Climb faster

Democrats controlling the Iowa Senate will not have enough time to pin a tail on Gov. Terry Branstad over secret state cash payouts to former state employees. Just a few days of the legislative session remained as this was written and Sen. Janet Peterson of Des Moines, chairwoman of the Senate Oversight Committee, can’t call enough hearings to get someone to turn on the Republican governor.

Even if there were time, it is not clear that Branstad knew that several state employees who were run off from employment were paid to keep their mouths shut about why they were run off.

Branstad fired Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll after The Des Moines Register published the first report about secret cash settlements. He promised that “heads will roll” if he finds out about any more of it. There have also been allegations that Branstad Administration officials were meddling in the work of the Iowa state pension board, including threats to its budget if the board did not hire a friend of the administration.

Sounds like same-old, same-old politics.

We bumped into Rod Roberts, a former Republican state senator from Carroll who now serves Branstad as director of inspections and appeals. He said that politics can be a blood sport and does not necessarily blame the Democrats for hollering from the mountaintop. He said he would, too.

“It’s a system thing,” Roberts told us.

He said if he needs to fire someone for cause, nothing is stopping him under Iowa law. The only time to you need to pay hush money is if the manager does not have cause to fire, Roberts explained. That’s how state government sometimes operates.

Of course, Democrats are furiously trying to find a smoking gun that points back to Branstad. Their gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch is a fine man with a Mt. Everest to climb in order to reach Terrace Hill. Something has to bring Branstad down a peg or two for Hatch to gain traction.

This might be it.

After the legislature adjourns, there might be a study committee to drag the process out. Few will pay attention.

Maybe Branstad knew about the hush money. Maybe he didn’t. He has been around long enough, one would think, not to let something so stupid come back to bite him. He is smarter and less arrogant than Chris Christie, who just might get a tail pinned on him. Sen. Peterson will have to do some scrambling to put Branstad on the spot. This will be a talking point for Hatch, no matter what Peterson uncovers. It will take much more than that to unseat possibly the most popular governor in Iowa history.


Planting in a strong market

Every gloomy March it appears that Iowa might as well not plant a corn crop. So the cold winds blew this year. Corn could ebb below $4, the smart guys said. Look at the latest USDA export numbers, they said, thinking they know what China, India, Brazil and the weather will do six months hence. As usual, it will be a good thing that Iowa farmers race to their fields this week to seed corn and, later, soybeans.

Because the experts are wrong.

Corn broached $5 per bushel in Chicago last week. Brazil signed a big corn deal with China, which sucks more No. 2 yellow out of the world pipeline. It’s plenty dry in the Corn Belt. Soybeans are near $12 per bushel.

“The demand has really rebounded, and we are seeing it from all of the different sectors, export and domestic,” Iowa State University Extension grain market specialist Chad Hart told the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman. “The strength and breadth of demand have really surprised us.”

Corn exports this year are expected to double. Soybean exports will be up about 20%. Feed and ethanol demand also are strong.

What’s not to like?

Farmers seem to sense what’s going on. Nemaha farm broker Ron Witham tells us he just sold an excellent farm parcel for $14,000 per acre. That’s lower than it would have brought two years ago. Witham says that farmland prices have leveled off but certainly have not tanked. Buyers appear to recognize that a new demand paradigm has established itself over the past decade. Four-dollar corn would appear to be the new baseline.

We should be well above the baseline this year as demand grows and production struggles to keep pace, hindered by wilder weather every year.

If we were one of the auto dealers, we would have some more pickups on the lot late next fall. It should be another great year for Iowa agriculture.