A state senator who referred to government employees as “bottom feeders” last week received over 700-thousand dollars in federal farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003. Senator Mark Zieman, a Republican from Postville, heard all weekend from folks who were upset by his comment. During debate last Wednesday on a bill that made adjustments in the Iowa Public Employees Retirement or IPERS system, Zieman referred to “bottom feeders” who receive those state government-paid pensions. “It’s a very, very poor choice of words,” Zieman says. “I think I probably feel worse about this than the people (who) have e-mailed me. I’ve dealt with it all weekend and I’m sorry it was said. If I could un-say it, I would un-say it.” Zieman says it’s been said, though, and he’s going to have to live with it. “I guess the good Lord will deal out the punishment I deserve for it,” Zieman says. Zieman says he was attacking the whole retirement system, not just any one group. Zieman’s comments derailed Senate action on the bill that reworked the retirement system for state government employees. Zieman as a state senator will receive a pension through IPERS and last week when he made his controversial comment Zieman proposed making the contributions of state employees like himself equal to the contribution state taxpayers make. “For every two dollars that I put in the retirement, taxpayers (get) to put three into my retirement,” Zieman says “I don’t think that’s fair.” So how did Zieman qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of farm subsidies? Zieman rented five-thousand acres of farm ground in 1995. He’s cut back to two-thousand recently, but he does not dispute that he got nearly 714-thousand dollars in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2003. Zieman says he got the payments legally, and is just competing on the same playing field as every other farmer. Zieman does, though, support ending farm subsidies as he says subsidies bolster big farmers at the expense of smaller and start-up operations. And Zieman says it’s not as if he’s making a killing at farming. “Most people would look at one’s income tax statements, they’d be surprised to see what little money there is with the amount of risk involved,” Zieman says.
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