Two bizarre takes on the IA-Sen Democratic primary

Patty Judge’s decision to run for U.S. Senate was Iowa’s biggest political news last week. Taking their cue from Washington-based pols who recruited the former lieutenant governor, many national reporters who covered the story took for granted that Judge will be the Democratic challenger to six-term Senator Chuck Grassley, glossing over the fact that she will face serious competition in the June primary.

On the flip side, the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich and Howie Klein of the Down With Tyranny! blog recently made some odd assessments in their reviews of the Democratic race for Senate.

“The View from Nowhere”

Obradovich wrote about Judge’s “impulsive” decision to run for Senate on March 5. Most of that column was straightforward, but I can’t let these two paragraphs pass without comment:

Primary climate: Hogg, who has received most of the limited attention given so far to the Democratic candidates, has made climate change one of the central issues of his campaign. He wrote a book on the topic in 2013 and has used that to build his profile outside of Linn County. Judge has been accused over the years of standing with agriculture interests over environmental advocates on issues like regulation of livestock confinement operations.

Judge says she has worked on environmental issues for “more than the years that I have been in public office. That’s a constant battle in our state to try to make certain that we are protecting our soil and our water.” She challenged the Legislature to have a substantive debate on water quality this year.

Obradovich’s framing is a textbook example of the View from Nowhere, a term coined by media critic Jay Rosen to describe “a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer.”

The View from Nowhere is typically found in straight reporting by journalists who are supposed to be “objective” about their beats. Bleeding Heartland has discussed at length how this perspective can obscure important facts from the reader.

As the Register’s political columnist, Obradovich need not be bound by such conventions. She is allowed to express opinions and is supposed to add value by putting candidates’ spin in context. Yet she shied away from stating plain facts about Judge’s career.

Like other journalists who hide behind what “critics say” or “others argue” in order to seem unbiased, Obradovich wrote, “Judge has been accused over the years of standing with agriculture interests over environmental advocates on issues like regulation of livestock confinement operations.”

Whether Judge stands with agricultural groups on any policy pitting Big Ag against environmentalists is not a matter for debate. As a member of the Iowa Senate, she supported the 1995 bill that removed “all zoning authority regarding industrial animal confinements from local elected officials,” making it much more difficult for concerned neighbors or environmental advocates to stop new confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). That law facilitated the rapid growth of CAFOs in Iowa, with associated impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and a loss of smaller-scale farms. Even in Dickinson County, where “great lakes” tourism is a huge part of the local economy, supervisors are unable to prevent farmers from opening large hog lots.

In two terms as Iowa secretary of agriculture, Judge never supported any new regulation of agricultural pollution, to my knowledge. Here’s part of what the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation said when giving her one of its “Distinguished Service to Agriculture” awards in 2013:

Judge and her family have owned a cow/calf farm in Monroe County for more than 40 years. Her knowledge and experience of production agriculture help her effectively work with leaders to increase market opportunities for Iowa’s agricultural products.

Judge traveled the world, leading trade missions on behalf of corn growers, soybean growers and livestock producers.

Her legacy as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture is tied to her tireless promotion of renewable fuels, allowing renewable energy to become an integral part of Iowa’s economy under her leadership.

More recently, Judge has served as co-chair and appeared in public on behalf of America’s Renewable Future. The biofuels industry formed that group to advocate for the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, also known as the ethanol mandate. Judge was generally supportive of Governor Chet Culver’s efforts to promote wind power in Iowa, but I am not aware of her investing a lot of political capital in that area of renewable energy production.

Culver did some good things for the environment, but Judge was widely believed to influence his administration’s more questionable actions, such as: not reappointing some strong advocates to the state Environmental Protection Commission; efforts to undercut rules on applying manure to frozen or snow-covered ground; Department of Natural Resources rule making that would have weakened protection of “Outstanding Iowa Waters”; and signing a terrible “odor study bill” as a way to delay legislative action on air pollution from CAFOs.

Judge’s allegiance with corporate ag interests is not restricted to livestock operations. As the Iowa Farm Bureau noted, she has worked closely with commodity groups representing corn and soybean growers. Last year, she chose to be a public face and a board member for the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, formed by corporate interests led by the Farm Bureau. The group has tried to demonize the Des Moines Water Works over a lawsuit seeking to address massive runoff of nitrates from farms into waterways.

In spite of strong evidence that farming accounts for Iowa’s most serious water quality problems, Judge (speaking on behalf of the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water) has insisted, “There are many other sources of nitrates” in Iowa waters. The partnership supports only voluntary measures to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into waterways, in the absence of evidence suggesting such an approach could be effective. The Iowa Farm Bureau had extensive input when Governor Terry Branstad’s administration was drafting its all-voluntary nutrient reduction strategy for Iowa waterways. Judge’s stance on this issue is indistinguishable from that of her Republican successor as Iowa secretary of agriculture, Bill Northey.

So it’s misleading for Obradovich to say Judge “has been accused over the years of standing with agriculture interests.” She purposely aligned with those groups, in some cases joining their leadership and using her stature as a public figure to get their message into the news.

The Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association were among the corporate groups that took their lawsuit seeking to nullify the most significant water quality rules of the last decade all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court.

In effect, those groups told environmental advocates to go jump in a lake fouled by a toxic algae bloom.

Meanwhile, Judge got a lifetime achievement award from the Farm Bureau and became co-chair of an advocacy group that worked closely with the Renewable Fuels Association and other biofuels interests.

I’ve been active in Iowa environmental circles since moving back to this state in 2002. Probably no prominent Democrat is as distrusted as Judge among Iowans committed to protecting natural resources. I don’t mean that as a personal attack. When I’ve met or spoken with the former lieutenant governor, she has been nothing but cordial. But she has never pretended to be a neutral observer when agricultural interests collide with the public interest in clean air and water.

Obradovich certainly knows about Judge’s record and reputation in this area, not only because she has covered Iowa politics for many years, but also because her husband, Jim Obradovich, is a lobbyist for several non-profits in the environmental realm. (I’ve long been involved with one of them, the Iowa Environmental Council, for which Jim Obradovich has lobbied since the Culver-Judge administration.) CLARIFICATION: Obradovich notes that her husband is not a source for her columns, and that she would disclose if she were writing about anything he was working on. I did not mean to imply his lobbying influences her published work. My point was that as a close observer of state-level politics, Obradovich would know that for many years, Judge has taken the side of agricultural interest groups (not merely been “accused” of doing so).

Yet the Des Moines Register’s columnist reported without additional comment that Judge has “worked on environmental issues” over the course of her political career and “challenged the Legislature to have a substantive debate on water quality this year.” The newspaper’s readers deserve more context than that.

The View from No One who knows many Iowans

The internet has no more determined critic of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee than Howie Klein, a leading contributor to the Down With Tyranny! blog for more than a decade. He despises the tendency by Washington insiders to favor corporate-friendly, “Republican-lite” candidates over progressives. In competitive Democratic primaries, Down With Tyranny! has often backed liberals, like Ed Fallon during his 2008 challenge to Representative Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s third district. Klein is also treasurer of the Blue America PAC, which supports Democrats in U.S. House and Senate races around the country, through direct contributions and independent expenditures.

Klein has a distinctive writer’s voice, typified by his March 4 post on the IA-Sen race, “Little Chucky Schmucky Finds Another Race He Can Screw Up– This Time In Iowa.” “Chucky” is Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, sometimes said to have a “lizard brain” or known as “the Brooklyn Lizard Man” at Klein’s site. In the commentary on Judge entering the race against Grassley, Klein bashed DSCC leaders for not recruiting a candidate against Grassley until the controversy blew up over the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

The DSCC deemed Iowa a lost cause this cycle, despite the fact that Obama won the state in 2008 (54-44%) and 2012 (52-46%). So they didn’t both recruiting a candidate and just shrugged their shoulders and ignored the 3 progressives who jumped in, legislators Tom Fiegen, Rob Hogg and Bob Krause. But when the incumbent, 82-year old Republican Chuck Grassley chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, threw a tantrum and said he will refuse to hold hearings on any nominee who President Obama nominates, regardless of their qualifications, public opinion in Iowa started turning against him enough for the DC Dems to notice. Grassley has been in elected office since 1959 and in DC since 1975 but Chuck Schumer decided he was invincible… until the GOP contretemps over Scalia’s death.

Instead of embracing one of the local candidates, Schumer big-footed in with a corporate shill more to his liking, a much-disliked former Lt. Governor, Patty Judge.

The Blue America PAC got behind Fiegen for Senate last November, largely because of “his endorsement of Bernie Sanders and Bernie’s platform and his commitment to run on those issues.” Fiegen has made his support for Sanders central to his Senate campaign, posting way more often on social media about Sanders than about his own race.

Klein doesn’t know much about the Iowa political landscape, judging by another part of his post from last Friday:

Wednesday [March 2] Fiegen turned in almost 10,000 signatures from every corner of the state. He’s a supporter of Bernie’s and endorses the economic reforms Bernie has been calling for, including campaign finance reform, breaking up the big banks, raising the minimum wage, student loan reform and Medicare for all. “I am a candidate with no super-PAC. I don’t want their money. That’s because I don’t represent billionaire interests. I represent working Iowans. Our system has fallen far out of balance and it’s time to fix it.”

Fiegen is counting on support from grassroots Democrats while Judge and Hogg will be in a battle as proxies for, respectively, the DC and Des Moines establishments. She’s got Schumer and Tester and whoever Schumer can round up to endorse her, while local grandees like Iowa Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronsta[l] and Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum say their support for Hogg is solid and something to the effect of ‘Schumer should go tend to the folks in New York’s Southern Tier who would probably skin him alive if they ever got their hands on him,’ only more colorful.

I talk to a lot of “grassroots Democrats,” many of whom caucused for Bernie. Before Judge was known to be considering the Senate race, almost all of my activist acquaintances were supporting Hogg. He has been a solid progressive on a wide range of issues during his four years in the state House and nine in the state Senate. John Deeth believes Fiegen has been “using his louder than anyone else Feel The Bern noisemaking to hide his lack of a real campaign of his own, to use the Sanders supporters, and to hide his not very progressive record (anti-choice, anyone?)” I can’t speak to Fiegen’s motives, but I can say I haven’t found any Sanders fans who are transferring that activism to Fiegen’s campaign. Surely some exist scattered around Iowa, but likely not enough to lift Fiegen beyond the small share of the vote he received in the 2010 IA-Sen primary.

Since Judge revealed she might run against Grassley, conversations about Judge vs. Hogg have exploded among local Democrats, in the real world as well as on social media. For the most part, these arguments center on whether Democrats should overlook disappointing aspects of Judge’s record, because her statewide name recognition makes her more electable. Fiegen and Bob Krause aren’t part of the calculation for most people, as far as I’ve seen and heard.

Adding to the more than 60 current state lawmakers who previously backed Hogg for Senate, today Hogg’s campaign announced support from 30 former Iowa House or Senate Democrats. I enclose the full list below. At least three of the new endorsers publicly backed Sanders for president before the Iowa caucuses: Ed Fallon, Daryl Beall, and John Wittneben.

Hogg’s support comes from Democrats in every part of the state, not just the “Des Moines establishment” Klein imagines.

Any comments about the IA-Sen race are welcome in this thread.

March 7 press release from Hogg’s Senate campaign:

Rob Hogg Announces Endorsements by 30 Former Democratic Legislators for U.S. Senate Campaign
Endorsements Include Former Senate President Jack Kibbie, Former Speaker Pro Tempore Polly Bukta, Former Governor Candidate Jack Hatch, Former Congressional Candidate Staci Appel, and Former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Tyler Olson

CEDAR RAPIDS – Rob Hogg, a state senator from Cedar Rapids, announced he has received endorsements from 30 former Iowa Democratic legislators for his candidacy to replace Senator Chuck Grassley. Those endorsing include former Senate President Jack Kibbie, former House Speaker Pro Tempore Polly Bukta, former Governor candidate Jack Hatch, former Congressional candidate Staci Appel, and former Iowa Democratic Party chair Tyler Olson.
“I am honored by the support of my former legislative colleagues for my candidacy for the United States Senate,” Hogg said. “Like the endorsements by 63 of my current legislative colleagues, these endorsements are important because these are the people who know me best doing the job of a legislator. I appreciate their confidence that I would do a good job as a United States Senator.”
In January, Hogg was endorsed by 63 of the 68 current Democratic state legislators. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Senate President Pam Jochum reiterated their support for Hogg.
In addition to Kibbie, Bukta, Hatch, Appel, and Olson, other former legislators endorsing Hogg include:
Floyd County Supervisor Mark Kuhn, former state representative
Jefferson County Supervisor Becky Schmitz, former state senator
Emmet County Democratic chair John Wittneben, former state representative
Clayton County Democratic chair Roger Thomas, former state representative
Former state senator Daryl Beall
Former state senator Gene Fraise
Former state senator Bill Heckroth
Former state senator Rich Olive
Former state senator Roger Stewart
Former state senator Steve Warnstadt
Former state senator Frank Wood
Former state representative John Beard
Former state representative Mark Davitt
Former state representative Ed Fallon
Former state representative Gene Ficken
Former state representative Ro Foege
Former state representative Marcie Frevert
Former state representative Doris Kelley
Former state representative Bob Osterhaus
Former state representative Brian Quirk
Former state representative Nathan Reichert
Former state representative Tom Schueller
Former state representative Don Shoultz
Former state representative Greg Stevens
Former state representative Nate Willems
Hogg announced his candidacy for the United States Senate on September 22, 2015, in Callender, Iowa, where his grandmother was born in 1902. On February 29, Hogg officially qualified as a candidate for the June 7 primary when he submitted over 13,000 signatures from Iowans in all 99 counties to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.
Hogg, age 49, is currently serving his third term in the Iowa Senate after two terms in the Iowa House. As a state legislator, Hogg has been a leader for flood recovery, disaster preparedness, renewable energy, clean water, education, infrastructure, public health including mental health, and public safety. In addition to serving in the Legislature, Hogg is an attorney in private practice in Cedar Rapids. He and his wife, Kate, have three children, two in college and one in high school.
For more information, please visit www.robhogg.org/ .

  • Focus on the Big Picture: federal budgets and SCOTUS!

    I am enthusiastically supporting Patty Judge. I believe that if we have a strong Democratic turnout she can beat Chuck Grassley. Not only will she be able to bring the kind of national money required by a viable candidacy against Grassley, she starts with high name recognition having successfully been on the statewide ballot multiple times (plus her name has been on every gas pump in the state). The other three candidates are good folks, but they’ve been campaigning for months (in some cases longer) and haven’t broken through. I disagree with Patty on the Waterworks lawsuit (I strongly support the litigation) and on other topics. But when all is said and done Patty Judge will be a reliable vote for Chuck Schumer as Majority Leader. We need to turn the Senate BLUE in order to get HIllary’s or Bernie’s budgets passed and SCOTUS nominees confirmed. I urge fellow progressives to keep an eye on the big picture – control of the Senate – and nominate someone who will have the resources (financial and name ID) to beat Chuck Grassley.

    • If she's viable . . .

      Judge is viable only because the DSCC plans to throw money at her. They could have done the same for Hogg.

      Why would they spit in the eye of the whole Democratic caucus in the Iowa legislature? Are we just puppets for them to jerk around?

    • I absolutely understand your position

      I have not yet seen evidence that Patty Judge can put this seat in play.

      I would certainly vote for her in a general election against Chuck Grassley. However, given her record on environmental policies, I cannot support her in a Democratic primary–especially against a candidate as strong on my key issues as Rob Hogg has been for many years.

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