Iowa Public Television


Sec. Bill Northey, Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa & Mary Cownie

posted on May 3, 2013

Backing away.  Iowa's secretary of agriculture, Bill Northey, the latest declining a run for the soon to be vacant Senate seat in Iowa.  We're questioning Bill Northey, State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa and Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director, Mary Cownie, all on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: The republican possibilities for seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring democrat Tom Harkin are getting slimmer.  Iowa's agriculture secretary Bill Northey among the possibilities being mentioned so at mid week we invited him for a conversation on this Iowa Press program.  But then in a Thursday statement Mr. Northey says he's not running, at least for the U.S. Senate.  He’s a farmer from northwest Iowa, serving as secretary of agriculture for the past six years, Mr. Northey, welcome back to Iowa Press.  I hope we didn't scare you off.  We invited you on the program and you said I'm not running.

Northey: That's right.  No. Appreciate the chance to be here, Dean.

Borg: Across the Iowa Press table, James Lynch who writes for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: If you could explain to the viewers why you decided not to run.

Northey: As I look at this I look at it in a couple of different ways. One is can a republican win?  What's the politics look like?  I think the politics looks very good for a republican in this seat.  It's not an easy race.  Iowa is a purple state.  It's a long, hard slog of a race for both sides.  For me, I love serving in the job that I have.  I think secretary of Ag is a special position. I love serving in Iowa and I decided I'd rather serve in Iowa than Washington.  I'd rather be secretary of Ag than run for the next 18 months and rather be close to my family than, you know, certainly looking at the sacrifices that everybody who works in Washington has to fly back and forth, live away from their family have to make.

Henderson: You also mentioned to me last week that it was in the back of your mind that you'd have to have someone else farm the ground that you've been farming.

Northey: Yeah, I still do farm up at Spirit Lake.  I don't have any corn in the ground yet this year.  I still intend to plant corn this year.  I love being able to do that.  I can do that from Iowa where I can take some time and some weekends and able to get up there around farm. I just probably could not do that as a senator.  And that was a consideration, probably not the only one, but a consideration, too.

Lynch: Mr. Northey, in your statement saying that you were bow out of the race -- I guess you weren't in it, but you weren't going to run, you had a very gracious comment about Congressman Steve king and his leadership.  Are you endorsing Steve King?

Northey: If Congressman King decided to run, I would be 100% behind him.  He's been my Congressman.  I've known him very well.  He's certainly a leader on agriculture, many other issues.  I think he'd be a great candidate.  I would love to support him.  I don't know what he's going to do.  I don't think he has decided yet what he's going to do, but I certainly would be a big supporter.

Lynch: He says he's been too busy to make a decision.  Has he been too busy to confide?

Northey: I think he hasn't confided because he hasn't decided himself.  We have talked several times a week as we went through this process. We talked very openly with each other about what we were thick and where we were at. We had decided at the very beginning of this we weren't going to run against each other and that we were good fans of each other and so we have talked.  I talked to him this week.  I think he doesn't yet know.  He's still working through the many different pieces that are part of this decision.

Henderson: By making the announcement you did and Kim Reynolds also announcing that she did not intend to seek this seat, are you goading him into actually making a decision in public?

Northey: I don't think anybody goads Steve King.  There are -- actually, I think there are some folks out there trying to do that. We're certainly not. I'm a big fan of whatever decision he decides to make there. If Steve decides not to do it, I think we've got some other good folks that are thinking about it that are waiting in the wings as well, but for me, we're not -- we're certainly not going to force Steve's hand either on timing or on decision.  I would love for him to run and I would love to be extremely supportive in any way that I could of him running for that seat.

Borg: But up until Thursday you were saying that you were seriously considering going for the U.S. Senate and you also said now that you have been talking with Congressman King so is there -- can I infer from that that maybe you feel that Congressman King is going to run and it's time for you to say, no, I'm not going to?

Northey: Well, I wish -- I wouldn't tell you if I knew that, but I wish I did know that, whether he's going to run or not.

Borg: Glad I asked the question then. Let's move on.

Northey: I really do think he's yet deciding.  That would be a wonderful scenario if that's what it was because I'd love to support him, but that's not -- there's not a strategy here to either push him or because I know something that I'm not telling.

Borg: So, yeah, you're not going to tell me what Steve King is thinking, but what are you thinking then? Where is your political compass pointing?

Northey: I'm not announcing to run for secretary of Ag as I decided not to run for the U.S. Senate.  I think I'm very likely to run again for secretary of Ag for 2014.  I just think it's a wonderful job.  I love doing it.  I love getting around the state.  We're wonderfully positioned in this state in the things that we produce and our place in the world.  I think there's a lot of things to do there yet so while I'm not announcing it, I'm certainly leaning that direction, let's say that.

Henderson: When you were talking about the consideration of the political landscape in Iowa, just to rephrase, you sort of said it's a jump ball between republicans and democrats whereas Congressman King on this program a couple of weeks ago said it would be a slightly uphill battle for republicans.  What's going on here?  We hear one thing from him and another thing from you.

Northey: I don't know that you're hearing that much difference here. First of all, we're 18 months away from an election. There's a lot of issues that will come about between now and then. I'd argue some of those issues are going to break in a republican's favor. I think as Obama care comes out and some of the challenges implementing Obama care comes about, I think that breaks in the republican's favor.  I think when we look at the challenges in the federal government to manage its budget there's a lot of things I think that break for a republican for next year.  So I think we have a good chance.  Again, all of us are dealing with a wide range of predictions and what it will look like 18 months from now, but I think we're still saying the same thing. It can work.

I think it has a good possibility of working for a republican, but it's not an easy race. It's certainly no slam dunk.

Henderson: Finally, as a partisan are you worried by the fact that Congressman Bruce Braley, the only democrat to step forward, who has already received the endorsement of Senator Harkin has raised a million?

Northey: Obviously I think that helps him to do that. We are very early in this race. We're still 13 months away from a primary so I don't think we will be saying in November of 2014 that somehow the race was decided in May of 2013. I think there's a lot of things. I think if king gets in this race or one of the other candidates gets in this race, I think they'll be able to raise a good amount of money very quickly. I don't think the total amount is a million plus race. It's not going to be decided because Bruce had a million dollars back in early '13. There's plenty of money that's going to come at this point.  Political support will come over the next year. So I think we want to decide it but just as, you know, democrats haven't settled on a candidate for governor yet, it's early as we look ahead for 2014. So it's not too late.

Lynch: As you said, it's May.  It may not look like it outside, but a lot of Iowa farmers are thinking about planting and in recent years you've dealt with floods, drought, now a lot of moisture and a very late snow. So whether you believe in climate change or not, how do Iowa farmers plan around these extreme weather conditions and what's the cost of trying to make decisions on the fly?

Northey: You know, it is a challenge and, again, right when you have it figured out a month ago, we thought we were going to have a dry year yet, no real moisture.  We had the wettest April in 140 plus years. So crazy.  Now we're actually trying to get the fields dried back out. As you say, snow that needs to mellow out these fields whether they've got a little bit of corn planted or not.  So I think there's several ways.  First of all, we need the risk management tools like crop insurance.  That's allowed many people to plant this year after having a disaster last year.  Folks have tools on their farms. They have tractors set up with GPS to be able to plant all night when the conditions get right again. We're going to want to get this corn in as quickly as we can once the weather conditions turn around.  Too late it causes us real problems with – potential problems with yield.

Borg: Let me speak about another problem then and ask you about that.  Can both industries really remain strong in Iowa, the ethanol industry and the livestock feeding industry, because both are competing for a very tight supply?

Northey: They are. So between now and harvest we have a very limited supply and so we're likely to see that challenge in trying to be able to sort out where that corn goes to. It will be decided by price, who's willing to pay for that.  After harvest all of us still hope we're doing better than we did last year, that we'll have more corn around.  Frankly one of the things both ethanol folks and livestock folks can agree on, we'd like a big crop.  If we can get a big crop it makes it easier for the crop farmer who's producing it but it softens up the price to make it more profitable for both those industries.

Borg: Do you worry about the ethanol industry and its survivability?

Northey: I think it's based on good economics now.

Borg: You're waffling.  I thought you to say it's going to be strong.  You aren't saying that.

Northey: Well, I believe that it's based on good economics. You can process 5, $6 corn without a problem producing ethanol.  $7 corn is a challenge just like producing livestock with $7 corn is a challenge.  We can get the kind of crop that we want, maybe it's a little less than what we hope for, but it's all of what we want. Then I think we can be in great shape for the livestock folks, the ethanol folks and the crop farmers in the state but we've got to get the corn in the ground. We've got to get the soy beans in the ground as well.

Henderson: Let's talk to you about state Ag policy.  There was a recent court decision about a farm tour that took place in northeast Iowa.  There was an injury and the court ruled that the person who was injured had a right to sue.  Farmers are concerned that that has really left them open to liability concerns. Legislators have been wrestling with that.  Do legislators need, in your view, to act before the legislative session adjourns on that issue?

Northey: Yeah.  I would really like to see that.  I talked to farmers that are concerned and it's not because they know what would happen.  They're concerned about what would happen.  So they invite hunters to their farms this fall.  Do they have more liability than what they previously did?

What do their insurance companies tell them to do? They want to bring kids out to the farm or they want to bring a neighbor out to ride around in the combine.  That neighbor slips off the last step in the combine, are they then vulnerable to legal liability?  And so I would really love for that to be addressed in a way that folks can feel comfortable inviting people onto the farm for all those different reasons.  We want agriculture open.  Farmers felt comfortable doing that before.  They feel less comfortable after that ruling.

Lynch: Another issue at the Statehouse is a bill that would allow farmers to moth ball hog facilities and possibly use those for manure storage and there's a lot of opposition to that.  But it's passed the house and Senate in different forms.  Is that another bill that needs to be addressed before the session is over?

Northey: Yeah.  There's a handful of cases that would probably be impacted, but previously required you to destroy a facility or take it out of production completely to be able to meet the regulations around manure application and other kinds of things.  This allows a facility to remain there, maybe not be used but lessens the requirements on those producers.  So I think it's important to do. It's an important way for some of the farmers to bring back young members of their family that maybe want to be in livestock production in the future as well.

Henderson: We haven't much time left.  Maybe a yes or no to this question.  There was a fertilizer explosion at a plant in Texas. Are Iowa plants adequately regulated, inspected, or are you suggesting more regulations?

Northey: I believe that they are.

Henderson: Okay.

Borg: Quick question.  Drought's over?

Northey: Well, parts of the state probably, yes.  It certainly feels like it right now so I'd say in general we're more worried about trying to dry out and get corn in the ground than we are about refilling it.

Borg: That's the immediate problem.  In just a moment we'll be continuing today's Iowa Press program with representative Mary Ann Hanusa and Mary Cownie.

Borg: Contact the Iowa Press staff on line or e-mail us at

Borg: Continuing Iowa Press we've invited two republican women who have varied experiences in federal and state government.  Both women served in President George W. Bush's administration.  Mary Ann Hanusa is now a state representative from Council Bluffs.  Mary Cownie directs Iowa's department of cultural affairs.

Thank you.

Thank you for having us.

Borg: Across the table you know James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Representative Hanusa, what did you do in the administration?

Hanusa: I was the director of personal presidential correspondence at the white house, and what that means is that my office handled the correspondence and special projects from individuals whom President Bush actually knew.  So friends and family, heads of state, governors, members of Congress, heads of major corporations.  I worked with the oval office staff on special projects, including his presidential library and artifacts and responding to people who were interested in his library.  Then after the war began then our office was responsible for all of the correspondence that went to the families of fallen soldiers.  All of those were personally signed as well.  Anything that was hand signed that needed a personal touch came to my office.

Henderson: Mrs. Cownie, what did you do for George W Bush?

Cownie: I started out on the campaign and worked on the inauguration which led me to unexpectedly get a call to work in the office of presidential advance. We went out five days ahead of the president domestically to work out all the logistics literally from wheels down of Air Force One to wheels up and if we traveled internationally we were there about two weeks in advance.

Henderson: If we went to the library, where would your fingerprint be?

Cownie: Where would my fingerprint be?  Well, we actually discussed this when we were down there with other former colleagues that when you look at all the photographs, that's a big part of what we did in terms of working with the press, not only the press charter but the press pool in terms of what the shot looked like and so seeing a lot of those photographs brought back memories of the trip.

Henderson: Representative Hanusa, where would we see your handiwork?

Hanusa: You might not see it on things displayed for the public. You would see it in the files of the white house. Copies of letters that I would have drafted for President Bush would be.  You also literally would find it on the bull horn that was used on September 14th when President Bush went to New York City for the first time after the tragedies of September 11th.

Borg: How do you rate that?

Hanusa: That was the famous bull horn that President Bush used to tell, you know, the terrorists here you will be hearing from us soon.  Then that came back to the white house.  And after 9 –

Borg: You grabbed it or somebody else grabbed it and brought it to you?

Hanusa: No, it came back with one of the secret service agents and then was given to me because my office was then assigned to collect a number of artifacts and other items of the administrations specifically after 9/11 that would go into his library.

Borg: I see.

Henderson: So you also had a famous baseball, right?

Hanusa: I did. I had the baseball that was thrown out I think it was October 30th if my memory serves when President Bush went to Yankee stadium, and threw out that baseball in that game in October which was, you know, very heartening for people to see.  And I had, you know, other objects because I went to my boss at the time and I said, we need to be collecting these things, these very unique things after 9/11 for his library because if we don't, they won't be there so --

Lynch: It's been five years since President Bush left office and time sometimes softens our memories of previous administrations.  And I wonder how the passage of time has affected George Bush's legacy.  And as you look at what's on display at the museum and knowing what's in the files that you talked about, how has that affected his legacy?

Borg: What about that, Ms. Cownie?

Cownie: It's a good question.  I think what's been really telling over time about President Bush is how he handled when he left office and the respect that he shows for the office.  I think it's been very telling how he stepped out of the limelight and that's been very purposeful. He was on the news shows chiming in trying to critique and give his opinion about President Obama and I think that's been very -- I respect that and I think a lot of people do.  It says a lot about him as a person.

Lynch: Do you think his legacy will change in another five years, 25 years?  Representative Hanusa?

Hanusa: Well, I think you're already seeing that the popularity rating or the numbers have risen, and I think that occurs with time as people are able to step back and actually look with some perspective on the decisions that were made and, you know, many people could disagree with decisions that President Bush made, but you knew where he stood.  He was a man of principle.  He stood on his principle.  You knew -- what you saw was what you got and so I think the passage of time and his reputation will be enhanced and I think people will really admire more the decisions that he did make while in office.

Henderson: Last week at the opening of the bush library in Dallas Barbara Bush said something that sparked a lot of conversation.  She said she hoped that Jeb Bush, the former governor of  Florida, would not run for president.  She said there are more than four families in American politics.  Ms. Cownie, what do you make of Jeb Bush?  Do you think he's running for president in 2016?

Cownie: My guess is as good as yours. I would say he's probably keeping all of his options open.  If you look at some historical records, they also show that Barbara made that comment about 43. She said, you're the last person that would be governor of Texas and look where he -- you know, what he accomplished.

Henderson: Representative Hanusa, what do you think?

Hanusa: Well, again, I think he's probably looking at it.  And I think Barbara bush's comments might be taken better in the light of a concerned mother who suffered terribly when she saw the slings and arrows of the press and others a tagging not only her husband as president and as governor and Jeb Bush was governor as well.  You maybe need to look at those comments in that light too.

Henderson: Representative Hanusa, you were a statewide candidate for Secretary of State a couple of elections ago. Will you ever run for statewide office again?

Hanusa: Oh, you never say never in politics. It would depend on the circumstances and the timing, but I might consider it some day.

Lynch: Going back to the bush museum for a second. Mrs. Cownie, you oversee the state's historical museum. Did you bring back some ideas for a new and improved state historical museum?  You've got a proposal out there to upgrade it. Are there some new strategies and equipment that you'd like to bring in?

Cownie: Yes, definitely. This is just truly a state-of-the-art library and museum.  When you are talking about correspondence, which isn't just e-mails. I think when President Bush spoke to us he said there were 2 million, as he pointed out, none of which are his.  Anyway, when you think about that, where we have to literally jump ahead to the next century in terms of technology is our archives and our records.  We are so far behind in terms of digitization and therefore that's access to the public.  Right now libraries need to change to serve the public because people aren't necessarily going to libraries as often as they do.  I'm saying for a research perspective and take out their iPhone and type in something about Iowa history and be able to find it.

Henderson: As director of cultural affairs you are boss of the new film office which is now called produce Iowa or produce Iowa.  What's going to change about the outlook and goals of that agency?

Cownie: Well, first of all, we're very excited.  We announced this on Wednesday and it's Produce Iowa, office of media production.  It has been a long-time coming.  The office was moved under us.  So we looked very hard to find our executive researcher, Liz Gilman. We're excited to rebuild. We're starting off with a clean slate.  We have an opportunity, the office has been in a sleeping mode.  We can go out and rebuild these relationships.  We need to get caught up on current trends.  Frankly, film is an outdated word.  There are so many different types of mediums right now in terms of how our office should be serving Iowans and serving the industry. We're going to have to completely change face and evolve with the needs of our constituents.

Borg: I want to pick up on a question here, Representative Hanusa.  There's an alleged glass ceiling for women in Iowa. You've been in the federal government right now, can I ask you about your future plans? Is that glass ceiling real?

Hanusa: You know, I don't think so.  I think if you look at our state, we have many women obviously in the state legislature. I would have to go back and rack my brain to think how far back we go when we have not had a woman as lieutenant governor.  Obviously Director Cownie, you know, we have women as directors of departments and I don't think so.  I think are you perhaps going to the question that we have not had a woman as governor or --

Borg: You can take it anywhere you want to.

Hanusa: Okay.  Well, I just -- I think it's always -- it's a matter of timing.  It's a matter of finding the right person, but I don't think so.  I think that women are involved in many, many avenues in our state.

Borg: What do you think, Ms. Cownie?

Cownie: I would agree.  I would say the governor has done an excellent job in terms of appointing and putting women and the right women, the most qualified. Let's make it clear though, the most qualified candidates in that position.

Borg: Is that the criteria, we just haven't had a qualified woman?

Cownie: I wouldn't necessarily say that.  I think there's a lot too.  I think we have lots of qualified women, the question is right now in this political environment, I think there are a lot of qualified people who, frankly, may not want to step into politics with the environment, Twitter, you can't step into the grocery store without making sure you don't do something or say something to the checkout line person.  You get what I'm saying.  Yes, we have a lot of qualified women. It's all about timing.  I think we will definitely get there and I don't think there's a ceiling at all.  I think time will tell and a woman -- the right woman, a qualified person will manifest themselves I think in the very near future hopefully.

Borg: Speaking about getting there, we're there and that is the end of the program.  Thanks for being with us today.

Thank you for having us.

Borg: Next week we're back with another edition of Iowa Press.  Usual time, 7:30 Friday night and a chance to see the show Sunday at noon. I'm Dean Borg.  Thanks for joining us today.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation.  Iowa Banks know you want honest advice about how to best reach your financial goals whether it is financing an education, buying a new home, growing a business or funding retirement.  Iowa banks, Iowa values. The Rotary Clubs of Iowa and Rotary International. In 1985, Rotary International committed to a goal of ending polio worldwide.  Very soon now after immunizing over 2 billion children, the goal will be achieved.  Rotary -- Humanity in Motion.  Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at  The Associated General Contractors of Iowa – the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure.  Iowa Linked Up – Iowa telecommunications companies committed to ensuring Iowans have broadband connectivity for the 21st century.

Tags: agriculture Bill Northey Democrats George W. Bush government Iowa legislature Mary Ann Hanusa Mary Cownie news politics Republicans