Two of the top political stories in Iowa in 2013 have implications for agriculture. They also signal the importance of the 2014 elections come fall, despite the new year being an "off year" for the political process—no Iowa caucuses, no presidential election. The top two political stories are: Tom Harkin is retiring from the U.S. Senate and Tom Latham is retiring from the U.S. House. These two open seats will cause a ripple effect.
First, long-time U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, announced he's retiring. He made his surprise announcement in January 2013. Harkin, who hails from Cumming, was first elected to Congress representing southwest Iowa in 1974 and was elected to the Senate in 1984. Harkin is a former head of the Senate Ag Committee and helped write the 2002 and 2008 farm bills. He now serves as chair of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Harkin is 74 years old and says "it's time to retire."
Latham and Harkin both say it's time for them to retire at the end of their terms in 2014
Latham, a Republican, made his surprise announcement a couple weeks ago--in early December. He said he won't be running for reelection in 2014 and will leave Congress after serving there for 20 years. His announcement caught Iowa's political world off-guard. Latham was first elected to Congress in 1994. He's 65 years old and a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and is also on the U.S. House Ag Committee. Latham serves Iowa's third congressional district, which includes Des Moines and all of southwest Iowa. His father founded Latham Seed Company at Alexander, Iowa many years ago and it is still a Latham family-owned, family-run company.
Why retire? Latham says he wants to spend time with his family, explaining that he's been married for 39 years. For the first half of that time, he was often away from home working with the family business. For the past 20 years he's often been away from home because of his work as a lawmaker in Washington.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
When Harkin announced he wouldn't run again in 2014, Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo who currently represents Iowa's first district, which encompasses northeast Iowa, immediately said he would run for Harkin's soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat. Braley said he will not run for reelection to the U.S. House seat he first won in 2006.
Iowa has two U.S. House seats and a Senate seat open with no incumbents in the 2014 election
So now, for the first time in 40 years, Iowa has two seats open in the U.S. House (with Latham and Braley not running for re-election to their House seats) and one seat open in the Senate (Harkin's retirement).
There are several candidates from both parties running in the northeast Iowa congressional district, seeking Braley's seat. In the southwest Iowa district, a number of candidates from both parties are lining up to run for Latham's seat. March is the filing deadline for candidates, so by then we'll know who is serious about running and who is just testing the waters. There could be a round of musical chairs in the Iowa Legislature in Des Moines—as possible candidates now serving in the Statehouse set their sights on the U.S. House or Senate seats in Washington D.C.
The race for governor in Iowa in 2014 will be another factor in determining who runs for the two Congressional seats and the U.S. Senate seat. It looks like incumbent Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will run again for their offices. A few other Republicans have voiced interest in running for governor. Several Democrats are also watching and weighing the possibility.
Farmers will miss the seniority of Latham and Harkin pulling for Iowa on agricultural matters
With Latham and Harkin not running in 2014, and Braley giving up his Congressional seat, Iowa farmers will experience a loss of clout, at least for a while, as these three lawmakers currently have seniority and influence in agricultural program funding. As these three lawmakers step down, Iowa will lose that seniority.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
So, Iowa will have two open U.S. House seats and an open U.S. Senate seat—the first time that's happened in 40 years. Political observers say this situation could lead to lawmakers rethinking election laws in 2014. If the primary election end up being crowded with candidates and none of them gets at least 35% of the votes in a primary, the state party can choose the nominee by convention. Governor Branstad said recently he'd be open to considering runoff elections or an alternative way of choosing nominees if no one candidate gets the 35% minimum. Political observers also point out these three open seats create the best chance in years that Iowa could elect a woman to the U.S. House or Senate for the first time in the state's history.
Iowa still has U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican, providing seniority on the Senate Ag Committee. He's not up for re-election to the Senate until 2016. Grassley was first elected to Congress in 1974 and to the Senate in 1980. Congressman Steve King, a Republican representing Iowa's fourth congressional district, serves on the U.S. House Ag Committee. King was first elected to Congress in 2002. Congressman Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, represents Iowa's second district and has served in Congress since 2007 and is currently not on the House Ag Committee. Iowa has four U.S. Congressmen and two U.S. Senators representing the state in Washington, D.C.