Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey resigned in March to take a job in the Trump Administration. Northey’s top deputy has been state ag secretary since then. His name is Mike Naig and he’s running to keep the job.
His Republican rivals are Ray Gaesser of Corning, former president of the Iowa and American Soybean Associations; Chad Ingels of Randalia, a former chair of the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission; Craig Lang of Brooklyn, former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau and Dan Zumbach, a state senator from Ryan.
Gene Lucht, public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, says each of the five Republican candidates seeking a full, four-year term as state ag secretary have their own niche.
“Mike Naig, who’s the incumbent, but not really the incumbent because he hasn’t won an election and hasn’t been in that post very long,” Lucht says. “You’ve got Craig Lang with his Farm Bureau background. You’ve got Dan Zumbach with his legislative background. Ray Gasser kind of comes from the commodity group approach and Chad Ingels kind of has the farmer and water quality background.”
In a majority of states, governors appoint an agriculture commissioner or state secretary of agriculture. Iowa is among a dozen states in which voters choose the top agricultural official in state government. Lucht says the race isn’t as high-profile as other contests on the Iowa primary ballot.
“Five candidates and secretary of agriculture is kind of a weird election because you have a lot of people who go into the polls and they look at governor and they look at congress,” Lucht says, “and then get to those other statewide posts and they flip a coin.”
This race may not be decided Tuesday night either. That’s because a candidate must win at least 35 percent of the primary vote to win their party’s nomination or the party will assemble delegates for a nominating convention later in June.
In this race, that decision would be made June 16th by delegates at the Republican Party’s state convention.
“Predicting the race is just really challenging, I suspect they’re all running two races,” Lucht says. “They’re all running to try to get to 35 percent, but they’re also probably talking to those convention delegates quite often.”
There is one Democrat running for state ag secretary this year. Tim Gannon worked in the U.S.D.A. for U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor. Gannon has moved back to Iowa, lives in Des Moines and is part of a family farming operation near Mingo.