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Branstad: Local control will never happen
The state will never allow local governments to decide whether large-scale animal confinement operations can be built in their areas, GOP gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad said earlier this month following a town hall forum in Ames.
“Local control is something that won’t ever happen in Iowa,” Branstad said when asked by a Webster County farmer about the issue.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, an organization that has made local control one of its main issues, wasn’t surprised by Branstad’s position. Adam Mason, an organizer with CCI, said Branstad helped form the local control movement in 1995 when he signed a bill into law that stripped all local authority from regulating factory farms. Since 1994, the year before the bill was signed, the number of hog farmers in Iowa has dropped from 29,000 to 8,300 as the industry continues to consolidate.
“In 1995, then-Gov. Branstad signed House File 519, and that opened the door for factory farming here in Iowa,” Mason said. “It opened the door to corporate ties to livestock ownership. That’s really where we saw the huge explosion of factory farming here in Iowa. And from that point on, local control was seen as a way for communities to fight hog confinements and factory farms.”
Branstad has long been opposed to the idea, and answered a question from The Des Moines Register about whether he supported local control simply with “no.” Branstad’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for further comment on this issue.
Gene Brown, the Webster County farmer who asked about local control, said in an interview with The Iowa Independent that while Branstad talks about the need to enforce regulations on factory farms, his fear is that he’s only interested because Jack DeCoster is in the news.
DeCoster is the owner of several agribusiness interests that have become infamous for running afoul of state and federal regulators. Most recently, DeCoster’s egg farm was implicated in the recall of more than half-a-billion Salmonella-tainted eggs. An aide to Branstad helped lure DeCoster to Iowa in the late 1980s.
Branstad told Brown that since local control isn’t going to happen, the focus should be on enforcing the state’s laws and holding violators accountable.
“If local control was really all that important to Democrats, they’ve been in control for four years and they haven’t done anything about it,” he said. “We need to do what we did when I was governor when we were on course to have [DeCoster] put out of business.”
Brown said his fear is that Branstad will quickly forget about factory farm issues when DeCoster’s latest violations fade into memory.
“I think [Branstad] may be talking about this issue because DeCoster is in the news again,” Brown said. “But there are plenty of other companies that just haven’t been caught yet. So what happens when DeCoster is no longer in the news?”
If local officials and residents had more authority, they could help police those who habitually violate Iowa’s regulations, Brown said.
“When DeCoster first came into Iowa, myself and some local people were concerned with what he was doing with his facilities,” Brown said. “We tried to get the DNR and the governor, who at the time was Terry Branstad, to do something about the situation. But, no one would do anything. People are frustrated, especially people who live close to these facilities.”
CCI’s Mason says Branstad’s campaign pledge to back legislation to require a staggered, four-year rolling sunset of all state regulations affecting job creation and retention, when coupled with his opposition to local control, is troubling. Branstad said in a previous statement that the legislation would “drive a top-to-bottom review of our existing rules to find and eliminate redundancies, inefficiencies and job-killing bureaucracy.”
“We don’t need to streamline regulations. We need stronger regulations,” Mason said. “The fact that Iowa has 430 some polluted waterways already, rolling back regulations just means our waterways are going to be more polluted. People aren’t going to want to move to Iowa to work here if we don’t have clean water and clean air.”
Despite the clear difference in rhetoric in regards to local control between Branstad and Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, Mason said CCI members are no happier with the incumbent’s record on the issue.
“A lot of Iowans, especially in rural Iowa, are frustrated because they know in 2006 Culver got votes in rural Iowa because of his support of local control,” Mason said. “That’s one of the things we hear from members every day. They are sick and tired of lip service.”
Culver did campaign on this issue, and as recently as Monday, told The Des Moines Register “I’ve always been for local control as well. I think we need to have that discussion in the legislature, too.”
“The governor is going to say the legislature hasn’t passed a bill he can sign for local control,” Mason said. “However, we haven’t heard the governor use the bully pulpit to advocate for local control in the last four years.”