leaders of the Iowa House Agriculture Committee and confirmed their interest in Northey’s job to Lynch.

Iowa law gives Reynolds the authority to fill Northey’s current position after he resigns upon confirmation to a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture post. The person she selects will be heavily favored–if challenged at all–in next year’s GOP primary for secretary of agriculture.

Choosing a relatively low-profile lawmaker like Zumbach or Kapucian would allow the governor to avoid taking sides between Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter (a major donor to Reynolds and decades-long friend of Sweeney’s) and Senator Chuck Grassley (Pat Grassley’s grandfather). The downside for Reynolds: that path could anger both Rastetter and the elder Grassley.

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