A group that’s opposed to large-scale hog confinements has filed an ethics complaint against the woman who leads the Agriculture Committee in the Iowa House. The group "Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement" accuses Representative Dolores Mertz, a Democrat from Ottosen, of having a conflict of interest because her sons operate a 4000 head hog operation in Kossuth County.
Barb Kalbach, the group’s president, says Mertz should not be House Ag Committee chairwoman. "Her record shows her bias towards the factory farm industry and that’s supported by her family ties and her financial ties," Kalbach says. "I mean she seriously should not be in a place where bills can be immediately killed and not at least debated before the committee."
Peter and David Mertz pay their mother rent to spread manure on her farm. According to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the two brothers have been cited five times in the last five years for environmental violations connected to their hog confinement. "Given her position as chair of the House Ag Committee and her ties — her family ties and her financial ties — to the factor farm industry, we feel that Representative Mertz’s judgment could be influenced on factory farm bills that come before her committee," says Hugh Espy, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
Espy says he’s angry Mertz has not championed bills that strengthen construction standards for large-scale livestock confinements or change state law to increase the distances required between livestock confinements and homes. "We need policies that put people before polluters, people before politics, and people before profits," Espy says, "and we will not have that as long as Representative Dolores Mertz is the chair of the House Ag Committee."
Mertz has been a member of the Iowa House for 20 years and the top Democrat in the Iowa House says he has no plans to demote her. "Representative Mertz has the experience and knowledge to lead the House Agriculture Committee," said House Speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque. "She knows the problems faced by Iowa farmers today and understands the agricultural issues facing our state. As chair of the House Agriculture Committee over the last three years, no one can surpass Representative Mertz’s expertise on agriculture issues."
Mertz, who is 80 years old, narrowly won reelection this past November, edging her Republican opponent by 42 votes.