Taha runs for Iowa ag secretary
Sherrie Taha is not satisfied with the status quo.
Taha is the Democratic Party’s nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, a position currently held by Republican Bill Northey. She said the state’s natural resources are in jeopardy unless it changes course, and soon.
Taha was in Fairfield Thursday and today, meeting with constituents and discovering what issues concern them the most. Wherever she has gone, she’s encountered Democrats, Republicans and independents worried about their drinking water and the harm pesticides and chemicals can do to wells. She spoke with one farming family who has given up on drinking water from its well and is resigned to buying it from the store. Taha said keeping the state’s water clean will be one of her top priorities.
“We shouldn’t all have to buy bottled water,” she said.
Taha said the state’s priorities have gotten out of whack in recent years. She said the state is singularly focused on generating revenue from farming, and that it needs to take into consideration soil and water health, not to mention human health.
Taha lives in Des Moines and spent half her childhood in Des Moines and half in Creston. Her first political memory was of sitting on her dad’s shoulders while she listened to President Lyndon Johnson speak at the capitol in Des Moines. Her first run for political office was for the Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner, a position she still holds.
In her role as commissioner, Taha can see firsthand how money from the federal government flows through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to fund projects at the local level. Her commission hears from landowners who ask to build terraces, waterways or other landscaping projects, which the commission then either approves or disapproves.
Taha has always been an active Democrat. When asked why she became a Democrat, she said, “Democrats care about people.” She quickly added that the issues she’s concerned about are not partisan issues.
Taha became interested in ag politics about 30 years ago while living in Minneapolis. She heard about how chickens were pumped full of growth hormones before they are slaughtered, and hearing the news ruined her appetite for chicken that day. She began going to natural food co-ops and taking an interest in where her food came from.
She said she would like to protect the integrity of organic farms by ensuring that pesticide from neighboring farms does not drift onto them. While she said the secretary of agriculture’s job is not to tell people what to plant, she could use the position to recommend certain courses of action.
“The trend is for consumers to want more organic produce,” she said. “Gov. Branstad and Bill Northey went on a business trip to Turkey and they left without an agreement because Turkey does not want to purchase genetically modified corn.”
One environmental problem that keeps her up at night is the loss of topsoil. She said the state has lost half its topsoil since industrial-scale farming began. The state lists the average acceptable soil loss at 5 tons per acre, which is about the width of a dime. That may seem thin, but Taha said it takes nature years and years to replenish topsoil that’s lost downstream.
If elected, Taha would lobby the Iowa Legislature to change the laws regarding the soil loss complaint system. She said the current laws make it too difficult to bring a complaint against a landowner who is causing soil erosion. The law requires that the offending party be a neighbor to the complainant and that the complainant must show economic damages. She would like soil and water conservation districts to be able to regulate topsoil practices without the requirement to prove economic damages.
“The government needs to work for everyone,” she said. “We need to change the culture to think about more than economic development and to think about preserving our natural resources.”