Bill Northey's election as Iowa secretary of agriculture bodes well for the state's biorenewables industry, say farm organization leaders.
"We're happy and excited to see Bill elected secretary of agriculture in Iowa," says Craig Lang, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. "This is a new chapter for our state. We're glad the voters gave him a nod of confidence."
Northey, who farms near Spirit Lake in northwest Iowa, is the first Republican to hold the state's top agricultural position in 20 years. "Bill's grandfather was a former president of Iowa Farm Bureau," notes Lang. "So there's a long tradition of family association with our organization. But more than that, there is policy agreement on the future of agriculture and where we need to go it in Iowa."
The Iowa Corn Growers Association also supported Northey, a former president of both the Iowa and National Corn Growers Association. After his election last week, Northey stated, "I want to thank ICGA for the support during my campaign. I look forward to working with the corn growers in the future. I'm particularly excited about partnering to keep Iowa on the leading edge of ethanol production."
Democrat Culver elected governor
How will Republican Northey get along with Democrat Chet Culver, the state's newly elected governor? Lang and other ag leaders downplayed the difference in political parties when asked that question the day after the election last week. Lang says the well-being of Iowa agriculture transcends party lines.
"We're going to see Iowa become the renewable fuel capital of the world under Bill's leadership," says Lang. "We need to keep this movement going, so it will bring prosperity to rural Iowa, create high paying jobs and add value to agriculture. Those goals will work well with what Chet Culver said in his victory speech on election night. As our governor-elect he talked about renewable fuels and he too is excited about the opportunities for Iowa."
Opportunities also depend on legislation getting through the Statehouse, which has now become Democrat in both the House and Senate. Was Lang surprised by the change in the Iowa Legislature, by the defeat of so many Republicans? "No," says Lang. "The pollsters had been telling us that people wanted change in this election—both on the federal and state level."
Ready to work together on issues
What did surprise Lang was the number of Iowa voters who turned out to vote." A million voters came to the polls across Iowa," he notes, "a significant turnout." He says Farm Bureau is ready to work with the Legislature and the new governor. "And Patty Judge, our former secretary of agriculture is now the lieutenant governor. We have a good working relationship with her," says Lang. "We think the results of this election will provide opportunities to prove that Iowa really will be an even better place for families to live, work and prosper."
Northey, 47, defeated Democrat Denise O'Brien, 56, an organic farmer from Atlantic, by a margin of 51% to 49%. The hotly contested race pitted Northey, a fourth generation farmer who raised corn and soybeans and is a "mainstream" farmer, against O'Brien, a rural activist and friend of alternative agriculture.
Farm Bureau strongly supported the Northey campaign, especially in recent weeks. A letter written by Lang and sent to Farm Bureau members claimed O'Brien opposed modern agriculture—a claim she denied.
O'Brien was a strong candidate
O'Brien said such efforts, coupled with negative advertising the Republicans unleashed against her, hurt her campaign in the two weeks prior to the election. Republicans criticized O'Brien because her husband had been charged with cruelty to animals in a case where some cattle he owned had died 20 years ago.
"I think we would have had a good chance at winning if those negative ads hadn't come out and if the Republicans hadn't gone back and dug up the animal cruelty issue from so many years ago," says O'Brien.
Now that the election is over, O'Brien plans to devote time to managing the organization she ran prior to the campaign—the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN). "I will continue to be an advocate for family farmers," she says.
Northey willing to work with Democrats
Northey says he'll do all he can to work with the Democrat majority in the Iowa Legislature and with Chet Culver and Patty Judge in the governor's office. Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as the governor's race in last week's election.
"I absolutely have to work across the aisle," says Northey. "This is all about getting things accomplished for the good of Iowa." Culver shares Northey's vision of "energy independence and the economic development that can come from that," says Northey. "We need bipartisan support for biorenewables."
Northey plans to continue to farm while serving as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. On election day last week, he harvested corn on his family's Dickinson County farm before traveling to Des Moines. "I'd love to go home on weekends and be able to farm, get out in the fresh air and stay grounded in the business of farming," he says.