Bleeding Heartland is a community blog about Iowa politics: campaigns and elections, state government, social and environmental issues. Bleeding Heartland also weighs in on presidential policies and campaigns, federal legislation and what the Iowans in Congress are up to. Join our community, post your thoughts as comments or diaries, help keep our leaders honest and hold them accountable.
Governor Terry Branstad's Republican challenger, Tom Hoefling, has qualified for the primary ballot after submitting his nominating petitions on March 14, the final day. I don't see any way Hoefling could win a primary, but it will be interesting to see how large the conservative protest vote is against Branstad. GOP turnout should be larger than usual on June 3, because of competitive primaries for the U.S. Senate seat and the first, second, and third Congressional districts.
Last night the Iowa Secretary of State's office indicated that Jonathan Narcisse filed papers to run for governor as a Democrat. However, his petitions must not have had enough valid signatures, because his name does not appear on the full candidate list (pdf). The other long-shot Democratic hopeful, Paul Dahl, apparently never filed petitions. That leaves State Senator Jack Hatch as the lone Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
In other statewide candidate news, no Republicans stepped up to run against Attorney General Tom Miller or State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald. By this time in 2010, Brenna Findley was already campaigning around the state against Miller, and two Republicans were running for treasurer.
Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner Sherrie Taha announced her candidacy for Iowa secretary of agriculture last month and has been appearing at Democratic events around the state in recent weeks. Her campaign is on Facebook here. To my knowledge, there isn't a campaign website yet.
Taha will have an uphill battle against Northey, who was narrowly elected in 2006 and easily re-elected in 2010. The incumbent will have strong financial backing from interest groups that profit from current conventional agricultural practices. A far larger group of Iowans would benefit from Taha's plan to do more to protect farmland and clean water. After the jump I've posted the introductory piece of literature from her campaign, which highlights her priorities and provides a short bio.
What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.
The Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was an entertaining affair. I've posted some highlights after the jump. The "news" of the evening was Senator Chuck Schumer of New York endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, but for my money that wasn't the most interesting part of his speech.
Catching up on news from the weekend, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey held his seventh annual "BBQ bash" at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on July 13. Speaking to the crowd, Northey confirmed that he will seek a third term in 2014 and said he had raised at least $100,000 for his re-election campaign at the event. Ever since Northey ruled out running for the U.S. Senate in early May, it's been clear that he would go for another four years in the job he loves.
Any comments about next year's campaign for secretary of agriculture are welcome in this thread. I haven't heard yet of any Democrats planning to challenge Northey. Dusky Terry, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary for this office in 2006, could be a credible candidate. He is currently mayor of Earlham, a small town in Dallas County.
We live in Iowa, where most of our lawmakers take the Patty Judge view: "Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn't like it can leave in any of four directions."
Yesterday the Iowa House approved a bill to relax manure storage regulations for large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). All of the House Republicans and two-thirds of the Democrats supported this bad legislation. Details on the bill and the House vote are below.
(Disappointing but not surprising. - promoted by desmoinesdem)
Yesterday the Iowa Agriculture Secretary, Republican Bill Northey, got an endorsement from a Democrat in his effort to get rehired by Iowans. Jerry Crawford is not just any Democrat. He is a close friend of Hillary Clinton, and Tom Vilsack, and has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns. So what is he doing on WHO TV talking about Bill Northey, instead of the Democratic candidate, Francis Thicke?
If blood is thicker than water, money in politics is thicker than that. When it comes to agricultural issues in Iowa, politics is a blood sport, played for keeps. If you think this is inside Iowa baseball, you should know that Iowa agriculture is the engine that brings GMO foods to your table, that is killing the Gulf of Mexico, and that can send contaminated eggs across the country and as far away as Guam.
The "newspaper Iowa depends upon" won't endorse a candidate in this year's races for attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture or state auditor, Des Moines Register editorial page editor Linda Fandel confirmed to me this week. Fandel told me the newspaper has been inconsistent about endorsing candidates for those offices in the past. She said limited staff time and resources lay behind the decision not to endorse this year. The Register did endorse candidates in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and all five U.S. House seats, as well as the Iowa Supreme Court retention vote, which the editors called the most important election in the state this year.
I understand limits on resources. Compared to previous election cycles, the Register's newsroom staff is smaller, and its editorial pages contain less content. However, a newspaper that claims to have a statewide profile shouldn't punt on elections offering such significant contrasts to voters. More thoughts on these campaigns are after the jump.
Despite the salmonella outbreak and egg recall that made national news two months ago, Iowa's secretary of agriculture race has been overshadowed this fall by campaigns for other offices and the unprecedented drive to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices. In fact, Democrat Francis Thicke's campaign has attracted more interest from nationally-known sustainable food advocates than from many Iowa news organizations. Peter Rothberg wrote in The Nation, "there may not be a more important contest this year for farmers and food activists nationwide."
Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has been running television commercials for several weeks, but Thicke starts running his own campaign ad in the Des Moines market today. His campaign has an opportunity to increase the ad buy, and due to an unusual situation I'll cover below, any additional air time Thicke reserves will reduce Northey's television exposure during the final days of the campaign.
Commercials for Northey and Thicke are after the jump.
Jim Hightower is an outspoken advocate for the Powers That Ought To Be, not The Powers That Be. He is a populist progressive, and a funny, irreverent thorn in the side of the powerful. He says that the real political spectrum isn't right to left; it's top to bottom. A former Agriculture Commissioner who served two terms in Texas, he knows how important this job is for safe food, clean air and water, and a future in which farmers can afford to farm.
“In Iowa’s election for Secretary of Agriculture, the choice couldn’t be clearer. On one hand you’ve got Francis Thicke, who has worked as a dairy farmer for 27 years, selling his products locally and actually building the economy. On the other hand, you’ve got Bill Northey who has led a team that invested nearly $1 million in Brazil’s ethanol production. In a world where money talks, maybe Bill Northey should be running for Secretary of Agriculture in Brazil.”
Francis Thicke, the Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture, announced a "comprehensive energy policy for agriculture" that would increase the use of renewable energy in the agriculture sector, with a focus on systems that "put profits in farmers' pockets." Corporate agriculture interests have often demonized environmentally friendly energy policies as bad for farmers, but Thicke points out that farmers are currently vulnerable to volatile energy costs. I've posted his full statement on the energy policy after the jump, but I want to highlight a few parts:
As a state, we currently have no plans for how to power agriculture beyond fossil fuels, leaving us vulnerable to the effects of escalating and widely fluctuating energy prices. In 2008, oil prices rose to $147 per barrel, but within seven months fell to less than $34. This wild fluctuation whipsawed agriculture. Fertilizer and fuel prices tripled; corn prices spiked and fell sharply; ethanol plants went bankrupt.
Oil economists tell us that repeated cycles of price spikes followed by precipitous price falls are the future for energy costs as long as we are dependent on fossil fuels.ii Even the U.S. military warns that oil prices will rise greatly, and we should expect oil shortages in the near future.iii
Our current biofuel production is not targeted to secure the energy future for agriculture. We use about a third of our corn crop to produce ethanol, but use it for cars driving on highways, not to power agriculture. Iowa farmers are selling corn as an energy crop at cheap commodity prices while paying high retail prices for the fuel needed to power their farms. Biofuels today make only a dent in total U.S. fuel needs,iv but could go a long way toward making agriculture energy self-sufficient.
Thicke also advocates stronger policies to encourage wind energy production, not only looking at the total megawatts generated, but at wind energy systems that would create wealth for farmers and rural communities:
Today, 20 percent of the electricity generated in Iowa comes from wind power. That is good. However, the next generation of distributed wind systems holds promise to put more of the wealth created into the pockets of farmers and increase the amount of wind energy that can be distributed through the existing electrical grid.
When farmers lease out land to put corporate-owned wind turbines on their farms, they still pay retail rates for the electricity they use to power their farms. In other words - like with biofuels - farmers sell cheap and buy high.
The next generation of wind power should be mid-sized wind turbines on farms all across Iowa, so the wind that blows over the farm will power the farm, and the wealth created will be retained on the farm. This kind of distributed wind power has several advantages:
1. The wealth created by the wind turbines is retained by the landowner and stays in the local community,
2. The electricity generated is used locally, avoiding the need to build new transmission lines, and
3. Distributed wind turbines will more fully utilize wind fronts as they move across the state, compared to when most wind farms are located in a few places in the state.
Policies the Legislature could enact to hasten the development of mid-sized wind turbines on farm across Iowa include mandatory net metering for all Iowa electrical utilities and feed-in tariff (FIT) policies. FIT policies have been used successfully in Europe to encourage the rapid expansion of solar-powered systems.
I urge the Iowa Legislature to adopt a FIT policy targeted to small and mid-sized wind turbines that are owned by Iowa farmers and landowners. The FIT policy would require electrical companies to pay a high rate of return per kWh for the initial years of the lifetime of targeted wind systems. That will allow farmers and landowners to pay for the wind systems during those initial years. After the specified initial time period, the rate of pay will drop to wholesale rates. That will allow the power company to buy cheap, green energy for the remainder of the lifetime of the turbine, and allow the farm wind turbine to continue to generate electricity to power the farm and to serve as a profit center for the farm.
Feed-in tariffs have been successful in many other places, and there's no reason not to use them in Iowa. Getting the policy through the Iowa legislature would be an uphill climb no matter which party was in control, however.
Thicke rolled out his energy policy this morning in Des Moines. He has public events scheduled later today in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, September 23 in Dubuque, Davenport and Iowa City, and September 24 in Council Bluffs and Sioux City. I hope the media will cover his ideas, because they have potential to make farming more profitable while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's too bad that neither the current Secretary of Agriculture, Republican Bill Northey, nor his predecessor, Democrat Patty Judge, took the initiative on reducing our agriculture sector's reliance on fossil fuels.
Following up on yesterday's post, the recall of half a billion Iowa-produced eggs continues to reverberate in Iowa politics.
Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey still denies that he could have done more to ensure food safety regulations were followed at the DeCoster facilities. Northey's opponent, Francis Thicke, has said feed mill inspections "could have identified a strain of Salmonella Enteritidis before 1,470 Americans were sickened and a half billion eggs were recalled."
Meanwhile, the non-profit Food Democracy Now announced that two major supermarket chains have agreed to stop selling eggs produced by Jack DeCoster's operations.
Rarely are secretaries of agriculture near the center of attention in Washington, but Tom Vilsack is in the hot seat after abetting the right-wing noise machine's latest attempt to undermine the Obama administration. On Monday an African-American US Department of Agriculture official, Shirley Sherrod, was sacked because a right-wing website made her appear to have discriminated against a white farmer.
Sherrod, USDA's rural development director for Georgia, said she was ordered to resign on Monday after a video, posted on one of Andrew Breitbart's conservative sites, showed her saying she had not given a white farmer her "full force."
The NAACP later posted the full, unedited video of Sherrod speaking at an NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner, and it showed the remarks had been taken out of context in the version posted by Breitbart. Breitbart had said that he had posted the full version he was given. The farmer, Roger Spooner, now 87, appeared on CNN from his Georgia home and said Sherrod had been "helpful in every way - she saved our farm."
Vilsack should know better than to validate a phony right-wing narrative, but he's never been a happy partisan warrior. I'm not surprised he kicked a USDA official to the curb instead of waiting to hear all the facts. He probably hoped to kill this "news" story before it gained momentum. The problem is, he has created more incentive for Obama's opponents to gin up fake scandals. Vilsack also damaged his own reputation. Lots of people will want answers to the questions Greg Sargent asks today:
Now that the full Shirley Sherrod video has been released, vindicating her completely, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is promising to undertake a review of her firing. So maybe he will re-instate her after all.
But it isn't enough for Vilsack to reinstate her. People should demand that his review include an explanation for his own decision to fire her. We need to hear his justification for the decision to ax this woman before all the facts were in, on the strength of nothing more than an Andrew Breitbart smear.
Did Vilsack make any effort to learn more about her speech before giving her the push? If not, why not? Sherrod says she told top USDA officials that the full speech would vindicate her. Did anyone at USDA give her protestations even a passing listen? Did anyone try to obtain video of the full speech? If not, why not? Why was Breitbart's word alone allowed to drive such a high-profile decision?
People should also demand that the White House weigh in publicly on what happened here. The White House has only discussed this via anonymous leaks, and this morning, officials are conveniently leaking word that the White House prodded Vilsack to reconsider Sherrod's firing. That's nice, but was the White House told in advance that the firing was about to happen, and if so, why did it allow the firing to proceed?
In response to a question from TPMDC, Vilsack called the debacle "a teachable moment for me." He admitted that Sherrod had received advance notice of Breitbart's intention to (mis)use the clip and had attempted to inform her superiors, including Vilsack, by email -- but the email did not get through, and thus her superiors' first contact with her regarding the incident was after Breitbart's release of the clip.
The latest round of statewide and state legislative candidate financial reports are available on the website of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. For most candidates, these reports cover money raised and spent between June 2 and July 14. Some of the candidates didn't file a June 4 disclosure report, and in those cases the latest filing covers the period from May 15 to July 14.
Fundraising numbers for Democratic and Republican candidates for statewide offices are after the jump. In addition to money raised and spent and cash on hand figures, I've listed the largest donors for each candidate. I am working on a post about the noteworthy fundraising figures from Iowa House and Senate candidates. John Deeth hit some highlights at the Des Moines Register blog. It's important to remember that leadership committees for both parties will also spend a lot of money in the battleground legislative districts.
Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke is touring the state to talk about his just-published book, "A New Vision for Food and Agriculture." He's scheduled to speak in Oskaloosa on June 29, Marion on June 30, Storm Lake on July 1, Dubuque on July 6 and Mason City on July 13. All events are at 6:30 pm; click here for location details.
* Encourage the installation of farmer-owned, mid-size wind turbines on farms all across Iowa, to power farms, and help to power the rest of Iowa. I will lead in advocating feed-in tariffs, which are agreements with power companies that will allow farmers to sell their excess power, finance their turbines, and make a profit from their power generation.
* Make Iowa farms more energy self-sufficient and put more biofuel profits in farmers' pockets by refocusing Iowa's biofuel investment on new technologies that will allow farmers to produce biofuels on the farm to power farm equipment, and sell the excess for consumer use.
* Create more jobs and economic development by supporting local food production. We can grow more of what we eat in Iowa. Locally-grown food can be fresher, safer and healthier for consumers, and will provide jobs to produce it. I will reestablish the Iowa Food Policy Council to provide guidance on how to connect farmers to state institutional food purchases and greater access to consumer demand for fresh, locally-grown produce.
* Expose predatory practices by corporate monopolies. We need Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting to restore competition to agricultural markets. I will work with Iowa's Attorney General and the Justice Department to ensure fair treatment for farmers.
* Reestablish local control over CAFOs, and regulate them to keep dangerous pollutants out of our air and water, and protect the health, quality of life, and property values of our citizens.
* Promote wider use of perennial and cover crops to keep Iowa's rich soils and fertilizer nutrients from washing into our rivers.
Near the beginning of that clip, Thicke observes, "Energy is a big issue in agriculture. We are highly dependent upon cheap oil if you look at agriculture almost anywhere in this country. And that's one of the big issues in my campaign: how we can make agriculture more energy self-sufficient, make our landscape more resilient, and make our agriculture more efficient as well." It's sad that our current secretary of agriculture has shown no leadership on making this state's farm economy more self-sufficient. Using renewable energy to power Iowa farm operations isn't pie in the sky stuff: it's technologically feasible and is a "common-sense way" to cut input costs.
The biggest surprise to me was Republican Brenna Findley's haul in the attorney general's race. She raised $124,078 since January 1 and has $95,528 on hand. Incumbent Attorney General Tom Miller clearly wasn't focused on raising money, bringing in just $15,748. Because he started the year with nearly $90,000 in his account, he still has more cash on hand than Findley ($105,200), but Findley has a larger donor base (more than 700 donors).
As a long-time top staffer for Representative Steve King, Findley probably benefits from his donor contacts. It can't hurt that Terry Branstad is talking up Findley at every campaign stop too. Deeth concludes, "We may have found our downballot sleeper race for the general election." I don't think Findley has a chance against Miller, who has been elected attorney general seven times. But she will be able to run a statewide campaign and raise her profile substantially. Miller will have to take this race seriously. His campaigning skills may be rusty, since Republicans gave him a pass in 2006. However, he has a strong record, and it's worth recalling that he was returned to the attorney general's office in 1994, an atrocious year for Iowa Democrats.
In all the other statewide races, the incumbents have huge financial advantages over their challengers. Secretary of State Michael Mauro has raised $30,021 since the start of the year, more than his three Republican opponents combined. Mauro has just under $128,000 on hand, whereas Matt Schultz and George Eichhorn both have more outstanding bills than cash on hand, and Chris Sanger has only about $400 on hand. Deeth has more on who's given to Schultz and Eichhorn. Speaking of this race, I learned recently that the Secretary of State Project has endorsed Mauro.
State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald hasn't raised much money so far in 2010 ($4,179), but he started the year with nearly $114,000 and spent almost nothing, leaving about $117,770 cash on on hand. Two Republicans are running against Fitzgerald, and their campaigns have less than $10,000 cash on hand combined. Story County Treasurer Dave Jamison has broader support than James Heavens of Dyersville, who loaned his campaign most of the money raised.
Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey raised nearly $40,000, and even though he spent quite a lot for this early in the campaign ($53,920), he still has $247,535 on hand. Democrat Francis Thicke raised $58,439, including a $10,000 contribution from the candidate, and has an impressive number of donors (at least 300). He spent a little more than $25,000 and has $33,320 on hand. Corporate interest groups will make sure Northey has tons of money to spend. Thicke will have to run a more grassroots campaign.
Share any thoughts about the statewide races in this thread.
Rob Hubler, a 40-year veteran of managing political campaigns, started with the campaign about two weeks ago. Rob Hubler was the 2008 candidate for U.S. Congress in Iowa's fifth district. This week the campaign team is growing with the addition of Keith Dinsmore, a veteran campaign media specialist. Keith has connections with press across Iowa and will be organizing Francis Thicke's state-wide media work.
"In the next few weeks I will be traveling to a number of Democratic Party county conventions to speak to audiences about my campaign platform. I also have upcoming appearances at Grinnell College and Iowa State University. I do have one out-of-state event planned for next month, to speak at a national organic farming policy conference in Washington, D.C."
"We have a local event planned for Fairfield on Saturday, March 27: Blues musician Bill Lupkin will be performing at Morning Star Studio as a fundraiser for our campaign."
This blog will always be primarily about politics, but I enjoy writing about other subjects from time to time. In fact, one of my new year's resolutions for Bleeding Heartland is to write more about food and parenting in 2010.
It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama's administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.
One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.
No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn't have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can't say I wasn't warned (and warned), though.
Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year's political events are welcome in this thread.
Economists tell us that when four firms control 40% or more of a market, that market loses its competitive nature. Currently, four firms control 83.5% of the beef packer market; four firms control 66% of the pork packer market; four firms control 58.5% of the broiler market. The turkey, flour milling, seed, and other agricultural markets are similarly concentrated.
The anticompetitive effects of market concentration is further compounded by the fact that some of the top four firms in each market category are also among the top four in other markets. For example, Tyson is number one in beef packing, number two in pork packing, and number two in broilers. This kind of horizontal integration encourages firms that dominate in several markets to manipulate prices in order to increase their market share. For example, when beef and broiler prices are profitable, a firm with dominant market share in beef, broilers, and pork can take measures to prolong the unprofitability of the pork market in order to force out firms that deal only in pork-while maintaining its own firm's overall profitability through the beef and broiler market sectors.
A good current example of the farm-level effects of market concentration is the milk market. Recently, dairy farmers have been experiencing record losses due to low farm-gate milk prices. At the same time, the largest dairy processor, Dean Foods-that is purported to control 40% of U.S. dairy processing-has posted record profits over the past two quarters. Clearly, Dean Foods has found a modus operandi that enables it to isolate itself from the market forces bearing on dairy farmers.
I am glad to see Thicke raise this issue, which affects the well-being of so many family farmers. I do not recall Iowa's current Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey or his predecessor Patty Judge sounding the alarm about excessive concentration in the agriculture industry. Someone please correct me if I am wrong.