Have Republicans written off Iowa Senate district 5?

Last week the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation endorsed 67 candidates it views as “Friends of Agriculture.” Only three Democrats, all incumbents, made this list: State Representative Geri Huser, State Senator Dennis Black, and State Senator Rich Olive. Huser is in the corporate-friendly “six-pack” of Iowa House Democrats, and her race in House district 42 isn’t expected to be competitive. Black isn’t a top Republican target either, and it’s not hard to see why the Farm Bureau would want to be on his good side. The four-term incumbent representing Senate district 41 chairs the Iowa Senate Natural Resources Committee and serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Farm Bureau’s support for Olive surprised me. On paper, this is one of the Republicans’ leading pickup opportunities in the Iowa Senate. Olive is a first-term incumbent in a conservative-leaning district. He won the open Senate district 5 by all of 62 votes in the Democratic wave election of 2006. Republican Stewart Iverson represented this turf in the Iowa Senate for many years, and as of August 2010, Senate district 5 has about three thousand more registered Republicans than Democrats, though no-party voters have a plurality. The district covers all of Wright and Hamilton Counties, part of Webster County and most of Story County outside Ames (map here).

I expected the Iowa GOP to put up a fight for this district, but if that were the case, I doubt interest groups that are mostly proxies for Republicans would give Olive their seal of approval. Last month the Association of Business and Industry’s PAC endorsed Olive as well. Perhaps conservative advocates don’t see Rob Bacon as a credible candidate in Senate district 5. Bacon has been AWOL on the fundraising front, bringing in zero dollars during the latest reporting period and only $1,250 in the previous one. As of July 19, Bacon had $3,476.94 cash on hand, while Olive had $40,107.28.

I lean toward John Deeth’s view; Republicans are giving Olive a “de facto bye” in the hope of gaining elsewhere. Democrats currently have a 32-18 Iowa Senate majority, and Republicans need to win back three or four districts this year to have a strong chance of taking the chamber in 2012.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Iowa State let Farm Bureau choose the head of the Leopold Center

I lost a lot of respect for Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy after reading this piece by Alan Guebert for the Burlington Hawk Eye. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has been looking for a director to replace the retiring Jerry DeWitt. An expert panel conducted a nationwide search and chose four finalists, whom you can learn more about here. Guebert explains how the search ended:

Iowa Farm Bureau made it known to ISU aggies that the leading candidate for the post, Ricardo Salvador, the program director for the Kellogg Foundation’s Food, Health and Wellbeing program, was not its prime choice. It preferred Frank Louws, a plant pathologist at North Carolina State.

According to interview and program evaluations, Louws was a clear second to Salvador in almost every category commented on by evaluators. He had limited experience with Iowa commodities, no livestock experience, no “national or international reputation in sustainable agriculture,” and a “lower scope of vision” for the Center than Salvador.

Despite these shortcomings, Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy authorized ag Dean Wendy Wintersteen to offer Louws the job. Simultaneously, Wintersteen sent Salvador an email Dec. 2 that informed him he would not be Leopold director.

Why, asks Laura Jackson, a center advisory board member and a professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa, was Salvador, “clearly the most qualified applicant interviewed,” sent packing before Louws either accepted or declined the position?

Those who have seen the documentary King Corn might remember Salvador from a few scenes. He is highly regarded by sustainable agriculture experts inside and outside the U.S. and is an expert on one of Iowa’s leading crops.

Guebert reports that Louws has neither accepted nor declined the position at the Leopold Center, so perhaps there is still a chance for Salvador to be offered the job. Either way, the episode doesn’t reflect well on ISU, which already had a reputation for being less than welcoming to sustainable agriculture advocates.

When Fred Kirschenmann was hired as director of the Leopold Center in 2000, none of the agricultural science departments wanted him on their faculty for fear of angering corporate interests. So, Kirschenmann was appointed to the ISU Department of Religion and Philosophy. But at least the Farm Bureau was not allowed to veto his hiring. It’s a sad day for a university when a corporate group can overrule the strong preference of a hiring committee.

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Farm Bureau confident climate change bill going nowhere

A friend sent me an e-mail she received from the Iowa Farm Bureau. Excerpt:

Mary Kay Thatcher, AFBF director of public policy, tells Agriculture Online that Farm Bureau doesn’t anticipate the massive climate change bill passed by the House last week to pass the Senate this year.

And the New York Times reported Tuesday that opposition from Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups threatens to kill the bill in the Senate. The Times reports that groups such as AFBF wield greater clout in the Senate, because members there must be protective of an entire state, rather than a small congressional district.

Here are the links to the Agriculture Online piece and the New York Times article.

The American Farm Bureau Federation lobbied members of the U.S. House to vote for Collin Peterson’s lousy amendments to the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act but against the bill intended to address climate change.

I have my own problems with the ACES bill, especially the deals made to appease the coal industry and Peterson’s colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee. That said, the objections big agribusiness and their Congressional allies have raised against the cap-and-trade approach are off-base and short-sighted.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Farm Bureau’s vote-counter is correct and the Senate rejects the Waxman-Markey bill for the wrong reasons. Frankly, that might be better than letting senators like Claire McCaskill of Missouri make this flawed bill even worse.

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Why did Iowa Senate Republicans reject three Culver appointees?

The Republican caucus in the Iowa Senate is the smallest it’s ever been in this state’s history, but they let us know this week that they are not entirely irrelevant. On Tuesday all 18 Republican senators blocked Governor Chet Culver’s appointment of Shearon Elderkin to the Environmental Protection Commission. The 32 Senate Democrats supported Elderkin, but nominees need a two-thirds majority (34 votes) to be confirmed.

The following day, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked Gene Gessow’s appointment as head of the Department of Human Services. Also on April 15, two Senate Democrats joined with the whole Republican caucus to reject a second term for Carrie La Seur on the Iowa Power Fund board.

Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley released statements explaining each of these votes, but I doubt those statements tell the whole story, and I’ll tell you why after the jump.

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