Losing a re-election contest is no fun for any state legislator, but defeated incumbents often land on their feet. Such is the case with outgoing State Senator Merlin Bartz and State Representative Annette Sweeney.
Last month Democratic State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm defeated Bartz in Iowa Senate district 26 by just 126 votes. Today U.S. Representative Steve King announced three new hires, including Bartz to run King's new office in Mason City.
Elected in 2008, Merlin Bartz is currently the Iowa State Senator from the 6th District. From 2002-2004 he served as the Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment and the Midwest Regional Assistant Chief at National Resources Conservation Service from 2004-2007. He previously served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1991-1993 and the Iowa Senate from 1993-2002. Bartz was also Senate Assistant Majority Leader in the 77th, 78th and 79th General Assemblies. He attended school at Luther College and received a Bachelor of Arts in music and political science.
Bartz and King served together in the Iowa Senate from 1997 through 2002. They see eye to eye on many issues and both have been among the most vocal opponents of marriage equality. Shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court issued its Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage in April 2009, King expressed concern about Iowa becoming "the gay marriage Mecca." Meanwhile, Bartz used his official Iowa Senate website to promote a petition drive urging county recorders not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Undeterred by his lack of success on that front, Bartz remained vigilant about all signs of equality for same-sex couples in Iowa, such as changing rules at state-run campsites. Both King and Bartz actively campaigned against retaining Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the marriage ruling.
UPDATE: Handling constituent service for King in the Mason City area could be an asset to Bartz if he plans to challenge three-term Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan in Iowa Senate district 27 in 2014. Bartz would have to buy or rent a residence in that district, because his Worth County farm is in Senate district 26. Senate district 27 covers most of Cerro Gordo County (including Mason City and Clear Lake), all of Franklin County, and most of Butler County.
Annette Sweeney had been a rising star in the Iowa House Republican caucus. She was named to chair the House Agriculture Committee in 2011 with only two years of legislative experience. The redistricting plan adopted the same year paired her with State Representative Pat Grassley in House district 50. Despite significant financial support from the Team Iowa PAC (funded largely by Sweeney's childhood friend Bruce Rastetter), she lost the GOP primary to Grassley by 61 percent to 39 percent.
Sweeney raises cattle in Hardin County and was one of corporate agriculture's greatest friends in the legislature. For example, she was wrote the so-called "ag gag" bill and was its floor manager in 2011 and 2012. That legislation sought to criminalize whistleblowing about animal abuse at agricultural facilities.
The Des Moines Register reported on November 30 that Sweeney has landed an advocacy job.
Sweeney will become president of Iowa Agri-Women, a public policy group affiliated with the education group Iowa Women in Agriculture. Agri-Women's goal is to provide a voice for agriculture in policy and rule-making.
Sweeney won't be roaming the halls of the Iowa Legislature as a lobbyist come January. State law forbids a former legislator from lobbying for at least two years. [...]
"We need to reach out to all women in different sectors of agriculture," Sweeney said. "That includes the organic and sustainable agriculture groups, as well as the different livestock organizations."
I really did laugh out loud. Somehow I don't see a lot of women in organic and sustainable agriculture knocking on Sweeney's door. They will be better served by Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture, and the Women, Food and Agriculture Network.
The Register's Dan Piller also reported,
Sweeney said she'll watch carefully the administrative rule-making that follows passage of legislation. The rules, she said, frequently have more impact than the laws themselves.
Two examples she cited are tax policies, where tiny details involving estates can make huge differences in farm property transactions, and rules governing environmental laws that focus on discharge and runoff issues.
I agree with Sweeney 100 percent: administrative rule-making is crucial. I expect that Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp will listen to her feedback on rules, such as a new strategy for reducing nutrients from Iowa farms to waterways.