Weekend open thread: Dark days for Iowa doves

Iowa will soon introduce a season for hunting mourning doves, which had been protected for nearly 100 years as a symbol of peace. Last week, with no debate in the Iowa House or Senate, Senate File 464 passed both chambers easily. Governor Terry Branstad signed the bill into law with the usual photo-op for key backers, but he didn’t seem keen on media attention. The official press release on signing Senate File 464 lacked any quotes about how great the new law will be.

Over the decades, many Iowa lawmakers introduced dove-hunting legislation, and the Republican-controlled House and Senate approved a bill in 2001, but Governor Tom Vilsack vetoed it. Feelings on this issue have never broken down strictly on party lines; Democratic Senator Dick Dearden of Des Moines has been one of the most committed dove-hunting advocates. Senate File 464 passed the Iowa Senate on a bipartisan 30-18 vote; 19 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted yes, while 15 Democrats and three Republicans voted no. The bill cleared the House by 58 to 39; 48 Republicans and 10 Democrats voted yes, while 11 Republicans and 28 Democrats voted no. You can find the Iowa Senate roll call here and the House roll call here.

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board argued that legislators should have respected tradition and left the ban in place. In a Mason-Dixon poll of 625 Iowa voters between March 17 and 19, 54 percent of Iowans were against legalizing dove-hunting, while just 25 percent supported it. The Humane Society of the United States commissioned the survey, which found majority opposition in the Republican, Democratic and independent sub-samples.

Although I don’t hunt, I don’t feel more connected to mourning doves than to other wild birds. On the other hand, I believe legislation to expand hunting should have included provisions to protect wildlife from lead poisoning, which is a significant problem in Iowa.

Other news that caught my eye this week:

The Des Moines Register’s chief political reporter since 2002, Tom Beaumont, took a new job as the Des Moines correspondent for Associated Press.

As Des Moines Correspondent, Beaumont will join a political coverage team that includes state government reporter Mike Glover and Iowa City Correspondent Ryan J. Foley. Along with reporters from across the region and the AP’s Washington staff, they will ensure the AP’s report on the caucuses and the 2012 election is consistently first and always complete.

With only nine or ten months remaining before the Iowa caucuses, that’s not a timely departure for the Register.

Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy informed the Board of Regents that he will step down in the summer of 2012. He’s held the job since July 2001. I hope that before he leaves, Geoffroy will do the right thing and help the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture find strong leadership and more independence within the university. His successor won’t want to rile up the corporate interests that helped ISU set fundraising records during the past decade.  

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers?

UPDATE: Todd Dorman goes over the unusual process through which the dove-hunting bill passed:

Dove hunting did not soar to passage on gossamer wings, folks. It was more like a roach skittering across the kitchen floor in the dark, shielded from scrutiny by quick, deft maneuvers.

The dove bill was off the radar until just before a legislative funnel deadline that exterminates bills that don’t clear a committee. At the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee’s final meeting before the deadline, its chairman, Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, sprung the bill and pushed it through. The bill was not on the committee’s published agenda. Surprise.

It passed the full Senate. That sent the bill to the House, where, normally, it would go through a House committee before being taken up on the floor. That provides some time for input and deliberation. Lawmakers can even call a public hearing.

Instead, just one day after Senate passage, House Republican leaders called up another Senate bill having to do with raccoon hunting. The House amended the raccoon bill so that it actually became the Senate dove bill. That very unusual bit of procedural crossbreeding allowed the dove bill to skip the House committee process entirely. Soon, the bill flew to Gov. Terry Branstad, who signed it fast and in private.

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Tuition going up at Iowa universities

The Board of Regents approved a significant tuition hike yesterday in response to expected reductions in state funding for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. B.A. Morelli reported for the Iowa City Press-Citizen,

In-state students at UI, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa will see a 5 percent increase. But there are additional mandatory fees, and out-of-state students and students in specialized programs, such as business, engineering and nursing, will have increases up to 41.4 percent.

Details and background information are after the jump.

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ISU professor sounds alarm about future of Leopold Center

Iowa State University Professor Matt Liebman has warned university President Gregory Geoffroy that the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture risks losing its “national and international reputation for excellence in scholarship and service” unless ISU’s administration embraces the center’s mission and removes the it from the supervision of the College of Agriculture. Liebman is a professor of agronomy who holds the Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture. His three-page letter to Geoffroy has been making the rounds in the Iowa environmental community this week. I received it from multiple sources and posted the full text after the jump.

The impending departure of the Leopold Center’s interim director prompted Liebman’s letter. He notes the “rapid turnover” and “absence of stable leadership” at Leopold since 2005, as well as the “failed and controversial national search to fill the director position” last year. Bleeding Heartland covered that fiasco here and here. Following a national search, ISU offered the top job at Leopold to plant pathologist Frank Louws, the preferred candidate of the Iowa Farm Bureau. Corn expert Ricardo Salvador had received higher evaluations from the search committee, but ISU didn’t offer him the job even after Louws turned down the position. Since then, the Leopold Center has had interim leadership with no target date set for another director search.

In his letter to Geoffroy, Liebman said the “sense of uncertainty as to the Center’s future has also created wariness among those who might be applicants for the director’s position if and when a new search is initiated.” He reminded the ISU president that the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act defined a three-fold mission for the Leopold Center:

(1) identify the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of existing agricultural practices, (2) research and assist the development of alternative, more sustainable agricultural practices, and (3) inform the agricultural community and general public of the Center’s findings. It is important to recognize that this mandate creates, by design, a dynamic tension between conventional and alternative forms of agriculture. This tension is a healthy part of the Center’s work; it does not indicate the Center is failing to fulfill its mission or communicate effectively. The Center has a particular responsibility to focus on the environmental problems of agriculture and their solution.

In order to “to put the Center back on track and foster circumstances that would be conducive to a national search for a permanent director,” Liebman argued that the ISU administration

needs to demonstrate its unequivocal support for the Leopold Center’s three-part mandate. Specifically, it needs to re-affirm and embrace the Center’s work in defining the shortcomings of current agricultural systems, developing alternatives, and communicating findings. Without a clear indication from the university administration that dissenting opinions about agricultural sustainability are welcome and expected, I think it will be impossible to find a nationally renowned permanent Center director who personifies excellence in scholarship, communication, and service. The absence of a national search would indicate to many observers that the university no longer prioritizes a vibrant and widely respected Leopold Center.

Second, the university administration should move supervision of the Leopold Center to the offices of ISU’s President or Vice President for Research and Economic Development. […] The university would provide more prominence to the Leopold Center and enhance its impact by placing supervision of the Center at a higher administrative level, above the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

ISU’s Dean of Agriculture Wendy Wintersteen was widely criticized last year for her handling of the Leopold Center director search. Not only did she pass over the search committee’s top candidate, she informed Salvador that he did not get the job before her first choice had decided whether to accept the position. Salvador is highly regarded in the sustainable agriculture community and appeared in the documentary “King Corn.”

The Leopold Center’s work deserves more support from the university administration. ISU alumni or others with a connection to the university, please consider adding your voice to those urging Geoffroy to preserve the center’s excellence by increasing its independence.

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Iowa State let Farm Bureau choose the head of the Leopold Center

I lost a lot of respect for Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy after reading this piece by Alan Guebert for the Burlington Hawk Eye. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has been looking for a director to replace the retiring Jerry DeWitt. An expert panel conducted a nationwide search and chose four finalists, whom you can learn more about here. Guebert explains how the search ended:

Iowa Farm Bureau made it known to ISU aggies that the leading candidate for the post, Ricardo Salvador, the program director for the Kellogg Foundation’s Food, Health and Wellbeing program, was not its prime choice. It preferred Frank Louws, a plant pathologist at North Carolina State.

According to interview and program evaluations, Louws was a clear second to Salvador in almost every category commented on by evaluators. He had limited experience with Iowa commodities, no livestock experience, no “national or international reputation in sustainable agriculture,” and a “lower scope of vision” for the Center than Salvador.

Despite these shortcomings, Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy authorized ag Dean Wendy Wintersteen to offer Louws the job. Simultaneously, Wintersteen sent Salvador an email Dec. 2 that informed him he would not be Leopold director.

Why, asks Laura Jackson, a center advisory board member and a professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa, was Salvador, “clearly the most qualified applicant interviewed,” sent packing before Louws either accepted or declined the position?

Those who have seen the documentary King Corn might remember Salvador from a few scenes. He is highly regarded by sustainable agriculture experts inside and outside the U.S. and is an expert on one of Iowa’s leading crops.

Guebert reports that Louws has neither accepted nor declined the position at the Leopold Center, so perhaps there is still a chance for Salvador to be offered the job. Either way, the episode doesn’t reflect well on ISU, which already had a reputation for being less than welcoming to sustainable agriculture advocates.

When Fred Kirschenmann was hired as director of the Leopold Center in 2000, none of the agricultural science departments wanted him on their faculty for fear of angering corporate interests. So, Kirschenmann was appointed to the ISU Department of Religion and Philosophy. But at least the Farm Bureau was not allowed to veto his hiring. It’s a sad day for a university when a corporate group can overrule the strong preference of a hiring committee.

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