Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has run a low-key campaign for re-election so far this year. Democratic challenger Francis Thicke has faulted Northey for not doing enough to ensure food safety, proposed stronger regulations for Iowa egg producers and an energy policy that would increase farm incomes. I expected Northey to respond by telling voters how he has protected the food supply or helped farmers improve their bottom lines.
Instead, Northey’s opening television commercials have spread the usual Republican lies about Iowa’s “budget deficit” in order to depict Northey as a leader in keeping down his department’s exPenses.
UPDATE: Northey is also distorting Thicke’s stance on ethanol plants in Iowa. For more, scroll to the bottom of this post.
SECOND UPDATE: Another central claim from Northey’s ads turns out to be false. As Thicke points out in the comments, Northey didn’t “work with the legislature” to reduce his department’s budget.
Here’s Northey’s 60-second ad called “Trust”:
Male voice-over: At a time when government spending by politicians is out of control, there’s one leader in state government known not for how much he spends, but instead for how much he doesn’t spend. You see, Bill Northey is no politician. Bill Northey is a farmer from northwest Iowa, who has served Iowa as secretary of agriculture for the last four years. And when the state ran short of money, Bill Northey worked with the legislature to reduce his budget by 23 percent. And while other statewide elected officials refused to help out, Bill Northey took a pay cut to show leadership in the face of massive budget deficits.
Northey: I’m Bill Northey. In tough times, government must do what it can to protect the family budget. With your support, I’ll continue to do my part.
Voice-over: We can trust Bill Northey to be a leader in state government for taxpayers and common-sense budgeting. Let’s keep Bill working for us. Bill Northey for secretary of agriculture.
Northey: Paid for by Northey for Iowa Agriculture.
Northey’s 30-second commercial is called “Challenging Times”:
Male voice-over: Deficits, borrowing, out-of-control spending.
Northey: We need to get our spending under control. I’m Bill Northey, Iowa secretary of agriculture.
Voice-over: Bill Northey worked with the legislature to reduce his budget by 23 percent.
Northey: In fact, last year we spent less money than we did in 1995. No one likes budget cuts, but in these challenging times, we must lead by example.
Voice-over: And while other statewide elected officials refused to cut their own pay, Bill Northey voluntarily took a pay cut. Let’s keep Bill Northey working for us.
Northey’s commercials went on the air about a week ago. I haven’t seen any news report question his false claims about the state budget, but then, fact-checking hasn’t been the Iowa media’s strong suit this election cycle.
Thicke doesn’t have the budget to match Northey’s spending on television commercials, and even if he did, he would need to spend it publicizing his own vision for Iowa agriculture, not debating Northey on budget policy.
The pay cut mentioned in both Northey ads relates to Governor Chet Culver’s 10 percent across the board budget cut in October 2009.
Almost all of Iowa’s top executive branch officials took a pay cut last year, including some statewide elected officials, with three notable exceptions: Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, Secretary of State Michael Mauro and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. […]
Culver in October said he would cut his own pay by 10 percent and would ask all state department directors to do the same.
Culver doesn’t have authority to cut the pay of statewide elected officials, and he said in October that he wouldn’t ask them to take a cut. In fact, he said he was adamant that Judge and other statewide elected officials not take a cut.
“Iowa’s statewide elected officials make less than nearly all department directors, and considering the effort each of them will make serving our state during this difficult time, I insist that they not reduce their salaries,” he wrote.
However, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and Auditor David Vaudt, both Republicans, chose to take the 10 percent cut, their staffs said Wednesday, and have reimbursed the state.
Twenty-eight of 35 state directors are paid more than the $103,000 received by Iowa’s lieutenant governor, secretary, treasurer, auditor and ag secretary.
In retrospect, it would have been more politically savvy for all the elected officials to take a pay cut along with the department directors. But I do find it amusing to see Northey bragging about his “leadership” in reducing his pay. Iowa Republicans didn’t give Culver credit for “leadership” when falling revenue projections prompted the budget cut last fall.
Any thoughts about the secretary of agriculture’s race are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Thicke’s campaign released this statement on September 30:
Ag secretary candidate Thicke:
Opponent distorting position on ethanol
Thicke says incumbent’s lack of leadership
contributed to financial distress of ethanol industry
FAIRFIELD, Iowa, September 30, 2010 – Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Candidate Francis Thicke (pronounced TICK-ee) said today his opponent, incumbent Bill Northey, is distorting Thicke’s call for developing the next generation of biofuel systems.
Thicke, who rolled out his agriculture energy policy during a three-day, eight-city tour across Iowa last week, is calling for developing the next generation of biofuel systems that 1) produce fuel to power agriculture; 2) are at a scale that can be farmer-owned or farmer-controlled, so the profits go into the pockets of farmers; and 3) are truly sustainable and renewable.
Northey responded with a statement that it’s wrong to abandon corn ethanol. Thicke answered “Clearly, that is a distortion of my position,” In his news conferences, Thicke was emphatic that while it is time to develop the next generation of biofuel systems, it is important that Iowa protects its past investments in the corn ethanol infrastructure, which has resulted in economic development and expanded markets for crop producers. Thicke said, “We should not abandon our extensive public investment in the corn ethanol industry, and we certainly do not want more ethanol plants to go bankrupt.”
Thicke further pointed out that it was the over-exuberance of ethanol advocates like Northey that encouraged the ethanol industry to overbuild, which contributed to the industry’s financial distress when the ethanol market contracted. “Economists had warned that the ethanol industry was being over-built, but we did not hear that caution from Mr. Northey,” Thicke said.
In his Iowa State Fair speech last month, the media reported that Northey said “maybe Iowa built a few too many ethanol plants.”
In response to that statement, Thicke said: “Certainly, it would have been much better for the ethanol industry if Mr. Northey had listened to economists’ warnings and provided leadership for a more balanced growth, rather than lament his lack of foresight after the fact.”
Thicke also reiterated his position that he supports renewal of the federal Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) and the import tariff on foreign ethanol. “We certainly do not want to see the ethanol industry shut down because of an abrupt ending of the subsidies the industry depends on, as happened with the biodiesel tax credit. It makes no sense to invest public money to grow an industry and then pull the rug out from under it and cause it to go bankrupt.”
Thicke agreed that he supports the goal of phasing out tax credits in the future as the biofuels industry becomes self-sufficient.
Thicke said he is proposing a moratorium on state subsidies and tax credits for building new ethanol plants for two reasons: 1) It will reduce the chances that the ethanol industry will go into another round of overbuilding the next time oil and ethanol prices spike. 2) It will allow the state to invest those resources in developing the next generation of biofuels that power agriculture, are farmer-owned, and are sustainable.