Saturday, December 22, 2007

Obama Criticizes Edwards' Senate Record

Presidential candidate Barack Obama, D-Ill., openly criticized rival John Edwards' U.S. Senate record today in front of a crowd of approximately 300 in Oskaloosa.

Obama made the charge that Edwards' record during his single term as a senator from North Carolina does not match the rhetoric he's been using on the campaign trail.

"Both of us agree that we've got to take on the special interests and the lobbyists," said Obama. "Both of us agree that they have too much influence in Washington. But I would argue that in positions where we actually had a chance to do something about it, I did something and John didn't. During six years in the Senate he wasn't passing laws to reduce the power of lobbyists," said Obama. He continued by highlighting his own recent work to reform Congressional ethics laws.

Obama also criticized Edwards regarding independent special interest groups and their influence on the campaign.

"John, yesterday, said he didn't believe in 527s. Those are these independent groups that raise money without disclosure," said Obama. "We found out today that there's an outside group that's funding $750,000, just bought three quarters of a million dollars worth of television time, and the individual running the group used to be John Edwards' campaign manager."

"The easiest thing in the world is to talk about change during election time," he said. "You've got to look at how they act when it's not convenient."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Aw Shucks, Edwards Video is Just Too Much

[Commentary] Those of us living in rural Iowa get just as much political mail as everybody else. Endless piles of fliers and pamphlets touting a candidate's strengths or attacking their weaknesses. We get it all, just like they do up in Des Moines.

But rural Iowans can expect something else to arrive in their mailboxes in the coming days from John Edwards, and it's made especially for us. The Edwards campaign has put together a DVD video aimed at making the case that Edwards is the candidate that will cure what ails rural America.

The DVD, titled "John Edwards: For the Country," is narrated by former Georgia congressman Ben "Cooter" Jones, the actor who played Cooter on "The Dukes of Hazzard."

It also features policy discussion by rural political strategist Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, who wears a Cubs hat as he rails against the corporate powers that he says have destroyed the economies of rural America. He makes a good point, although some may find it all a bit too combative.

Edwards should be commended for his commitment to the issues facing the people who live out here in the country. He has campaigned harder than any of the other candidates (in either party) for the rural vote, and he's probably going to do very well on caucus night because of it.

But the video, with bluegrass music playing over the entirety of its 12 minutes, is about as hokey as a possum wearin' bib overalls. It's the kind of stuff that makes some of us in rural Iowa grumble. Sometimes we get the feeling that a rural rube stereotype is being unfairly perpetuated, and some of us don't like that.

They've gone out of their way to find a log cabin to use as a backdrop for Mudcat, and some kind of shed with cedar shake siding for Cooter. It's all a bit much. It brings to mind that movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and all the while I'm thinking, "Did they film this at Living History Farms?"

There was one line from Edwards that really stuck out as I watched the video. "Rural America is not homogeneous," he says. "There are significant differences from one part of the country to the other and from one community to the other."

I couldn't agree more on that point. I don't know anybody around here who lives in a log cabin.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Wish This Was For Real

I'm a big fan of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. I'm among the millions worldwide who are aching for the completion of this awesome story.

Some people get so anxious for anything new, they take it upon themselves to create their own new SoIaF stuff. Like this YouTube video of an imaginary movie based on GRRM's books. It's all made using clips of existing movies. Check it out:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ever Heard of Albia?

With less than three weeks to go before the Iowa precinct caucuses, I thought I'd post a quick update on candidate visits. We're not getting very many.

Out here in the sparsely populated rural areas like Monroe County, it's very meaningful to us when a candidate takes the time to find us on the map and pay us a visit. We do not like to be ignored.

The following Republican presidential candidates have set foot in Monroe County so far: John Cox, Tommy Thompson.

The following Democratic presidential candidates have set foot in Monroe County so far: John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Barack Obama, Joe Biden.

Congratulations to those who bothered to take the time to venture out into the hinterlands.

P.S. -- Surrogates don't count.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Trapped Under Ice

We're here safe and sound in Smoky Hollow, but we're probably not going anywhere anytime soon.

There are obvious advantages to living in an area like this. We live down a long tree-lined lane, totally surrounded by woods, and it's such a beautiful place to be. But sometimes you pay the price.

This morning we awoke to find everything -- everywhere -- completely covered with ice. Go outside and you could hear limbs popping and crashing out in the woods.

Our driveway was blocked, as you can see in the picture above (Click on the pic and view it full size, it's really amazing), by trees that just couldn't bear the weight of all that ice. I got the chainsaw out and went to work.

I spent the whole time as I was cutting those limbs worrying about the trees over my head. Would one of those limbs come crashing down on my head?

Then, just before noon, the power went out. We waited a little while, hoping the lights would come back on, but they didn't. So we packed up and went to Albia to my grandparents' house. They didn't lose their electricity, but their phones, cable and internet service was out all day.

I drove back out here just after 4 p.m. and found that the power was back. So I went back to the grandparents' and loaded everybody back up and we came home. We're here safe and warm, and not planning to go anywhere anytime soon...unless the power goes out again.

Monday, December 03, 2007

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

For the record, I don't remember what I wanted to be when I was in kindergarten. But I'm thinking it was probably a Jedi.

Or more likely, I just wanted to be the owner of a light saber. I was obsessed with Star Wars from 1977 until...well, until the present.

Hillary Clinton's campaign attacks are really starting to get ridiculous. She has blasted Barack Obama for something he said when he was in kindergarten. Clinton says Obama had told someone when he was in kindergarten that he wanted to be president. Clinton says that makes him a hypocrite. Or something like that.

I like John Edwards' response to all this. He said when he was in third grade, he wanted to be a cowboy or Superman.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Seed Hat Wearer Is Not Offended

So I'm just minding my own business in my little corner of heaven out here in the country, and all of a sudden I hear there's some kind of dust-up about something Barack Obama said in regard to rural Iowans. It had something to do with seed hats, so of course I was interested.

As a rural Iowan who is rarely seen in public without a seed hat planted firmly on his head, I needed to learn what disgusting derogatory comment was made so I could take action against this outrage. So I did some digging.

They say it all started with Obama's appearance on Nightline a few days ago. Strange, I thought. I'd watched Terry Moran's Obama interview on Nightline, and heard nothing to which a rural Iowan should take offense. Maybe I just missed it, maybe I dozed off.

A look at the transcript would reveal it, I thought. Here's what I found:

MORAN: Do you think Americans are challenged by voting potentially for a presidential candidate who didn't have an American boyhood?
OBAMA: Oh, well, I think that it is both a challenge and an opportunity. I think there's no doubt that the fact that my name is Barack Obama and that my father was from Kenya and that I grew up in Hawaii that there's that whole exotic aspect to me that people, I think, have to get past. But they also, surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa, recognize the opportunity to send a signal to the world that, you know, we are not as ingrown, as parochial as you may perceive or as the Bush administration seems to have communicated, that we are, in fact, embracing the world, we are listening, we are concerned, we want to be engaged. We want to be safe. We want to be treated fairly. We want to make sure that, whether it's on trade relations or dealing with terrorism, that our national interests are dealt with. But we also recognize that we're part of the world community. And I think it was interesting, just here in Dunlap, you notice that some of the biggest applause was when I talked about wanting America to be respected again in the world. People understand this in a very significant way.

Still nothing about seed hats. But apparently I'm supposed to be irked about the "surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa" phrase. That's what bloggers in Los Angeles are saying, anyway. They're saying I should be steaming mad about this.

As I sit here and think about it, I actually don't take offense to that comment at all. To the contrary, I fully agree with Obama on this point. I've always been bothered by the stereotype of rural America that's been pushed by George W. Bush and many Republicans. This idea that we all ascribe to the Bush view of the world, the cowboy diplomacy, the "with us or against us" attitude of addressing world affairs.

Obama's right. Even in places where you wouldn't expect it, people are deeply concerned about America's standing in the world.

I've seen this concern throughout the past year at the dozens of political events I've attended. And like Obama, I've been surprised as well. People out here in the small towns are not asking the candidates much about corn, or soybeans, or hogs. I even wrote a story about that very subject a couple weeks ago. A candidate can do a major policy rollout on agricultural issues and people say "ho-hum." People out here are worried about Iraq, and terrorism. And they talk about torture. They're upset about our porous borders and they wonder why Bin Ladin got away. And they're asking candidates about gas prices and our dependence on foreign oil.

They want America to be seen once again as the respected leader in the world.

Just last Saturday, Joe Biden came to Albia and took questions for more than an hour from local residents. There wasn't a single question asked about agriculture. Not one. A young woman sitting behind me asked Biden about how he would prevent further genocide in Darfur. Her question was thoughtful and informed, and she asked it boldly. Biden looked very surprised to hear such a question from such a young Iowan, but I must say I was surprised as well. And I was proud of the fact that folks in my hometown take their role in the Iowa caucuses so seriously.

So anyway I still needed to get to the bottom of this Obama seed hat business. Here's where it came from, in an appearance on the Tonight Show.

JAY LENO: Let me ask you, you've been campaigning for quite a while now. Anything surprised you? Obviously they brief you. You get out there and you think -- I don't know if you saw our Jay Walking how amazing what people don't know. Is there anything you go, "Do people even know what we're talking about?"
OBAMA: You know, folks in Iowa are really well informed. I'm spending a lot of time there.
JAY LENO: That's really good.
OBAMA: I'm just telling you, you go to some barn somewhere and some guy in overalls and a seed hat, he's say, "What is your policy on Burma?" And it turns out I think people are a lot more plugged in.

I know a lot of guys who wear overalls and seed hats, and I'm sure none of them would be offended by that. They would nod and agree.

Now, if I could just get the candidates to answer some questions about farm programs...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Joe Biden Visits Albia

Joe Biden paid us a visit today in Albia. Here's a photo of him with my son, Aidan, and my wife, Steva.

The Delaware Senator is working very hard to break into the top tier, and if he can continue to connect with one voter at a time like he did today, he will get there soon.

Biden is very good at connecting with people in these small settings. It's events like this when he has the time he needs to go into great detail about his views on major issues. His deep experience really shines through.

As I've written on this blog before, I believe Biden is going to be one candidate that will surprise people on caucus night.

Update: Had a couple more photos sent to me today. I added them on Aidan's blog. Click here to check them out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Agriculture and the Caucuses

The national media tends to perpetuate a myth that presidential candidates are always pandering to Iowa farmers. As I have followed this campaign very closely throughout the year, I've found that is simply untrue.

With a few exceptions, it's been tough to catch a candidate talking in depth about agriculture. They just don't talk about it or get asked about it very much.

Yesterday I interviewed Iowa Farmers Union president Chris Petersen for an article on Iowa Independent. Petersen has generally been disappointed with the discussion of ag issues during the campaign, but says some of the candidates are now starting to see the light. Here's a link to the article.

Friday, November 16, 2007 Democratic Candidate Power Rankings

Iowa Independent has a new feature starting today. It's called the Power Ranking, and it explains how we believe the Iowa caucus races are shaping up at this moment.

Check it out, and be sure to share your ideas over there at Iowa Independent in the comments.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

CNN Las Vegas Debate Reactions

Who was the winner? Who was the loser?

Not sure if there was a winner. The loser was CNN. Wolf Blitzer had zero command of the stage as moderator. There were technical foul-ups throughout the evening. Post-debate analysis was virtually unwatchable.

Tonight's effort by CNN should be studied in a new college course: How Not To Run A Presidential Debate 101.

Farm Bill Cloture Vote Possible Friday

The 2007 Farm Bill is still stuck in the U.S. Senate, and Democrats and Republicans have been trying to blame each other for the impasse for almost two weeks.

On Friday, a key vote to break the deadlock is likely to be held. Senators may have the opportunity to vote on a motion for cloture, a procedural move that would limit debate on the bill and finally get the ball rolling.

One problem: Cloture motions in the Senate require a 60-vote majority to pass, and a small gang of senators are currently on the other side of the country having a debate in Nevada.

Sens. Biden, Dodd, Clinton and Obama, along with the rest of the Democratic presidential candidates, are all mixing it up right now in Las Vegas. But we know those senators will all soon return to Iowa and continue asking us to support their candidacies.

For Iowans, especially rural Iowans, the Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that the Congress will debate this year. This is a vote that those senators should not miss.

Luckily they're in Las Vegas, where it's always easy to catch a flight.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Questions About Planting

Considering the regular agriculture-related content of this blog, you might think by reading the headline of this post that it's going to discuss questions farmers may have about planting corn or beans.

But of course this isn't about that.

As regular readers of this blog know, I had the honor of welcoming a presidential candidate to my community last week. You can read all about it here. And as I've said before, I'd be happy to show off my beautiful community with any other presidential candidates who'd like to pay us a visit. I think it's fun and it's good for Albia to get the attention it deserves.

I did in fact visit with some reporters that day, and lo and behold, I was quoted in a story that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times today. Unfortunately, the story is sorta screwy.

No offense is intended to Ms. S. Jennifer Hunter, the author of the article, who I must say was genuinely affable and professional that day. And she was also quite cordial on Saturday, when I ran into her again at the Iowa Farmers Union event in Des Moines.

But the point of her article...well, it's way off the mark. Ms. Hunter attempted to use my comments to prove a point that is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Basically, Ms. Hunter says, a camera-ready moment created by the Obama campaign in picturesque Albia is no different from Hillary Clinton's campaign planting questions at public forums.

This assertion is as amazing as it is illogical.

Was the Obama stop in Albia pre-arranged? Sorta. They called my brother Joe beforehand and asked him to meet Sen. Obama on the square in Albia and give him a brief tour if they had enough time between scheduled events. Joe is the Monroe County Democratic Party chair, and an Obama precinct captain.

I was asked to tag along, and I thought it would be fun.

From my experience on political campaigns, a certain amount of planning must be done for every little moment. And we know how things have to be checked out and cleared in advance with the Secret Service. Reporters at the Chicago Sun-Times ought to know that, too. Campaigns have to plan ahead for things like this.

I don't know all of the details about what kind of planning went into the Obama stop in Albia. I was just asked to go meet him on the square in Albia. But I do know the stop was not part of their official schedule, and it was only going to happen if they had enough time. And, just an hour before the stop was supposed to happen, they told Joe that it could be called off at any minute if they were running late.

I think they just wanted to stop in Albia so they could cross Albia off the list of places they needed to hit before the end of the campaign. No problem here. I think all presidential candidates should come to Albia, and only a few of them actually have made it here so far.

Anyway, the Obama stop in Albia was certainly a well-orchestrated campaign moment. But that's all it was.

As far as I know, my brother and I were the only people in town who knew about it in advance. And it was totally obvious to everyone there that day -- we knew Obama was coming. We were standing there on the street in Albia waiting for him to arrive.

Here's my point: In this instance, the Obama campaign wasn't trying to trick anybody.

Is this kind of photo-op moment the same as getting someone at a public forum to ask a pre-arranged question all while pretending like it's an impromptu question?

Nope. It's not.

Farm Bill Action Expected This Afternoon

I'll be watching the U.S. Senate closely this afternoon, as debate on the 2007 Farm Bill is expected to soon resume. We might actually see some votes on key amendments to the bill.

I'll be posting Farm Bill stories regularly on Iowa Independent, so check it out over there.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Few Campaign Photos From the Past Week

I've been to several different campaign events in the area over the past week. I took lots of photos, and here are some of them.
This was at a Joe Biden event in Osky on Sunday. Biden is welcomed to town by Rep. Eric Palmer.
The Biden event at Taso's in Osky was quite full. He is a very engaging campaigner, and I think everyone who attends a Biden event will give him very serious consideration as their choice in the caucuses. His strength is definitely growing, even though polls don't show it. He is the kind of candidate that will surprise people on caucus night.

The next set of photos are from a Hillary Clinton event in Oskaloosa last Saturday. Her events are very impressive, and it's easy to see why she's the front-runner. She clearly has the support of many of the traditional Iowa caucus constituencies. And as you can see below, she actually does take questions from the crowd. At this event she took at least five questions from people in the crowd. She'll even hold the microphone for you.

Obama Makes Unscheduled Stop in Albia

Yesterday was definitely one to remember. Most importantly, it was my wife's birthday. After a hectic day we were able to sit down and have some birthday cake to celebrate the occasion.

But something else happened here yesterday that sure doesn't happen everyday. Barack Obama was traveling from Ottumwa to Chariton, and he stopped halfway in Albia for a quick unscheduled visit to our beautiful community.

My brother Joe is a big Obama supporter. Joe asked me to go with him up to the square and meet Obama and show him around town a little bit. Being the total political junkie that I am, I jumped at the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with the Senator from Illinois. And I've always been eager and happy to show off our town to people from other parts of the country. We really have a wonderful, beautiful town square and people are always surprised to see it.

The whole afternoon was kind of a surreal experience. I've witnessed tons of these kinds of moments, but this was different.

The whole gaggle of press photographers and reporters were snapping photos of us the entire time. As is always the case with these kinds of things, the Obama campaign had basically choreographed the whole thing. But things didn't exactly follow the plan.

We walked across Albia's historic square and Sen. Obama asked us questions about Albia. I told him about Robert T. Bates and the Bates Foundation, which has helped to maintain and restore the historic buildings on the Albia square.

Joe, who is a teacher at Albia Community High School, talked to Obama about the schools and students.

We continued down the street to Smitty's Sandwich Shop, a local fixture in Albia, famous for their home-made tenderloins. We go into Smitty's and there are probably 25-30 reporters and photographers and campaign workers and Secret Service people all elbowing their way into the small restaurant.

We continue our chat as the photographers snap away. I talked briefly with Obama about the Farm Bill and rural Iowa and stuff.

We get our tenderloins (Obama takes his tenderloin to go) and make our way out of the restaurant. And then Obama decides to walk over to Vitko's service station. I guess this was not part of the plan, because I hear Secret Service guys saying "What, where's he going?"

He's starting to draw a crowd as he visits with people at Vitko's, and then he goes in and meets Ray Vitko Sr. and chats with folks there for a few minutes before walking back to the bus.

It was a great opportunity to show off our town to such a large audience. I'd be very happy to welcome any of the presidential candidates to Albia. We haven't seen Hillary in Albia yet, or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd. And on the Republican side we've only had visits from Tommy Thompson and John Cox. I'd certainly welcome any of them to Albia and I'd love to show them around town.

Here are a few photos:
My brother Joe with Sen. Barack Obama in Albia, just outside of Smitty's Sandwich Shop.

Obama visits with Sally McDonald at Smitty's. Sally has worked behind the counter at Smitty's for many years. Her daughter owns the place.

Smitty's owner Shari Lepley, Obama and Sally McDonald.

Friday, October 26, 2007

2007 Farm Bill Fiesta

It's been a really busy week for me over on Iowa Independent. Please stop over there and check out my running series on the 2007 Farm Bill.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Rural Americans for Hillary" Event at D.C. Lobbyist Office Draws Fire From Rivals

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has come under fire from rival Democrats for planning a "Rural Americans For Hillary" event to be held at the office of a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm.

An ABC News blog reported this morning that the Clinton campaign will hold a lunch and briefing at Troutman Sanders Public Affairs, lobbyists for agribusiness giant Monsanto.

Monsanto was recently in the news in Iowa when the Iowa Attorney General's Office began an investigation of the company's business practices.

The John Edwards campaign pounced on the opportunity to highlight Clinton's close connection to powerful Washington lobbyists, and the Barack Obama campaign quickly joined in the fray. Both Edwards and Obama used rural surrogates to fire the shots at Clinton.

In a press release from the Edwards campaign, former Congressman Ben "Cooter" Jones said Clinton's "idea of talking to rural Americans is having a campaign lunch in Washington, D.C. with agribusiness lobbyists." He said Clinton simply doesn't relate to folks in rural Iowa, "and from what they tell me, they don't relate to her either."

The Obama campaign released a statement from former Iowa Farmers Union president Gary Lamb. "When it comes to the issues facing rural America, it seems like Sen. Clinton is listening to Washington lobbyists instead of spending time in Iowa with folks who have been farming for decades," he said. "I know Sen. Clinton said that she believes Washington lobbyists represent real Americans, I just can't believe that she thinks they know how to farm."

Both Obama and Edwards have recently campaigned in Iowa touting their rural policy proposals. Clinton has yet to release any specific policy proposals regarding agriculture or rural development.

Repeated requests for a response from the Clinton campaign were not answered.

Who Cares About Rural Folks?

As we enter into the final phases of the presidential caucus campaign season in Iowa, the candidates have presented most of their big plans and policy proposals. Be it about health care, Iraq or education, most of the candidates have rolled out their big ideas.

I think any presidential candidate who hasn't presented a policy proposal for any particular issue by late October doesn't show much interest in that issue.

And I think rural/agricultural issues deserve a policy proposal by anyone seeking the votes of those of us who live in flyover country.

So who has presented their detailed plans for rural America?

I'm obviously mostly interested in the Democrats here, so I took a quick look at the websites of the six major Democratic candidates, and found only three of them had a detailed rural issues policy proposal. Those candidates are John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama.

Read John Edwards' plan here.

Read Chris Dodd's plan here.

Read Barack Obama's plan here.

I have been told by the Bill Richardson campaign that his rural policy proposal will be released "soon" and I'm eager to see it. Hopefully Biden and Hillary will get something together soon. Waiting this long seems to give the impression that rural and agricultural issues are not a high priority of these candidates.

One of the main reasons I'd like to see these policy proposals soon is the fact that the 2007 Farm Bill is not yet completed. I want to see candidates take a position on some important issues before the Farm Bill is completed, that way we know where they stand if something important fails to make it through this year's Farm Bill.

If I missed one, please let me know. I'd love to see it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Richardson Hunts for Votes in Southern Iowa

Bill Richardson is a hunter, and he wants rural Democrats to know it.

He purposefully mentioned the fact that he is a hunter at least three times in the span of an hour during a campaign stop today in the small southern Iowa community of Albia. The New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate chatted and joked with a gathering of about 20 locals at Mom's Place, a cozy roadside cafe at the intersection of highways 34 and 5.

"I'm a hunter, by the way," said Richardson after answering an unrelated question. "I know a lot of you are hunters, so please support me. The NRA gave me an A+ rating."

While the right to bear arms is obviously not a burning issue in the minds of most Iowa Democratic caucus-goers, Richardson's record on the subject may well earn him the respect of rural Democrats in places like Albia and other small towns that are often ignored by presidential candidates. "You know, I get grief all over the country," he laughed. "Doesn't help me in the Democratic Primary, but hey, I'm a Westerner."

Albia Mayor Richard Clark, a Democrat who has been involved in local politics for many years, told Iowa Independent that it may, in fact, help Richardson in rural areas. "I feel like it is an important issue," said Clark. "I know there are people trying to do away with guns. But they're never going to be able to get all the guns away from criminals. I think he's right on that issue."
Clark said he hasn't picked a favorite candidate yet, but he liked just about everything Richardson had to say.

The early morning campaign stop in Monroe County marked the 88th Iowa county that Richardson has visited. "I've got 11 to go," he said. "And I'm going to go to all of them. I'm going to have meetings like this everywhere. There's no town that's too small."
He had traveled from Centerville, about 20 miles to the south, where he stayed the night in a small bed-and-breakfast. He was scheduled to follow Highway 34 east throughout the day Wednesday, stopping in Ottumwa, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington.

Richardson spent most of the time in Albia talking about his regular stump speech topics, emphasizing his plan to end the war in Iraq and move all U.S. troops out of that country. He stressed the need for a new direction in world diplomacy, and his experience as a United Nations ambassador and foreign affairs. "I believe in diplomacy," said Richardson. "And I don't believe this president has practiced diplomacy. It's important that we restore our standing in the world." He also spent a good deal of time talking about education and health care.

One of the local Democrats in attendance, Doran Haywood, liked what Richardson had to say. Haywood, who lives in the Monroe County town of Lovilia, pledged his support for Richardson. "I'm going to caucus for him," said Haywood. "Because of his all-around experience, as a congressman, a governor and an ambassador. And also because I'm a card-carrying union man of 50 years, and I like his stance on labor."

Richardson, using a warm self-deprecating sense of humor that has served him well in the campaign, said he doesn't have much money and he doesn't have much glamour, "but I have the experience to bring change."
"The good news is that Iowa decides. The good news is that the pundits and TV people don't decide."

Monday, October 08, 2007

Edwards In Albia

John Edwards yesterday became the first major presidential candidate to come to Albia so far this year. We've had visits by the likes of John Cox and Tommy Thompson, but Sunday's visit by Edwards was the first big campaign event to grace our fair city all year.

Just over 100 people attended, which is a good crowd for political events in Albia.

Edwards was introduced by Monroe County Supervisor Denny Ryan. Denny has endorsed Edwards, and also supported him in 2004.

Edwards really didn't make any news in Albia, but I think he made some new friends. I heard a lot of very positive comments from people as folks were filing out of the building.
The event showed me that Edwards continues to have strong support in rural areas and small towns. This is the kind of support that can rack up a lot of delegates in the caucuses, something that many big city pundits don't really understand.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Grassley, Obama Team Up to Aid African American Farmers

There aren't very many African-American farmers in Iowa.
Nonetheless, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley is leading a call to help thousands of them in southern states who for years were discriminated against as they tried to participate in federal agriculture loan programs.
And Grassley, a Republican, has a key Democratic senator as an ally in his efforts: Barack Obama.
Grassley is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee that is slowly crafting its version of the 2007 Farm Bill, and he has called on committee leadership this week to include legislation in the bill that would help African-American farmers who were denied entry into the Pigford v. Glickman settlement.
That 1999 settlement ended a discrimination lawsuit between African-American farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But years later the issue is not resolved. As many as 22,000 farmers filed claims in the Pigford settlement, and about 15,000 of them received compensation. But Grassley stated that as many as 75,000 did not have their claims heard because of a filing deadline mistake. A September article in the Hill reported that about $730 million has been paid out in claims as a result of the Pigford settlement.
In a press release this week, Grassley said that black farmers in the South should get fair consideration of their case, "and up to this point, the Department of Agriculture hasn't allowed it to happen."
The farm bill passed by the House of Representatives in July includes a provision that would allow a new review to individuals whose Pigford settlement claims were denied. Grassley and Obama have been pushing for similar legislation in the Senate bill.
"I had hoped we could settle this without legislation, but enough is enough," said Grassley. "If we don't pass legislation thousands of victims of discrimination continue to be denied an opportunity to even have their claims heard."
Grassley and Obama's bill, named the Pigford Claims Remedy Act of 2007, is similar to the House-passed language introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.
Grassley's letter this week to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and ranking member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., states that there is "more than enough in funding to provide a robust legislative fix to the problems with the Pigford claims process."

Biden Calls For 16-Year Public Education System

Sen. Joe Biden wants to transform American public education into a 16-year system, getting kids as young as 3 into 'head start" programs.

The Delaware Democrat and presidential candidate announced his education plan Thursday in Des Moines, then set out for two days of campaign stops in southeast Iowa.

Biden's proposal, which comes with a price tag of approximately $30 billion, would fund two full years of preschool for everyone and provide qualifying high school graduates funding to go to college for two years.

At a campaign event in Ottumwa Thursday evening, Biden chatted for 90 minutes with a crowd of about 40 people at the local United Auto Workers hall. He spent a good deal of that time talking about his education plan.

"We've got to start kids to school earlier," said Biden. "If we start kids in a quality preschool at age 3, they have a 25 percent better chance of graduating high school than if we start them at age 6. Teachers have known this for years. So I would invest in early education. I'd double enrollment in Early Headstart and quadruple Headstart."

The plan would also provide $5 billion in grants to states to expand public preschool programs, and would expand home visitation programs for new parents to provide guidance on health, nutrition and school readiness.

One of the key components of Biden's plan is what he calls Higher Education ACCESS for All. He said it would help pay $9,300 per year for two years of college for students from families making less than $50,000 per year. For more affluent families, it would provide refundable tax credits.

"Anybody coming of high school who qualifies for college should be able to go," he said, "and not be denied because they don't have the money. There were 400,000 kids [who] got admitted to college this year but couldn't afford to go. And we're competing around the world? Anybody think you're gonna make it in the year 2025 without a college education?" he asked. "Coming from a middle-class neighborhood? What do you think your prospects are? My generation, you could make it. But let me tell you somethin', baby, I wouldn't want to bet on it now."

The college portion of Biden's education plan alone would cost about $9 billion annually. But, Biden said, it's all about what you value. "We're spending $85 billion per year to give people making an average income of $1,430,000 a year a tax break. Now you tell me what you value. Did they need that? They didn't ask for it and it will not affect the economy at all if they don't have it. I'm not trying to punish them: I'm not one of these class guys, rich against poor. They just don't need it. For almost one-tenth of that amount, he said, his plan could guarantee that everyone in America who qualifies could afford to go to college.But for almost one tenth of that, I could guarantee every kid in America that qualifies could get to college."

Biden also would hire 100,000 new teachers in an effort to reduce class sizes to an average of 18 students per classroom. "The smaller the class, the better the outcome. You have 30 kids in a class, you could do better with 20. The only way to get smaller classes is to get more teachers." Biden calls for a grant program to provide $2 billion annually to assist school districts in providing incentives to attract new teachers.

Biden would also raise teacher pay with a series of incentives. "In the countries we're competing with, England, France, the Netherlands...they pay their teachers the same amount of money they pay a graduating engineer. My dad used to have an expression. He said, 'don't tell me what you value, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value.'" Biden applies that lesson in his belief that if America values education, we must budget for it.

He said he would provide additional incentives to teachers who work in what he calls "high-need" schools and provide bonuses to teachers who agree to stay with those schools for five years. The plan also calls for supplementing the pay of teachers who achieve National Board Certification, as well as assisting teachers to pay off their student loans.

"The thing about this is it's doable. It's doable," said Biden. "The thing costs a lot of money, but it's doable." Biden's proposal can be viewed on his campaign website here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Funding Package, Farm Bill Will Take Shape Soon, Harkin Says

The Senate Agriculture Committee may begin markup of its 2007 Farm Bill this week.

The committee markup process, once complete, will result in the bill that will go to the Senate floor. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee, told reporters Tuesday there is still hope for an agriculture committee markup of the bill in the next few days.

"The past week has seen some very good progress on the farm bill," said Harkin. "I've met with members of the committee four times in formal discussions, and we've had countless conversations with my colleagues individually. We're beginning to rally around a basic framework that makes sound investments in our national priorities, provides strong policy and moves our country forward."

The main hurdle the agriculture committee must overcome has been a lack of funds to pay for all the priorities of agriculture committee members. Harkin has plans for a variety of new programs, including a significant boost to environmental programs. He has been pushing the Senate Finance Committee to provide the additional revenue needed for these programs.

"These new investments will be supported by a variety of funding sources, one of which is the Senate finance tax package," said Harkin, explaining that he has been working with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to secure funds for the bill. "He's indicated the package in his committee will provide additional resources to help meet our farm bill funding shortfall."

Harkin said that a number of members of the agriculture committee do not want to act until the finance committee finalizes its funding package. The promise of the finance committee marking up its tax package this week fuels his optimism that the farm bill will come together quickly. "No one wants to move this farm bill more than I do, and I've been working every day to make that happen," he said.

But Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who serves on the agriculture committee and is the ranking Republican member of the finance committee, told reporters today that the finance committee's funding package "is still somewhat unsettled."

Grassley said the agriculture committee's markup, "since it's apt not to be this week," would be the week of Oct. 13.

Friday, September 28, 2007

New State Website Devoted to Soil, Water Conservation Programs

There's a new online tool available for farmers who want to participate in soil and water conservation programs.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is urging Iowa farmers and landowners to take advantage of the new Financial and Reports Management System (FARMS) website.

In a press release, Northey said that the new website allows farmers to sign up for and manage their participation in conservation programs offered by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. "This new web program is designed to make it easier for farmers to register and get conservation practices on the ground," said Northey. "There remains a great demand for filter strips, grass waterways and other projects that reduce runoff and improve water quality. This website will help farmers make sure those projects will happen."

The website will provide farmers and landowners plenty of information about state conservation programs, and allow them to apply online for assistance. Farmers who have participated in the past can monitor the status of their conservation project on the site.
Northey said the site is expected to speed processing of applications.

The Iowa Division of Soil Conservation, part of the state Agriculture Department, is responsible for programs that provide for the management of soil, water and mineral resources conservation.

Friday Farm News Roundup

Almost 90 years ago, Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act with the intent to force competition in the livestock industry. The basic idea: competition in the industry results in fair markets for farmers. At that time there were five big meat-packers who dominated the markets and were accused of manipulating prices to the detriment of farmers. The act solved many of those problems, and farmers benefited from packers bidding against one another for their livestock. Now it's 2007, and competition in livestock markets is not what it used to be.
In an article in the Des Moines Register this week, Philip Brasher reported on efforts in Congress to add new competition provisions to the 2007 Farm Bill. Independent hog producers have long fought for new laws to weaken the power of large meat-packers in the marketplace. Many want an outright ban on meat-packer ownership of livestock, and are watching closely as the U.S. Senate prepares to write its version of the 2007 Farm Bill. They hope the Senate will insert such a ban in the bill.

Chris Peterson, the hog farmer Brasher mentioned in the story above, will be busy next week raising a stink in Pleasantville. Peterson is president of the Iowa Farmers Union, which is holding a forum on Oct. 1 with Peterson as the keynote speaker. Click here to get the Coalition for Iowa's Farmers' take on the forum.

Also in the Register this week, we learned of the passing of one of Iowa's great agriculture journalists of the 20th century. Don Muhm was the farm editor at the Register for more than 30 years, and had an enormous impact on agriculture in Iowa and beyond during that time.

As harvest comes into full swing in Iowa, extra caution is urged on Iowa's roads. Farm vehicles will be hauling in what is expected to be a record corn crop. The Fort Dodge Messenger reports on the situation.

Iowa State University's Bioeconomy Conference will be held Nov. 5 and 6. Wallaces Farmer reported that the keynote speaker will be Vinod Khosla, one of the world's leading proponents of renewable biofuels. Khosla is co-founder of Sun Microsystems and has invested in many renewable fuels operations around the world.

The Washington Post has a big story today on farm subsidies.

As ethanol usage grows, another alternative to petroleum is coming closer to viability. Bio-based butanol is being studied by DuPont and BP, as reported in the Des Moines Register.

Wallaces Farmer has a story about former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack taking a position with Iowa State University's Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products.

Brownfield Network is reporting this afternoon that soybean rust has been found in Iowa. Iowa State University has confirmed that a soybean sample taken from Dallas County has the disease. Soybean rust can often cause significant losses to crop yields, but it may be too late in the season for it to have caused much damage this year.

Food-Labeling Law Likely to be Included in Farm Bill

It's still nearly impossible to guess what the 2007 Farm Bill will end up looking like. But it's now almost a certainty that a long-awaited mandatory country-of-origin labeling law for retail agricultural products will be implemented as part of the bill.

The country-of-origin labeling law -- known by the acronym "COOL" -- was passed in 2002 and signed by President Bush. It was never implemented, however, after being delayed numerous times in the last five years. Click here to read an Iowa Independent article in June that reported some of the history of the law.

As the U.S Senate Agriculture Committee prepares to write its version of the 2007 Farm Bill, likely as soon as next week, a large bipartisan group of senators are speaking out in favor of adding COOL legislation to the bill. Early this week, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., penned a letter to committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, urging the addition of the "COOL compromise." The bipartisan duo obtained the signatures of 29 other senators for the letter.

"This compromise, reached during consideration of the House-passed farm bill, may not be perfect," said Grassley in a conference call with ag reporters. "But we feel it is a workable and common-sense rule." He said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had failed for five years to get the law implemented, but noted Congress was also to blame for not providing adequate funding for the law. "Because of the inability for five years to get this under way, it's time for Congressional intervention to ensure the long-awaited implementation of mandatory COOL legislation."

The "compromise" on COOL was reached in the House Agriculture Committee and added to the House version of the Farm Bill passed in July.
"This consensus represents a reasonable compromise and finally clears the way to timely and reasonable implementation," said Grassley. "The problems and concerns created by USDA among producers, packers and retailers are alleviated in this compromise House language." Grassley explained that the compromise would establish three labeling options for meat. It would also allow ground meat to be labeled with a narrative list of countries of origin, but doesn't require percentages.

The National Farmers Union, which has been the leading organization pushing for implementation of mandatory COOL on agricultural products, has a comparison chart here, listing the differences between the compromise COOL language and the existing 2002 law. Under the compromise language, the law will mandate that all retail agricultural products -- everything from cherries and peanuts to hamburger and goat meat -- must be clearly labeled with country of origin.

Harkin, who has long supported mandatory COOL, told Iowa Independent in June that he would focus on keeping the law intact in the new farm bill. He was quoted this week by Brownfield Network as saying that he might tinker a bit with the House compromise COOL language in his bill, but said, "I want to make it very clear -- country-of-origin labeling will go into effect next year."
Any scenario that doesn't include COOL in the new farm bill is unlikely. Grassley and Johnson brought together some heavy-hitters as co-signers to their COOL letter, including all of the Democratic senators running for president. There weren't any Republican presidential candidates on the list, but counting Grassley, there were six Republican names. That's no small feat, considering the vehement opposition to mandatory COOL by many Republicans in the past five years.

"The usual opposition has been -- but no longer is -- everything outside the farm gate, between the farm gate and your mouth," said Grassley when asked who opposes mandatory COOL. "Processors, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, slaughterhouses, the American Meat Institute, all of those things."

In a press release, Grassley notes that consumer polls have consistently shown widespread support for COOL. A poll conducted by the Consumers Union in July found 92 percent of respondents believed imported food products should be labeled with their country of origin. A Zogby poll in August found 95 percent believe consumers have a right to know the country of origin of the foods they purchase.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hillary and That Uncomfortable Cackle

Each of the presidential candidates have their own little idiosyncrasies. These personal peculiarities are magnified to us here in Iowa, as we see the candidates so often we get to the point where we can almost recite their stump speeches from memory.

Chris Dodd inserts the word "here" in the strangest places as he talks.

Joe Biden, when he wants to add emphasis to a certain point, often repeats the last few words of a sentence.

Bill Richardson doesn't always speak in complete sentences. He'll start talking about one subject only to go off on a tangent.

John Edwards does weird things with his tongue when he talks. And that drawl is a bit much, even for me, a guy from the sticks in southern Iowa.

These are all behaviors that have endearing qualities to them. It's just the way they are, and it's fine. We feel like we know them personally when we hear them talk.

But Hillary Clinton's phony cackle is different.

It's obvious that these laughing fits are not just part of the way she is. It's coached behavior, and she's not fooling very many of us. It's not endearing. It's actually sorta creepy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

FFA on the Rebound, but 'It's Not Your Father's Ag-Ed Program Anymore'

Agricultural education is becoming a key factor in the success of Iowa students getting prepared to enter the work force.

The skills sought by employers in Iowa are changing rapidly as new job opportunities sprout up with the growing renewable fuels industry. And as those new opportunities arise, students in Iowa's schools are showing a growing interest in the study of agriculture.
One time-honored agricultural education program, Future Farmers of America, had seen its membership in Iowa drop to nearly 10,000 in the year 2000. But FFA has enjoyed somewhat of a rebirth around the state with more than 12,300 members this fall.

Iowa FFA Advisor Dale Gruis told Iowa Independent that it's a myth that kids aren't interested in agriculture. "The common belief among a lot of people is that these programs are kind of drying up. Which is not true," said Gruis. "While we may lose a chapter now and then because of school mergers, we also will see every now and then a new school that adds a program."
Gruis said that in order for FFA to remain a vital part of agricultural education, it must adapt to teach kids the skills they need in today's agriculture. "It's not your father's ag-ed program anymore," said Gruis. "The programs have changed over time. Programs may not be exactly how parents remember them from years ago. There's a lot more emphasis now on horticulture, biotechnology, science, all those things that are growing areas in agriculture today."

Gruis said kids are interested in the high-tech skills needed by agribusiness, but they're also very interested in learning about growing and marketing foods on a small-scale, local level. "And we know that there's probably a pretty significant number of FFA students that currently sell produce through farmers markets as an FFA project. There's a growing interest with students in the trend of trying to sell through farmers' markets. That's been an exciting trend, because I think most of us support the local foods initiatives."
While agricultural education programs are mostly located in small-town high schools, Gruis said that students in urban schools are now showing a lot of interest in horticulture and local food projects.

But it's large-scale production agriculture that has created the most demand for highly skilled young adults. Preparing kids to enter into agronomy or biology programs in college is going to be a key focus of agricultural education programs in Iowa high schools.
"Agriculture education is more important now than it ever has been," said Gruis. "The growing biofuels industry in Iowa, the whole desire to see Iowa grow in producing more biofuels -- it's definitely an area that makes sense to try and get more students involved in understanding agriculture. Especially the aspects of biology and the marketing of agricultural products."

"I spend a fair amount of my time talking to business and industry people, and they continually talk about the need for students that are interested in agriculture," said Gruis. "Iowa probably has a shrinking student population, especially the number of students that grow up on farms. But the demand for those students is growing."

A recent article in Iowa Farmer Today reported that there is an incredible demand for highly educated agronomists in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest. The article states that some agronomists with advanced degrees from Iowa State University are getting paid $80,000 or more as a starting salary.

Iowa FFA Foundation President Steve DeWitt told Iowa Independent that the jobs are here for students willing to learn the skills that are required.
"Production agriculture is of paramount importance to the economy of Iowa. And agriculture has huge demands right now for employees," said DeWitt. "Agribusiness represents more than 25 percent of all employment in the state of Iowa, so it's a significant contributor to our overall workforce. The needs of agribusiness are greater than they've ever been."
"Renewable fuels and all of the manufacturing facilities that are being built, they have great needs for employees with special training. A lot of the schools, Iowa community colleges, have started new programs to help educate new potential employees for those facilities."

One planned project that is on the drawing board may soon help educate Iowa's youth about agriculture. The Iowa FFA Enrichment Center is a multimillion-dollar learning institution that will be constructed near the Des Moines Area Community College campus in Ankeny.
The project, funded by the FFA Foundation, will be more than 75,000 square feet in size and will serve students and teachers in Iowa's agricultural education programs.

"The enrichment center is really devoted to helping students involved in FFA throughout Iowa take advantage of some new educational opportunities," said DeWitt. "It will be devoted to helping students and teachers become more proficient in the skills and opportunities in agribusiness today." Once completed, the Enrichment Center will feature greenhouses, computer and science labs and classrooms for special educational programs.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Iowa's Deer: Beautiful, Destructive and a Target of Growing Concern

What is Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey most often asked about as he travels the state?
New opportunities in the renewable fuels industry? Iowa's water quality and how to improve it? The evils of factory farms? Nope, nope and nope.

Deer. It's all about those beautiful antlered critters that roam every nook and cranny of our state. Northey said that everywhere he goes, people are talking about the deer population, and more specifically, what can be done to control the damage caused by deer.

"It's the number-one subject I've been asked about in my town hall meetings all year so far," said Northey in an interview with Iowa Independent. Northey said he has visited more than 80 communities since taking office in January.

"We always get a lot of discussion about deer population," he said. "We're seeing a lot of private ground now where folks are not allowing hunting. There is a concern about that. Really, the biggest conversations at my town hall meetings are always about the number of deer. And it's certainly about crop damage from farmers, but it's also about accidents and the non-farm stuff too."

Northey said that deer have always caused a lot of damage to Iowa's traditional top crop -- corn. That's nothing new. But as many small farms operations experiment with new specialty fruits and vegetables, farmers raising those crops are finding a main concern is making sure their crops aren't munched by unwanted guests.
"In horticulture production, where two acres is their whole summer's work, it can get all destroyed in just a short while by some deer," said Northey. "Grape folks, orchard folks, if they're trying to plant an apple orchard or a vineyard, the number-one thing they've got to worry about is how to keep the deer out so that you can get your plants big enough so that they'll survive."

Throughout the last three decades, the whitetail deer population rose as the human population in rural Iowa declined. That growing population has caused problems throughout the state.
Crop damage is only a minor concern when compared to the danger posed by deer on Iowa's highways. There are regularly more than 7,000 animal-vehicle crashes on Iowa's roads each year. The Iowa Department of Transportation provided this link for statistics from 2001 to 2005. In addition to those statistics, the website has compiled data on Iowa traffic accidents involving deer, with a page of statistics for years 1993-2004.
An article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette recently reported that 2007 is already the deadliest year ever for motorcycle/deer accidents.

The overpopulation of deer in Iowa makes for some dangerous driving conditions, and it's obviously not good for deer that end up smashed on the roads.
Deer hunting, which is a big tourism draw for Iowa, is the most effective way to keep the deer population under control, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Willie Suchy.

Over the past two years the Iowa Legislature and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have been trying to enact policies to bring the deer population in Iowa back to levels of the mid-1990s.

"The important thing is to try to increase hunting pressure and to kill enough antlerless deer," said Suchy. Antlerless deer are not prized by most hunters, who generally go out to the field seeking a trophy buck. "What we're doing is trying to increase the number of antlerless deer licenses in counties that have too many deer. We've increased that by about 13,000 last year to about 113,000 total. So we are focusing pressure on those counties that we have good data that says that deer numbers are higher than we'd like to see them."

Suchy said areas of the state where the deer population is too high are mostly in southern and eastern Iowa. "Deer numbers in northwest and north-central Iowa don't seem to be in too bad of shape. They're consistent with where they were 10 years ago, and that's about what we'd like to get things back to."

Getting a reliable estimate on the number of deer is not easy, and the DNR uses varying methods for conducting a deer census. "We don't have firm numbers. We are saying we have some 380,000 after last year's hunt. We'd like to see that get down to around 270,000."

For farmers who would like to get the deer population reduced in their neighborhoods, the DNR has a program to help connect them with hunters. "For individual farmers, we have depredation biologists who can work with them to get hunting pressure on their land," said Suchy. "And those biologists have lists of hunters who are willing to shoot antlerless deer."

These efforts appear to be working, said Suchy. "In southern Iowa, seeing what's happened over the last two years with the increased doe harvest, our survey numbers are leveling off and in some cases coming down. We are having successes."

For Northey, he's thinking outside the box. He has considered working with the DNR to organize a "big doe" contest in an effort to encourage even more hunters to harvest the less sought-after female deer.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Harkin Steak Fry: Photo Blog 2

Former state representative and gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon watches his favorite candidate, John Edwards,

This Edwards staffer dutifully wore a hot costume all afternoon.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy enjoy the day at the steak fry. Miller has endorsed Obama, and McCarthy has endorsed Biden.
Hillary Clinton gives her stump speech at the steak fry.
Chris Dodd discussed the finer foods available on a stick at the Iowa State Fair during his speech at the steak fry.

Head getting sunburned? A fashionable hat can be crafted out of an Obama sign and a few stickers.
John Edwards discusses his health care plan during his speech at the steak fry.
Joe Biden's "Ears of Experience" display.
Biden gives a sobering address on the realities of the situation in Iraq to close out the presidential candidate speeches.
An Uncle Sam costumed steak fry attendee supporting Edwards.

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie.

Harkin and guests give a final bow for the crowd to close out the 2007 Harkin Steak Fry.

Harkin Steak Fry: Photo Blog

Iowa Independent's John Deeth (wearing his trademark raspberry beret) gets the spin from Obama advisor David Axelrod.
The Obama crew marches to the Harkin Steak Fry, led by the drum corps the Isiserettes.
Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge welcomes the crowd early in the program at the steak fry.
Grandma Nancy and Aidan enjoy the beautiful weather at Aidan's first Harkin Steak Fry.
The catering crew worked over hot grills preparing the meals for over 12,000.
Iowa vocal talent Effie Burt passionately sings the Star Spangled Banner.

Ruth and Tom Harkin say hello to the record crowd at the Harkin Steak Fry.
Barack Obama takes to the mic to deliver the first speech of the six special guests.
Hillary Clinton and Ruth Harkin have a chat up on the stage.
Bill Richardson gives the second presidential candidate speech at the steak fry.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Albia Capitol for a Day

Gov. Chet Culver proclaimed Albia as the state's Capitol for a Day today, with a big gathering of local local folks at the historic Monroe County Courthouse. Pictured above are myself and Aidan with the governor.

The event was a good chance for people to ask questions and visit with both the governor and my mom. I think some good ideas were presented, which will be taken back to Des Moines.

One of the main topics of discussion was the new Honey Creek resort lodge being built at Rathbun Lake.

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for taking the photo with my camera.

Power Fund Board Aims for Energy Independence

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver announced the members of the Iowa Power Fund Board of Directors Tuesday in Des Moines. Culver also introduced Roya Stanley, Iowa's new director of the Office of Energy Independence.

The Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence were created by the Iowa Legislature earlier this year to spur development of new energy technologies in Iowa and to develop and implement a plan for Iowa's independence from foreign sources of energy by 2025.

Stanley has been active for 25 years in the field of renewable energy and energy efficiency. For the past seven years she has been employed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Co., as a liaison working with officials and agricultural leaders across the country. Before going to the NREL she spent 18 years in Des Moines, working for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and as the state Energy Bureau chief. During that time she led the development of state energy efficiency initiatives. She also worked to lay the groundwork for the development of a switchgrass research project.

In her new job Stanley's duties will be to coordinate administration of the $100 million Iowa Power Fund, coordinate existing state and federal energy policy programs, pursue new research investment funding from public and private sources and develop the plan for energy independence.

Stanley will work directly with the Iowa Power Fund Board of Directors. Public board members include chairman Fred S. Hubbell, of Des Moines; Lucy Norton, of Clive; Glenn Cannon, of Waverly; Peter Hemken, of Des Moines; Carrie LaSeur, of Mt. Vernon; Patricia Higby, of Cedar Falls; and Thomas Wind, of Fairfield. Also on the board will be Iowa Department of Economic Development director Mike Tramontina, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Rich Leopold, and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

Ex-officio non-voting members of the board include Sen. Roger Stewart, D-Preston; Sen. Hubert Houser, R-Carson; Rep. Nathan Reichert, D-Muscatine; Rep. Chuck Soderburg, R-LeMars; and representing Iowa's colleges and universities, Gregory Geoffroy, Kent Henning and Mary Jo Dolan.

Hubbell and Higby will also serve on a separate due-diligence committee that will monitor and review the projects. Other members of the due-diligence committee will be Franklin Codell, of West Des Moines; Vern Gebhart, of Marion; Floyd Barwig, of Ames; Ted Crosbie, of Ames; and William C. Hunter, of Coralville.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Albia to be Capitol for a Day on Wednesday

Gov. Chet Culver will proclaim the Monroe County Courthouse as Iowa's "Capitol for a Day" tomorrow.
The governor and my mom (Albia is her hometown) will be at the courthouse from 1-2:30 p.m. to hold open office hours to visit with local folks.

I've heard that we'll have a special music presentation by local favorites, The Aloes.

Attended the Edwards Event in Chariton

I drove over to Chariton yesterday for the John Edwards event. It was a beautiful evening, so they had the event out on the courthouse lawn instead of inside Bizzy's Ice Cream.

There was a bigger crowd there than I expected, and I saw a lot of familiar faces. I asked a few of the local people who I know, and they said this visit was the first of any of the top candidates to Chariton. It's kinda like Albia, where we've only been visited by Tommy Thompson and John Cox.

Edwards continues to show that he's running strong in these small towns in my neighborhood. After the event, I had the opportunity to ask Edwards about how he would change federal agriculture policies. Here's his answer:

"Lower payment limitations. Lower limits on subsidies. What I've proposed is $250,000. More money put into moving toward clean, renewable sources of energy. More effort, although there's been some good effort under Tom Harkin, more effort made to conserve the land...more conservation funding. And a lot of the programs for low income families are in the Farm Bill. And I would want to bolster those also."

Edwards' proposed Rural Recovery Act is the only one of its kind so far among the presidential candidates.

For all of the national pundits who are still surprised at how well Edwards is doing in Iowa -- that's part of it. He seems to grasp these rural issues and concepts better than the other Democrats, with the possible exception of Iowa's neighbor from Illinois, Barack Obama.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Will Record Rainfall Affect Record-Breaking Crop Predictions?

As the wettest August in Iowa's history comes to an end, farmers are assessing the impact of the recent wild weather on their crops. In some areas of the state, powerful storms dumped more than a foot of rain in less than one week.

Despite some areas where crops were damaged by flooding and powerful winds, most of the corn and soybeans in Iowa are doing just fine. That's the assessment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service report released this week, rating 70 percent of the corn in Iowa in good or excellent condition. The week before the flooding, 71 percent of the crops were called good or excellent.

One corn farmer, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, said Wednesday that "generally, the crops around the state look really good." But the full impact of unprecedented August rainfall is not fully known. "This August is the rainiest August ever in Iowa," he said in a telephone interview with Iowa Independent. "And it looks like we're seeing the third-most precipitation of any month ever in the state of Iowa since they've been keeping records, and we have about 1,600 months that we've been keeping records."

Average rainfall across the state for the month of August so far was 9.65 inches, far above the norm of about 4 inches, said Northey.
"We'll certainly have to wait and see for sure until harvest to see what the damage was," he said. "The visible damage was very localized. But I'm not sure we even know what the impact is to a crop in standing water this late in the season. We know early in the season how if you have standing water very long it'll kill the crop and you've got to re-plant. But this late in the season, it's hard to even know what happens. We'll probably see some stalk rot damage because of the high humidity and warm temperatures."
Some areas of the state, however, can expect to have huge, possibly record-breaking corn harvests. "We have some really good corn in northeast and east-central Iowa," said Northey. "The crop report in August suggested that we could have crop reporting districts over there, in about 10 counties, where they would average 200 bushel. We're not used to those numbers, and it will be interesting to see if that really happens. But as I talk to folks in that area, they are very pleased with their crop. They really feel like they've got a good crop coming."

The rains may have destroyed some crops, but probably saved others. "Although the rains were too much in some cases, they did stop some of the damage that was happening in western Iowa and southern Iowa, where they were really short of rain. In those cases, we were anticipating some losses because of the dry weather, both in corn and soybeans. So it kind of stopped some of that. I think in general we expect a really good crop coming."

The USDA reported in June that across the nation, farmers have planted an estimated 92.9 million acres in corn this year. Iowa leads the nation in acreage dedicated to corn production.
An August USDA crop report projects a whopping 13.1 billion bushels of corn will be harvested this year in the nation, and if that holds true, it will be the second-largest corn crop in history. The state of Iowa is expected to produce over 2.5 billion of those bushels of corn.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Leaked Harkin Farm Bill Document 'Just Ideas,' His Staff Says

The Environmental Working Group has gotten its hands on what it says is a draft of Sen. Tom Harkin's proposals for the commodity title in the 2007 Farm Bill. But it's actually nothing more than a sheet of ideas for discussion, says Harkin's staff.
Harkin, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been keeping his cards close to his chest as his committee prepares to hold hearings next month to formally draft their version of the agriculture legislation. The Iowa Democrat has generally avoided specifics when openly discussing his plans for the bill, mostly emphasizing his strong commitment to expand the Conservation Security Program.
After obtaining the "leaked" proposal last week, the EWG distributed it widely. And EWG's Mulch blog criticized the plan as "basically a status-quo proposal, with many issues (like payment limits) not addressed."
But Kate Cyrul, Harkin's ag committee communications director, told Iowa Independent Tuesday that the EWG has it all wrong. "What EWG sent around is not the Harkin proposal," said Cyrul. "We shared a very brief explanation of what could be included in the commodity title with Dem staff of committee members and are in the process of meeting with some committee staff and with outside groups to discuss the counter-cyclical proposal in more detail. Just to emphasize, this is not legislative language, this is just ideas for staff of committee members to consider and respond to."
One of the key ideas presented in the document is the possible shift to a "revenue-based" system of counter-cyclical payments. The plan would base counter-cyclical commodity payments on commodity prices and crop yields, rather than just prices. The revenue-based approach has the endorsement of the National Corn Growers Association and has been pushed by Senate Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
In the House version of the 2007 Farm Bill passed July 27, a revenue-based payment program was inserted as an optional, rather than mandatory, system for farmers to receive counter-cyclical payments.