Matt Whitaker, former Iowa football player, talks U.S. Senate run

Iowa U.S. Senate candidate Matt Whitaker, second from left, talks with farmers about the role of government in farming practices during a meet and greet outside Treynor, Iowa, on Aug. 6.


TREYNOR – A strong anti-government atmosphere filled Brandon Vorthmann’s garage Tuesday morning.

Complaints about government intrusion into agriculture, healthcare and everyday life filled the air as Senate candidate Matt Whitaker finished a statewide farm listening tour at the Vorthmann farm outside Treynor.

The fourth-generation farmer started the conversation with concerns about Environmental Protection Agency regulations for farms, which the landowner and about 10 other farmers in attendance agreed are too restrictive. Vorthmann noted livestock owners are affected even more than farmers.

“The more they regulate, the more it hurts small businesses. Large operations can afford to be in compliance. The regulations can force small guys out,” he said. “Good husbandry is good for business. If you abuse your animals or they’re sick, the animals won’t produce. We pay a lot of money for fertilizer, we don’t want it running off the land. Taking care of the land is the right thing to do and the profitable thing to do.”

Whitaker told the crowd, “I see this entire government as out of control.”

The former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and 18-year lawyer said the large bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., is out of touch with the real world that their laws and rules affect.

“We need common sense solutions,” said Whitaker, an Ankeny native.

The meeting’s attendees noted concern that subsidies are under attack because the agriculture economy is currently prosperous. Whitaker said he’d support crop insurance and other programs to help farmers as part of a farm bill.

“If they cut subsidies now, the money won’t come back when things go south,” Chad McCollester of Silver City said. “We’d rather receive a check for grain than a subsidy check, all farmers feel that way. But when the ag economy is weak, subsidies are the difference between profit and loss. And we have to keep farmers in business.”

In addition to regulations, the farmers also noted attacks from the Humane Society of the United States, which have videotaped and exposed possible improper actions at farms in Iowa and elsewhere. In early 2012, the Iowa legislature passed a law banning activists from lying to gain access to operations.

“They’re trying to eliminate meat from the American diet,” Vorthmann said, adding that his anger is directed at the national organization and not at local humane society’s that “do good work” helping animals.

Kendell Vorthmann, a distant cousin and neighbor of Brandon’s, said of the national organization, “They have nothing better to do with their lives than try to ruin someone else’s life.”

“The people involved probably all have been on unemployment for years,” he said.

The focus shifted to other topics, including the Affordable Care Act, colloquially referred to as Obamacare. Whitaker said he’d vote to repeal it from the moment he took office and noted, “but we have to do something to bring down costs.”

Whitaker promoted a free market-based system that would create competition among insurance carriers. He said he wants carriers to be able to sell across state lines and wants small business owners to be able to band together to buy insurance.

Whitaker played tight end on the University of Iowa football team in the early 90s and is still built like he could suit up for the Hawkeyes.

During the meeting the men laughed a good amount while talking and eating homemade pastries.

On immigration, an issue the farmers noted affects agriculture on the west coast more than the heartland, Whitaker said any business that knowingly hires undocumented immigrants should be prosecuted to eliminate the incentive to enter the country illegally. Referring to the roughly 11 million undocumented workers in the country, he noted, “we can’t deport our way out of this.”

The listening session featured a brief foray into discussion of concerns about domestic government surveillance, while also touching on overzealous school lunch restrictions and mandates.

Whitaker received a Master’s of Business Administration and law degree from Iowa and served as the U.S. Attorney from 2004-2009 before returning to the private sector.

Along with his Des Moines-based law firm, the father of three owns a day care in Ankeny and a trailer business in Adel. He said he embarked on the farm listening tour, which stretched across July and into August with seven stops, because, “25 percent of the Iowa economy is agriculture.”

“It’s an important area I wanted to learn more about,” Whitaker said. “I feel I have a good foundation on Main Street economic issues. I want to hear from farmers about their concerns.”

The candidate is one of a handful vying for the seat of Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who’s retiring after almost 30 years as the state’s “junior senator.”

Joining Whitaker on the Republican side are State Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak, car dealership manager Scott Schaben of Ames (a Harlan native), former Sen. Charles Grassley aide David Young of Van Meter, conservative radio host and Morningside University professor Sam Clovis of Hinton and lawyer and author Paul Lunde of Ames. Former Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs is also mulling a run.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Bruce Braley, who represents the First District in Iowa, is the only candidate and clear front runner. After the meeting in Treynor, McCollester and Fred Miller, a retired Council Bluffs farmer, said they came out to get a sense of Whitaker’s platform. Asked what should be done to improve government, both brought up regulations, with McCollester calling for more incentives and less restrictions for small businesses.

“They’re the key that makes this world turn,” he said. “And laws have handcuffed us.”

McCollester said he liked what he heard from Whitaker at the Vorthmann farm.

“He had the common sense I’m looking for in a candidate,” he said.

Miller applauded the candidate for listening instead of laying out an agenda.

“I think he could do us some good,” he said.

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