Trump USDA Appointee Annette Sweeney Makes Bid to Replace Bill Dix Official

The childhood friend of agribiz magnate Bruce Rastetter was recently profiled in a Washington Post article in which she cast herself as a victim of Obama-era environmentalists before Trump came to her rescue

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Iowa GOP Senate candidate Annette Sweeney with Secretary of State Paul Pate. Photo: @SweeneyforIA/Twitter

After former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix’s abrupt resignation Monday in the wake of Iowa Starting Line‘s scoop catching the self-proclaimed family values lawmaker at a Des Moines dive bar cheating on his wife with a Statehouse lobbyist, Republicans were left with little time — a Friday filing deadline — to field a replacement candidate. Soon, though, a potential contender emerged: Annette Sweeney, a farmer and former member of the Iowa House whom the Iowa GOP immediately set to work recruiting.

For Sweeney, there was one catch: She would have to give up her new position as the US Department of Agriculture’s state director of rural development in Iowa, which President Trump nominated her for in November after considerable lobbying by Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. By Wednesday, she’d made up her mind, and today she filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office to make it official.

“During a Wednesday morning interview,” the Grundy Register reported, “Sweeney admitted that the whirlwind sequence of events leading up to her candidacy had caught her a bit off guard, and she isn’t fully up to speed on specific policy issues at the state level.”

It shouldn’t take her long to catch up, considering that she previously served two terms in the Iowa House, where she became chair of the Agriculture Committee before redistricting put her into the same district as state Rep. Pat Grassley, Chuck’s grandson, who easily defeated her in a primary and took over her position on the ag committee.

Sweeney grew up in Alden and was a childhood friend of the controversial Iowa ag baron Bruce Rastetter, a Trump campaign adviser who after the presidential election suggested that she be nominated as the US secretary of agriculture.

More recently, Sweeney was profiled in the Washington Post last December in an article whose premise was that Obama environmental regulations helped Trump win Iowa and the White House. Reporters visited Sweeney in her current town of Buckeye, population 108, writing she was “happy that her life is better since Donald Trump became president.” Sweeney told them that, under Obama, farmers were “shoved aside” by no-good environmentalists and conservationists who had no experience with farm life but nevertheless sabotaged the national conversation. The article didn’t mention that Sweeney was not simply a rural Iowa farmer but also a Trump appointee until the article’s 53rd paragraph.

Sweeney’s Democratic rival is Tracy Freese, a resident of Dike with a background in farm insurance and marketing. Before the general election in November, the two will first face off in a special election to determine who fills Dix’s seat for the interim which Gov. Kim Reynolds has scheduled for April 10. Among active voters in the Senate District 25 contest, Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 8,000 (PDF), making Sweeney the heavy favorite.

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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.