November 1, 2014

Ag Secretary race a debate of voluntary vs. mandatory efforts to curb fertilizer run-off

Bill Northey

Bill Northey

Water quality is a key issue in this year’s race for state ag secretary. State leaders, including Republican State Ag Secretary Bill Northey, have been encouraging farmers to voluntarily adopt new practices that will reduce fertilizer run-off and soil erosion.

“For the most part, I think we’ve got good recognition within the farm community that it’s an issue,” Northey says. “I think we’ve also had to reach out to the community and say, ‘There are some solutions, there are some strategies that work.”

Sherrie Taha, the Democrat who is running against Northey this November, says the voluntary approach isn’t working.

“I understand nobody likes to be told what to do,” Taha says, with a laugh. “I’m definitely in that category, too, but you still have to be responsible to our neighbors and the impact of what’s happening when we do something on the rest of society or our neighbors down the road.”

Sherrie Taha

Sherrie Taha

Northey says making certain conservation practices mandatory could be a significant expense and might not ensure the right steps are taken based on things like the type of soil and drainage patterns that are unique for every field. Northey’s department has been handing out “cost-sharing” grants to Iowa farmers for conservation practices.

“To be able to do a better job of keeping those nutrients — that nitrogen and that phosphorous — on the farm and in the crop rather than having it leave the farm,” Northey says.

Taha says there should be more focus on soil health.

“We’ve got to do something more than currently,” Taha says. “The voluntary approach has what has brought us to the position where we have serious pollution problems.”

Taha points to what’s happening in Iowa’s largest public drinking water system. In 2013, the Des Moines Water Works saw record nitrate concentrations in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers and the utility reports nitrate levels last month set a new record.

Taha, an artist who is from Des Moines, is a commissioner for the Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District. Northey, who is from Spirit Lake, is a corn and soybean farmer who was first elected state ag secretary in 2006.

Chris Christie this past weekend, both Clintons this week

Governor Terry Branstad shakes hands with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Governor Terry Branstad shakes hands with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Iowa Democrats gathered Saturday night for a fundraiser in downtown Des Moines while at the same time Iowa Republicans gathered in a Des Moines suburb for Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s campaign fundraiser.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — the big name get for Branstad’s “Birthday Bash” — used most of his 15-minute speech to blast President Obama.

“We’ve now had six years where the world has been adrift because of the lack and failure of American leadership,” Christie said.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was the keynote speaker at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.

“Chris Christie is actually here to film a movie sequel: ‘The Closed Bridges of Madison County,'” Klobuchar said, to laughter from the crowd.

Last fall aides to Christie ordered lanes on a heavily traveled bridge to be blocked, causing traffic snarls in a town where the mayor had not endorsed Christie’s bid for reelection. Christie has said he had no knowledge or involvement in the bridge closure.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was featured at the Democrats' annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was featured at the Democrats’ annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

On Sunday at noon, Iowa Democrats launched a tour designed to hold an event in each of Iowa’s 99 counties within 24 hours. The blitz will conclude with a rally in Davenport late this morning featuring Vice President Joe Biden.

Also on Sunday Republican House Speaker John Boehner campaigned with David Young, the GOP candidate in Iowa’s third congressional district. Boehner plans to campaign with Republican Rod Blum in the first district and Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the second district today.

Senator Chuck Grassley will make eight campaign stops with GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst today, plus Arizona Senator John McCain and Florida Senator Marco Rubio are due to campaign with Ernst this week as well.

On Wednesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will headline two campaign rallies in eastern Iowa for Bruce Braley, the Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, then her husband — former President Bill Clinton — will campaign here for Braley on Saturday.

Photos provided by the Branstad Campaign, Democratic Party.

State and local officials celebrate renovated beef plant in Tama

Jeffrey Johnson, CEO of Iowa Premium Beef and Governor Terry Branstad.

Jeffrey Johnson, CEO of Iowa Premium Beef and Governor Terry Branstad.

State and local officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday for the Iowa Premium Beef newly renovated Tama beef processing facility. Tama Mayor Dan Zimmerman says the plant will process Black Angus beef.

“The opening of Iowa Premium Beef represents the beginning of a dynamic economic growth period for the Tama community and the state of Iowa,” Zimmerman says.

The company spent $48 million to renovate the plant. “Iowa Premium Beef is all the more special because it represents the future growth with a foundation in Iowa’s agricultural heritage,” Zimmerman says. “This facility will impact the workforce here in Tama in a big way. In just a matter of a few days, it will put 600 employees to work at wages well above the minimum wage.”

He says the plant also has room for future expansion. “This facility has the potential to add over 300 additional workers — when operating at maximum production levels — for a total of over a thousand jobs. Jobs that we need here in Tama,” according to Zimmerman.

The mayor says the impact of the plant will go beyond the city. “At peak production this facility will have the capacity to process 2,000 head of cattle each day. Needless to say, this will provide a shot of adrenaline to our state’s cattle market,” Zimmerman says. Iowa Premium Beef says the vast majority of the cattle processed at the plan will come from within 150 miles of Tama.

(Reporting by Chuck Shockley, KFJB, Marshalltown/ Photo courtesy of Iowa Premium Beef)



Ernst touts enthusiasm edge for GOP

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Iowa’s U.S. Senate race could be headed for a “photo finish” with Republican Joni Ernst at 48 percent and Democrat Bruce Braley at 46. The survey shows Braley with a wide lead among early voters, as 58 percent of those who’ve already voted told the pollsters they voted for Braley, while 37 said they had voted for Ernst. Ernst says that’s not worrisome to her.

“We have got some great grassroots out there and so many supporters,” Ernst told reporters this morning. “A lot of Republican voters will typically go out to the polls on Election Day.”

Iowa Republicans announced Wednesday that for the first time, more Republicans than Democrats have voted early. Democrats argue they’re getting independents to cast a vote for the Democratic ticket. Ernst says Republicans have the enthusiasm edge.

“I guess last night over at the ‘Victory Office’ there were more volunteers than phones,” Ernst says. “People are so energized right now.”

Ernst spoke early this morning to the Greater Des Moines Partnership, a group representing 21 central Iowa chambers of commerce, and she repeatedly referred to her “opponent.”

“I don’t want to get his name wrong,” Ernst said, as the crowd of about 20 laughed. “Unfortunately, you know, it’s become a big joke and I’m afraid I’m actually going to call him the wrong name.”

Earlier this month First Lady Michelle Obama called Braley “Bailey” seven times before the crowd at Drake University corrected her. Obama was in Iowa City Tuesday and she joked that she often calls her daughters and the family dog by the wrong name, too.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is campaigning with Ernst today and he told the crowd it was out of “self-interest” because he’ll become a Senate subcommittee chairman if Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate.

“The best thing I can do for South Carolina, I think, is get the Senate under new management. It’s broken, fundamentally broken. I think she is the solution, not the problem” Graham told reporters. “…Her voice, the voice of a military commander — would be a welcome addition.”

Ernst is a battalion commander in the Iowa National Guard. Eighteen senators are military veterans, according to a Roll Call analysis, and Ernst would become a veteran if she’s elected. Ernst has said she’d have to resign her post in the Iowa National Guard if she wins this Senate race.


First Lady returns to Iowa to campaign for Braley’s Senate bid

MIchele Obama at Drake University.

Michele Obama during an appearance October 10th at Drake University.

First Lady Michele Obama returned to Iowa today to appear at a campaign rally at the University of Iowa for Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley.

Obama drew national attention 11 days ago when she appeared at a rally for Braley at Drake University in Des Moines and urged the crowed to support “Bruce Bailey” seven times before being corrected.

Obama addressed that gaffe right away by twice saying emphatically she was there to support “Bruce Braley.” “Some of you may remember the last time I was here,” Obama said and someone in the crowd shouted ‘You got it right.” She replied, “No, I got it wrong, a couple of times. But, I sort of laughed to myself because I though people should follow me home. Talk to Malia and Sasha, because I never call them the right names. I call Barack Bo, it just never works out very well,” Obama laughed.

She said the mistaken name didn’t matter. “Although I may’ve slipped up on Bruce’s name a couple of times, what I know I got right are Bruce’s values. That’s really what matters in these elections,” Obama said. Obama touted the efforts she said Braley has made to make college more affordable and accessible to students.

She went on to push the same theme as her last visit, the Democrats need young people to turn out and vote, citing the influence of young voters in her husband’s two presidential campaigns. “For years folks counted young people out. That was the conventional wisdom, that young people don’t care, that young people don’t show up for elections. But, boy did you’all prove ‘em wrong for Barrack Obama,” she said.

Obama says the margin of victory for her husband in the 2012 presidential race in Iowa worked out to just 27 votes for each precinct in the state. “I want young people to really hear that number, that’s just 27 votes. That’s why voting matters,” Obama says. She encouraged the young people to go an vote right after the event and told them to get their friends to register and also vote.

Braley is locked in a tight race with Republican Joni Ernst. Ernst is making stops today in Sioux City and Council Bluffs with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The First Lady has been out campaigning for Democrats, but the president is making very few appearances.

Governor Terry Branstad said today Republicans are going to benefit from the president’s poor approval rating. “The country is going in the wrong direction. The national debt is approaching 18 Trillion dollars, so we think we have a real opportunity in all four of the congressional districts, as well as winning this Senate seat. Joni Ernst is a great candidate in the United States Senate,” Branstad said.

Branstad says there is a clear contrast between Braley and Ernst. “You have somebody who spent all his elected life in Washington, D.C., he’s a congressman, a trial lawyer who said bad things about Senator Grassley and Iowa farmers, versus a woman who grew up working hard on a farm and had a lot of responsibility at an early age, and now has become a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. And you don’t get to become a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard without significant leadership abilities,” Branstad said.

Branstad said he is happy to see the National Republican Party is putting money into the Iowa races, indicating the closeness of the races.


State unemployment rate up to 4.6% in September

Workforce-DevelopmentThe Iowa Workforce Development agency is reporting the state’s unemployment rate rose to 4.6 percent in September from 4.5 percent in August. IWD spokesperson Kerry Koonce isn’t surprised. “You’re seeing transition between summer and fall employment, so we’ll frequently see a little bit of bump this time of year,” Koonce says.

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent in September compared to 6.1 percent in August. The number of unemployed Iowans increased to 77,900 in September from 76,500 in August. There are roughly 3,000 more unemployed Iowans compared to a year ago.

Koonce says there was also an increase in the total number of working Iowans. “It jumped from 1,626,400 (in August) up to 1,629,700 (in September),” Koonce says. “That’s 33,000 higher than it was this time last year, so that’s still very strong improvement for the economy.”

Iowa’s construction sector added 1,600 jobs in September, following an “unexpected” loss of 1,200 jobs in August. Construction has added jobs in five of the last six months. Education and health services also added 1,300 jobs last month. “We did see some losses in trade and transportation (-1,000 jobs), with most of that in the transportation area,” Koonce says. “We also saw losses in leisure and hospitality (-1,600), which does tend to trend down this time of year.”

Employment in Iowa’s construction, health care, and finance sectors are at or near record levels, according to Koonce. Manufacturing trimmed 100 jobs last month, marking the fourth straight month that sector has cut employment in Iowa. “We saw large growth (in manufacturing) last year, so that’s just kind of leveling off,” Koonce says. Compared to one year ago, there are around 400 fewer jobs in Iowa’s manufacturing sector.

State unveils new emergency messaging system (Audio)

Alert-Iowa-logoThe Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management rolled out a new statewide electronic notification and emergency messaging system today at the department’s annual conference in Des Moines.

Audio:  Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson reports  :68

State Homeland Security Department director, Mark Schouten, says the new “Iowa Alert System” was developed after the state learned 53 counties were paying for a system, 31 had no system, and 15 others were using a free system.

Governor Terry Branstad joined Schouten to send out the first message to the county emergency management directors in the audience and their cellphones immediately started beeping. Schouten says the system was developed by the federal Homeland Security agency and is known as the Integrated Public Alert And Warning System or IPAAWS.

County officials will be able to send out localized alerts and Schouten says the state will also be able to send state alerts that will be accompanied by a warning buzzer if there is an “imminent threat.” “It’s loud, it is obnoxious. I think it is made that way to get your attention,” Schouten says of the warning signal.

HSEMD director, Mark Schouten.

HSEMD director, Mark Schouten.

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Branstand approved $400,000 to get the system going. “As I’e seen this system developed, it is confirmed that it will be a vital mechanism for local governments to provide safety and other important information to your residents,” Branstad says. Schouten says 34 counties have signed up for the system, and he says they hope to eventually have all 99 signed up for the new system with the state is providing for free.

“I think that’s one of the attractions of the system, we hope to get all the counties on the same messaging system, it’ll be free to the counties, free to the cities, free to the schools within that county,” Schouten says. “They’ll all be allowed to use it on a subscription base. The county coordinators will be able to send out those FEMA wireless emergency alerts.”

The system allows users to be very specific in sending out messages. Schouten cited the example of how one county coordinator used it already to find a man who had some mental health issues. “He left without permission from a hospital and they wanted to take him back into custody,” Schouten explains. “So they drew a circle on a map and messaged the people just within that circle, and within minutes, two or three people called up law enforcement and said ‘here he is he’s walking down our street.'”

Schouten says it’s an investment that helps all Iowans. “I think it’s such an effective tool that we are compelled to do it. I think it will end up saving lives,” according to Schouten. “There are just so many events in Iowa that we have not a lot of notice, but some notice. And if we can give that notice to the people who are affected by those disasters, then they are better able to take steps to preserve their own safety.”

Schouten says some counties still have contracts with the providers of their current service and they expect them to sign up with the new system once those contracts expire. He says the cost of the system should come down to around $300,000 a year once all counties are signed up.

The counties now signed up to use the system are: Black Hawk, Winnesheik, Jackson, Clinton, Scott, Cedar, Linn, Iowa, Johnson, Washington, Louisa, Henry, Marion, Warren, Clarke, Ringgold, Decatur, Wayne, Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Humboldt, Webster, Clay, Buena Vista, Sac, Carroll, Gutherie, Adair, Cass, Pottawattamie, Harrison, Shelby, Woodbury.