Francis Thicke hires staff for secretary of agriculture campaign

Francis Thicke has hired staff for his Democratic campaign for Iowa secretary of agriculture, Will Merydith reported for the Fairfield Voice blog on Friday.

Rob Hubler, a 40-year veteran of managing political campaigns, started with the campaign about two weeks ago. Rob Hubler was the 2008 candidate for U.S. Congress in Iowa’s fifth district. This week the campaign team is growing with the addition of Keith Dinsmore, a veteran campaign media specialist. Keith has connections with press across Iowa and will be organizing Francis Thicke’s state-wide media work.

“In the next few weeks I will be traveling to a number of Democratic Party county conventions to speak to audiences about my campaign platform. I also have upcoming appearances at Grinnell College and Iowa State University. I do have one out-of-state event planned for next month, to speak at a national organic farming policy conference in Washington, D.C.”

“We have a local event planned for Fairfield on Saturday, March 27: Blues musician Bill Lupkin will be performing at Morning Star Studio as a fundraiser for our campaign.”

Thicke also recently opened a campaign office on the main square in Fairfield (Jefferson County, southeast Iowa).

I hope Thicke’s campaign will attract a large volunteer contingent. Iowa has plenty of Democratic activists who aren’t wild about Governor Chet Culver and don’t live in a battleground state legislative district. Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will be heavily favored in this race and will raise more money than Thicke. However, Thicke has outstanding qualifications, and his vision for agriculture deserves our wholehearted support. We don’t often hear Iowa candidates speak out against excessive concentration of agricultural markets or advocate stronger regulations for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I recommend reading the four-part interview Blog for Iowa did with Thicke last year (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4). Francis and Susan Thicke operate a successful organic dairy farm and won the 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture.

We’ll need all Democratic hands on deck in the Fairfield area this year, since Iowa House district 90 and Iowa Senate district 45 are likely to be competitive races. State Representative Curt Hanson narrowly won last summer’s special election in House district 90, while State Senator Becky Schmitz is in her first term representing Senate district 45.

UPDATE: Forgot to add this ActBlue link for those who want to donate to Thicke’s campaign.

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The price of a flawed coordinated campaign

The “prevailing wage” bill, one of organized labor’s top legislative priorities, stalled in the Iowa House on Friday as Democrats were unable to find a 51st vote. Apparently the plan is to try to twist someone’s arm over the weekend:

House Speaker Pat Murphy will keep the voting machine open the entire weekend until Democrats can convince one of their dissenting members to change their vote. The move will mean Murphy will have to sleep in the chamber over the weekend.

“I want to be sure that taxpayer money is going to responsible Iowa employers who pay a decent wage, not employers who take advantage of people like we’ve seen in Postville and Atalissa,” Murphy said. “As the presiding officer of the House, I will stay in the Speaker’s chair and the voting machine will remain open until Monday. My goal is to get 51 votes and make sure we have good-paying jobs for middle class families.”

This post is not about the merits of the bill, which I support. (Click here for background on House file 333, which “would require that companies that contract for public projects pay workers wages and benefits comparable to private projects in the area.”)

This post is about why Democratic House leaders now face two unappealing outcomes: either they fail to pass a good bill supported by a key Democratic constituency, or they force one of their members into an embarrassing about-face that could affect the next election campaign.

Further thoughts on this mess are after the jump.

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Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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More reaction to Vilsack's nomination and good ideas on food policy

I don’t recall nearly as intense a reaction to Bill Clinton’s or George Bush’s nominees for secretary of agriculture. Either food and farm issues are much more salient now than they used to be, or I am noticing it more because Barack Obama is tapping an Iowan to head the USDA.

Tom Vilsack’s friend Jennifer Donahue says Vilsack is the “best possible” choice for secretary of agriculture.

Denise O’Brien urges sustainable agriculture advocates not to give up hope, because as governor Vilsack was accessible and did some good things on food and environmental issues.

Another Iowan, Food & Society Policy Fellow Angie Tagtow of Elkhart, wants Vilsack and incoming Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle to work together:

A dichotomy exists between agriculture policies and Dietary Guidelines for Americans – yet, ironically, both are overseen by the USDA. Current food and farm policies stand in the way of making healthy food the easiest choice.

Food and agriculture policies must support disease prevention efforts and can save millions in health care costs. The USDA and USDHHS must use sound science, instead of pressures from special interests like biotechnology companies and the food industry, to reform policies and programs that support a healthy and sustainable food and agriculture system.

Specifically, Tagtow advocates cooperation between Vilsack and Daschle toward the following goals:

1. Creating an intradepartmental Food Policy Council, led by a Food Czar, “to assure farm, food and nutrition policies and programs support public health goals.”  

2. Enacting policies to build fertile soil. “Farmers should receive support or credits for decreasing use of synthetic farm chemicals, protecting natural resources, building soil, reducing fossil fuel use and capturing carbon.”

3. Creating incentives to grow more fruits and vegetables in the U.S.: “Our agriculture system does not grow enough of the right foods that promote our health. We are forced to rely on other countries to put fruits and vegetables on our plates.”

4. Making fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains more available to people on federal food and nutrition assistance program: “Improving the nutritional quality of the WIC food package and the foods served in schools will nourish healthy children, prepare them to learn, reduce childhood diseases, reduce food insecurity and produce healthy, productive adults.”

5. Leveraging food production as economic development. “Growing more food closer to where we eat it increases our access to fresh seasonal food, cultivates a closer relationship with farmers, and builds community resiliency, economic stability, food security and health.”

Tagtow’s suggestions are all excellent, and I hope Vilsack and Daschle will act on them.

Rob Hubler, former Congressional candidate in Iowa’s fifth district, is asking everyone on his e-mail list to support petitions calling for a more sustainable agriculture policy:

Friends,

[…] Will you join me in continuing to work for the same values we campaigned on? There are two quick, but important, actions I want you to take. Both will make a difference for the future of rural communities, family farming and our entire food system.

First, I was proud to add my name to a remarkable effort to pressure President-elect Obama to appoint a “Sustainable Secretary of Agriculture” originated in our own district. Food Democracy Now (http://www.fooddemocracynow.org), launched last week by Iowan Dave Murphy, rocketed to national attention when Nicolas Kristof endorsed the effort in his New York Times column.

Nearly 50,000 people have already signed. Will you help push the petition to 100,000?

Second, the Center for Rural Affairs launched a Grassroots Letter to the next Secretary of Agriculture. No matter who Obama selects, the next head of the USDA needs to hear from you. You can sign the Center for Rural Affairs Grassroots Letter and leave your own comment about the change you would like to see to food, farm and rural policy. The Center for Rural Affairs will send your signature and comment onto the next Agriculture Secretary.

Join me in signing their letter here: http://www.cfra.org/08/grassro…

Peace & Justice,

Rob L. Hubler

I agree that it’s helpful to add more names to those petitions. Food Democracy Now has more than 58,000 signers already. The Center for Rural Affairs’ proposals are wide-ranging and sensible.

The Organic Consumers Association, which came out swinging against Vilsack last month, hasn’t given up on blocking this appointment. On Wednesday they launched a “Stop Vilsack” petition.

This strikes me as ineffective and unwise. There is no chance of Obama backing off from this nomination. He was aware of Vilsack’s position on agriculture when he made the decision. There is no chance of the Senate not confirming Vilsack. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa chairs the relevant committee and has already said he will make sure Vilsack’s confirmation hearings go smoothly.

The Organic Consumers Association would do better to organize pressure on Vilsack to take specific actions, either reversing bad Bush administration policies or moving in a more sustainable direction, as the Center for Rural Affairs and Tagtow are proposing.

Daily Kos user CornSyrupAwareness had a different take on Vilsack’s nomination:

I’m glad to see Iowa get their due with this pick of Tom Vilsack. They were instrumental in getting our man elected, and we should all tip our caps to Iowa. Iowa is now paid in full for their efforts and I’m glad. This way they don’t get their due by ‘vetoing’ a Surgeon General’s warning on High Fructose Corn Syrup.

CornSyrupAwareness also quoted some comments Obama made months ago about corn syrup, and posted this great clip of Bill Maher asking Joe Biden, “Which is more likely to contribute to the death of your average American: a terrorist strike, or high-fructose corn syrup, and air that has too much coal in it?”

Once Vilsack is confirmed as secretary of agriculture, a lot of other positions within the USDA will need to be filled. At La Vida Locavore, Obama Foodorama drew attention to last week’s little-noticed resignation of Elizabeth Johnson, the Under Secretary for Food Safety of USDA and made the case for Bill Marler to replace her:

[T]here are opportunities for swift and dramatic change, particularly in food safety. If the USDA fulfilled even half of its already existing mandate, we’d have a far cleaner and safer food chain. Elizabeth Johnson’s now-vacant post as Under Secretary for Food Safety needs to be filled by an inspired, activist leader, someone with both a long institutional memory, and a firm grasp on how to rapidly change what’s so terribly wrong with our system. There’s one individual in the food safety world who is the most uniquely qualified candidate to take on such a huge challenge: Attorney Bill Marler, the foremost food poisoning authority in the country (pictured).

A founding partner of Seattle’s Marler Clark law firm, Marler is an extremely activist consumer advocate and champion of change in food safety policy and practice, both in the US and abroad. His focus on food safety began in 1993, when he won a landmark settlement against Jack in The Box for E. coli contamination. Since then, Marler’s firm has become a powerhouse of food borne illness litigation, garnering close to half a billion dollars in settlements for injured clients.

Marler himself is now the leading US expert in institutional and agricultural structures for food safety, and he regularly works with farmers and major corporations to change/create safety practices (most recently, he persuaded global conglomerate Conagra to dramatically alter their policies). He’s repeatedly testified before Congress on food safety, and has been a vociferous and much-published critic of government policies and practices (including the ongoing labeling fights over “organic”). His Marler Blog is the best internet source for food safety information, and as the years have gone by, Marler has devoted more and more of his professional life to non-profit consultations on food safety and security around the world. Under the umbrella of Marler Clark’s non-profit organization, Outbreak, Marler consulates with foreign food agencies, producers, and governments on how to better protect the public from poisoned food, and how to create safe food systems. This is crucial for any Under Secretary for Food Safety, because America imports a huge part of our food supply each year. Marler has not only been an activist on getting foreign producers to focus on safety, but he’s also intimately acquainted with exactly what goes on in international markets.

The undersecretary appointments don’t get much attention but are quite important. Thanks to Obama Foodorama for shining a light on food safety. (UPDATE: Daily Kos user Halcyon informed me that Marler is an occasional diarist at Daily Kos. His most recent post is about the top ten food safety stories of 2008.)

Share any relevant thoughts on Vilsack’s nomination or federal policies on food and agriculture.

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Hubler criticizes GOTV effort

Rob Hubler sent this e-mail to his supporters today:

Dear [desmoinesdem],

The highest appreciation that can be given a person in the Navy is “Well done!” To all of you I give my sincerest “WELL DONE!”  I cannot be prouder of all your efforts and your response to this campaign. Everyone went above and beyond their capabilities.

I want to share my thoughts about what went right, and what went wrong, so we can learn from events and continue to build a progressive force in the Fifth District, and I need to ask you for a little extra help to close out this chapter.  But first I offer some words from an essay by Tim Wise, that describe the work that has just begun with the election: http://www.redroom.com/blog/ti…

   “…And so it is back to work. Oh yes, we can savor the moment for a while, for a few days, perhaps a week. But well before inauguration day we will need to be back on the job, in the community, in the streets, where democracy is made, demanding equity and justice in places where it hasn’t been seen in decades, if ever. Because for all the talk of hope and change, there is nothing–absolutely, positively nothing–about real change that is inevitable. And hope, absent real pressure and forward motion to actualize one’s dreams, is sterile and even dangerous. Hope, absent commitment is the enemy of change, capable of translating to a giving away of one’s agency, to a relinquishing of the need to do more than just show up every few years and push a button or pull a lever.

   This means hooking up now with the grass roots organizations in the communities where we live, prioritizing their struggles, joining and serving with their constituents, following leaders grounded in the community who are accountable not to Barack Obama, but the people who helped elect him. Let Obama follow, while the people lead, in other words…”

We all know things did not go as we had all wanted and anticipated. It is far too early to get a complete handle on what happened. With the effort you put into our campaign the results should have been better.  We did receive more votes then any 5th district candidate has in the past, but the percentage was about the same as in previous races. We had considerable impact with Republican and independent voters–a tribute to your efforts. This was always a major effort of our campaign and we succeeded.

The early indication is that we did not do as well as we should have with Democrats.   Anecdotal evidence suggests that the GOTV effort we all worked so hard on was not directed to the folks that would have boosted our Democratic total and helped the down ticket.  Democrats across the district and the state did not win where we should have.  Kurt is one example of a Democrat who should have won, given the demographics of his district, but lost by fewer than 400 votes.  A better GOTV effort would have helped him.

The good news is that our campaign leaves a greatly improved Democratic organization in the 5th. There is a new sense of identity and a new willingness to improve on the infrastructure you all built. We have the foundation of a viable two-party system in our district. We can build and be competitive at the local and state level. Clearly we will throw away an opportunity if we do not unite behind our newly-energized party, and position ourselves to do even better than we did this year. These gains can be expanded and I will be working toward making this happen.

The bad news is that we must pay off a remaining debt of $10,000. You were one of those who were so generous and helped our campaign. I am asking you to contribute once again to eliminate the debt I have incurred, which is mostly owed to the staff. You all saw a staff that was totally dedicated to the campaign, and devoted great energy and sleep time to our effort.  As a past campaign staffer, I know how many times campaigns close without paying what is owed to staff members. I know it is my personal responsibility to fulfill my agreements with them, but I have expended all of my personal resources already and must depend upon you to help. A $25 or more contribution by you would be very much appreciated.

I look forward to the next two years of helping President Obama to answer the challenges we have been talking about in this campaign, and continuing our vigilant watch on Steve King. He is the only elected official who celebrated the election by being combative and disgraceful.  He is in stark contrast to John McCain’s gracious call for bipartisanship, and the need for cooperation in these trying times for our nation.  Whether King runs for reelection in 2010 or runs for Governor, we in the Fifth must continue to dog him and hold him accountable.  I know you will join me in this effort.

This is not an announcement of a campaign for 2010.  I am not going to even think about running again for a long time, if ever.  I am making this commitment to stay in the fight, however, no matter who is running for Congress in the election years to come.  This race was never about me, it was about real representation for the Fifth District, and it was about you.  My commitment to you will not waver.

We have a daunting task before us as a district, a state, and a nation. Barack Obama is a visionary who is up to the task. Senator Tom Harkin, Gov. Culver, Representatives Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack, Leonard Boswell, our Democratic State House and Senate will all join with our new President to tackle the tasks at hand. We will bring real rural development to Iowa. We will stand with working families, family farmers and ranchers, the middle class and those who have no voice. And as we continue to do our part, collectively, we will bring back the respect the people of the 5th want and deserve.  It will not be easy but we have a good start. Let us continue what we have begun and work together to make our district a place of justice and not a national laughing stock.

I hope you will continue with me in our fight. The new page is turning even here. We have taken many steps and we must continue our journey until our job is complete.  We were not defeated. We have only been further challenged. We are up to the task. Let’s continue till we arrive at victory.

Thanks again for joining this campaign for Justice and peace. Step by step we will get there.

Peace and Justice,

Rob Hubler

(712) 352-2077

P.S. Your contribution of any amount helps us finish this campaign with the integrity from which we started it. I sincerely appreciate your assistance from the beginning to the end.

What Hubler says here about the GOTV effort is similar to what I am hearing from people all over this state. We lost statehouse races we should not have lost, races the House Democrats felt confident about going into the election. I have not crunched the numbers myself to confirm, but some are saying that the “drop-off” (that is, the number of people who cast a vote for president but not for state House or Senate candidates) was much greater this year than in 2004.

If anyone out there who worked in an Obama field office would like to give me your side of the story regarding the turnout effort or help provided to down-ticket Democrats, please contact me at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

The “Kurt” referred to in this message is Rob Hubler’s son Kurt Hubler, Democratic candidate in House district 99 (Pottawattamie County). He lost narrowly to Doug Struyk, a former Democrat who switched parties and was one of the candidates supported by the American Future Fund during the final days of the campaign.

Looking at the election results, I noticed that only about 11,000 votes were cast in Kurt Hubler’s race, which is a lot less than the more than 16,000 votes cast in my own district 59. That’s one side effect of the generally lower turnout in Pottawattamie County, compared to 2004. Polk County, where district 59 is located, had higher turnout this year than in 2004.

I encourage you to help Hubler retire his campaign debt by donating one last time. He put tremendous effort into running a real campaign in a very tough district for Democrats.

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New thread on Iowa election results

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that overall turnout in Iowa in 2008 was lower than it was in 2004. That is surprising, given the well-documented surge in new voter registrations.

Which people who participated in 2004 stayed home yesterday, and how did that affect the results?

Tom Harkin won all 99 counties, which is remarkable considering that John McCain beat Barack Obama in 46 or 47 of Iowa’s counties. Even in Republican areas, they’re looking for more in a U.S. senator than trash talk and smackdowns. Does anyone remember whether Chuck Grassley carried all 99 counties in 2004?

(UPDATE: The Daily Kos election scoreboard shows Christopher Reed beating Harkin in Page County in the southwest part of the state and in the four counties in the northwest corner. There may be a mistake on the Des Moines Register’s map, which shows all 99 counties in blue for the Senate race.)

The words “idiot” and “insane person” will be removed from the Iowa Constitution.

Speaking of idiots, Steve King got away with barely campaigning in the fifth district, winning by at least 20 points. Politics can be cruel, and I feel for Rob Hubler, who worked so hard for so long to give fifth district residents a credible candidate.

Nationwide, many Democratic challengers in districts like IA-05 fell far short. Nancy Boyda, a surprise winner from 2006 in KS-02, was a surprise loser last night. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee invested millions of dollars in other similarly Republican districts like MN-06 and AZ-03, and our challengers lost those too.

After beating Kim Schmett by 57 percent to 42 percent (about double his margin of victory in 2006), third district Congressman Leonard Boswell immediately vowed to run for re-election in 2010. Can’t some Democratic heavy-hitters who are on good terms with Boswell encourage him to retire? Barring that, is there anyone willing to start fundraising for a 2010 primary challenge who would have some establishment support?

We may have to run against Tom Latham in a redrawn third district in 2012, and it would be helpful to have a new Democratic incumbent in place before that happens.

Bruce Braley was the incumbent re-elected by the largest margin, 64 percent to 36 percent. I agree with John Deeth that Republican moderates are going to challenge Dave Hartsuch in his 2010 state senate primary.

Dave Loebsack won big in the second district, by 57 percent to 39 percent. The hill in this D+7 district is just too steep for a Republican candidate to climb. Mariannette Miller-Meeks would be better off seeking a different political office in the future, although the Iowa GOP may encourage her to run for Congress again in 2010. Loebsack won’t have the Barack Obama turnout machine cranking in Johnson and Linn counties two years from now.

Iowa Democrats are looking at small net gains in the House and Senate. Dawn Pettengill got away with switching to the GOP after the Iowa Democratic Party worked hard to elect her. A couple of races may have a different result once the absentee and provisional ballots are counted. Deeth has more details.

Jerry Sullivan has not ruled out requesting a recount in House district 59, although it seems unlikely to me that there are enough provisional and absentee ballots outstanding for him to reverse Chris Hagenow’s 141-vote lead (out of more than 16,000 votes cast).

UPDATE: Johnson County voters narrowly approved a controversial bond measure. The proposal was designed to generate

$20 million in a 20-year period to conserve open space.

By collecting taxes for two decades, the Johnson County Conservation Board will have the funds to buy and preserve remnant areas of land scattered throughout the county from willing sellers.

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