Leopold touts executive experience

Former DNR director talks environmental issues, economy in gubernatorial campaign stop

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rich Leopold met with members of the public during a Marshall County Democrats meeting at the Marshalltown Public Library Tuesday. The former Iowa Department of Natural Resources director discussed environmental issues, the economy and the state budget.

The environment, the economy and the state budget were some areas of focus for a Democratic candidate for governor who brought his message to Marshalltown Tuesday.

“It’s the type of leadership we’re seeing that needs to change,” said Polk County Conservation Director Rich Leopold. “People are very frustrated with politics and the way things are, and I am too.”

The former head of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and science advisor at the U.S. Department of the Interior said he is an outsider candidate with executive experience.

Despite never having held elected office, the southwest Minnesota native said he’s been involved in making policies and legislation at the state level.

“I’m not a politician, but I went from being a field scientist to an administrator,” he said. “I was there at the beginning of the ‘wind revolution’ and crafted a lot of policy, with a lot of other policy-makers.”

Leopold said he’s had experience working across the aisle.

“When I was head of the DNR, I worked with (state Secretary of Agriculture) Bill Northey, who’s a Republican,” he said. “There were things we disagreed upon, but we agreed on a lot and we passed a number of pieces of legislation together.”

Since his time at the DNR, Leopold said about 31 percent of the state’s energy portfolio comes from wind, a figure that is increasing.

“That did not happen in a vacuum,” he said. “We crafted policy to make that happen; we passed transferable tax credits so that farmers, co-ops, schools, cities and individual landowners could get into the game, too.”

Additionally, Leopold said renewable energy programs were established at nearly every two-year college in the state to provide trained professionals in the area.

On the state budget, he said the state needs to manage it’s money in a better way, and said corporate tax credits have been detrimental to state revenues.

“When I left state government in 2010, the state budget was $6 billion … they have 20 percent more money in the bank than they did even 6 years ago,” he said, comparing the previous budget to the current $7.2 billion figure. “When they force the legislature to make all of these tough cuts, and then they use it to attack education and Planned Parenthood and everything else, it’s baloney.”

Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will take the governor’s place when he leaves as U.S. Ambassador to China, were criticized by Leopold.

“Kim Reynolds is going to be the same or worse than Branstad,” he said. “Kim Reynolds has been standing behind Terry Branstad, physically and metaphorically, this whole time.”

He also spoke about addressing water quality issues while helping the economy.

“What if we really did water quality?” he said, suggesting $3-$5 million a year being given for cover crops use, with a goal of 80-90 percent of tillable ground in the state using cover crops.

“That does a number of things, you start value chains,” he said.

Leopold also called managed care in the state “a disaster” and said there should have been discussion with doctors, hospital administrators, nurses, patient care advocates and home health care advocates about such policy.

“You think about what’s happened with mental health in this state, and how we went from … a state that really cares for our vulnerable populations to one of the worst in the nation, and it’s shameful,” he said.

Leopold said many in rural Iowa haven’t seen the recovery from the 2008 recession that urban populations have seen, and that struggle has caused frustration with politics.

With several other Democratic candidates vying to be on the ticket in 2018, he said he would be a strong contender in the general election.

“I’m in a heavy field for the Democratic primary,” Leopold said. When you start thinking about which candidate you’re going to support, think about the one that’s going to win the general … not just the good Democrat who’s going to win the primary.”

He said he can get the support of not only Democrats, but also Independents and some Republicans to take him to Terrace Hill.

“I’ve been having that type of support … that’s the kind of strategy we’re going to need to take the governor’s office,” Leopold said. “I don’t preach change, I preach going back to who we are as Iowans.”

Along with Leopold on the Democratic side are state Sen. Nate Boulton, state Rep. Todd Prichard, Dr. Andy McGuire and John Neiderbach, and possibly Fred Hubbell.