The Iowa Agricultural Summit: Just call him Bruce, not kingmaker


We did not attend the Iowa Agricultural Summit March 7 in Des Moines because, oh dear, this is embarrassing, we were not invited.

Yes, many non-farming, political types were invited and will be there. Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore (who’s Jim Gilmore?) have told the founder and host of the summit, Bruce Rastetter, they will attend.

We, however, will not attend because, well, you know.

Perhaps we weren’t invited because Rastetter thought we’d be nervous or uncomfortable due to the two January 2012 columns we wrote that introduced farm and ranch readers to him, your average former hog farmer, now-millionaire ethanol baron. We can see that.

After all, we did relate how, according to the British newspaper, The Guardian, he had partnered with something called AgriSol Energy LLC to rent 803,000 acres of Tanzanian farmland for, the newspaper explained, “less than $1-per-acre rent on its 99-year leases.”

OK, it’s probably unfair to call anyone with plans to “displace over 160,000 Africans” in Tanzania so he can farm 1,255 square miles more than 8,500 miles east of his old home place merely “average.” That person, more than likely, is either above average or way above average.

(Jim Gilmore might be way above average, too; we simply don’t know. We could ask him in Des Moines March 7, but as you may have heard, we weren’t invited).

Major donor

In several press interviews leading up to the summit (not one, we must report, with us), Rastetter repeatedly played up his total average-ness as he downplayed any talk of him as a cornfield “kingmaker” in state and national politics.

“Bruce Rastetter is not amused by the ‘kingmaker’ label often thrown about by the press,” noted the Des Moines Register in a lengthy profile of him March 1.

The very next sentence, however, offers two facts of plain old just Bruce’s un-average-ness: He is the president of the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public university system, and has made “more than $1.1 million in state political contributions since 2003. . .”

Moreover, Politico, the Virginia-based political journal, says that hog-chokin’ ward is really just “a fraction of his total giving to groups that don’t have to disclose their donors.” Whatever the complete, never-to-be-reported amount might be, Just Bruce told the Register that every penny of his campaign money goes to just trying to make a difference. I don’t give to get access.”

(Cough. Cough. Uh oh, sounds like a cold. Good thing we have nowhere to go this weekend because we were not invited to go . . . anywhere.)

On speed dial

Some who received Rastetter’s money have a different idea of what the word “access” means.

“Bruce does a good job of staying in touch,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad related to the Register. In fact, said the Gov., he and Just Bruce stay in touch “at least once a week.”

But, Branstad added, “It has nothing to do with whether he supported me.”

So . . . Branstad takes weekly telephone calls from people who neither support his policies nor contribute to his political campaigns? We don’t know, but we do know Iowa’s governor does take calls from Rastetter because, according to the Register, “‘I suggested,’ Rastetter told this reporter later that day, ‘that the governor speak with you.’ Rastetter’s staff soon called to confirm the appointment with the governor.”

GOP hopefuls

And, just as Just Bruce said, Branstad telephoned the reporter.

Little wonder, then, that when Not The Kingmaker, Just Bruce asked potential White House hopefuls to report to the Iowa State Fairgrounds on a Saturday morning in early March, nearly a dozen Republican wannabe presidents answered “one of the biggest GOP cattle calls” ever so Rastetter could “chat with each candidate on-stage for 20 minutes before 1,000 Iowans and dozens of media outlets” on agricultural policy.

Wait a second, “dozens of media outlets”?

Alas, good luck Jim Gilmore — whomever you are.


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