The Democratic candidate for Ag Secretary, Denise O’Brien, Wednesday held a conference call with five members of the Iowa Farm Bureau to refute a letter from the Iowa Farm Bureau’s president Craig Lang. The Iowa Farm Bureau’s political action committee picked Republican Bill Northey over O’Brien as one of its “friends of agriculture,” and the letter from Lang says O’Brien calls herself a progressive, but the letter says “the policies that go with that philosophy are simply not good policies for Iowa.”
Jerry Peckumn is a republican grain and livestock farmer from Green County who says he’s a Farm Bureau member and disagrees. Peckumn says, “This letter seems unfair to me. It doesn’t have an specifics as to why Denise would be a poor Ag Secretary. It doesn’t talk about any policies she’s promoting that would hurt agriculture. I find Denise’s policies and views to be beneficial. I’m not an organic farmer, but she understands organic farming and that’s fastest growing segment of the food industry.”
Jeff Klinge, is a grain and livestock farmer from Farmersburg who says he’s been a member of the Farm Bureau for over 20 years. Klinge in 25 years he’s never received a “negative letter degrading a potential politician this way.” Klinge says whoever wins the race is going to have to work with Farm Bureau, and “if they throw mud around like this, it’s not going to help their ability to work with the Secretary of Agriculture.”
Dick Sokolowski, a democrat grain farmer from Cherokee County, says he believes the Iowa Farm Bureau doesn’t like the idea that O’Brien has her own ideas. Sokolowski says the Farm Bureau has control of a lot of politicians at the statehouse. “I think they’re a little bit fearful that Denise will not be their puppet, and Farm Bureau dangling the strings. And I think that’s what they’re afraid of and that’s probably why they’re going so negative against her,” Sokolowski says.
O’Brien says the letter is an attempt to turn a tight race against her. O’Brien says as they head into the final weeks the Farm Bureau wants to make sure their appointed friend in agriculture has a place in the media. the letter says O’Brien “would take her activism beyond the borders of Iowa. That would be unfortunate.” O’Brien says she’s a Farm Bureau member and doesn’t understand that statement. O’Brien says she doesn’t know and believes her vision for agriculture is a “progressive” view and doesn’t know why Farm Bureau would say that.
The letter asks Farm Bureau members to make a donation to the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to help buy political ads. Two other farmers, Mike Perdue of Pottawattamie County and Francis Thicke of Jefferson County, also spoke in favor of O’Brien.
Don Peterson is the director of government relations for the Iowa Farm Bureau and was asked by Radio Iowa to comment on the letter. Peterson says the Iowa Farm Bureau designated Bill Northey its Friend of Agriculture, “Because in our view he’s the candidate most prepared to lead Iowa agriculture, with our new opportunities in renewable fuels…Bill is prepared to lead the state toward those opportunities and that’s why we’re supporting him in this election.”
Peterson was asked about the claim the letter is “mudslinging” or negative campaigning. Peterson says, “Let me just say that…candidates at this time of year will report a lot of different things. I can only tell you that there are some clear differences in this race, and part of what we do is to communicate to our members some important facts about an important race.”
The letter from Farm Bureau president Lang says it’s probably the first time he’s sent such a letter to members. Peterson won’t say the letter is prompted by a close race. Peterson says, “No, you know, honestly I believe that this is an important race and because there are such distinct differences and a clear choice as to who should be the next Secretary of Agriculture…we think its important to continue to communicate to our members and the public about the race.”
Northey and O’Brien are seeking to fill the post left open by Patti Judge who is running for Lieutenant Governor.