Bill Northey, Sam Clovis lined up for senior USDA posts

Two weeks after Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey publicly expressed interest in a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he appears to have an offer on the table. Farm Journal Radio reported on May 12 that Northey will become undersecretary for farm production and conservation, a position that “includes overseeing the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.” The source was Jim Wiesemeyer, senior vice president of policy and trade issues for Informa Economics Inc. WHO-TV’s Dave Price said his sources confirm Northey is the pick for that job. UPDATE: Agri-Pulse was first to report this news Friday morning.

Depending on when Northey resigns, either Governor Terry Branstad or soon-to-be-Governor Kim Reynolds will appoint someone to serve as secretary of agriculture until after the 2018 election. State Representative Pat Grassley has long been rumored to be interested in Northey’s job. That statewide position would be a nice stepping stone to a campaign for his grandfather Chuck Grassley’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022.

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Pat Grassley could be biggest winner if Bill Northey moves to USDA

A potential federal job for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey may provide a stepping stone for State Representative Pat Grassley.

Northey discussed ethanol policy at the White House on Tuesday during a round-table meeting with President Donald Trump and newly-confirmed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Reports of the event fueled speculation that Northey may soon move to a position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Speaking to Iowa reporters yesterday, Northey emphasized that no job offer is on the table but said of Perdue, “I certainly look forward to working with him. I don’t know what role that might be. […] I certainly would love to work with him as Iowa Secretary of Ag. If there’s another job offered, I’d be very willing to consider that as well.”

Trump put Iowa’s own Sam Clovis in charge of handling USDA appointments in January, after Clovis had served as his surrogate in some agricultural policy discussions during the campaign.

Northey has not clarified whether he plans to seek a fourth term as secretary of agriculture in 2018. He had been widely expected to run for governor next year but ruled that out immediately after Governor Terry Branstad agreed to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.

If Northey resigns before the end of his term, Iowa law calls for the governor to appoint a replacement to serve until the next election. The last time that process came into play, Branstad named Mary Mosiman as state auditor in 2013. She was unchallenged for the GOP nomination for that office the following year.

I would expect Grassley to lobby Branstad–or Kim Reynolds, if she is acting as governor by that time–for the secretary of agriculture position. The job would be a good way to increase his statewide profile with a view to running for his grandfather’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022. The elder Grassley wasn’t subtle about lobbying for Northey to get the top USDA job, presumably to clear a path for his grandson.

First elected to the Iowa House in 2006, the younger Grassley just completed his second year leading the House Appropriations Committee. He had previously chaired the House Agriculture Committee for three years and the Economic Growth/Rebuild Iowa Committee for two years before that.

I enclose below the official bios for Northey and Pat Grassley. Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson posted the audio of Northey’s comments about a possible USDA position.

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Top Iowa Senate appropriator: No Water Works language in my spending bills

Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider has pledged not to include language dismantling the Des Moines Water Works in any spending bill this year.

Legislative action to transfer authority over the Des Moines Water Works from an independent board of trustees to area city councils was once seen as nearly a sure thing, thanks to strong support from the Iowa Farm Bureau. But Republican leaders never brought House File 484 up for debate before a legislative deadline in late March. The bill now sits on the “unfinished business” calendar, fueling speculation that it may rise from near-death before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

Governor Terry Branstad has been an outspoken critic of Des Moines Water Works leaders since the utility sued three northwest Iowa counties in 2015, demanding better enforcement of the Clean Water Act to reduce agricultural runoff. At the Waukee legislative forum on April 8, I asked Schneider about a rumor that Branstad has told House and Senate leaders to get the Water Works bill on his desk, and that such language may be attached to the “standings” bill in order to accomplish that end. The standings bill is typically among the last pieces of legislation considered each year and can become a grab bag of provisions power-brokers demand. Would Schneider commit not to add Water Works language to the standings bill or any other appropriations bill coming out of his committee?

Schneider: That’s the first I’ve heard of the standings rumor. It’s not going to go in my standings bill, and I’m not going to support a Water Works bill unless the Des Moines Water Works, West Des Moines Water Works, and Urbandale Water Works themselves–the utilities, not the cities, the utilities–tell me they would like to see some language in there to give them the ability to regionalize on their own.

Bleeding Heartland: So, you won’t put that in any appropriations bill.

Schneider: I’m not putting it in my standings bill.

Republican State Representative Rob Taylor responded to my question as well:

And I also sit on Appropriations on the House side now. I’m not the chair, but I wouldn’t support putting it in that standings bill either. I think that a bill with that kind of substance–although I will say, that the original bill, and the House version with the amendments from Representative [Jarad] Klein have changed substantially from the original bill–I think that’s a, that’s a critical enough bill for or against that it needs to stand on its own. And putting it on an appropriation is not appropriate, and I would fight tooth and nail to prevent it.

I enclose below the official video from yesterday’s Waukee forum. The relevant response from Schneider begins at 1:20:00.

Here’s hoping Schneider has the clout to keep Water Works language out of any final spending bills. He also serves as majority whip, the third-ranking Senate GOP leadership position. The three independent utilities Schneider mentioned oppose the Water Works bill. The city of Des Moines is still registered in favor of House File 484, but the city of West Des Moines changed its stance last month from “for” to “undecided.”

To my knowledge, most of the Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have taken no public position on this legislation. I’m wary because Appropriations Chair Pat Grassley formerly chaired the Agriculture Committee, where the Water Works bill originated. Assisting the Farm Bureau’s revenge mission could bring political benefits to Grassley, who is widely expected to run for Iowa secretary of agriculture if Bill Northey does not seek re-election in 2018. A front group for the Farm Bureau called the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water ran radio ads supporting the Water Works legislation.

UPDATE: On Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program this weekend, O.Kay Henderson asked Senate President Jack Whitver, “Will the Iowa legislature dismantle the Des Moines Water Works?” After hesitating for a moment, Whitver answered simply, “No.”

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Pat Grassley will chair the Iowa House Appropriations Committee

Five-term State Representative Pat Grassley announced on Twitter this morning that he will chair the Iowa House Appropriations Committee. The previous chair, Chuck Soderberg, retired from the legislature last month. I don’t know who else lobbied Speaker-Select Linda Upmeyer for this prize committee assignment, but I will update this post if I learn more.

The grandson of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, Pat Grassley was first elected to the Iowa House in 2006. He chaired the House Economic Growth and Rebuild Iowa committee in 2011 and 2012 and has chaired the House Agriculture Committee since the 2013 legislative session. He represents a safe Republican district covering Grundy County and parts of Hardin and Butler counties. Grassley’s most competitive re-election bid was the 2012 Republican primary in House district 50, after redistricting pitted him against then-colleague, State Representative Annette Sweeney.

Many Iowa politics watchers expect Grassley to run for secretary of agriculture in 2018, assuming the current incumbent Bill Northey seeks the Republican nomination for governor.

OCTOBER UPDATE: Upmeyer selected three-term State Representative Lee Hein to chair the House Agriculture Committee for the 2016 legislative session. Hein had previously been one of four assistant majority leaders.  

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Third-party and independent candidates in Iowa's 2014 elections

The filing period for general election candidates in Iowa closed last Friday, so it’s a good time to review where candidates not representing either the Democratic or Republican Party are running for office. The full candidate list is on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website (pdf(. After the jump I discuss all the federal, statewide, and state legislative races including at least one independent or minor-party candidate. Where possible, I’ve linked to campaign websites, so you can learn more about the candidates and their priorities.

Rarely has any Iowa election been affected by an independent or third-party candidate on the ballot. Arguably, the most recent case may have been the 2010 election in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Final results showed that Democratic incumbent Bruce Braley defeated Republican challenger Ben Lange by 4,209 votes, while conservative candidates Rob Petsche and Jason Faulkner drew 4,087 votes and 2,092 votes, respectively.

Any comments about Iowa’s 2014 elections are welcome in this thread.

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Iowa State Fair tips and speaking schedule for state and federal candidates

The Iowa State Fair opened a few minutes ago and runs through August 17. I’m a big fan of the event, and after the jump, I’ve posted some of my favorite tips for enjoying the fair, along with the schedule for candidate appearances at the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox” on the Grand Concourse. The Register will live-stream speeches by candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor, as well as a few nationally known politicians from out of state.

The fair has almost endless free entertainment, but bring cash with you anyway, because the State Fair board had to backtrack on plans to eliminate cash purchases for food. Instead, vendors have been encouraged to accept credit and debit cards. I suspect most will stick with a cash-only system.  

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