IA-Sen: Conlin makes candidacy official

Roxanne Conlin made her candidacy for U.S. Senate official today, releasing this two-minute video:

Conlin narrates the video herself, and it's mostly a biographical piece. Her parents lived paycheck to paycheck. She worked her way through college and law school.

Conlin was U.S. Attorney for Iowa's southern district from 1977 to 1981. In this video, she says that as a prosecutor, she "took on drug dealers, corrupt politicians, and corporations who violated the public trust." She then started a small law firm "to give a voice to everyday people who had none, like taking on the big banks to help family farms at risk of foreclosure."

Conlin tells viewers, "Taking on the special interests has been the cause of my life," and she is running for U.S. Senate "to take this fight to Washington." She promises to help small business and promote renewable energy and other strategies for creating jobs in Iowa.

She doesn't mention Senator Chuck Grassley directly, but she hints at the case she will make against him. Career politicians in Washington have lost their independence. Iowans were left behind when banks got bailed out and their top executives got huge bonuses. Grassley voted for the Wall Street bailout, which Conlin mentions twice in this video. No doubt we'll hear more in the coming months about Grassley's ties to various special interests and his votes for tax breaks companies use when they ship jobs overseas.

Conlin looks at the camera as she delivers her closing line: "Join me in taking on this fight, because the special interests have had their turn. Now, it's our turn."

Her campaign logo reads, "Roxanne for Iowa." I would like to hear from campaign professionals on the merits of branding women candidates with their first names, like the Hillary for president signs and bumper stickers.

I like that we hear her own voice, instead of an actor's voice-over, and her life experiences that many Iowans can relate to. (Republicans are already referring to Conlin as a "liberal, millionaire trial attorney" from Des Moines.)

What do you think?

UPDATE: I posted the transcript of the ad and more biographical information at Bleeding Heartland.

IA-Sen: Christie Vilsack rules out challenge against Grassley

Former First Lady Christie Vilsack released a statement today confirming that she will not challenge Senator Chuck Grassley next year. Excerpt:

Commiting to a campaign for the US Senate next year requires more than the confidence that I have the right experience, the necessary support and the resources to be successful. It must come with an understanding that it is the best way for me serve our State and my fellow Iowans in the most effective way possible at this time. I have decided not to run for the United States Senate in 2010. I will continue my work with the Iowa Initiative to Prevent Unintended Pregnancy and will be active in our Party and across the state in issues that affect the quality of life for all Iowans. [...]

While I will not be a candidate for office in 2010, never doubt I am committed to a life of service and to Iowa.

So, the mystery challenger Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan promised for Grassley is almost certainly Roxanne Conlin, who has said she's leaning toward running.

I wouldn't be surprised to see former Governor Tom Vilsack run for the U.S. Senate in the future. I expect Christie Vilsack to run for Congress when Leonard Boswell's seat (IA-03) becomes open.

Speaking of Boswell's district, I saw at Iowa Independent that CQ Politics is calling it a "safe Democratic" seat in the House.

According to Bleeding Heartland user mirage, State Senator Brad Zaun is planning to run against Boswell next year. (I am trying to confirm that rumor.) Zaun was mayor of Urbandale, a heavily Republican suburb of Des Moines, before getting elected to represent Iowa Senate district 32 in 2004. He was re-elected to a four-year term in 2008, so he wouldn't risk losing his seat in the upper chamber by running against Boswell.

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IA-Sen: Speculation on a big-name challenger for Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley already has two likely Democratic opponents (Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen), but rumors persist that a better-known Iowa Democrat is thinking seriously about this race.

I still don't buy the rumors that Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) will take on this challenge, even though Braley sharply criticized Grassley in a guest piece for the Huffington Post on Friday. With Grassley's approval ratings still outside the danger zone for an incumbent, I would hate to see Braley give up a safe House seat and a good committee assignment to run in 2010. He is young enough to wait until either Grassley or Harkin retires.

Whether or not Braley intends to run for Senate next year, he could raise his profile and support by promising to work as hard to keep a strong public option in the health care reform bill as Grassley is working to keep one out. (Progressive activists have now raised nearly $400,000 for House Democrats who promise not to vote for any health care bill lacking a strong public option.) A joint statement on behalf of Braley's Populist Caucus would do even more to bolster Braley's reputation as a fighter for a strong health care reform bill.

Other names being floated on various blogs include former first lady Christie Vilsack, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, Attorney General Tom Miller, and Mike Blouin, a former member of Congress who headed the state Department of Economic Development when Tom Vilsack was governor. Blouin narrowly lost the 2006 gubernatorial primary to Chet Culver, so he has recent experience campaigning statewide. On several issues Blouin and I are as far apart as any two Democrats could be, but I thought displacedyankdem made a strong case for him:

Even if he's not in the very highest tier of candidates (Vilsack, Miller, and Braley), he is:

a)several tiers higher than Grassley's past 3 opponents
b)likely to automatically get at least 35% and likely 40% of the vote (somewhere between 7 and 12 points higher than the last 3)
c)a strong enough candidate to take advantage if there is a Macaca moment a la Jim Webb 2006
d)likely to tie down millions of dollars in GOP money
e)risk free in that he's not giving up an office
f)just young enough to be on the edge of viability (maybe I'm making too much out of the seniority thing)

Since running against Grassley will be an uphill battle, I would like Democrats to nominate someone who doesn't have to give up a current elected position.

On a related note, Grassley is still playing rope-a-dope with the White House, this morning backing down on his ridiculous comments about pulling the plug on grandma. I hope key people in the Obama administration finally understand that nothing is to be gained by seeking a compromise with Grassley. The Senate Finance Committee "gang of six"is taking two weeks off from negotiating, probably because delays help Republican efforts to defeat health care reform.

Share any thoughts about Grassley or the 2010 Senate race in this thread.

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For your "elections have consequences" file

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took a step toward undoing bad Bush administration policy on Thursday:

No logging or road project on tens of millions of forested acres will proceed without personal approval by the Agriculture Department's secretary for at least a year while the Obama administration decides how to handle a controversial Clinton-era roadless rule, officials said today.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is signing a directive giving himself sole power to make decisions for one year on building roads and harvesting timber on nearly all of the areas covered by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The directive can be renewed for an additional year, the department said. It covers roadless areas in Alaska but will not apply to those in Idaho, which wrote its own roadless area plan.

"This interim directive will provide consistency and clarity that will help protect our national forests until a long-term roadless policy reflecting President Obama's commitment is developed," Vilsack said in a statement.

Environmental-minded Democrats and non-profit organizations welcomed the news. The Washington Post and New York Times have more detail on what Vilsack's directive means.

Many people don't realize that the U.S. Forest Service is under the USDA's jurisdiction. (This brief history explains that the original purpose of the service was "to provide quality water and timber for the Nation's benefit.") Vilsack had little prior experience in this area, because Iowa is not one of the 44 states containing a national forest and has has only a few state forests. (Click here for more information about where the 142 U.S. national forests are located.) It's good to see him move away from the Bush approach to managing our forests.

The Obama administration's environmental record is not perfect, but Vilsack's directive is a significant step toward protecting some of our country's most pristine natural areas.

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Is Obama putting a Monsanto exec in charge of food safety?

I received an action alert today from Food Democracy Now. Excerpt:

There's a possibility that former Monsanto executive Michael Taylor and irradiation proponent Dr. Michael Osterholm will be named to top food safety spots in the new Administration. [...]
 1. Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto executive, whose career literally fits the definition of the revolving door between government, lobbying and corporate interests. Before serving on the Obama ag transition team, Taylor made a name for himself rotating in and out of law firms, Monsanto, the USDA and FDA. While at the FDA he helped write the rules to allow rBGH into the American food system and our children's milk.

Now we've learned that Taylor may be in line to run an office in the White House on food safety!

2.  On Monday, Secretary Vilsack is set to announcethe appointment of Dr. Michael Osterholm, a food safety expert, to lead the Food Safety agency at the USDA. According to Food  & Water Watch, Osterholm has been "a zealot in promoting th[e] controversial technology (of irradiation) as the panacea to contaminated food."

Irradiation allows food processors to nuke disease from contaminated food at the end of the production line, while ignoring the root problems that create unsafe food.

For Osterholm, the recent peanut butter fiasco apparently was just another example of how irradiation could save the day. "Clearly it's a problem where the raw peanut butter or paste is consumed and not cooked," Osterholm said.

Food Democracy Now wants people to e-mail Vilsack immediately, asking him to block these appointments. The action alert included a sample e-mail, which I've posted after the jump, but it's always better to write this kind of letter in your own words.

You may recall that in November, the Organic Consumers Association came out strongly against Vilsack for secretary of agriculture, largely because of his connections to Monsanto and other biotech companies. But it's worth noting that President Obama put Michael Taylor on his transition team before he chose Vilsack to run the USDA. If Taylor does end up running a White House food safety office, don't pin that mistake on Vilsack.

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