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.”
Thank you, Mr. Hightower. Well said.
The reason for this criticism is that Northey is on the board of a company that invested in Brazilian ethanol, claiming that somehow it would not compete with ethanol made in Iowa. In Iowa, ethanol is a sacrament, so it seems like an odd choice for an Iowa Agriculture Secretary to invest in Brazil, but what do I know? Thicke would maintain the investment of public funds already made in Iowa ethanol, but wants future public investment to go to next-generation biofuels, not more publicly-subsidized ethanol plants. If private investors want to spend their money on corn ethanol, that is their prerogative, but taxpayer money should help bring on new technology if it does anything.
If Iowans elect Francis Thicke as their next Secretary of Agriculture they will elect a real visionary, and replace a corporate Republican whose bread is liberally buttered on both sides by Big Ag. Thicke is an organic dairy farmer with a PhD in Agronomy, and undergraduate degrees in music (trumpet performance) and philosophy. He was the USDA's National Program Leader for Soil Science in Washington, DC before buying his dairy farm. He and his wife, Susan, sell all their milk, yogurt and cheese locally, and grow everything their cows eat. His farm attracts visitors from all over the world, to learn from the innovative things he is doing. Francis with one of the Jersey Girls, at right.
Francis is not just an expert in sustainable farming practices, but also in alternative energy technologies. Iowa has a big investment in wind already, but Francis wants to enable every farm in Iowa to have a small wind turbine, and use the wind that blows over the farm to power the farm. He also talks about on-farm generation of biofuels to power tractors.
He has testified on the need for trust-busting in agricultural markets before the recent DoJ hearings and can tell you exactly how many major players there are in every agricultural market. From his DoJ comments last January:
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.
Of course, there aren't very many players in any agricultural market, so they are easy to keep track of.
Northey gets all the help he needs keeping track of them from the Big Ag checks he gets. His contributors include Monsanto, the Koch brothers, DuPont, and other entities that our current Supreme Court would describe as people, but Jim Hightower would describe in less complimentary terms. If Northey is re-elected, Big Ag can continue business as usual, which means transferring money from farmers into their own pockets, and letting consumers fend for themselves. His hands-off approach to the presence of salmonella in Iowa eggs shows his perspective. Northey's the one in the middle, with the middle.
Any progressive candidate this great has to be hopeless, right? Not at all. Thicke's campaign polled 1002 likely voters and discovered that he is closing in on Northey, within the margin of error (38% Northey/35% Thicke). When respondents heard a few words about each candidate's views, the gap widened from three points to 14 (Northey 24%/Thicke 38%). There are more independents in Iowa than are in either party. During the initial questioning they favored Northey by nearly 20%, and after hearing the campaign messages favored Thicke by 15%. The more they know, the better they like him. They are persuadable. He can win.
Francis is putting this message up on TV right now. More money, more TV. Simple.
I know the pleas for cash are coming from everywhere now. But I hope you will consider this one. This is an extraordinary man. I have come to know him personally through this campaign and he has all the brains, integrity, and passion you could ask for. I am a City Person, but this race is my own passion this year. If you care about safe and healthy food, conserving the land, clean energy, and competition in markets, then Francis Thicke is part of the answer. Iowa is THE farming state, and what happens here on the land does not stay here. It goes everywhere. That is why Big Ag is here trying to win for their interests. That is why it will be in all our interests if Francis Thicke wins.
An end note. This is what public service looks like (from a campaign bio):
He has served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, the Iowa Food Policy Council, and the Iowa Organic Standards Boards. Other positions he has served in include the USDA State Technical Committee, the Scientific Congress on Organic Agriculture Research, the Iowa State University Extension Advisory Committee, the Organic Farming Research Foundation Board of Directors, the Governing Council of the Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service Board of Directors, and the Search Committee for ISU Dean of College of Agriculture. On two occasions Francis has been invited to Washington, D.C. to testify before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee to represent the interests of farmers.
Francis has received many awards and honors over the years, including:
* The 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
* 2007 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award from the Practical Farmers of Iowa
* Friend of Extension Award from Iowa State University Extension Service
* Outstanding Pasture Management Award from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District
* Steward of the Land Award from the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club
Disclosure: I am a volunteer, a donor, and a believer in the value of Francis Thicke's campaign. I do not work for the campaign.