Weekly News Roundup: Northey Confirmed to USDA Post, Former Rival To Run for Statehouse

Also: Iowa-based firm works to re-elect Ted Cruz, Iowa Senate passes billion-dollar tax cut bill, The Intercept covers pro-corporate Iowa egg bill, Iowa's universities say student admissions won't be affected by discipline over gun violence protests

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Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

The Informer’s weekly news roundup, presented in partnership with KHOI community radio.

Bill Northey Confirmed — Finally — to USDA Post

Outgoing Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey has at long last been confirmed by the US Senate as the US Department of Agriculture’s new undersecretary for farm production and conservation. Northey, a Trump campaign adviser, was nominated by the president last fall for the newly established post after a reorganization of the USDA. But for months, the nomination was held up thanks to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, over his opposition to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard that’s been a boon to Iowa’s ethanol industry. Once Northey resigns as Iowa’s agriculture secretary, he will be replaced by his deputy, Mike Naig. On Friday, Naig announced he would run for election to the post for a full term this November, becoming the fifth Republican to enter the race. So far, the only Democrat to enter the race is Tim Gannon, a Jasper County farmer and former USDA official.

Former Northey Rival Denise O’Brien to Run for Iowa House Seat

Denise O’Brien, a longtime Iowa farmer and founder of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, was narrowly defeated by Bill Northey for Iowa agriculture secretary in the 2006 Democratic wave election. Now, she has confirmed to the Informer, she will challenge state Rep. Tom Moore, a Griswold Republican, for his House District 21 seat. O’Brien is a resident of Atlantic in southwestern Cass County.

Iowa-Based Campaign Firm Working to Re-Elect Cruz in Texas

According to a McClatchy DC report, Ted Cruz paid the Brooklyn, Iowa-based firm Campaign HQ $50,000 in February to make calls supporting his re-election campaign this year. One of the calls was received by his Republican opponent in the March 6 primary, Stefano de Stefano, who recorded the call to reveal the caller claimed that Cruz was already the general election candidate in a two-candidate race against Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Although Cruz is expected to easily win the primary, both he and O’Rourke have primary challengers. The conservative call center has worked for a number of GOP politicians and organizations, including the Koch brothers-founded Americans for Prosperity.

Iowa GOP Lawmakers Approve Abortion Ban, Billion-Dollar Tax Cut Bills

Last Wednesday, the GOP-led Iowa Senate passed an anti-abortion bill that would charge doctors with class D felonies punishable by up to five years in prison for performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The bill provides no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Heartbeats can be detected in fetuses as early as six weeks after conception, before many women are even aware that they are pregnant.

On the same day, Senate Republicans also passed a massive tax cut bill that the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency projected would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue over the next three fiscal years and more than $1.1 billion by 2023. Despite this, the bill’s lead author, Hull Republican Randy Feenstra, claimed that “it keeps our promise of bold, pro-growth tax relief for Iowans.” The Iowa House, which is also considering a separate, $1.7 billion tax cut proposal made by Gov. Kim Reynolds, could take up the Senate legislation as early as Monday.

The Intercept Covers Iowa Bill That Would Force Stores to Sell Factory Farm Eggs

The Intercept, the national online news publication launched in 2014 by billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, recently reported on a bill introduced by state Rep. Lee Hein, a Monticello Republican, that would force stores selling “specialty eggs” to also sell “conventional eggs.” The article framed the legislation as part of an effort by the poultry industry to go on the attack against consumers who “have awoken to the barbaric conditions of the egg industry.”

Iowa’s Public Universities Say High School Students’ Admission Status Won’t Be Affected for Protesting Gun Violence

In the wake of the school shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives, high school students in Iowa and across the country have staged walkouts to call for gun law reforms. Their protests have led to debates over whether schools have the right to discipline students for staging walkouts or other protests. In response, more than 200 colleges have stood up for student protesters, announcing that their admission status will not be affected if they have faced punishment for taking a political stand. They include all three of Iowa’s regents universities.

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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.