Living in Society

Normal Saturday Morning of Politics

Colleen Bringman, Katie Biesendorfer, Kyle Tester and Carmen Black on a Specialty Crop Producer Panel in Montgomery Hall, Johnson County, Iowa on March 9, 2019

Ice and snow began to melt, exposing a small disk of grass over the septic tank. It suggested an overdue spring is arriving. After a long, hard winter I’m skeptical.

Time to get outside the house for something other than work.

Saturday became a series of renewed conversations with friends. Politics was part of three events in Iowa City and Coralville, coffee with Congressman Dave Loebsack, a forum hosted by the Johnson County Food Policy Council, and a fundraiser for Eric Giddens who is running to represent State Senate District 30 in a March 19 special election. I’d forgotten how many friends I have in the community.

Not everyone in Iowa has first in the nation caucus fever. Politics was discussed. It was local politics. The field of Democratic candidates for president is beginning to come into focus. While some have declared a candidate preference, many of us are anxious for spring to begin, such anxiety pushing aside the vagaries of the nascent Democratic presidential nominating process. I felt like a normal human by not thinking about presidential politics for a morning.

Congressman Dave Loebsack chatting with constituents at Dodge Street Coffee, Iowa City on March 9, 2019.

The first event was coffee with Congressman Dave Loebsack at a coffee shop co-located with a convenience store near Interstate 80. In a welcome turn of events, there was no speech. Loebsack spent the hour meeting individually with attendees without a set agenda. The event was very personal and individualized.

I overheard the retired college professor mention his age, 66 years.  The average age of members of the 116th Congress is 58.6, according to Politico, so that makes Loebsack older than average. It seems unlikely he will have the longevity in the House of Representatives of the late John Dingell or other long-serving men and women. Who might replace him when he retires is an open question for constituents. The last few times I was with Loebsack he publicly mentioned his age or his potential retirement so it’s out there.

I didn’t have much to say to the second district congressman as we shook hands. He knows my issues: climate change and preserving Social Security and Medicare. We met during his first election campaign in 2006. He knows me, we share a common history, and that is something for a person who represents roughly 750,000 people.

From North Dodge Street I drove through the county seat to the fairgrounds where the Johnson County Food Policy Council was hosting its 5th annual forum in Montgomery Hall. My friends and colleagues Carmen Black of Sundog Farm and Kyle Tester of Wilson’s Orchard were both part of a specialty crop producer panel.

Black announced that HSB239 is advancing in the legislature. She later said the bill is expected to pass the Iowa House of Representatives. The intent of the legislation is to help small and new farmers overcome high land prices and get started in farming. The bill defines a farm by the amount of agricultural revenue a property produces rather than any set number of acres.  Getting the agricultural exemption, which is part of the point of the bill, is crucial for small and new farmers.

I spoke to two of the county supervisors after the panel and brought the bill to their attention. Supervisors have a lot of issues on their legislative agenda and this bill was introduced without fanfare only last week. If adopted, HSB239 could have an impact on county land use policy and regulations.

I left Montgomery Hall, and a free luncheon from Local Burrito Catering, heading to the Iowa River Landing in Coralville where the fundraiser was in progress. I arrived as Iowa senate minority leader Janet Petersen was finishing her speech. The event was hosted by the three state senators who represent Johnson County, Kevin Kinney, Joe Bolkcom and Zach Wahls, who were all present. Wahls is my state senator. My intent was to drop in, write a check, and head home. So many people I hadn’t seen in a while were there so I spent most of an hour in conversations. Zach Wahls has proven to be accessible since we elected him last November. I encouraged him to continue his excellent communication about what’s happening in the legislature in various media.

As the gathering broke up I walked in a light, sweet rain to my car across the roundabout. I headed north on Highway One thinking, “I’ve got to get out more often.” I felt a longing to make more trips to the county seat. When spring arrives, maybe in April, I will.