Government

Iowa ag candidates clash over experience

Democrat Tim Gannon vies to topple Republican Mike Naig

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig listens as Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks following a tour Thursday at Diamond V in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig listens as Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks following a tour Thursday at Diamond V in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Mike Naig believes his on-the-job experience gives him a head start over his Democratic challenger to lead Iowa’s agriculture department.

“I’m in the job today, so as I like to tell folks, judge me on how I have conducted myself,” Naig, a Republican, said Thursday during a stop in Cedar Rapids.

His experience and track record as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture since being appointed to the vacant job in March and after about five years serving as the deputy director have attracted broad support from across the state, Naig said after touring Diamond V Mills in Cedar Rapids with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum.

The 75-year-old company that was purchased by Cargill earlier this year manufactures natural immune support products for animal health, performance and food safety. It markets its products in 70 countries. It also has a line of human health products.

“I’m very proud I have received broad support from the ag community, from farmers all across this state,” Naig said, adding that he has a “depth of experience” that his opponent in Tuesday’s election, Tim Gannon, does not.

Background matters, Gannon agreed. However, he said he’d stack up his experience growing up on an Iowa farm and eight years “working for the people of rural Iowa and rural America” at the U.S. Department of Agriculture against Naig’s experience as a corporate lobbyist.

“The problem with the experience he has is it’s not experience protecting Iowa farmers from bad policy in Washington,” Gannon said, referring to Trump administration policies he believes are driving down commodity prices. “I don’t have a degree in ag economics, but I learned pretty quickly growing upon the farm that when farmers aren’t doing well, that’s bad for all of rural Iowa, our small towns, our small businesses that depend on farmers spending money.”

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Gannon also criticizing Naig for the financial support he’s getting from the Farm Bureau, which is raising corporate donations to run ads in an effort to influence voters.

Gannon, who was knocking on doors Thursday evening in Marion, has launched ads telling voters that “there are some jobs just meant for a farmer (and) secretary of agriculture is one of them.”

Naig dismissed the criticism, saying “what it tells me is my opponent is out of ideas.”

But Gannon said he’s the one who has called for increasing research funding for Iowa State University.

“Naig hasn’t said anything about that,” he said. “I’m the one who said we need to increase our investment in conservation. He’s talking about status quo budgets for research, for water quality improvement, which we know won’t get us where we want to go as soon as Iowans expect us to get there.”

Gannon and Naig agree trade policies are hurting Iowa farmers, but Naig was more optimistic those issues will be resolved.

“We’re seeing momentum in trade with (North American Free Trade Agreement) renegotiations, entering into negotiations with Japan, completing a South Korea trade agreement, signaling that we’re entering negotiations with the United Kingdom and with the European Union,” Naig said.

He’s hopeful that when President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet later this month “we’ll see progress.”

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Opening foreign markets and reopening those farmers lost would be a priority for a Gannon administration, he said.

He wants to go further by “figuring out those next bio-based, value-added agricultural opportunities,” Gannon said. “There’s a lot more we can do. Ethanol and biodiesel are a great start, but if we leave it there, we’re not doing all we can do to create the kind of rural Iowa people are going to want to live in.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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