Fourth district congressional candidate Kevin Miskell speaks with the Progressive at his campaign headquarters on March 28. (photo: Gavin Aronsen/The Progressive)
Kevin Miskell is a fifth-generation Iowa farmer and the former vice president of the Iowa Farmers Union, where he worked on a wide range of agricultural political advocacy involving sustainable agriculture and family farming. He has spent more than two decades working with agricultural issues including renewable energy and environmental protection and, in the 1980s during the farm crisis, efforts to halt vertical integration practices that outsourced money and resources from the state. He has myriad connections within the Democratic Party, an asset that has resulted in an offer from former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi to work for Miskell’s campaign as a senior strategist. Miskell currently lives in Stanhope.
Miskell, alongside Becky Greenwald, Kurt Meyer, and William J. Meyers, will seek the Democratic nomination for Congress at the June 3 primary election. The winner will vie to unseat Republican Representative Tom Latham in the general election this fall.
On March 28, Miskell spoke with the Ames Progressive at his campaign headquarters — the former HQ of Chris Dodd’s local office — in downtown Ames.
On his roots…
I grew up in Story County here about ten miles from where we’re sitting. The original family cemetery on the Baldus side was established in 1860, and it sits about eight miles north of Ames. I’d say it was because of those first settlers in Story County that I’ve been involved at the level I have.
On the decline of Iowa agriculture…
Back in the late ‘80s I saw people like [corporate hog confinement operator] A.J. DeCoster coming into Iowa. I knew they were bringing in vertical integration that would change the face of Iowa and strip more of our natural resources out of the state. In that case it was the complete and absolute takeover of the raising of hogs, which doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to most people in Iowa … but to the state of Iowa, the production of hogs has not hardly changed in number for the last hundred years….
What it amounted to is hogs currently are a $12 billion a year business here in Iowa. Twenty years ago there were over 60,000 farmers that used to raise those hogs, and the money turned over seven to 10 times.
On today’s level that would be between $100 and $120 billion worth of economic development in rural Iowa. Well, that’s gone now. The $12 billion’s still here, and it turns over once or twice, but mostly to people who don’t even live in the state.
Joe Luter, [chairman of] Smithfield Foods, takes his money quite well up in New York City or down in South Carolina, whichever residence he’s at at that time.
And that money leaves the state, where it used to turn over. Now, people are going, well, I don’t raise hogs, what difference does that make? Well, think about that seven to 10 time turnover was taxed every time. So that’s revenue lost to the state also that the taxpayers and the state still have to make up.
We’re doing the same thing with the green revolution. I’m excited to see these windmills. I think the future of ethanol has great potential in cellulosic areas and other areas. But currently most of the revenue from that is going to states like Florida, California, Texas, New York. It’s not staying in the local economy.
My understanding on these windmills that are just about 30 miles north of here [is that] each one of those has the potential of making $275,000 a year. Well, the person who owns the land’s getting about $4000. That’s nice to have that turnover in the local economy of Wright County, but what would be $275,000 times what, 100, 200 windmills?
[Those are] the natural resources of this state that we’re letting slip away. With a few minor changes to the laws, the local community could be investing in [windmills]; local schools could be paying a big chunk of their overhead by putting up a couple of these. There’s all kinds of potential there. But once again, we’re letting it slip out of the hands of Iowans and off to big cities.
The problem is, this is just one example of many things that could be corrected with some minor changes in the laws.
On the type of people in Washington…
We need some more good progressives that are willing to stand up for the people and what’s good for the people, not just what’s good for corporate America. The problem is there’s two types of people that go to D.C.: there are politicians who go out there for themselves and there are statesmen who go out there for the people they represent.Unfortunately, we still have too many of the politicians and not enough of the statesmen.
When I decided to make this run I didn’t call up the party and say, you know, get my signatures, call up a lot of people that I’d work with, which I could have. The majority of the signatures I went out and got personally. I figured if you’re going to represent a district you ought to go out and get it yourself, and not just from the party, but from people in the entire district.
I spent two and a half weeks in every coffee shop, bowling alley, restaurant, county buildings, whatever. People on Main Street. I wanted to know what their problems were and what they felt was most important to them.
On 4th district voters and the economy…
I found out, especially outside of Ames and say Mason City, that the biggest concern of people to the point of fear is our economy crumbling and what George Bush and rubber-stamping people like Tom Latham have done to this country.
At the time George Bush took office [our debtload] was around $2 trillion. It’s currently close to $10 trillion and potentially going to be $12 trillion by the time he leaves office. The interest alone on this new debt is almost as much as what the original debt was when he took office eight years ago.
That’s an abomination that should not have been put on the shoulders of our children and our grandchildren. And we are going to have to do everything we can to drive that debt back down and have fiscal sanity in this country, or this country will see problems that we haven’t seen for a long, long time.
On 4th district voters and the Iraq war…
The next problem that most people wanted to discuss was the war. This is a war that any reasonable president would have stayed out of. Afghanistan was understandable because of 9/11, but Iraq was a country [where] George Bush’s own father stopped at the border and said, I want no part of that.
They’ve been fighting so long that this is a no-win situation.
Junior, in his arrogance, went in and jumped in the middle of a fight that’s been going on for thousands of years. The arrogance that it takes to think that you can solve a country’s problems that have gone on for thousands of years in a matter of months is beyond me.
Where we are now, though, is we are going to have to back out of this as safely and as quickly as we possibly can. I’d like to promise people that the day after we take office we’ll be able to. I doubt that’s going to happen. I’d like to see it….
My other major concern about the war is that we have continued to strip funding for our veterans’ care after they return from the war. This isn’t anything new; we’ve been doing this for many years – and underfunding the hospital system – when we need to be taking care of those who have given so much to this country.
While I was out getting signatures, one mother in particular had two sons that had been in Iraq several times [who] were going back to Iraq. She was very proud of them, and she should be. But she felt that both of them needed help, not physical, but help adjusting to coming back from that terrible war.
And she had tried to get them help, but they were not getting what they needed. Many of the families that I talked to were concerned about their sons and daughters. They have given us the absolute sacrifice. We should fulfill our obligation and make sure that they are taken care of when they come back here. This is supposed to be home.
On former Florida Senator Bob Graham’s take on the war…
In 2003, I worked for Senator Bob Graham’s [presidential] campaign [as] the rural policy and outreach director. Bob and I discussed – and I know he made it public in certain speeches – that as the chair of the intelligence committee, [because] he saw the same report that George Bush saw, not the one that the rest of the House and Senate saw … he was one of the few that voted against going to war.
He couldn’t tell the public what he saw or he would have been taken directly to jail, but he continued to try to get George Bush to release [the report] and said that if the public had seen what he had seen George Bush and Cheney would be in prison today.
I trust Bob Graham a lot further than I trust George Bush. I’m sure what he said is true. That doesn’t change the position we’re in now. We now have to sensibly get out of this Middle East skirmish that’s been going on forever, and hopefully that country can work out its issues over time, but I don’t think that we’re helping in any way, shape, or form.
On 4th district voters and health care…
The third issue far, far down the list was health care.
When I first graduated from Iowa State, I went to Oklahoma. I was a manager of a health insurance company. The system is broken. It needs to be fixed. As long as we are doing the pooling system we’re doing we are never going to have a decent national health care system, which is costing us many of our manufacturing plants, [and] it’s costing us the ability to compete in this country.
It goes right back to economics and it goes right back to what’s right about being the richest country in the world and not taking care of our own people. The system can be taken care of in many ways. My opinion is, the simplest way to do it is the expansion of our Medicare system for the whole country, and unfortunately the insurance companies have to be included in any plan or it will never pass Congress.
But in most countries they have found that the insurance companies can put on their Medicare-type supplements – it’s actually a health care supplement – and that can be put on on top or the bottom or both, and the insurance companies are happy with that, the people are happy with national health care, and everybody ends up satisfied, and the economies of these countries are very stable and are expanding.
On his brand of progressive politics…
And basically, I’m an old fashioned progressive. I’m the type that thinks we should be fiscally sound but more open-minded with the social aspects of how we take care of our people in this country.
The one thing that I can guarantee to the voters of this district [is] that if I am honored with their support and win this election in the primary and then this fall, I will go to D.C. for them as a stateman, not as a politician.
I understand you have to work with other people out there and you have to build coalitions. I’ve done this in the past. But you can never forget who sent you there or you become worthless to the people of this country.
On the eventual nominee’s prospects against Latham and the district’s national attention from the DCCC…
The problem that has happened in the past is this district has always voted Republican until 2006. In 2006, this district voted to a decent winning percentage for [Democratic Governor] Chet Culver and [Secretary of State] Mike Mauro. That has gotten the attention of the Democratic Party even in D.C.
Now, at the time that I entered this race I didn’t know that this was to be a targeted race. I had just came off of a contract and agreement with Senator Edwards’ national staff [after Edwards’ 2008 presidential bid] and I wanted to continue to work to change this country.
At that time I saw two candidate in the race, so we knew there was going to be a primary. In the meantime I understand that Becky Greenwald felt the same way and entered the race. So that’s how we ended up with four candidates.
Myself, I didn’t … know that this was going to be targeted the way it is. I did know that it was winnable because of what had happened in ’06. It’s definitely made a difference now that [the district] has had success at the top of the ticket for the Democrats.
On Tom Latham’s failure to represent the people of the district…
It’s became an exciting time in the 4th district now that the DCCC has targeted this race, and we have four people in the primary, and we have a House member that is not overly popular right now because of his close attachment to George Bush.
Tom Latham, previous to this year, had a 96 percent voting record with George Bush. He’s improved that all the way to 94 percent from what I’ve heard now. To me, that’s not much of an improvement.
For too many years, when I’ve gone out for Farmers Union and worked on farm bills and other issue in D.C., there were certain people who … we would go and work with, but it would be a waste of our time if it wasn’t something that the administration was supporting. Tom Latham was that type. Tom was so regular you could just figure out exactly how he was going to vote no matter how much good it would do for the state of Iowa if a bill passed or failed.
I wish that more people out there would look, no matter which side they’re on, at these bills, at how they’re going to benefit the local people back home that gave [their representatives] their trust and sent them out there to represent them instead of what’s going to get them the most campaign contributions or what’s going to get them the most support in their own party.
It should be you go out there to represent those people that gave you their trust, and, unfortunately, that’s not what happens too often.
On his support from former Edwards Campaign Manager Joe Trippi…
In the 2008 race, Joe Trippi took over Edwards’ campaign … and in August I became a consultant through his operation for the campaign once again. [In March] I was talking to Joe and he was generous enough to offer his assistance as senior strategist for the campaign and the support of his entire organization. And Joe, as many people know in the party, is the man who made Howard Dean a household name. He’s the man that has won countless races, brought the Internet into campaigning. I have a lot of respect for Joe. I think he’s a very capable man, and I’m looking forward to his help.
On his outlook for the June 3 primary election…
Do I think I can win this primary? Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be in it.
I probably have the most name recognition in the district overall for several reasons. One, I’ve lived 45 of my 50 years here here in the district. It’s been 25 years since I’ve lived outside the district.
Two, my family has sold Vermeer equipment in this state for almost 40 years. I’ve been all over the state working with the farmers on equipment. So I know a lot of people in this district outside of the political area. Being vice president of the farmers union here in Iowa for the last 4 years, I’ve had an opportunity to work with people all over the state and the district.
I [worked] for Senator Graham and Senator Edwards’ [2004 presidential campaigns]. I worked throughout the state and in some cases in many other states, which has given me an ability, an opportunity, to meet probably more people in the 4th district than all of the other candidates put together.
And I think you have to meet people to get their vote. I think you have to reach out and shake their hands. Something that impressed me tremendously about Senator Obama when he was campaigning [in Iowa], he came to Webster City and the crowd was five wide and the length of a park, which was a block. And he stood there and shook every one of their hands until the last person went home. That’s how you win a campaign in Iowa. That’s how you win a campaign in the 4th district.