Interview: What drives Senator Jeff Merkley

“We need to use every tool we have to reclaim our country,” U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley told me during his latest visit to Des Moines. “We are at the verge of a tipping point, and maybe we’re almost past it, in which the power of the mega-wealthy is so profound that we can’t tip the balance back in to we the people.”

The senator from Oregon spent much of Labor Day weekend in central Iowa supporting Democratic candidates for the state legislature. His fifth trip here since the 2016 election won’t be his last: he will be a featured speaker at the Polk County Steak Fry later this month. During our September 2 interview, I asked Merkley about the most important matters pending in the U.S. Senate, prospects for Democrats in November, and his possible presidential candidacy.

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A staffer's perspective: What Congressman Boswell taught me

Jeani Murray managed Leonard Boswell’s 1998 campaign and served on his Congressional staff. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Leonard Boswell was mortally wounded from Agent Orange poisoning in February of 1969 while serving as an assault helicopter pilot in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

Retired Colonel Charles Teague, a longtime colleague and dear friend of Leonard, shared that revelation with us while giving an impressive eulogy last Saturday.

It took 50 years and six months to take his life, but that flight sealed his fate. And the astonishing thing is he didn’t have to go on that mission. He was the commander; he could have sent any one of his airmen to do the job. But as a leader, Leonard Boswell would never ask his pilots to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

So many times Leonard said the same thing to me when I worked for him. Never ask your team to do something you are unwilling to do yourself. That lesson on leadership has remained with me to this day.

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Comments at a CAFO hearing

Francis Thicke is a soil scientist and organic dairy farmer. He has served as the National Program Leader for Soil Science for the USDA-Extension Service and was the 2010 Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The room was packed for an August 28 hearing on a new proposed confined-animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Jefferson County. Lots of people expressed their frustration that Iowa’s laws make it nearly impossible to stop a CAFO that will compromise the quality of life for the neighbors.

Here are my comments:

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Iowa agriculture is a water quality problem waiting to happen

Francis Thicke is a soil scientist and organic dairy farmer. He has served as the National Program Leader for Soil Science for the USDA-Extension Service and was the 2010 Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I submitted the following op-ed to the Des Moines Register, but the newspaper did not print it.

In a recent guest column for the Register, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig presented the usual ag-lobby refrain that Iowa’s nitrate problem is caused by the weather. It is time for Iowa’s citizens to stop listening to this kind of misinformation and learn about the real cause of our nitrate problem, and how we can solve it.

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Iowa reaction to aid plan for farmers hurt by trade war

“Tariffs are the greatest!” President Donald Trump tweeted today, adding that “All will be Great!”

A few hours later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced “up to $12 billion in programs” aimed at helping farmers, “in line with the estimated $11 billion impact of the unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods.”

Trump will surely talk up the assistance at his joint event with Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) in Dubuque on July 26. But the escalating trade war isn’t just affecting farmers. Steel tariffs are hurting manufacturers too. “Whirpool shares plummeted Tuesday after executives blamed rising steel and aluminum costs for diminished quarterly earnings,” Michael Sheetz reported for CNBC on July 24. Whirlpool’s refrigerator factory in Amana is the largest employer in Iowa County.

While Democrats criticized the temporary response to a “self-inflicted wound,” top Iowa Republicans reacted to the farm aid plan in three distinct ways. Blum and Representative Steve King (IA-04) unambiguously praised the president. Their U.S. House colleague David Young (IA-03) was notably more critical of Trump’s policy. Iowa’s U.S. senators, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig tried to thread the needle, depicting themselves as fighting for Iowa farmers and open markets without denouncing the president’s approach to trade negotiations.

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