Governor Kim Reynolds has a decision to make: who to appoint as outgoing Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s replacement. Northey, after a very long wait, was finally appointed to be the Under Secretary of Farm Production and Conservation in Donald Trump’s USDA. He’ll still have to wait a while more, however, until the Senate acts on the nomination, which Chuck Grassley indicated could be as soon as October or as late as next year.

Northey won’t resign his current job until his confirmation is finished, so Reynolds has some time to mull over her choice. For years Iowa political insiders and analysts have predicted that State Representative Pat Grassley would either run for secretary of agriculture or be appointed if a situation like the current one came up. The thinking went that he would then use that statewide experience to boost a run for the Senate when his grandfather retired, probably in 2022. Most believe that would give Republicans a lock on holding that seat in perpetuity.

The rationale isn’t all political positioning, of course. The younger Grassley is highly qualified for the position. He used to chair the Iowa House Agriculture Committee, is the current chairman of the Appropriations Committee and works on the family farm.

This is Iowa, though, so there’s more than plenty of people with good experience for the post. Other names in the mix include Senator Dan Zumbach, Senator Tim Kapucian, former Representative Annette Sweeney (who Grassley defeated in a primary when they were re-districted with each other), Northey’s deputy Mike Naig, former Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang or former Iowa Soybean Association president Ray Gaesser.

Senator Grassley made clear this week that he hopes his grandson gets the nod. But many wondered whether Pat Grassley’s public disagreement with Reynolds over the recent Apple tax incentives would kill off his chances.

“Not convinced today’s announced incentives of $400k per job is good value for Iowa taxpayers,” Grassley tweeted after Reynolds made the announcement of the new Apple data centers and the $208 million in state and local tax breaks to lure them here.

In a normal, healthy political world, disagreements over fundamental budget practices and ideology within the party would be par for the course. But this is 2017 and this is Iowa politics, where people are petty and vengeful, and where the state Republican Party chair tells people who once criticized Trump to stay out of the state. So, perhaps Grassley should worry.

Reynolds, however, would be foolish to pass over Grassley for a public conflict of views like this. She and her advisers might think it would project a tough message to fellow Republicans, that elected officials within the party need to be on one team (her team) or there will be consequences. But Reynolds doesn’t have a full lock over the power structure in Iowa Republican politics just yet, and moving like this against a popular family could cause more backlash behind the scenes than it would inspire forced loyalty.

And the big problem here is what happens next. It’s not like Grassley disappears if you snub him. He remains the chair of the Appropriations Committee, a position that could cause significant headaches for Reynolds every legislative session if their relationship breaks down. And he may yet run for his grandfather’s seat regardless of whether he has a statewide position or not ahead of time, giving him an even bigger role in the party that Reynolds may one day have to contend with. Every option ends badly for Reynolds in the long run, which is what people in politics rarely consider in these sorts of situations.

So the real question becomes: if Reynolds doesn’t like what Pat Grassley says about her budget practices, then why on earth would she want him in a position where he can keep talking about it?

 

by Pat Rynard
Reynolds photo via Gage Skidmore
Posted 9/16/17

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