Lawmaker Who Fled GOP Over Trump Pens Op-Ed Critical of CAFOs

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David Johnson. Photo: Iowa Legislature

State Sen. David Johnson, who in June became the first elected official to leave the GOP in protest of Donald Trump, whom he likened to Hitler, penned an op-ed in Sunday’s Cedar Rapids Gazette bemoaning the ill effects of hog lots on rural Iowa. The piece, titled, “Lawmakers, look at what you’ve done to rural Iowa,” is a narrative of a trip Johnson, a former Senate Agriculture Committee chair, took to eastern Iowa, visiting with three families affected by the problems associated with the confinement operations.

“And that’s what this senator does on his summer vacation,” he added, describing that he is the last of “The Twelve Apostles” — six Republicans and six Democrats (and now only an independent) — who would meet, often behind closed doors, to discuss ways to create additional livestock regulations.

Johnson begins his story by describing his encounter with a hog lot while driving through the hills of southeastern Iowa:

We motor toward the rolling hills of southeast Iowa County, to the Century Farm where Gary Nester and his wife plan to retire. We can spread the checkered tablecloth right here in the shade of this flowering crab tree and within reach of blooming orange impatiens in their front yard.

But we don’t stay long enough to pass the potato salad. The east wind carries a discomforting odor. Flies, yes there are flies. What really prompts the packing away of our outdoor picnic plans are the neighbors.

Pigs, 2,400 squealing pigs split between two hog confinements, each housing about 1,200 head, each building about 750 feet away. “We can hear (the squeals) inside the house,” Gary says.

“What I have seen in northwest Iowa and across the state this summer makes me believe the Iowans who are elected or re-elected in November must again tackle what is bound to be controversial, emotional, perhaps divisive: Further livestock regulation,” Johnson wrote, proposing changes like greater separation distances between smaller hog confinement operations.

You can read the piece in full here.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.