Democrat Norris spies 1974-like opening5/31/2017
“Testing the waters” with a swing through Iowa
Red Oak native John Norris, a former top staffer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and key figure in Iowa campaigns for a generation, brings a lengthy resume of advocacy for farm life to his potential — and seemingly odds-on — campaign for governor in a growing Democratic field.
As part of a “testing the waters” swing through Iowa, Norris, who worked for longtime U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and Gov. Tom Vilsack, spoke to Democratic faithful on May 12 at the Carroll County Courthouse meeting room.
Norris, whose family farm in Montgomery County dates back to 1881, said Democrats must regain solid footing in rural Iowa to achieve statewide viability. (Norris noted that like another politician from the Red Oak area, U.S. Sen, Joni Ernst, he also castrated hogs, but did not wear bread bags over his feet in the winter, a thrifty tactic Ernst famously spotlighted in her 2014 campaign ads.)
Big picture, rural Iowa’s economy defines how the state’s future goes, Norris said.
“We can’t just have success in the Des Moines-Ames corridor and the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor,” Norris said.
Norris, who now lives in Des Moines, said he will make a decision about his candidacy over the Memorial Day weekend.
He’s leaning toward making the bid for Terrace Hill.
“I’m out making sure this feels right,” Norris said.
His top issues: middle-class and small-business tax relief, bringing Medicaid out of what he sees as a privatization debacle, water-quality improvement through a nutrient-management strategy, and the expansion of opportunities for renewable sources of energy like wind and solar.
Norris said the GOP over-reached in Iowa in gutting collective bargaining for public employees, which he says will disadvantage rural schools.
He is predicting a big year for Democrats in 2018 across the board.
“I think people are starting to think this could be another 1974,” Norris said, referencing the post-Watergate Democratic wave for federal and state offices, the political current that Norris’ mentor Tom Harkin captured to launch his congressional career.
Too many voters, Norris said, are susceptible to the populism of anger and hate and blame, not the collective uplift past Democrats like Harkin and Vilsack brought to the countryside.
Norris said he’s planning an issue-based campaign, not one of “pounding the podium” on social issues.
Republicans will be open to that message, too, Norris said.
“I see a real lack of enthusiasm from Republicans driven by the Trump administration,” Norris said.
Norris said his expertise is on farm and energy issues. In addition to the USDA post, where he helped oversee a $100 billion budget for programs in rural America, and worked for Vilsack in Iowa and Harkin in many roles, Norris served as chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state director of the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition.
Norris is currently a partner in the West Des Moines-based State Public Policy Group with Brad Knott, a Carroll native and 1976 Kuemper Catholic High School alum. ♦
THE JOHN NORRIS FILE
• Chairman of Iowa Utilities Board.
• Appointed by President Obama to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
• Raised on Red Oak-area farm settled by his great-great-grandfather in 1881.
• Earned bachelor’s degree at Simpson College, law degree at University of Iowa.
• State director of Iowa Farm Unity Coalition.
• Managed Iowa presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson and John Kerry.
• Married to Jackie Norris, former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, and now the CEO of Goodwill of Central Iowa.
• John and Jackie Norris have three sons.