Hatch: Hog lots should get casino-style scrutiny1/1/2014
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch says Iowa’s system for approving casino developments — state regulation with local control at the county level — should guide how government manages large hog and cattle operations.
“I think we can take the model we have with casinos and bring them back to you,” Hatch said.
Hatch, a state senator from Des Moines, recently toured property near Sac County livestock confinements — or “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” as state law refers to them — on a Saturday afternoon prior to a 90-minute forum in Carroll with a regional chapter of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement that represents Audubon, Carroll, Calhoun, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie and Sac counties.
Rosie Patridge, a small business owner and long-time Iowa CCI Action Fund member from Breda, said large corporate livestock operations are devastating for much of rural Iowa.
“The tragedy is we do not have local control,” Partridge said.
John Cook, an Iowa CCI member from Carroll, said he opted to live in the county seat instead of his wife’s hometown, Dedham, because of issues associated with large livestock operations.
“Dedham has changed over the years,” Cook said. “It’s got a lot of nice people in it, a lot of things we like. But it stinks, I’m sorry, because of some large cattle open feedlots that are close to town. Basically we decided we didn’t want to really spend our retirement years with that smell.”
Hatch said he didn’t see the concentrated animal operations as a traditional Iowa agricultural enterprise.
“We’re not talking about farmers,” Hatch said. “We’re talking about what you have rightly described as corporate farming.”
Hatch said that when a gaming operator seeks to build a casino in Iowa, it must get approval from a state agency and pass a referendum in the county where it will be constructed.
What’s more, he sees the state’s indoor smoking ban as a model for regulating corporate livestock operations, noting that the argument about protecting the health of employees, which drove smoke out of bars, could change the way livestock operators do business.
In an interview after the forum, Hatch said he was not sure how to achieve the goal of local control, whether county boards of supervisors would be vested with more authority or other local panels.
“I don’t know what the model would be,” Hatch said.
As it stands, county supervisors can do little more than make recommendations to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on animal confinements. And the state oversight is tightly prescribed, giving regulators little flexibility.
“I can tell you I am going to campaign on more local control,” Hatch said.
When asked if one of the problems is that many Iowans expect rural living to be “resort” style, with no attendant smells and sounds of production agriculture, Hatch said, “I expect that kind of analogy from someone from Des Moines.”
During the forum, Hatch said he would take a lead on increasing Iowa’s minimum wage — now at the federal level of $7.25 an hour. Hatch expects legislation that will increase the minimum wage will pass the Iowa Senate. He’d like to see a the minimum wage set at $10.10, a level promoted by Hatch’s old boss and political mentor, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
“It’s what built the middle class,” Hatch said.
Iowa CCI calls for a minimum wage of $12 an hour.
Hatch also pledged to work on campaign finance reform, perhaps going so far as to call for the mandatory public funding of certain campaigns in Iowa.
“There’s nothing wrong with wealthy people,” Hatch said. “(Republicans and conservatives) just seem to have more wealthy people than we do.”
He said voluntary opt-ins to public financing are a “waste of time” because many incumbents or well-funded challengers have no incentive to eschew private efforts. Hatch said the public, however, may not want to see its tax dollars funding political campaigns.
After spending the better part of a working day with Iowa CCI, a political organization known for its aggressive and often controversial tactics, Hatch said he was not concerned about any fallout from the association.
“I will go and talk to any group anywhere in this state,” Hatch said. “And if they can pull together a group of 50 people in a town, I deserve to have a conversation with them.” CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.