Rastetter Visits Trump Tower as Ag Secretary Speculation Continues

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Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, whose name earlier this year was floated as a possible secretary of agriculture contender in a Trump administration, visited the gilded Trump Tower in New York City this morning as speculation continues over Trump’s plans – or lack thereof – for the US Department of Agriculture.

Craig Robinson, a former director of the Iowa Republican Party and founder of the lapsed GOP news site The Iowa Republican, tweeted a photo of Rastetter at the Midtown Manhattan residence of president-elect Donald Trump:

In August, Rastetter’s name was floated as a leading contender for the ag secretary position if Trump were to win the election, although his name fell off the radar somewhat afterward.

Rastetter’s visit comes amid media speculation in recent weeks about who Trump will pick to head the USDA. Some of the other potential contenders include US Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota (in what would likely be an attempt to turn her Senate seat over to a Republican); Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who went on an ag-related trade mission to China last month; and Texas ag commissioner Sid Miller, who recently penned a gushing op-ed in an effort to woo Trump.

A close ally of Trump-supporting Govs. Terry Branstad and Chris Christie, Rastetter, an agribusiness tycoon, was appointed to the Board of Regents by Branstad and later elected its president in 2013. During his time on the board, Rastetter has been involved in numerous scandals, including an eventually abandoned Tanzania land grab that could have displaced 160,000 residents of the African nation; a successful effort to influence agricultural research at Iowa State University; the hiring of new University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld in apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law – the subject of an ongoing lawsuit; and orchestrating a property sale through his company for ISU President Steven Leath in apparent violation of the Board of Regents’ conflict-of-interest rules.

Currently, the head of the USDA is former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, an Obama appointee who in a Monday meeting with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register said Trump’s transition team has had little contact with the department, making Vilsack concerned about the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate requiring biofuels to be added to fuel. Vilsack, like Rastetter, has faced criticism from the left over his agribiz ties.

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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.