Department of laughable delusions

Competitive primaries can be healthy. I believe Democratic Party leaders made a mistake in discouraging Christie Vilsack from running for Congress in Iowa’s new second district. I don’t have any grudge against Representative Dave Loebsack–I just felt Vilsack could be a good fit for the district and had every right to run where she had the best chance of winning.

The idiocy of the incumbency protection racket doesn’t make every primary challenge logical. Ed Tibbetts reported yesterday on one of the most ludicrous ideas I’ve heard lately: a Congressional bid by Democratic State Senator Joe Seng of Davenport.

Seng told the Quad-City Times that he’s been circulating nominating petitions for two days:

Seng said he’s upset at the lack of bipartisan action in Congress, and as a moderate Democrat, he thinks he can make a contribution.

“I’m not real happy with the status quo, the way it’s been,” Seng told the Quad-City Times.

Seng is an anti-abortion Democrat who has served on either the Davenport City Council or in the state Legislature since 1995.

He said he’s upset that Iowa’s Democrats didn’t vote for the South Korea trade deal, which President Barack Obama signed. Seng chairs the state Senate Agriculture Committee. He also said the Obama administration’s rule requiring insurers of church-affiliated organizations, such as colleges and hospitals, to cover the cost of contraceptives for their employees also played a role in his decision.

“There’s a religious liberty issue,” said Seng, who is Catholic. […]

Seng said he was upset by the situation, but that was just one issue that played a part in his decision.

“It’s just discontent with the way the federal government is being run,” he said. “I’m a moderate.”

Seng could run for Congress without sacrificing his position in the legislature, because he won’t face re-election in the new Iowa Senate district 45 until 2014.

When I expected Vilsack and Loebsack to face off in an IA-02 primary, I wasn’t planning to get involved. I’ll reconsider if Seng qualifies for the ballot. As irritating as some of Loebsack’s recent votes have been, I’d much rather see him in Congress than Seng.

Seng is one of the worst Democrats in the Iowa legislature–maybe the worst, now that Dolores Mertz has retired. Come on, desmoinesdem, can a Democrat representing a safe urban district really be that bad? You be the judge:

Seng supported Republican efforts to force a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn marriage equality. If he’d gotten his way, the amendment might have been on the statewide ballot this November.

Seng voted for an odor-study bill that was a lame excuse to do nothing about air pollution from CAFOs.

Seng voted for a bill designed to undermine the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ authority, allowing factory farms to spread manure on frozen and snow-covered ground. Thankfully, that bill was much improved before final passage.

Seng tried to slip language into an appropriations bill delaying mandatory septic tank inspections for a year. Those inspections address a significant source of water pollution in Iowa. Whoever Seng was looking after, it wasn’t his Davenport constituents. Thankfully, Governor Chet Culver line-item vetoed the septic tank inspection language from the bill in question.

Seng was a key backer of the so-called “ag gag” bill that the Iowa Senate approved earlier this week.

I could go on, but you get the point. Seng is delusional if he thinks there’s a market in a Democratic primary for his brand of “moderation.” Even without all his bad votes in the legislature, Seng’s views on the mandate to cover contraception services would be enough to sink his candidacy.

John Deeth suspects Seng won’t be able to collect the 1,277 signatures he’ll need in time for the March 16 filing deadline. I can’t imagine loyal foot soldiers are lining up to help him fill out petitions in all 24 counties across the district.

Loebsack’s campaign isn’t commenting on Seng’s possible candidacy. He would surely rather avoid a competitive primary. He’s worried enough about his re-election to land a spot on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committe’s “Frontline” list of vulnerable incumbents.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party holds county conventions on March 10. If Seng is serious about qualifying for the ballot, he needs to have representatives collect signatures for him in the 24 IA-02 counties. Kevin Hall of The Iowa Republican blog suggests that Republican delegates to the Iowa GOP’s county conventions on March “would be happy to sign petitions for you to get on the ballot to take down Loebsack.” Seng could collect a lot of signatures that way, but I doubt that would help him make his case with Democratic primary voters.

About the Author(s)


  • Thoughts

    I like Joe Seng.  I think he is just talking out loud here when he should have kept his mouth shut.  I certainly don’t agree with him on the marriage equality issue.

    I have sparred with dmd about environmental issues and her criticism of Boswell in the past on Twitter so I’ll stay away from the environmental topic.  

    I give Dave Loebsack credit for running in 2006 when other people did not step up.  I’m not crazy about Dave and I have made no secret about that on this blog.  I do wish we would have had a primary in 3006, but this is just Seng talking out loud.  I should start compiling a list of all of Dave’s votes that I disagree with so I can make a better case against the Progressive Punch numbers argument, that is my own laziness for not doing that.  

    • if he's circulating petitions

      he’s doing more than talk out loud.

      I can’t see an anti-choice, anti-marriage equality Democrat winning a competitive primary, especially against an incumbent.

      That septic tank inspections bill was many years overdue. There is no excuse for trying to delay its implementation by yet another year, especially when Seng represents urban constituents. They are on the receiving end of Iowa’s water quality problems that originate in rural areas.

  • I asked

    a knowledgeable bureaucrat in a position to know.  Seng: fruitcake or not a fruitcake? Answer: Fruitcake.  

    • I would like to see him

      go to Democratic events in Newton, Ottumwa, Muscatine, Burlington, Keokuk etc and complain that Loebsack didn’t vote to ratify the South Korea trade agreement. Doesn’t sound like a guy who knows the Democratic primary voter audience.

      • things are changing

        Iowa and the Midwest are following the South’s path to a “new economy” fueled by foreign investment and higher skill manufacturing.

        Consider the case of Fort Dodge, Iowa: a success story in the making.

        The city bled jobs to foreign manufacturing locations for decades. The latest blow came in 2009 when appliance maker Electrolux announced it was shutting its factory in nearby Webster City and moving to Juarez, Mexico.

        One way to replace those jobs is take advantage of globalization. In October, Fort Dodge reeled in a big fish: South Korean company, Cheil Jedang, or CJ, says it will invest $324 million in a new plant near Fort Dodge to make additives for livestock feed. It’s expected to create 200 jobs.

        CJ executive John Kang said in an e-mail that the company chose Fort Dodge primarily because Iowa has cheap corn. There’s a facility nearby to process that corn for its product. The company was also interested in transportation logistics and access to qualified workers. That’s still a concern, Kang said.


        Young’s company only employs 20 people. It may very well continue to grow, but he’ll continue to hire highly-skilled workers.

        If towns like Newton, Iowa have a future in manufacturing, that’s where it’s at. Like it or not, the days of joining the middle class in Iowa by tightening screws on washing machines are over.

        The leader of the Democratic party is as anxious to ink the SK FTA as Seng appears to be. ‘Card check’ was a unicorn. The low-skill jobs never came back to the South. They won’t come back to Iowa, either. But US migration patterns in the last decade have reflected Americans going to where jobs and opportunity are found, and that’s why you’re not going to see working class Americans folding their arms and holding their breath until the 1950s come back. Now that’s delusional.

        This is not an endorsement of Seng. I doubt he’s known across the district. Seems late to get started on a challenge.

        • link to

        • outside Davenport

          I imagine hardly anyone knows who Seng is. But even if he were widely known, I don’t see free trade, anti-choice, anti-marriage and doing whatever the Farm Bureau wants as a promising platform for a Democratic primary challenge.

          • I suppose

            I don’t see his candidacy as outrageous, unless he comes across as an odd bird. On paper, he’s been very much in favor of hcr, which does distinguish him from the generic Republican — and I’m sure there are other issues.

            Clearly he (or another Dem challenger calling himself a moderate) would look outside of the UIowa base. Marriage equality is a wash, at best, even in a Dem primary. I would think getting him out of the Iowa senate is not the worst thing in the world given that the immediate challenges are at the state level.

            In Seng or Archer, Deere has a “win-win” when it comes to their issues. It’s not just the Farm Bureau and other ag business lobbies. Financial services also did well in the SK FTA. There’s an argument to be made that it was a net plus for Iowa, and I expect he would make it, or try to.

            He’s not my kind of candidate, and I couldn’t imagine not supporting Loebsack over him, but I would actually welcome the FTA debate (and perhaps a few others) because casting the “correct progressive no votes” on legislation slated to pass is a cop-out. Generally, I find that the “progressive” position on many issues has atrophied into self-serving PC motions to “support” the foot soldiers come election time. “Progressives” only seem to take challenges from the right seriously — a “left” challenger would be dismissed with a shrug as a Nader-Kucinich-Fallon composite with impunity.

            That said, I’m wondering why Dvorsky and Israel didn’t go on the record with the DMR about the “plotting” (loved the headline). They sure turned up the volume on Vilsack, C for even thinking about it when it was still an open seat. Could you imagine the howling if she casually started collecting signatures in March?

            • maybe Dvorsky and Israel

              don’t consider Seng a significant threat to even get on the ballot, let alone beat Loebsack. Christie Vilsack was in a whole different league–nearly 100 percent name recognition in the district.

        • The leader of the Democratic Party

          is anxious to ink trade bills desired by his corporate constituents in the Chamber of Commerce, and actively supported by the chorus line of investment banking alums that have served as his chiefs of staff, and by his Treasury Sec.  He is not particularly supportive of labor and this is just one way in which he shows it.

          Bruce Braley and the Populist Caucus opposed the South Korea FTA.…

      • for IA

        the terms of the SK FTA were not the worst thing in the world. The wins were for agriculture, heavy equip manufacturing and specialty machining (automotive) which is why the UAW and the UCFW supported it.

        The losers: textile manufacturing & low-skill manufacturing in general. I am not aware of much of a textile presence in IA, correct me if this is not so.

        That towns & cities are looking for a way to make globalization work for them is a good thing in my view. Liberals need to do some soul-searching. It makes no sense to favor inexpensive gadgetry like iPods or the relatively low price of gas on the one hand while expecting working class Americans to hold the line against free trade.

        Almost daily I meet graduate students from countries like Dubai who are here courtesy of their govt. That is, the grad school collects “out-of-state” tuition for grad students from overseas, which was almost unheard of a decade ago. In the most competitive STEM areas, schools are happily taking in more foreign students who come with better preparation/background and pay full way as a bonus. I don’t see globalization is a labor issue concerning only manufacturing or tech labor. It’s all over.  

        • Foreign STEM students

          It has been my experience that foreign STEM grad students who come in with funding from back home have it only temporarily. They quickly get support as graduate teaching or research assistantships (in federally funded research projects).

          I also don’t see them as better prepared than domestic students. Schools like them because they’re willing to meet the demand for grad students. US students don’t get a very good return on time invested in a PhD program because the BS-level jobs pay so well, and the bump you get for a PhD isn’t very much. On the other hand, the bump for a foreign BS student is substantial.

          I don’t make any claims about this vis-a-vis free trade, I just see the STEM  grad student thing a little differently. Perhaps it depends on the school.

        • Rich Trumka

          wrote an op ed “Free trade agreements hurt the middle class” in Politico…

          The Korea FTA is the largest and most economically significant trade deal since NAFTA. If passed, it would cost, not create, jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates the growing trade imbalances associated with the Korea FTA would displace approximately 159,000 net U.S. jobs – mostly in manufacturing – continuing the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs that has been a key driver of our economic weakness.

          • Sure,

            note the careful use of the word “net” as a qualifier. The SK FTA divided labor because some manufacturing segments benefited, which is why the UAW and UCFW favored it. I think I read somewhere that the Steelworkers were even coming around after a few last minute concessions. Of course, there were some unions very much against it, esp textiles/apparel.

            Second, the study Trumka cites by EPI predated the concessions favorable (esp to automotive/parts) and some others, including getting the GOP to approve extensions on retraining.

            The flip side of his argument is that SK had already entered a larger FTA with Europe, so the US was looking at decline in market share for relevant commodities/industries. A presentation should show the consequences of not taking a particular action as well.

            I am not particularly happy about the terms of these agreements, especially the win-lose aspect that those who are not affected accept without much thought. Retraining displaced workers is not believed to be effective for older workers, so that’s another important issue.

            However, I’m probably more dismayed by the lack of real fact-based discussion. I will be honest and say that I do not believe that union labor based on unskilled or low-skill labor has any sort of a future. Call it globalization of scabs.

            We are also (all of us here) individually benefiting from free trade deals, and this needs to be part of the calculus. We have major industries that depend heavily on negotiated free trade. Example: we flood Haiti, once self-sufficient based on domestic rice production and exports, with … rice, rice from the South. All of these things are part and parcel of an honest analysis.

            Most major papers in Iowa put out op-eds in favor of SK FTA, because by and large, the perception (at least) is that the terms were quite good for Iowa, esp with the immediate tarrif reduction on ag products. As you point out, Braley (and Boswell/Loebsack + Harkin) voted against. One reason they gave is that the terms were still not sufficiently favorable for the US.

            This is a difficult issue, and I would like to hear more. What does this mean? If we guage our expectations based on the large US footprint post-WW2, I might not be too sympathetic. We’ve called the shots for decades. Now that developing countries are independently entering agreements with other industrialized regional powers, perhaps the real issue is our declining clout — and these votes don’t address this reality.

            The Iowa towns and cities that are moving forward to make globalization work for them are dealing with reality, even though the pols don’t have much for them. Sure, our fav Dems all frowned when Maytag packed up for Mexico, but that didn’t stop it from happening, and neither will courtesy “no” votes on free trade. I applaud not sitting around waiting for solutions from political leadership.

            It’s too easy to sit around pointing fingers at Republicans for their free trade advocacy. As we’ve both pointed out, the leader of the Democratic party was panting to sign this. Of what value is a cadre of politicians who cast weak “no” votes that make no difference? Citizens will have no say in their future as long as we allow politicians to divide and conquer according to labor status (unions split), partisan status (GOP + some Dems “for”/ “progressives” against), favored industry and so on.

  • perhaps

    Perhaps it depends on the school.

    or maybe, the programs. I’m talking about very highly-ranked programs in areas like mechanical or chemical engineering, aerospace, physics, smart materials, to name a few.

    They quickly get support as graduate teaching or research assistantships (in federally funded research projects).

    That’s always been the case, but I’m talking about a newer trend. Note that foreign grad students are often not permitted on various contracts/grants these days due to security issues. Doesn’t matter, because their funding is not temporary.

    I also don’t see them as better prepared than domestic students.

    I strongly disagree. I routinely see foreign students sleepwalk through (Ph.D) “qualifier” exams while US-based students struggle, and this hasn’t changed over the years. Their subject GRE scores are much higher on average. They are already familiar w/ the grad-level textbooks, having used them as undergrads.

    US students don’t get a very good return on time invested in a PhD program because the BS-level jobs pay so well

    To the extent that this is true, I doubt it will last. In fact, I’ll point to the state of NJ, where pharma has been discarding entire research departments stocked with BS-level chem/biochem lab workers. It’s not a secret that they’ve set up shop with substantial facilities in Asia, and that’s my point. This phenomenon is not limited to traditional manufacturing sectors. This sort of thing will continue as long as the BS “pays well,” I’m quite sure of that.

    It is well-documented that globalization is narrowing the R&D gap between countries. Asian countries are committed to aggressive investment in R&D. Europe appears to be going in the other direction … The US is maintaining.

    At the highest skill levels, I see fierce competition for US-trained of foreign origin. Part of the reason is because opportunities back home are increasingly attractive. Over the last decade, I’ve observed that the majority of academic hires have not been from the US-secondary/ugrad track, but of scientists who completed education abroad except for more specialized Ph.D studies here.

  • Vilsack

    Will be a net plus as a replacement for Steve King.  Even with Loebsack’s recent scuttling to the right, I think he will be more progressive than Vilsack is.

  • Seng as a Catholic candidate

    The recent foofaraw over letting Catholic institutions who have entered the commercial marketplace deny insurance coverage for services that are contrary to the religious beliefs promulgated by the church, even when the users of services do not themselves hold those beliefs, is shocking and a wake-up call to those of us who thought Griswold v. Connecticut was the state of the law on contraception. I cannot believe that in 2012 we are relitigating an issue that was decided in 1965. I will be hesitant to vote for Catholic candidates absent an unequivocal rejection of such efforts, a la JFK.

    In areas where the only hospital is called Mercy or St. Something-or-other, we are at their mercy indeed.  A woman in danger of dying from a pregnancy gone horribly wrong is on her own.  A dying patient with an advance directive may be condemned to suffer among a tangle of tubes against her wishes. Nurses and other employees will have to shell out $600 a year or more if they need birth control pills, even if the pills are prescribed for a health condition, not for prevention of pregnancy.  No Catholic is forced to use such services, but the church would force all of us to be denied services, with Protestants, Muslims, Jews and atheists all included unwillingly in their religious practice.  It’s outrageous and no Democrat should support this.

    • Yes, Outrageous.

      The Catholic Church isn’t relitigating Griswold, they’re asking not to be forced to violate their consciences. It’s absurd to claim that the “right” to score free contraceptives from your employer somehow trumps the right to free exercise of religion.

      Protestants, Muslims, Jews, and atheists are all free to use their own money to buy contraception, abortions, and meat on Fridays. No Democrat should force Catholics to pay for it or serve it to them.

      • They are not inside the basilica when they are pontificating about this issue.

        They are standing in the shoes of any other commercial employer and asking for special treatment to discriminate against employees who are not in religious agreement with them.  Using this logic, the Blunt amendment makes perfect sense.  Why not allow any employer to tailor a health plan to accomodate his specific prejudices and superstitions?  The proponents of this view are coming out of the church into the public square, engaging in regular commercial activity, and demanding that they should be exempt from broadly-applicable workplace laws, based on religion, that their employees do not necessarily agree with.  

        And it is not individual people who are heading for the fainting couch, but Mercy Hospital, Inc.  Under this view, it should be acceptable to deny any medical coverage to any employee, solely on the basis of the religious or “moral” views of the people who fill the corporate management positions in any employer with a health plan.  What’s next?  What about the religious boarding “schools” that have been widely reported as imprisoning and abusing children? Should they be exempt from oversight?  Should churches be exempt from wage and hour laws?  Should church schools be able to employ children as janitors, as Newt suggests?  Should they have to pay minimum wage?

        I have a friend who works in a Mercy Hospital and is not a Catholic.  The exemption you want would cost her $600 a year so the Catholic bishops can be OK with their dogma by forcing their religious views on anonymous women who do not believe what they believe, as well as a huge majority of Catholic women who are voting on this question by using birth control.  It is outrageous to advocate for imposing a position on the general electorate that the Catholic bishops cannot even impose on their own faithful.

        • I do realize that this is part of

          an effort to shut religious people out of public life, but I don’t think that’s a good thing. The Constitution doesn’t just guarantee the right to private belief or “freedom of worship” as Obama likes to say. It guarantees a right to exercise one’s religion. The right isn’t confined to the interiors of basilicas.

          And, I can do the slippery slope fallacy too: first they make us buy them, then they’ll make us take them, then there will be forced abortions and sterilization, and the church will be replaced by a government-approved  “Catholic Patriotic Association“.

          And you’re right, the Catholic bishops absolutely can’t impose their position. Amazing how some Catholics can still get birth control even with the big bad church oppressing them, isn’t? All the coercion  is coming from the state in this matter.

          Your argument also raises the question that if free birth control is such a fundamental right, why doesn’t the state provide it? Of course, this administration would probably love that, but they couldn’t get it past congress. If you can’t legislate your agenda, then hey, why not just trample over religious liberty and force people to violate their consciences to get it done.

          • What if my religion . . .

            calls for sacrificing virgins?  Is my free exercise still protected?  What if it calls for separate drinking fountains for men and women or denies women their inheritance?

            • And having your employer give you free contraception is not one of those things.

              Congratulations, you were able to imagine a fanciful hypothetical situation in which some other right clearly trumps free exercise of someone else’s religion.

              This ain’t one of those times.

              I’ll ask again, if the right to score free contraception is such a fundamental right, then why doesn’t the government provide it? If it’s so fundamental, then why don’t we force drug companies to pay for it? They’ve obviously got no moral objection. Why don’t we force doctors to perform sterilizations for free?

              • It's not free

                Health ins coverage is a fringe benefit in lieu of wages. The employees have earned it.

                Women aren’t scoring free contraception (sounds like you think it’s akin to dope) any more than you would be scoring free ritalin or viagra if your doctor prescribed it.

                Human sacrifice is not fanciful.  Nor are many other oppressive things that are done in the name of religion or other cultural imperatives.

                Now to your point: Why isn’t this one of those times when some other right (the right of a woman to govern her own sex life) clearly trumps the free exercise of the bishop’s religion?  Isn’t he also trying to govern her sex life?  Remember now, she already earned her health insurance benefits but the bishop is micro managing her prescriptions, imposing his religion on her.

                • You're right, it isn't free.

                  And employees are always welcome to purchase contraception with their wages. Your employer doesn’t have to purchase something for you in order for you to have access to it. Many many women who work for Catholics still somehow manage to get contraception despite it not being in their health plans.

                  Isn’t he also trying to govern her sex life?

                  No! The  conscientious objector is trying not to commit an act in violation of his own conscience.

                  To Catholics this is extremely important stuff. You’re asking them to accept financial ruin or potentially risk their eternal souls. That’s a mandate that is directly oppressive of religious exercise. All to make it slightly easier to get something that you can already get really really easily? I don’t think anyone can sincerely argue that this even approaches the level of competing rights. But, I suspect you and those who support the mandate don’t much care about religious liberty. Oppression of Catholics is an added bonus in all of this. Kicking Catholics out of health care, education, and all other public life would be great, wouldn’t it?

                  • Hogwash

                    The bishop may claim he is worried about his soul, but his salvation is clearly in governing his employee’s sex life by micromanaging her prescriptions.  But I already said that.

                    Since we know most Catholic women use The Pill, it can’t be so widely believed that damnation awaits. This “extremely important stuff” arises from men who would control women.

                    You sound like someone with a persecution complex now, so I’ll bow out, and go contemplate how it is that I married a Catholic.  

          • I don't know who you are arguing with.

            You seem to have appended your comment to mine in error.  I am not straw, but flesh and blood.

  • SK FTA

    I would have voted against in on principle, but if the South Korea Free Trade Agreement is an agreement that truly bothers you, you should get a look at some of the agreements we have signed in the past.  Byron Dorgan wrote a number of books related to these matters, they are slanted, but there is plenty of truth in what he says.