Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Secretary of Ag race

I've been quiet thus far about the Secretary of Agriculture race until now. It may seem a bit odd that a farmer doesn't have much to say about the SoA position in one of the most agricultural based states in the nation. Here's why.

For the most part, the Secretary of Ag's position is to watch over bureaus that are generally regulatory. The Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is broken down into various divisions, then bureaus:

Consumer Protection and Animal Health
Animal Industry
Dairy Products Control
Meat and Poultry Inspection
Weights and Measures (the people who check those gas dispensers)
Market Development and Administrative Services
Ag Diversification and Market Development
Horse and Dog (Dog and Pony show?)
Horticulture and Farmers Markets
Agricultural Marketing
Plant Management and Technology
Commercial Feed & Fertilizer
Entomology and Plant Science
Grain Warehouse
Iowa Laboratory Facilities
Soil Conservation
Field Services
Soil and Water Conservation Districts
Mines & Minerals
Water Resources

Pretty boring stuff, for the most part.

Now, nowhere do I see "Livestock Zoning" or "Ethanol Plant Ownership", issues that are polarizing this race. It really doesn't matter what Bill Northey or Denise O'Brien think about local control of livestock operations; they'll get their marching orders from the Legislature and Governor. Sure, O'Brien is an organic farmer, and she might choose to expand the Organic area of the department, but she has no ability to regulate livestock agriculture out of existence. Northey can't force industrial hog buildings to be built on every square mile, either. The rhetoric being thrown out by both sides (and their cheerleaders) is oftentimes overblown and out of proportion.

The Secretary of Ag's position is pretty well defined. The bureaucrats are in place to run the divisions and bureaus. All the SOA has to do is smile, shake hands, make sure the place is running efficiently, and get out of the way. They are ambassadors of Iowa agriculture, not control freaks who set the markets and define the weather. The SOA won't be responsible for counting votes, releasing or hiding SS numbers of those with liens against them, and conducting useless public notary conferences, unlike the Secretary of State's position.

(It's surprising we don't hear more about the SOS's race...maybe because it involves someone who's a member of the South-Side La Machina).

I know O'Brien personally, and I think she's a pretty decent person. I've met Northey, and he seems like a good guy, too. Knowing that the position is mostly administrative, having to deal with people more than develop agricultural policy, I'd have to give the nod to Northey, especially since he has worked with renewable fuels and spent lots of time on boards and committees. Denise is at heart an activist, no matter how she tries to change her appearance and rhetoric. She's been fighting the system for 30 years or more. She is a left winger by far (she's marched at anti-WTO demostrations), and I don't know how well that would play at a regulatory-type agency.

To be honest, it might make more sense to have the SOA appointed by the Governor and the DNR Chief selected by general election. The DNR (Dept of Natural Resources) appears to have more and more control over people's lives every year. Electing someone to that position, instead of an appointee by the Governor, might shed some more light into how the Department works and what it does. IDALS (Iowa Dept of Ag and Land Stewardship) is for the most part benign to most Iowans in its function.

This is just a little distraction from the Snake/Dodo Bird race we have for governor. I'm still writing in Ed Fallon - nobody would cheat on their spouse with an accordion-playing, turtleneck-wearing progressive, or could attempt to reinstate Touchplay through a "contribution".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree with your point regarding the SOA being primarily a Good Will job, I find the fact that the SOA actually has the power to regulate Chemical, Fertilizer and Seed & Feeds troubling.

Initially my concern is the regulation of Fertilizer, but long term I am also concerned about Chemicals.

In addition, Denise is sympathetic to those who want to ban the use of GM seed, too. As Iowa moves towards being an Energy producing state and as farmers switch from a Corn/Soybean rotation to a Corn/Corn/Corn/Soybean rotation (and beyond) we will need additional unique traits within the hybreds to accomplish what needs to be done to maintain existing yields.

I wonder if Denise CARES?

8:35 AM, October 25, 2006  
Blogger bgunzy said...

The SOA doesn't regulate anything that is not passed by the Legislature and Governor. Each function IDALS does is found in The Iowa Code.

For the SOA to have the ability to reject GM seed, non-organic fertilizer, and all pesticides, the voters of Iowa, via their legislators, and the Governor, would have to pass legislation banning these products.

However, the SOA is a strong lobbying voice in the Legislature. It may not have any real control, but it does have the ability to influence others.

2:34 PM, October 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point about the DNR director, I would however offer a possible counter-idea to electing the DNR Dir. How about taking all livestock regulations away from the DNR and place it in the hands of IDALS (IA Dept Ag Land Stewardship)?

Step 2 could be end the DNR control over hunting and gaming in favor of county Sheriff offices. The DNR doesn't create law, they merley enforce it. The same as the sheriff's office. Why not have hunting and gaming regulators elected too? DNR officers are often unaccountable and that leads to out of control officers, I want them accountable to me a local voter.

-SE IA Farmer

7:02 AM, October 26, 2006  
Anonymous RF said...

Great post. It’s good someone points out some of the realities about the SOA position. But as a supporter of O’Brien, I do disagree on a couple of points.

As you correctly point out, SOA can’t make many things happen on his/her own. But, both Northey and O’Brien want to be stronger advocates for Iowa ag – more so than previous SOAs. As being an “advocate” for Iowa ag is the stated goal of both candidates, I feel O’Brien is much better qualified in that area. And what would Northey advocate for? “More of the same, please?”

Regarding administrative experience, I would argue that O’Brien is better qualified in that area as well. Founding and running a nonprofit organization requires a great deal of administrative skills. Serving as a board chair of a large organization is no proof of any administrative skills.

9:58 AM, October 26, 2006  
Blogger bgunzy said...

Anon 7:02AM: Great to have another farmer on the blogosphere!

I'd like to learn more about the idea of livestock control being under IDALS. I can see why it does fit now in at DNR, but I can also see a separate division at IDALS where it would possibly fit better.

The local sheriff's office enforcing hunting/fishing...hmmm, that's an idea. I agree, the DNR officers are not very accountable now, I agree. One thing I'd like to see, however, is that the Sherrif's dept should not determine who gets a carry/conceal permit and who doesn't, even though a person may be qualified according to the state. The CC permit is at the discretion of an elected official...not a good idea.

6:03 PM, October 26, 2006  

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