Vilsack Photo by Douglas Burns
Democratic congressional candidate Christie
Vilsack said Sunday she’d distinguish herself
from firebrand conservative Steve King by making
the federal office more local in focus.
“I think Steve King has seen the job, first
of all, as an opportunity to promote his own
agenda over the last 10 years,” Vilsack said.
“And it’s been an opportunity to promote an
ideology that I simply don’t think has very
much to do with the economic well-being of the
people who live in these 39 counties or the
future we need to create.”
Speaking to a fundraising crowd of about 120
people at a farm southeast of Jefferson, Vilsack
said she’s running for the 4th District seat
for one reason: “I want to make sure people
can continue to live in small towns,” said the
former first lady of Iowa.
Vilsack said she’s interested in working closely
with economic-development organizations representing
the 39 counties in the sweeping new western
and central Iowa district.
“At some point we started defining the success
of our children by how far away they got from
these small towns, and I think we need to make
the case for why they should stay here,” Vilsack
Vilsack faces King, a 10-year veteran of the
current 5th Congressional District, in the Nov.
6 election. The fundraiser, held at the farm
of Doug and Karen Lawton, was co-sponsored by
former GOP Iowa Lt. Gov. Art Neu and his wife,
Naomi, of Carroll, as well as Iowa author and
journalist Chuck Offenburger and his wife, Carla.
“I think the only way the problems of the country
are going to be solved is if the two parties
work together,” Art Neu said.
Neu said he sees both spending cuts and revenue
increases as necessary for a grand compromise
to move the nation forward.
“I don’t see Steve as someone who’ll be really
involved in working out a compromise,” Neu said.
“I think Christie will.”
Neu added, “She’s only one vote, but I guess
that’s all we can influence.”
Chuck Offenburger, the former “Iowa Boy” columnist
for The Des Moines Register, now lives in Cooper
and publishes a website, www.offenburger.com.
He’s known Christie Vilsack for four decades.
“I’ve always really admired the way she unites
people,” Offenburger said. “She can go across
all lines there are out there and bring people
Offenburger, a registered independent who refers
to himself as a “Republican in exile,” said
King hasn’t delivered the basics for his district.
“He’s such a lightning rod that I think people
in Washington are reluctant to work with him,”
Offenburger said. “That’s just his style. He’s
a quick-witted, sometimes hot-tempered speaker.
He can be entertaining to listen to occasionally,
but it wears real thin, and then it winds up
compromising his effectiveness as a member of
Congress, and I think that’s a serious thing.”
During her speech Vilsack offered examples.
“I don’t really think that spending a lot of
time talking about immigrants as if they’re
stray cats or talking about a fence between
the United States and Mexico, an electrified
fence, as if it’s like a cattle prod, and we
can use that on people as well as animals, I
don’t think that’s what it is to be an Iowan,”
In July 2006, King went to the House floor to
display the model of a wall the Kiron Republican
said he personally designed for the U.S. border
with Mexico and likened illegal border crossers
to the farm animals.
“We need to do a few other things on top of
that wall, and one of them being to put a little
bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive
for people to climb over the top or put a ladder
there.” King said in displaying his design.
“We could also electrify this wire with the
kind of current that would not kill somebody,
but it would be a discouragement for them to
be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock
all the time.”
Speaking at a Republican fundraiser in Crawford
County in 2006, King compared illegal immigrants
to stray cats, Republican sources in that county
said at the time. At the event, King reportedly
joked that his wife recently had taken in a
stray cat. King reportedly then compared illegal
immigrants to the stray cats that wind up on
Mike Holden, a grain-and-livestock farmer south
of Scranton, said he made the first donation
of his lifetime to Vilsack on Sunday.
“We need people like her in Washington, someone
who’s not a political machine, someone who’s
going to listen and go out and work for people
and not worry about who’s right and who’s wrong,”
said Holden, 54, of his $200 donation.
The hosts also auctioned an apple pie Christie
Vilsack baked earlier in the day for $375.
In introducing Vilsack, Carla Offenburger stressed
what she expects will be a highly localized
approach to congressional service.
“A national stage isn’t important to Christie,”
Carla Offenburger said. “She’s decided to make
the 4th District her stage.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a
former two-term Democratic governor of Iowa,
joined his wife at the Greene County event.
Tom Vilsack said the most important action Congress
can take for drought-stricken areas of the nation
is to pass a farm bill — which has made it out
of the Senate but is languishing in the House.
“The president’s going to continue to call for
the passage of the farm bill,” Tom Vilsack said.
Vilsack said he is concerned that if the farm
bill, which is broad in scope, fails to make
it through this fall in favor of smaller, temporary
measures, that rural America — just 16 percent
of the U.S. population — will be lost in a bigger
debate about the future of the federal government.
“It’s a food bill,” Tom Vilsack said. “It’s
a jobs bill.” CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.