More names surface as contenders for Iowa secretary of agriculture

Governor Kim Reynolds is considering at least four Republican farmers–all current or former state lawmakers– to replace Bill Northey as Iowa secretary of agriculture, James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette today. In addition to State Representative Pat Grassley and former State Representative Annette Sweeney, whom Bleeding Heartland discussed here, State Senators Dan Zumbach and Tim Kapucian are in the running, according to Lynch’s story.

“I’ve had a couple conversations with governor about it,” Zumbach, 56, said Wednesday between meetings on housing development and soybean production. “I’d certainly be available and honored” if appointed to fill out Northey’s term that runs through early 2019. The position will be on the statewide ballot in 2018.

Zumbach, whose “heart, soul and passion has always been in agriculture,” said serving as state secretary of agriculture would be an “opportunity to share my lifetime of experience to guide Iowa agriculture in a good direction.”

Zumbach chairs the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee, having previously served as its ranking Republican. Kapucian, who has long served on the Senate Agriculture committee, “could not immediately be reached for comment” by Lynch. As the top Republican on the chamber’s Transportation Committee, he was a strong voice for raising the gasoline tax in order to fund better maintenance of farm-to-market roads. Grassley and Sweeney are both former leaders of the Iowa House Agriculture Committee and confirmed their interest in Northey’s job to Lynch.

Iowa law gives Reynolds the authority to fill Northey’s current position after he resigns upon confirmation to a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture post. The person she selects will be heavily favored–if challenged at all–in next year’s GOP primary for secretary of agriculture.

Choosing a relatively low-profile lawmaker like Zumbach or Kapucian would allow the governor to avoid taking sides between Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter (a major donor to Reynolds and decades-long friend of Sweeney’s) and Senator Chuck Grassley (Pat Grassley’s grandfather). The downside for Reynolds: that path could anger both Rastetter and the elder Grassley.

UPDATE: Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register on the possible secretary of agriculture candidates on September 13, after Senator Grassley confirmed during a conference call that he supports his grandson for the job.

In interviews Wednesday [September 13], Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill and state Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, each said they’re aware of a half-dozen or more people across the state who have publicly or privately signaled interest in succeeding Northey.

That includes Grassley but also state Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, former Farm Bureau and Iowa Board of Regents President Craig Lang, and American Soybean Association Chairman Ray Gaesser, among others.

Reached on Wednesday, Zumbach confirmed his interest and said he has reached out to Reynolds. If appointed to replace Northey, he said he would run for a full term in November, but would not otherwise challenge a Reynolds appointee.

“If the governor chooses someone that she feels is the best person or that job, I would respect her decision,” he said.

Kapucian said he is not actively seeking the office, but would be receptive if the governor reached out to him.

Noble’s story did not mention Sweeney.

Appointing Deputy Secretary Naig would leave the GOP primary race in 2018 wide open. It would also antagonize Pat Grassley, who as Iowa House Appropriations Committee chair could make trouble for Reynolds when state lawmakers debate tax reform and the budget for fiscal year 2019.

  • IA Secretary of Agriculture

    I appreciate this post. And I see in Lynch’s story that all four of these Republican farmers say they want to address soil conservation and water quality. I’m guessing they would all want to continue the current Iowa approach to farm pollution, which has no standards, no schedule, no deadlines, no requirements, limited public information, a disorganized scattershot approach, and using as huge a percentage of public money to pay for private pollution reduction as farm groups can manage to grab. If that’s not true, I’d be very interested.

    • you're on the right track

      All would pay lip service to soil conservation and water quality but continue to support an all-voluntary approach with no numeric standards.

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