For farmers, not Farm Bureau

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

We have been talking a lot about the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture’s race for a couple reasons: First, Tim Gannon of Mingo is running as a Democrat, and we are longtime friends. He did a lot to help direct state resources to Storm Lake as an aide to former Gov. Tom Vilsack, and we will never forget it. Mike Naig, the Republican candidate, is a graduate of Buena Vista University and an Emmetsburg native, which are two scores in his favor. Which leads us to the second point about why this race is so important:

This used to be a sleeper job, the main responsibility making sure that fuel pumps work properly, and that grain elevators keep track of your corn and are insured if they don’t. That changed a few years ago. Republicans have built it up into an office that serves as an apologist for corporate agriculture that likes to run roughshod where it will. It now controls tens of millions in state funds for watershed improvement. Former Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey did not favor the release of how that money was being used, and we understand that the current administration under appointee Naig continues to hold watershed improvement plans close to the vest. That’s because Iowans would be disturbed to know that millions of dollars are being wasted on bioswales and other micro-patches of engineering that look nice but achieve little.

There is a considerable push to increase the state sales tax to accommodate a 3/8th cent stream of revenue to water quality, conservation and recreation. That would suggest tens of millions more under the dark money control of the Koch Brothers of Wichita and Bayer-Monsanto of Germany. And that is the way it works under a Republican administration. They turn over control of the state universities and research, they tell the public that we are doing something, and everyone is free to carry on as they are. Look: We have all these plans and all this money, so don’t worry. Yet, the nitrate levels in the Raccoon River persist. What the Republicans need is more money, more plans and more time to make this chemical agriculture work right for them.

Gannon comes from a John Deere lineage. We do not mistake him for Wendell Berry or Michael Pollan. But at least we know that his customer is the farmer and not the Farm Bureau. We need to know that someone is watching how agribusiness is spending our tax dollars. For now, the Koch Brothers are calling the shots over a huge river of money. The Farm Bureau, Iowa’s largest insurance company, last week endorsed Mike Naig. Gannon didn’t even get a mention. That tells us that Gannon is the man who can bring control over this increasingly opaque office that wields increasingly more power and influence in the state’s politics. The office is taking power and budget from the Department of Natural Resources to redirect the flow of money from natural resource preservation to agricultural engineering. Ag engineering got us into the problem of nitrate in the Raccoon River that poisons us and the Gulf of Mexico. It won’t get us out. Better stewardship will, and that starts with the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Gannon is the man who will watch out for farmers. Naig will watch out for Farm Bureau.

Grassley deserves this

The circus that is the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is almost entirely the making of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Had he done his job in 2016 and scheduled a vote for nominee Merrick Garland, the outstanding jurist put up by President Obama would have been seated appropriately and with bipartisan support. Grassley and his puppeteer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, refused to schedule a hearing for Garland. He was a judge of scholarship and integrity. He was not a liberal, not a conservative. But he was President Obama’s persona non grata in the Senate.

Grassley has been pouting from the Senate committee bench about the disruptions in his hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. Democrats are trying to delay a vote as Grassley refused to release thousands of pages of documents. He was committed to ramrodding a Senate vote before the November midterm election. Then came allegations from Kavanaugh’s prep school days that he abused a girl, now a professor. She is willing to testify before the Senate. Grassley is trying to blame this on the Democrats. The Washington Post knew about this in July, but Grassley was napping.

We don’t know what to make of the allegations. It opens a new chapter in the debate over how men treat women, and it reviews a previous chapter on how men rule about women from the bench. Now the debate centers on how far back we go, but we are already beyond that debate. Grassley cannot catch up to it.

Grassley deserves to be remembered as the one who brought the Supreme Court nomination process this low. He started it with Merrick Garland, he has locked out the minority, and now he is wallowing in it with his master McConnell. Grassley’s brand of politics by hegemony has brought us to a new low point in American public life. He can’t just brush that off on Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Grassley owns this mess.