Thursday, November 02, 2006

Denise's dead calves

While combining beans today I heard on WHO-1040's Big Show about a statement made by Rep. Clell Baudler about a 1987 incident where Larry Harris, Denise O'Brien's husband, was convicted of Cruelty to Animals, a simple misdemenor. Here's a link to the statement made by Baudler and the complaint and check paid to Cass Co by Harris in 1987.

I checked O'Brien's website, and at this point it does not have posted the statement made to the Big Show as an explanation about the incident. The statement claimed that while the steers were owned by Harris and O'Brien, they were being housed at another farm. Because a bridge was out between Harris' farm and the farm where steers were at, he hired another person to watch and take care of the calves for him. Supposedly, this hired person did not do his job and was subsequently fired by Harris. O'Brien was not available to help during the cattle starvation due to being involved in farm crisis politics.

There is no excuse for these cattle dying and being starved. I don't care if the calves were two counties away; they are living creatures, as well as sizeable investments, and no bridge being out should keep anyone away from checking on them. Where was the feed for these calves? This incident took place over the summer - the time of the year when hay and pasture would have been available.

To be honest, this shows POOR leadership on Denise's part - instead of being at home helping take care of her own livestock (and way to generate income), she was off in Des Moines or wherever else trying to save everyone else's farms but her own.

Anyone who lets animals die on their watch should not be allowed near them again, and sure as hell should not be allowed to be in charge of Iowa's agriculture. It doesn't make any difference if Harris was the one named in the charge - he and O'Brien were partners in this operation.

In the response on The Big Show to the incident, O'Brien's campaign manager (a non-Iowan) tried to change the tune, saying that Bill Northey's $1 million investment in Brazillian farmland is MUCH worse than a few calves dying, and that Denise was not involved. Unfortunately, this is showing the bad side of Denise. Attacking a political opponent while offering a non-apology apology seems to be a common theme in the Democratic party these day.

Having livestock die on you is not unusual in farming - baby pigs get laid on, calves are stillborn, cows die of old age, etc. But, when you simply neglect your duties and your livestock starve and die, it cannot be construed as anything but intentional. Death by starvation takes a long time; it is cruel, and at anytime it can be stopped by providing water and feed. Apparantly, Harris and O'Brien didn't even lift a finger to go drive around the down bridge and check on their cattle for 4 months. What does this tell you?

Some might say that digging up a 19 year old incident is dirty, and what happened then should be left behind. I might agree if the O'Brien had gotten a speeding ticket in 1987. But having livestock die because of your intentional neglect and then running for Secretary of Agriculture is like someone running for State Auditor that has a larceny conviction on their record. It just isn't the thing to have in your background for the position you are trying to win.

O'Brien needs to drop out of this race immediately. If she is elected as Secretary of Agriculture with this in her background, she will damage Iowa agriculture's credibility. She will not be trusted when concerns about animal health and safety are discussed. She will not be able to build bridges to livestock producers. The spector of three dead calves will be hanging over her head at every meeting.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It takes a helluva long time for cattle to starve to death. I've seen some cows that had been without nourishment for quite some time after an elderly farmer had died and no one had reported him missing for ages and they were thin but recovered nicely. The ones in the barn were in roughest shape and the ones in the muddy barn lot were in bad shape too (all had water tanks thankfully). The ones in a very marginal pasture were more or less fine.

To just leave your stock without checking them is inexcusable. Heck I've even got some chickens that I own but a cousin is raising for her own eggs but I make it point to check on them once a week or so just to make sure they're being taken care of properly.

1:51 AM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you remember that 1987 was a drought year? Maybe this didn't register on your radar but I'm sure the pasture was in pretty bad shape so the cattle could have gotten in bad shape much more quickly.

Everyone makes mistakes and it seems that in 19 years they have learned from their mistakes and have not repeated them. Denise still has my vote.

6:33 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger bgunzy said...

1988 was a drought year. 1987 had a normal rainfall pattern. What about ground feed?

6:45 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Jordan said...

Learned from her mistake? Still won't even acknowledge the mistake long enough to say she learned from it...

7:04 AM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Dorf said...

Cow Killer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Talk about ultra lazy.. The bridge is out and don't want to drive around? That's almost as lazy as me!!! :-)

8:31 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger IrishWalsh said...

The bridge was out? WTF? Did they put them out on one of Iowa's more distant islands?

9:05 AM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

O'Brien has a pattern of lying:
She calls herself organic and yet is not certified, she calls herself a 30 year old fulltime farmer but is gone for 4 months at a time not caring for her livestock, she told the Register that she was a member of Farm Bureau at a news conference and yet state records show that she's never been a member in Cass or any county...The Department will fall apart with her at the helm. She's been protesting one thing or another since dropping out of college in 1968 to move to San Francisco...she should just stick with that. Vote Northey. He is the only credible candidate.

9:40 AM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just what Iowa needs. A female John Kerry in the Department of Agriculture.

11:02 AM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bridge was out....LOL that has to be one of the funniest and lamest excuses I've ever heard. Where the hell did she live? Some isolated island or on the other side of a gorge? Was it on the other side of some raging river? I'm sure that wasn't the only bridge the only bridge available.

I'll bet the dog ate her homework a lot too.

12:09 PM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Russ from Winterset said...

1987 might not have been an official drought year, but I was working construction on a bridge crew near Red Oak that summer, and it was drier than a popcorn fart 90% of the time.

This is NO excuse. A drought year just makes it MORE important that you check on the well being of your livestock.

Ms. O'Brien needs to find another line of work, IMHO.

1:38 PM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Russ from Winterset said...

Now that I think about it, I wonder if the bridge I was working on was the one that caused all those cattle to die?

1:39 PM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Dorf said...

Russ, you killed those cows!!! :-)

2:38 PM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger IrishWalsh said...

You bastard!

Ahh the summer of 1987, I remember it like it was yesterday...I was in the 4th grade. Coloring and monkey bars were all the rage. It was the year the cattle died from "the great thirst".

4:05 PM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 1987, rainfall in the Atlantic area was normal. 1988 and 1989 were to two driest consecutive years ever for the state. Go look it up, it's on the internet.

8:49 PM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...

How quick you are to criticize without anything close to full knowledge of the facts!

4:28 PM, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mango, I'm sure you've kept your mouth shut about military activities you know squat about, right? Or it OK for Dems to criticize on partial information, but not the GOP?

1:10 PM, November 05, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...

Please show me where I've posted comments on military activities.

Be careful about what you assume I know or don't know.

My point here is that Northey supporters ARE jumping all over O'Brien with unsupportable and sometimes flatly incorrect assumptions on this particular issue. Check the Krusty blog for my latest on that. You will see just how foolish ill-informed people look when they offer strong conclusions on limited facts presented to them by biased sources.

1:32 PM, November 05, 2006  
Blogger IrishWalsh said...

Mango, I notice these "facts" that you speak of are conspiculously absent from your post.

Do you not look equally foolish by supporting her without your magical "facts"?

Here's the facts. They did it, it's documented, the fine was paid with a check with O'Brien's name on it. The scan of the check can be found on State29. She kept it to herself in her campaign.

But it's so much easier to be a partisan organ isn't it?

3:16 PM, November 05, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...


No, because I don't attack on the basis of inflated claims, unwarranted assumptions, and demonstrable falsehoods, which is what I see some Northey people gleefully doing on this issue. For instance, the WFAN "lying" charge has already been retracted. Laudibly, State29 mentions that, but others repeat that error in their attacks.

If you don't see the disputed facts I refer to in my long Krusty post, then you haven't bothered to read it. So how can I take you seriously?

And in the larger picture, which is being obscured a bit here by the details of a one-time, 20-year old incident, I think that O'Brien is the better choice if you're TRULY concerned about animal cruelty because I don't hear her supporting the huge concentration camps for animals that are becoming the norm in the state. In other words, the willingness to jump on her over this old incident belies any real concern for animal cruelty. It is a ploy. Crocodile tears for cattle.

5:04 PM, November 05, 2006  
Anonymous Russ from Winterset said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Mango, but those "huge concentration camps for animals" you refer to above do provide FOOD & WATER for their "prisoners", don't they?

I mean, if they don't provide FOOD & WATER, that's something the local county sheriff should know about, isn't it? Of course, I only grew up on a farm, so my expertise in this area is a pale shadow compared to yours.

7:38 AM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...

Yes, obviously the animal concentration camps do provide food and water because their purpose is to fatten the animals, but you're balancing a one-time INCIDENT involving three or a handful of animals against a statewide POLICY of inhumane confinement for millions of animals. In Europe they are making American standards of livestock care illegal, so I won't give you any moral high ground just for feeding and watering those animals.

I grew up on a farm too,was in 4-H and fed and cared for hogs and cattle, and worked for IBP in one of their slaughterhouses back in 1972.

11:25 AM, November 06, 2006  
Anonymous Russ from Winterset said...

I hate to put words in your mouth (because it's unsanitary - you just don't know where those words have been), but are you saying that the deaths of three or more cattle from starvation is acceptable if ignoring that fact will lessen suffering of other animals?

I don't know if the argument should be "Big Ag sprawl vs. Denise's dead calves". The issue here, IMHO, is "Does this incident reflect poorly on Denise O'Brien's management skills?" I have to say yes. These cattle didn't wander into a mudhole and die over a weekend. Starvation of cattle takes a long time, unless the pasture is as barren as an asphalt parking lot. This incident shows me that, putting the best light on the subject for Ms. O'Brien, she was willing to trust an untrustworthy person with the care of her cattle. Does she have full responsibility for what happened? No, but she had enough responsibility that the Cass County Sheriff cited her and she paid a fine (acknowledging her guilt). This reflects on her possible future management of the Iowa Department of Agriculture. She's going to have to bring in trustworthy people to help her run the department (or decide which of the current team stays in their jobs), and her decision making in the past is a valid issue when considering how she'll make decisions in the future.

(Semantics note: I said "She did this" or "she did that" in the above statements. Please consider this to mean that both Denise & Larry did these things together. The farm is/was a partnership between them, and the actions of the farm partnership can reasonably be assigned to one of the equal partners.)

1:04 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...


I'd say the deaths are perplexing and the incident should be investigated/explained, but given its historical distance and one-time occurrance, it's probably of very limited value in making the kind of character judgment you are making.

If, however, it were part of a pattern, then I would pay more attention. Has there been a repeat? There is the possibility that people learn from their mistakes, and sometimes learn better than those who don't risk making mistakes.

Much more important to the future of the state and its citizens, I think, are the policies that will be implemented and encouraged--either broadly by the legislature, or more narrowly by administrators.

I'd be willing to risk having a person with new ideas even if he or she is less effective at administration over a stay-the-course conservative who is a better administrator.

11:33 PM, November 06, 2006  
Anonymous Russ from Winterset said...

Yeah, I can just see it now. Denise up at a lectern jabbing her finger at the assembled media. "Let me tell you something, and I'm only going to tell you this once. I. Did. Not. Withhold. Feed. From. Those. Calves."

The incident was investigated back in 1987, an unless you've got evidence that the cattle were starved by a mysterious "one-armed man", then you're just stalling here. She did it. She paid the fine and took responsibility at the time. Let's not parse words at this late date.

(thanks for the civil argument. They're damn hard to find these days on BOTH sides of the aisle)

7:01 AM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger IrishWalsh said...

Apparently we aren't held responsible for things we did 20 years ago. I didn't know there was a statuate of limitations on stupidity.

By this logic George Bush never skipped his guard duty, Kennedy didn't kill a woman, the BTK killer should be respected as a church Deacon, Jane Fonda didn't sit in that Anti-Aircraft gun in Hanoi, and Tookie Williams had a "one-time occurrance, it's probably of very limited value in making the kind of character judgment" people made of him.

Also, because "three or a handful" of cattle died does not mean more weren't starved.

It would be one thing to ignore this if she was charged with public intoxication back in college and now doesn't drink, but she is running for Secretary of Friggin Agriculture and she has shown to not be able to run a farm by ethical standards. If you cannot see that for what it is, you are blinded by partisan politics.

11:32 AM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...


You're welcome to my best attempts at civility. Throwing insults can be fun, and short term emotionally satisfying, but it just polarizes and obscures the truth, and the truth is what I want to get at.

I think O'Brien should do a better job of explaining the situation—that's what I meant by more investigation. Or the media can look into it if it's important. I'm not stalling; I'd like to hear more from her. It doesn't make any sense. It makes NO sense at all. Why would someone voluntarily let their assets die, especially when they're hard up? Something else is going on that we've not heard about. What's the human story behind it?

There's always WAY more under the surface of legal stories than comes to light in official papers. So if you base your judgments on official papers alone—such as an admission of "guilt" in the plea-bargained payment of a fine--then about all you can do is fit your stereotypes to the skeleton of the legal story to create a narrative that matches your own preconceptions—and that narrative, that self-constructed story, can differ greatly from reality.

12:22 PM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...

Well I think there is a statute of limitations on stupidity. It's called learning from your mistakes and admitting to them, if they truly are yours.

1:10 PM, November 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Might also be helpful to note that Larry Harris was farming and playing single dad to three young children while Denise was in DC working for family farms to survive as "family farms". Denise may have been the writer of the check, but I guarantee that they felt awful. They probably gave the guy money to feed them and trusted him... I know Denise and Larry personally and I know they would not intentionally harm an animal.

1:28 PM, November 07, 2006  
Anonymous Russ from Winterset said...

Here's my bottom line position on the starvation issue. If Denise had brought this out herself during the primary, she could have innoculated herself against these late charges. Of course, she might not have won the primary unless the excuse was good, but that's a risk you take.

By keeping quiet about the incident right down to the wire, Denise makes it appear that she's got no answer to the charge. This may or may not be true, but in politics perception is often reality.

3:40 PM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger Mango said...

I agree!

4:47 PM, November 07, 2006  

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