IA-04: Vilsack named "Red to Blue" candidate, talks conservation

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee signaled this week that it is willing to spend additional resources supporting Christie Vilsack’s campaign against Representative Steve King in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district.

The DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program “highlights top Democratic campaigns across the country, and offers them financial, communications, grassroots, and strategic support.” It’s a way for House Democrats to show outside donors which challengers are deemed most promising. This week Vilsack was one of 18 candidates added to the program. Most of the others are running against first-term Republican incumbents.

Although the DCCC put King’s challenger Rob Hubler “on the radar” late in the 2008 campaign, I’m not aware of the DCCC financially helping any Democrat running against King before this cycle. DCCC Chair Steve Israel warned Vilsack last spring not to rain on Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack’s parade in the new second district. After Vilsack announced her exploratory committee in the new IA-04, the DCCC gave Vilsack’s campaign $11,500 during the second quarter of 2011 and $12,000 during the third quarter. During the same periods, Vilsack received contributions from several Democratic House leaders and their PACs. Her campaign has not yet filed its FEC report showing fundraising during the fourth quarter. A recent press release claimed Vilsack raised more than $1 million in 2011 and ended the year with $750,000 cash on hand.

This week Vilsack scheduled public events in Carroll, Sioux City, Okoboji, Clear Lake, Ames and Fort Dodge to roll out her new conservation plan. Here’s the short version:

1. Vilsack is proposing a voluntary plan to boost conservation and create jobs and does not require new spending: Dedicate up to $20 million of existing [Environmental Quality Incentive Program] funds to support the Voluntary Access Program. This program pays landowners a small fee for open use of their land for outdoor recreation during a defined period of time.  

2. Modify the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to allow landowners to voluntarily place highly erodible land in the program through a continuous sign up as opposed to waiting for a general sign up.  This will not require additional funding, as there is adequate funding already available in the program.  

3. Direct the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) to create a voluntary conservation stewardship standard as a way of responding to the demands of the market, which are increasingly requiring more sustainable production practices.

4. Protect existing funding for conservation programs and work with businesses to leverage private money for conservation. Protect resources to continue research at our Land Grant Universities to continue providing the data we need to learn best conservation practices and to make educated conservation decisions based on good science.

This page on Vilsack’s campaign website explains the conservation plan in a bit more detail. Like her previous policy proposals, this one includes several nods to conservative rhetoric (“need to get our fiscal house in order,” “Government ought to make life easier and not harder for those farmers and producers”). I appreciate her commitment to preserve federal funding for conservation. I’m seeking further information about her call to “make conservation convenient” by altering the sign-up window for the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program.

The plan appeals to the “hook and bullet” crowd by calling for money to help farmers and landowners who provide “limited access” to private land for “hunting, fishing, biking, hiking, and other outdoor recreational opportunities.” Vilsack notes that Congress cut funding for that program “[t]o the dismay of groups like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.” In case the “I support hunting and fishing” message was too subtle for anyone, Vilsack posted her husband Tom’s favorite wild Iowa pheasant recipe on her campaign blog this week.

Speaking of the race in IA-04, conservative Iowa writer Chuck Offenburger is in danger of losing his spot on the Greene County Republican Central Committee. He endorsed Vilsack for Congress last summer, because she is a longtime personal friend and a former contributor to the Offenburger.com website. I highly recommend reading Offenburger’s post about attempts to “dump” him. Last night he had a chance to defend himself at a county GOP meeting, which deferred a decision on his fate until February 16. It would be foolish for his fellow central committee members to make an example out of Offenburger. Their efforts to remove him have only drawn more attention to one loyal Republican’s preference for Vilsack over King. That isn’t the kind of publicity I’d want if I were a Greene Party GOP activist.

Any comments about the IA-04 campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Sioux City Journal is urging both candidates in IA-04 to agree to debate each other. King has never debated a Democratic challenger, and I don’t see him starting a new trend this year.

SECOND UPDATE: From Vilsack’s January 23 post to her campaign blog:

Earlier in the week Larry and Teresa Greving showed off their farm outside of Carroll where they have put their most fragile land into wetlands and buffers. Financially they benefit from CRP payments and they can maximize the quality of their crops on their best soil. Even the pheasants were hunkered down that morning, with the wind blowing and the wind chill well below zero. We drank hot coffee and listened to Pheasant’s Forever members talk about their commitment to conservation practices to create more habitat for hunters. They are worried that high commodity prices will continue to erode the numbers of acres in CRP. They fear that Iowa could lose as many as 304,000 acres out of the CRP program this year. My 4-point conservation plan is meant to find ways to find ways to incent farmers to open more land to the public for outdoor recreation and to make it easier to put their most fragile land into the CRP program and create habitat for wildlife and fish.

Another highlight of my week was riding with Ray Meylor is his pick up out to look at the part of his farm land on Spring Run near Arnold’s Park in Iowa’s Great Lakes area that he has seeded with grasses and wild flowers that produce the seeds that attract wildlife, deer, and birds. On Saturday I saw him at again at the Women, Food, and Agriculture Conference in Des Moines. Ray had gone back out to his land to gather seeds from his wild indigo plants. Not only does Ray work hard as a steward of his own land, he also works with faith-based organizations around the state who want to create community gardens and promote stewardship as a way to preserve this God-given rich soil. Ray knows of my special interest in butterfly and pollinator habitats.

  • bipartisan all-volunteer govt

    is how we’ll whittle down our debt, which is why I don’t find the volunteerism asked of librarians (IWD) to be inconsistent. Note that the USDA is shuttering offices and giving farmers some updated software.

    Coincidentally, I briefly attended a regional workshop today with a focus on introducing undergrads/grads across regional campuses to service opportunities for civic engagement. Opportunities include flood rebuilding, beach clean-up, literacy efforts (esp Latinos), homelessness. Basically, the disadvantaged (and that includes natural habitats, natch) should learn to depend on the kindness of strangers.

  • Disappointed,

    …but not surprised that Christie did not mention climate change in her conservation statement.  Also, just heard Steve King on Iowa Public Radio – responding to Vilsack’s presser this morning where she apparently criticized Mr. King for cutting conservation funding.  He demanded bill numbers and amounts.  Also, he would not committ to any debates with CV.  Says we’ll have to see who the District’s nominees are first.

  • CRP

    No more land is going into the Conservation Reserve as long as corn is $5 a bushel, so it doesn’t matter how she re-designs the sign-up period.

    This is a pretty timid plan, like everything she does.

    • This is so lightweight.......

      Vilsack’s lame proposals are so light they might as well be helium.  So far she has shown little to get ANY vote in this district.

      This is all she learned on her long “listening” tour?

      She didn’t hear a thing, obviously.

      • Thoughts

        I like Christie Vilsack a lot, but if people are going to throw national money at this they are making a big mistake.  To tell you the truth I know a lot of progressives hate Rahm Emanuel on policy, but we always need someone like Rahm and his intensity running the DCCC.  

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