Guest Opinion: What Has Democrats Running Scared in CAFO Regulation?

Guest Opinion: What
Has Democrats Running Scared in CAFO Regulation?

By Francis Thicke

Proponents of reinstating local control of Confined Animal
Feeding Operations (CAFOs) approached this year’s legislative session with
great optimism. After years of being thwarted the by the Republican Party, we were
excited that this year the Democrats finally had control of both houses of the
legislature, as well as the Governor’s office. Our optimism stemmed from the Democratic
Party’s 2006 election platform, which called for local control. 

Reestablishing local control—abolished by the legislature in
1995—would give counties authority over the siting of CAFOs, to allow
additional protections for the environment and communities beyond statewide
standards for CAFOs.

Our optimism was short-lived. Immediately after the fall
election, Democratic Party leaders—Patrick Murphy in the House and Michael
Gronstal in the Senate—began stonewalling, saying they would not allow local
control to come up for a vote in this year’s legislative session. Furthermore,
Governor Culver was completely silent on the issue, despite repeatedly being
asked to step up and honor his campaign pledge to work for local control.

Advocates for local control were unwilling to be brushed off
so easily by the Democratic Party. About a dozen groups from across Iowa,
ranging from farm organizations to environmental groups, banded together to
form the Coalition for Local Control. We held rallies for local control in the
state Capitol, talked to our legislators individually, made many phone calls
and sent numerous letters and emails. We identified a number of individual Representatives
and Senators supporting local control, but the Democratic leadership of both
houses steadfastly refused to allow local control legislation to see the light
of day.

Two bills that would have tightened CAFO regulations (but
would not have authorized local control) did make it through legislative
committees. In the House, HF 873 included provisions that would have increased separation
distances between CAFOs and residences and other sensitive areas, would have
lowered the threshold number of hogs in a confinement facility to trigger CAFO
regulation, and would have made the requirements more stringent for a passing
grade on the Master Matrix. 

In the Senate, SF 550 made provisions for counties to review
CAFO permit applications and make recommendations for approval or denial to the
DNR, but did not give decision-making authority to counties.

Neither of these bills would have reinstated local control, but
they would have helped to protect Iowa citizens from the impacts of CAFOs on neighbors’
quality of life, health and property rights. However, the leadership of the
Democratic Party was unwilling to allow a floor vote on either HF 873 or SF 550.

In the aftermath of the legislative session, we are left
with several disturbing questions. Why did the Democrats renege on their
campaign promise to work for local control? Why was the Democratic Party
leadership unwilling to allow the legislature to vote on local control or other
forms of CAFO regulation?

What forces came to bear on the Democrats that had them
running scared? 

Why are we still left with the reality that although less
than one percent of Iowans have a vested interested in hog CAFOs, they hold
sway over all the rest of us with the legislature?

Some of the answers to those questions are obvious to anyone
familiar with the influence of big money in politics. First, the Iowa Farm
Bureau and other agribusiness groups—who lobby relentlessly for the privileges
of CAFO owners over the rights of ordinary citizens—made campaign contributions
to legislators of both parties and both legislative houses. That was the
carrot—with promise of more carrots to come. 

Second, those same organizations employed an army of
lobbyists to incessantly hammer any legislator who dared consider voting
against their directive that there be no legislation regulating CAFOs. That was
the stick—with promise of a heavier stick being used on them in the next
election cycle if they stepped out of line.

Even though this session produced no legislation to protect
Iowa citizens from the out-of-control CAFO industry, members of the Coalition
for Local Control are not about to throw in the towel. We will redouble our
efforts next year. We are welcoming new allies and a broader base of

It’s a no-brainer that Iowa citizens need more protection
from CAFOs, and it’s only a matter of time before leaders in the legislature
and governor’s office realize they cannot ignore it any longer. Our state motto—displayed
on the Iowa state flag—plainly states the simplicity of our objectives: “Our
Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain.”

Francis Thicke, with
his wife Susan, owns and operates a dairy farm near Fairfield, IA.

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7 Responses to Guest Opinion: What Has Democrats Running Scared in CAFO Regulation?

  1. Anonymous says:

    And just when did Gronstal and Murphy run on the CAFO issue? Show me the campaign ads, direct mail pieces and radio spots.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Iowans aren't as nice as folks think. I'm glad I left the sorry excuse for a state.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article. The other comments not so much. No, Iowans aren't always so nice, and they sure have a habit of destroying the local rivers for monetary gain. That never happens in California, Illinois, Florida or New York, right?
    I have two thoughts on this issue. Even though I support local control I doubt it will have the effect most people wish it will. Powerful economic interests will still be powerful in county and city government, in some cases more so than at the state level.
    Second, I always wonder if the advocates for local control are concerned enough to make changes in their own lives. How about boycotting pork? How about becoming a vegetarian? How about reducing your water use? This kind of talk gets shouted down in polite company, but it's probably the only real long term solution to these issues. Farmers build containment buildings because they make money. Until they stop making money, most other solutions will fail.


  4. Anonymous says:

    We have confirmation that Gronstal actually forced his direct mail piece on local control to be pulled.


  5. Anonymous says:

    If you reread my editorial you will see that I did not say Gronstal or Murphy campaigned on local control, rather that the Democratic party platform had a plank on local control, and many Democratic candidates did campaign on local control. Futher, Governor Culver campaigned on local control. Unfortunately, the Democratic party leaders (Murphy and Gronstal) excercised dictatorial power and would not allow local control bills a floor vote.
    Francis Thicke


  6. Anonymous says:

    If you reread my comment you will see that I did not say anything at all about Gronstal, Murphy or the Democratic Party, none of whom I have the slightest respect for or interest in. I read your article just fine, thanks, and it only strengthened that opinion.
    You will also notice I thanked you for the article. I can't say so much for your comment. Sorry if you don't want to consider the fact that local control is probably not the panacea solution to CAFOs its backers hope for (I include myself in that group, which you also would have noticed if you had read my comment).


  7. Anonymous says:

    I must have clicked on the wrong “reply” button (first time on the blog). I meant to reply to the comment at the top of the list.
    I think you are right that local control will not be a panacea. More controls of CAFOs are needed at the state level too, such as greater separation distances from residences and a lower threshold number of animals to require CAFO regulation.
    When we do get local control there will still be many battles to fight at the local level, but at least then there will be the possibility of action. Now there is just frustration at the local level.
    Francis Thicke


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