Former Republican Iowa Lt. Gov.&nbsp; Art Neu, a Carroll attorney, talks with Democratic 4th District congressional candidate Christie Vilsack of Ames during a fund-raiser for her in Greene County Sunday afternoon.&nbsp; <span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em>Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns</em></span><br /><br />
Former Republican Iowa Lt. Gov.  Art Neu, a Carroll attorney, talks with Democratic 4th District congressional candidate Christie Vilsack of Ames during a fund-raiser for her in Greene County Sunday afternoon.  Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns

Monday, August 13, 2012

JEFFERSON — Democratic congressional candidate Christie Vilsack Sunday said she’d distinguish herself from firebrand conservative Steve King by making the federal office more local in focus.

“I think Steve King has seen the job, first of all, as an opportunity to promote his own agenda over the last 10 years,” Vilsack said. “And it’s been an opportunity to promote an ideology that I simply don’t think has very much to do with the economic well-being of the people who live in these 39 counties or the future we need to create.”

Speaking to a fund-raising crowd of about 120 people at a farm southeast of Jefferson, Vilsack said she’s running for the 4th District seat for one reason: “I want to make sure people can continue to live in small towns,” said the former first lady of Iowa.

Vilsack said she’s interested in working closely with economic-development organizations representing the 39 counties in the sweeping new western and central Iowa district.

“At some point we started defining the success of our children by how far away they got from these small towns, and I think we need to make the case for why they should stay here,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack faces King, a 10-year veteran of the current 5th Congressional District, in the Nov. 6 election. The fund-raiser, held at the farm of Doug and Karen Lawton, was co-sponsored by former GOP Iowa Lt. Gov. Art Neu and his wife, Naomi, of Carroll, as well as Iowa author and journalist Chuck Offenburger and his wife, Carla.

“I think the only way the problems of the country are going to be solved is if the two parties work together,” Art Neu said.

Neu said he sees both spending cuts and revenue increases as necessary for a grand compromise to move the nation forward.

“I don’t see Steve as someone who’ll be really involved in working out a compromise,” Neu said. “I think Christie will.”

Neu added, “She’s only one vote, but I guess that’s all we can influence.”

Chuck Offenburger, the former “Iowa Boy” columnist for The Des Moines Register, now lives in Cooper and publishes a website, www.offenburger.com. He’s known Christie Vilsack for four decades.

“I’ve always really admired the way she unites people,” Offenburger said. “She can go across all lines there are out there and bring people together.”

Offenburger, a registered independent who refers to himself as a “Republican in exile,” said King hasn’t delivered the basics for his district.

“He’s such a lightning rod that I think people in Washington are reluctant to work with him,” Offenburger said. “That’s just his style. He’s a quick-witted, sometimes hot-tempered speaker. He can be entertaining to listen to occasionally, but it wears real thin, and then it winds up compromising his effectiveness as a member of Congress, and I think that’s a serious thing.”

During her speech Vilsack offered examples.

“I don’t really think that spending a lot of time talking about immigrants as if they’re stray cats or talking about a fence between the United States and Mexico, an electrified fence, as if it’s like a cattle prod, and we can use that on people as well as animals, I don’t think that’s what it is to be an Iowan,” Vilsack said.

In July 2006 King went to the House floor to display the model of a wall the Kiron Republican said he personally designed for the U.S. border with Mexico and likened illegal border crossers to the farm animals.

“We need to do a few other things on top of that wall, and one of them being to put a little bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top or put a ladder there.” King said in displaying his design. “We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.”

Speaking at a Republican fundraiser in Crawford County in 2006, King compared illegal immigrants to stray cats, Republican sources in that county said at the time. At the event, King reportedly joked that his wife recently had taken in a stray cat. King reportedly then compared illegal immigrants to the stray cats that wind up on people’s porches.

Mike Holden, a grain-and-livestock farmer south of Scranton, said he made the first donation of his lifetime to Vilsack on Sunday.

“We need people like her in Washington, someone who’s not a political machine, someone who’s going to listen and go out and work for people and not worry about who’s right and who’s wrong,” said Holden, 54, of his $200 donation.

The hosts also auctioned an apple pie Christie Vilsack baked earlier in the day for $375.

In introducing Vilsack, Carla Offenburger stressed what she expects will be a highly localized approach to congressional service.

“A national stage isn’t important to Christie,” Carla Offenburger said. “She’s decided to make the 4th District her stage.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former two-term Democratic governor of Iowa, joined his wife at the Greene County event. Tom Vilsack said the most important action Congress can take for drought-stricken areas of the nation is to pass a farm bill — which has made it out of the Senate but is languishing in the House.

“The president’s going to continue to call for the passage of the farm bill,” Tom Vilsack said.

Vilsack said he is concerned that if the farm bill, which is broad in scope, fails to make it through this fall in favor of smaller, temporary measures, that rural America — just 16 percent of the U.S. population — will be lost in a bigger debate about the future of the federal government.

“It’s a food bill,” Tom Vilsack said. “It’s a jobs bill.”