[Guest post by Lee Stranahan]
There are number of factors that could lead to the Pigford scandal becoming a political issue in Iowa, of all places. The state’s demographics – about 95% Caucasian – might make this seem unlikely but it’s very interesting how many of the major political players in the Pigford scandal are from the heartland state.
1. One of the major Senate proponents of Pigford is Republican Chuck Grassley
2. The major political opponent of Pigford is Republican representative Steve King
3. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, is also the former governor of Iowa who also served in the state legislature with Steve King. Vilsack has made Pigford a priority in his administration and has opposed any efforts to investigate fraud in the settlement.
4. Vilsack was also the fall guy in the forced resignation of Shirley Sherrod; Mrs. Sherrod has stated publicly that she believes the White House was behind her firing because she was told this by USDA Undersecretary Cheryl Cook. Vilsack has denied White House involvement. The White House and the USDA both had good reasons for not wanting publicity about Pigford and Mrs. Sherrod; she, her husband Charles and the New Communities farm that she helped manage were by far the largest single recipients of Pigford money, getting over $13 million.
5. Vilsack’s USDA also did an end run around the court decision and created their own expedited process to give money to women and Hispanic farmers — and significantly, women and Hispanics who claim to have attempted to farm. This "attempted to farm" distinction is exactly what led to significant fraud in Pigford.
6. Sec. Vilsack and Sen. Grassley have both praised "Dr." John Boyd and have advocated using Boyd for outreach in the Pigford, women and Hispanic farmers cases. For more on John Boyd watch the segment from my documentary Pigford Blues.
7. "Dr." John Boyd recently did four events in Iowa related to the women farmers settlement. This number is surprising because Boyd has typically done one women farmers settlement meeting per state — so why FOUR in Iowa? It should also be pointed out that Boyd is working with millionaire Pigford attorney Al Pires on this women farmers outreach — for more on Al Pires watch this segment from a recent John Stossel special.
8. Vilsack’s wife Christine Vilsack has announced a potential political challenge to Rep. Steve King, moving into the exploratory phase, planning to move to Iowa and launching a website.
It’s the political challenge by Christine Bell that could make the Pigford scandal newsworthy in Iowa. Her husband connections to this multibillion-dollar fraud and the subsequent attempt to cover it up are certainly a viable issue question her on. The fact that both Sen. Grassley and Rep. King have spent a fairly considerable amount of political capital on either side of this issue also make it something that Hawkeyes may start to take notice of.
Right now, I’m looking into the possibility of creating some :30 second commercial spots to help explain some of the issues to Iowans.
– Lee Stranahan