Sheriff to retire

We cannot speak with detachment about Buena Vista County Sheriff Gary Launderville. He is an old school buddy, a lifelong friend who we admire as honest, dedicated and 100% sincere. So it came with surprise and great disappointment when he announced Tuesday that he will retire within the year. He intends to move to a retirement home in Missouri he bought with his wife, Sandy. All we can do is lament his leaving and wish him well.

Launderville opened a new jail and county law enforcement center. He beefed up staff. He worked the roads right along with his deputies, getting run over while trying to save a family of motorists stranded in a blizzard along Hwy. 7. He was heavily involved in state law enforcement issues as a member of the board of the Iowa Sheriff’s Association. He advocated for justice for the mentally ill. And he ran his office with friendly efficiency.

From our perspective, one of his most important accomplishments was creating a culture of candor and transparency in county law enforcement. Launderville is accessible, strives to get information to the public no matter how dicey it might be or whom he might offend. He acts like a public servant and demands the same from the people who work with him.

Launderville recommended to the Board of Supervisors that when he steps down he hopes that the board will appoint Major Doug Simons as interim sheriff until the November 2014 general election. Simons is the obvious choice — the senior officer with decades of experience and the supervisor of criminal investigations. He has all the credentials and the commitment to be a great sheriff.

As we’ve said so many times before, we’re sure glad Gary Launderville has been our sheriff.

A sliver of hope

If there is hope for a decent farm bill to be passed this year, it is found in the list of conferees from the House and Senate who will attempt to find a compromise over wide differences. Congressional leaders named 41 people to the conference committee on Wednesday with the task of crafting a new five-year farm bill before the existing extension of the old farm law passed in 2007 expires on Dec. 31.

The committee meets for the first time next Wednesday. It will be chaired by House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Ok., who tried in vain to rein in ultra-conservatives trying to destroy the food stamp and school nutrition programs. When it comes to the farm bill, Lucas is a reasonable man trying to hold together an unreasonable delegation.

Two Iowans will serve on the committee. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Cummings (former Senate Ag Committee chairman), will be important voices for Midwestern production agriculture. Harkin comes at the committee’s work with a staunch line of defense for nutrition, conservation and renewable energy programs and funding, plus a strong safety net for production agriculture. King should be a strong voice for crop insurance, renewable energy, livestock production, agricultural research (Iowa State University is in the Fourth Congressional District) and certain conservation programs.

Other legislators can be counted on to move issues to the moderate center, like Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who has a strong relationship with Chairman Lucas.

The main stumbling point to a good farm bill is the House demand to cut nutrition funding by $40 billion over 10 years — 10 times the amount that the Senate wants to cut. Conservation programs also are in peril and ethanol remains under withering attack.

It appears that the most ardent advocates of eviscerating nutrition programs are not on the conference committee. This gives King an opening to be a real leader on a farm bill that works for Rural America by selling the virtues of a compromise to the hard right wing that listens to him. He has a huge responsibility.

Harkin’s goal should be to build a firewall against tearing apart the fabric that has held the farm bill together for generations.

If you can get Harkin and King to agree on a strategy, there might be hope for a decent farm bill. We have not seen them agree on much over the past decade.