Remember The Rain Forest.

attribute: Nicholas Johnson

attribute: Nicholas Johnson

Have to credit US Senate Candidate Bob Krause for reminding us of one of the great follies of the Chuck Grassley career. Krause mentioned the Iowa Rainforest as one of the few attempts that Grassley has made during his career.

Grassley’s career seems to be a record of some pretty major gaffes with long periods of quiet in between. Who can forget the great “Pull the plug on Grandma” speech as Iowa’s oldest senator worked like hell to keep health insurance and access to health care from his constituents?

Of course today he is in the battle of his career against the people, the constitution and the president to secure a seat on the Supreme Court for a crazy reactionary. Grassley has tried to talk his way around this, but has recently opted for the “silence is golden” school of communication in respect to questions about the Supreme Court. He’s taking one for team Republican here, folks. Certainly not for team “America.”

Now let us turn our minds back a decade or so and try to remember as Chuck Grassley tries to sell us on one of the boondoggliest of boondoggles. Who can ever forget The Iowa Rainforest? Maybe you, like I and my family, dreamed of cold winter days when we could hop in the car and head to Coralville for a lunch in the Rainforest? Especially on those days when the temperature dipped below zero and the snow was up past our butts. Rainforest here we come!

The Iowa Rainforest had all the earmarks of the kind of project that make common sense citizens point at the federal government and say “pork barrel project.” Putting an equatorial park in northern latitude Iowa seemed pretty far fetched even to the dreamers among us. Practical considerations such as how to heat such a beast in an Iowa winter made the project of skepticism from day one.

But the prospect of a spectacular project with the magic word “jobs” attached to it is hard for a politician to walk away from. So after some preliminary steps, Senator Grassley worked congress to get a major earmark for the project. Iverse has a excellent history of the project that spells out the highs and lows of the project. This project os an interesting study in how a project like this takes shape:

“By this time, Townsend had spent a reported $4 million of his own money developing the plan. But that was barely a down payment for a total cost now estimated at $280 million. Coralville agreed to kick in $25,000 per acre to buy an 85-acre site; the state legislature promised $75 million in state funds from the Vision Iowa Program; and Townsend committed $10 million. Federal grants and private donors were expected to cover the remaining, uh, nine-figure balance. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who’s still in office, said he’d look for support. The initial five-year plan was for lots of fundraising, followed by 18 months of construction and a year for plants and animals to get acclimated before the park opened.


Townsend was right about eyebrows raising, but not for the reasons he hoped. Three years out from announcing the Coralville site, Grassley boasted that he’d issued an ultimatum to House members who’ve balked at spending $70 million of federal money on the project as part of a green bond project package. The rainforest is one of five projects up for the bonds — along with mixes of shopping and hotel developments in New York, Atlanta, Louisiana, and Colorado. The other four members of his committee working on the packages will back everything except the rainforest earmark, but Grassley vowed to kill all the projects if they wouldn’t back Iowa. “We take all the projects, or we dump all of them,” he announced. The project won $50 million in federal funds so long as it could match that through private donors. D.C.’sCitizens Against Government Waste labeled the rainforest a laughable example of frivolous spending, especially shameful given that Grassley sanguinely approved billions in spending for the still-young Iraq war. Townsend’s idea balloons from passion project to national punchline. An April 2004 editorial in The New York Timeswrote of it: “Some bad ideas simply refuse to die.””

Many of you remember what went on as the Rainforest then moved locations and finally met a quiet death. This does, however, give lie to Grassley’s reputation as fiscally conservative. He’s just conservative when it comes to things like healthcare and real projects that would create jobs.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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