Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

September 9, 2019

Des Moines Register. September 5, 2019

Here’s what the Democratic National Committee doesn’t understand about the Iowa caucuses

Some Americans see the Iowa caucuses as the cockroaches of the presidential nominating season: Hardly anyone likes them but they are extremely hard to kill.

There’s a bit of truth to that, despite my well-known affection for the caucuses. They can be annoying, especially to those who don’t understand them. But far from being undesirable pests, the caucuses perform a valuable function not only to our state but to the country. There’s a kind of nobility in their persistence, despite the best efforts of many powerful people to crush them into the dust.

Usually, the threat comes from other states, which perennially try to push their way into the early rounds of voting. They rely on the slippery notion that their votes “won’t matter” if held later in the year. (Never mind that in 2016, it took until June for Hillary Clinton to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. All but seven states and the District of Columbia had voted by then.) Iowa has always dodged these predictable sorties by simply moving the caucuses as early as necessary to stay first in line.

This time, it’s the Democratic National Committee that has attempted to snare the caucuses with a Catch-22 rules process. The DNC required Iowa, and other caucus states, to come up with an absentee “voting” process. The goal - and it is a worthy goal - was to expand participation and prevent the disenfranchisement of people who might be prevented from participating by their jobs, mobility issues, overseas military service or other conflicts.

Absentee voting has long posed a bugaboo for the Iowa caucuses that does not exist for other caucus states. That’s partly because in order to maintain its first-in-the-nation status, Iowa must avoid trespassing on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary election. Any new process that looks too much like a primary election in the view of New Hampshire’s secretary of state will push the two states into a showdown. Nevertheless, Iowa Democrats made a good-faith effort to create a way to expand participation while maintaining the nature of the caucuses.

The problem, as you may have read, is that the DNC has said it would reject Iowa’s plan for “virtual” telephonic caucus meetings. The committee issued a vague security concern about a potential vendor and apparently decided if that not-even-hired vendor couldn’t conduct a secure telephonic process, no one could. It sounds like a flimsy excuse. People manage to conduct their banking over the phone; a telephonic caucus should not pose any greater risk. Furthermore, the committee offered no such objection to Iowa’s pilot project in 2016 to conduct a telephonic caucus for overseas military personnel.

The DNC’s concerns seem to arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of caucuses. Caucuses are NOT elections and they should not be held to the same standards for participation or even security as we would expect for an election. The only people getting elected at a caucus are delegates to a series of conventions over a period of months - plenty of time to catch and disqualify any cheaters. Caucuses do not produce an irreversible result that might put the wrong person in office.

Iowa and all states should do everything possible to eliminate barriers for participation in the political process. Even so, caucuses are not intended to be convenient. In fact, caucuses should be inconvenient. The entire process works the way it does because it forces voters to give up most of an evening in the middle of winter. Voters who are willing to make that much of a sacrifice for participation are also going to be willing to educate themselves about the issues and the candidates. Many of them are going to be willing to donate money or time to help get that candidate elected. It’s why party-building is considered an even more important goal of caucuses than nominating candidates.

Candidates who succeed in the Iowa caucuses are not always the establishment favorites. They’re not always the most famous or the ones who can buy the most advertising. The nature of the caucuses means voters are likely to be swayed more by a candidate’s ideas and communication skills than by money. That doesn’t happen in most other states. The fact that candidates must meet voters and campaign on their ideas in Iowa gives the rest of the country a better opportunity to take their measure, too.

Iowa has always had to fight for the caucuses and that would include defying the DNC, if necessary. And while the national party may not feel it owes Iowa anything, members would surely think twice about yanking the rug out from under candidates who have invested heavily here. Maybe that’s why the DNC has already indicated it would grant Iowa a waiver from the absentee rule, if requested. But that just pushes the issue to 2024. The DNC should reconsider its blanket prohibition on telephone caucuses or rethink its requirement for an absentee caucus process.

The Iowa caucuses are hard to kill, but not impossible. What all of us need to consider is that if the powers-that-be stomp out the caucuses, they will also squash another part of the American dream that says “anyone can grow up to be president.”


Fort Dodge Messenger. September 5, 2019

Clay County Fair is an Iowa treasure

The days are a tad shorter. The kids are back in school. There’s a hint of fall in the air. The season for summer fairs and festivals is nearly at an end.

For the countless Iowans and others who love county fairs, however, one big event remains — the Clay County Fair.

The fair that opens in Spencer on Saturday and runs through Sept. 15 is not just any fair. It is by far the largest county fair in Iowa and ranks among the grandest agricultural expositions in the nation.

The members of the Clay County Fair Association had big plans for their fair when it launched more than 100 years ago. That first fair was the largest county fair held in Iowa its inaugural year and organizers have laid claim to that status in many of the years followed.

In 2018, attendance was 308,603 and that included 503 commercial exhibitors with 150 ag-specific exhibitors making the fair, once again, a host to the largest farm machinery and ag equipment show at any fair in the U.S.

More than a half century ago, Life Magazine dubbed the Clay County Fair the “World’s Greatest County Fair.” It deserved that accolade then and continues to rank among the most popular and impressive rural-oriented exhibitions in North America.

The agricultural focus of this splendid fair is part of what draws the crowds, but it offers pleasures to suit all ages and attractions to appeal to diverse interests.

The Clay County Fair as a well deserved reputation as a venue where some of the biggest names in the entertainment world perform. The list of artists who have been on stage in Spencer is impressive. Garth Brooks, Bob Hope, Reba McEntire, Pat Boone, Lee Greenwood and Davey Jones represent just a small sampling of the show-business superstars who have wowed those fortunate enough to have taken time to come to the fair.

This year’s star performers will include Foreigner, Michael W. Smith, Jon Pardi and Maddie Poppe.

The thousands of people who will pass through the fair’s gates in the days just ahead are drawn to this sumptuous event for reasons that are diverse as the attendees. Part of the fair’s charm is the immense variety it offers.

If you’ve been to the Clay County Fair, it’s unlikely you’ll need much encouragement to pay a return visit. If you are among those who have yet to partake of the Clay County Fair experience, now’s the time to make plans to head for Spencer.

You’ll be glad you did.


Dubuque Telegraph Herald. September 4, 2019

Corn farmers struggling with EPA rule change

“The Farmers are going to be so happy when they see what we are doing for Ethanol, not even including the E-15, year around, which is already done. It will be a giant package, get ready! At the same time I was able to save the small refineries from certain closing. Great for all!”

So said President Donald Trump in a tweet last week. Farmers are indeed, ready for some good news about renewable fuels. Up to now, the changes in that realm have been troubling. And Iowa farmers are growing concerned that even if a fix does come, it might be too little, too late.

Farmers met with politicians and ag leaders at the Iowa Capitol last week amid growing concern about slumping demand for biodiesel and ethanol.

Farmers have lost billions of gallons of ethanol because of the EPA’s doling out waivers to so-called “small” oil refineries. The EPA change has been a debilitating blow to corn farmers as ethanol and biodiesel plants slow production. More than a dozen plants have closed or been idled nationwide, including one in Iowa.

Before the EPA exemptions, refineries were required to blend so much ethanol and biodiesel into fuel. Since the EPA began approving waivers, that’s eliminated the need for 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel and the 1.4 billion bushels of corn used to make it, according to reporting by the Des Moines Register.

As Sen. Chuck Grassley bluntly stated at a town hall meeting in Spencer last week, “that’s where we’re getting screwed. When the EPA promised 15 billion gallons of fuel was to be mixed with ethanol, it ought to be 15 billion gallons.”

Instead, some 31 waivers were issued. By comparison, fewer than 10 waivers were granted during “all the Obama years — and we thought that was bad,” Grassley said in an Iowa Public Television interview. While farmers are facing bankruptcy in record numbers, the waivers have been doled out to refineries that hardly qualify as hardship cases. Some of the “small” refineries are owned by Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp.

So what’s the “giant package” the president alludes to? Speculation suggests a deal in the works to roll back the waivers or incentivize the use of flex fuel. But corn farmers have heard promises before, and they’re losing money while they wait for a deal to be negotiated.

Virtually all of Iowa’s elected officials in Washington, along with Gov. Kim Reynolds, have been vocal about the need to preserve the renewable fuel standard for Iowa farmers. Let’s hope whatever move the president makes next is truly “great for all,” as he tweeted.