COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- President Donald Trump brought a new voter turnout tactic to his rally Tuesday night on the Iowa-Nebraska border, warning without evidence that Democrats would “take away your ethanol.”
Trump held the rally here one day after his administration announced an effort to boost the production of corn-based ethanol with a plan that includes removing the restriction on the sale of a specific ethanol blend during the summer months and targeting abuse of the federal ethanol mandate.
Industry leaders, elected officials and candidates for office -- from both political parties -- praised the announcement.
But at Tuesday night’s rally, Trump made an unsubstantiated claim that Democrats and specifically Fred Hubbell, the Democratic candidate for Iowa governor, do not support ethanol-promoting programs.
“I kept a major promise to the people of Iowa and Nebraska ... and my administration is protecting ethanol,” Trump said. “The Democrats will end ethanol. They will take it away. They will find a way to take it away. ... You better get out there and vote for Republicans.”
After Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke, Trump targeted Reynolds’ opponent in this fall’s election.
“He wants to take away your ethanol,” Trump said of Hubbell.
Ethanol-promoting programs generally have received broad bipartisan support in Iowa. Most objections to such programs are at the regional level, between agricultural and oil-producing states. For example, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican whose re-election Trump is supporting, has lobbied against ethanol mandates.
When the Trump administration announced its plan to remove restrictions on the E-15 ethanol blend, multiple Iowa Democratic office-holders and candidates -- including Hubbell -- expressed support for the move. Some also included separate criticisms for the administration’s ag and trade policies.
“Opening the door to the year-round sale of E-15 is a long-overdue step, and one I have supported for years,” Hubbell said in a statement. “Increasing demand for ethanol by opening the summer window for E-15 would help Iowa’s corn producers, agricultural economy and make cleaner air. However, I am dismayed that despite this announcement the implementation is not immediate, and the process could take years, including potential regulatory and legal delays.”
In introducing her, Trump called Reynolds “a rising star in the Republican Party and in politics.”
“Wow does she have my endorsement. She’s incredible,” Trump said of Reynolds.
Trump also called on Iowa voters to support Reynolds and Republican congressional incumbent candidates Rod Blum and David Young, both of whom are in hotly contested re-election races.
Young spoke at the event; Blum was not in attendance. Trump also praised 4th District U.S. Rep. Steve King, who attended the event but did not speak, and whom Trump called “maybe the world’s most conservative human being.”
Trump, however, may have wondered how effective was his plea to voters in this particular bi-state crowd. He observed far more people cheered to mentions of Nebraska than for Iowa.
“I could go on all night, but I want to get the hell out of here, OK? Because I thought I was coming to Iowa, but there’s more people from Nebraska,” Trump said.
The Council Bluffs area includes an Iowa statehouse district that swung by 20 percentage points from Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, and in the process took out Mike Gronstal, the longtime Democratic leader of the Iowa Senate. GOP Iowa Sen. Dan Dawson, who knocked off Gronstal in 2016, spoke at Tuesday night’s rally.
Trump opened the rally by celebrating the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump praised Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley for his stewardship of the contentious hearings over the nomination of Kavanaugh, who was accused by a woman of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. A brief FBI investigation could not corroborate the woman’s claims.
Trump called Grassley “an Iowa legend whose backbone and leadership made this great victory possible,” and “a very tough cookie.”
SIOUX CITY -- Thirteen months ago, there were fewer than 20 people working on the Seaboard Triumph Foods team, as an opening of the pork producing plant neared.
On Tuesday, STF Chief Operating Officer Mark Porter said the pork plant had just hit many milestones, including one year of operation, moving past 1,800 employees and starting a second production shift.
Porter said other milestones lie ahead, include seeing the number of workers reach 2,000 and slaughtering more than 20,000 hogs per day.
"We are continuing to hire, continuing to ramp up," Porter said. "Six million hogs (annually) is our destination, late 2019 is where we see reaching that."
A bevy of state and local officials celebrated the Sioux City plant's growth at a ceremony on a rain-sogged day Tuesday beneath a tent on the plant's sprawling grounds in the Bridgeport industrial area. Gov. Kim Reynolds praised the plant's success and Mayor Bob Scott formally presented the company with a "Growing Sioux City Award."
"They have been nothing but good corporate citizens since they came here," Scott said.
The mayor recalled initial discussions in 2013 that ultimately led to STF coming to the city. After two years of construction, the plant went online in September 2017. Hiring for the first shift gradually ramped up to 1,100 workers — 900 hourly and 200 salaried.
A second phase of construction completed earlier this year brought the total investment to around $330 million. The company also started hiring for the second shift, which will add about 900 jobs.
After the ramp up, the second shift will run from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Currently, there is little work in the evening, with most hourly workers assigned to the 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shift.
Reynolds said agriculture-related businesses are so crucial to Iowa's economy. Moreover, she said such businesses have a big role in providing "a green, food-secure future" for the rest of the nation and internationally.
"We share the vision of providing safe, quality food," Reynolds said.
Reynolds noted the Iowa Economic Development Authority awarded Seaboard Triumph $16.5 million in state tax credits and sales and use tax refunds that allowed the project to move forward. The city also provided financial incentives that include waiving $7.7 million in property taxes for the first five years, based on a scale that will gradually reduce the exemption.
The 942,000-square-foot plant is the second-largest fresh pork plant in the world and one of the newest of its kind in the United States.
Seaboard Triumph Foods is a 50-50 venture between two leading pork producers -- Guymon, Oklahoma-based Seaboard Foods and St. Joseph, Missouri-based Triumph Foods. Under the agreement, Seaboard and Triumph each are responsible for supplying one-third of the hogs to the plant, leaving the other one-third to be purchased on the open market from independent producers.
More than 80 percent of Iowa voters are concerned about the high cost of prescription medicines, and more than a quarter say they have not filled prescriptions or taken drugs as prescribed because of the cost.
A survey of 750 registered Iowa voters found that 77 percent believe prescription drug prices are unreasonable and want Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
The survey was conducted for the West Health Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit health care research organization.
The poll also found dissatisfaction with the way President Donald Trump and both parties in Congress are handling the cost of prescription drugs, which West Health Institute sees as a key campaign issue in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
“In this polarized political environment, rarely does an issue cut across party lines so strongly,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of the West Health Institute. “This poll shows all Iowans are fed up with the high cost of drugs and will reward candidates who support common-sense solutions, like allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices with drug companies. Voters have told their candidates what they want them to do. Now it’s up to the candidates to make it a priority issue.”
The survey found 64 percent of all Iowa voters — regardless of party affiliation — believe reining in high prescription drug costs should be a top priority for candidates running for Congress. Nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) believe allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies is the best approach to lowering prescription costs.
Two-thirds said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports this approach.
The survey found 60 percent of Iowa voters believe the cost of health care is the single most important issue facing the country — even more important than jobs and the economy (44 percent), immigration (28 percent) and national security concerns (26 percent).
That’s different from what national surveys have found this summer and fall.
In September, voters told Gallup dissatisfaction with government and poor leadership was the top concern for 29 percent while health care was the top issue for 3 percent.
SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- Tony Lopez Sr. suffered serious injuries to his head, neck and left arm during a mortar attack in Vietnam on July 29, 1968. He was presented the Purple Heart he'd earned a few days later while undergoing treatment in a hospital in Vietnam.
And that's where he left his medal.
"I was transferred to a hospital in Tokyo, Japan, where I stayed for a month," Lopez said. "I left my Purple Heart in the hospital in Vietnam and it never reached me."
Lopez was to receive it during a ceremony at the Federal Building in Sioux City on Sept. 28, an event delayed as the official with the medal, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, remained in Washington, D.C., for the hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The ceremony was rescheduled for last Friday, and, again, Sen. Ernst sent word to Lopez that the Purple Heart presentation would be postponed because of the vote on Kavanaugh, a roll call measure Saturday in which Ernst helped confirm the new U.S. Supreme Court justice, 50-48.
Lopez won't despair. He's waiting to hear from the senator, thankful for the work her office did in requesting and certifying the proper paperwork he needed to demonstrate his qualifications.
Tony Lopez was picking fruits and vegetables in California when he was drafted for service in the U.S. Army in March 1967. He was 20 and knew only this about the Vietnam War: He had a cousin, Juan Antonio Lopez, killed in Vietnam on Feb. 17, 1966. Tony attended Juan's funeral in their hometown in Puerto Rico, one of an estimated 345 Puerto Ricans killed in Vietnam. Juan was 23.
"There were no jobs in Puerto Rico when I was 18, so I went with one of my brothers and we worked in the tobacco fields in Massachusetts or Connecticut, I can't remember which," he said. "After working there, we went to California and picked fruits and vegetables. I was drafted into the Army and my brother went to Sioux City, following a recruiter for IBP. He went to work at the plant in Dakota City, Nebraska."
Tony Lopez went to war, one of some 48,000 Puerto Ricans to serve the U.S. military during Vietnam. He shipped out on Aug. 4, 1967, and was mere days from concluding his yearlong tour of duty when a mortar attack shook their unit around 6 p.m. July 29, 1968. Lopez said the unit's lieutenant, radio communications controller, medic and at least 11 others were killed. Lopez and his fellow soldiers escaped from the remote mountain site on foot, walking 10 to 12 hours to safety.
"I have two Puerto Rican friends who helped me walk," he said. "I lost a lot of blood. I was lucky it (the shell) didn't cut my head off."
Lopez remembers the surnames of his lifesavers: Romero and Warga. Unfortunately, he can't recall their first names. He didn't catch up with them later in life. He has no idea what became of his heroes. "In Vietnam, you never got to know their first names," he said. "You called everyone by their last name. Romero and Warga probably saved my life."
U.S. Army Sgt. E5 Lopez was treated initially in a hospital in Vietnam. He was transferred to Tokyo, Japan, for a 30-day period and then on to a U.S. Naval hospital in New York for another month. Following a 30-day leave home to see family in Puerto Rico, Lopez returned to New York, only to be discharged from the Army the following day.
With job prospects remaining bleak in Puerto Rico, Lopez headed to Dakota City, where he found a job on the demanding cut floor at IBP, earning $2.12 per hour. "It was good money back then," he said.
He met his bride-to-be, Janice Forman, that year. They wed in 1970 and raised two sons, Tony Jr. and Mike. They now have four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Tony Lopez changed job duties and titles through the years, but remained at IBP, which became Tyson Fresh Meats. He retired from the company in 2010 and has spent the ensuing years with Janice, a cancer survivor he calls the hero of their family. "She has survived cancer eight years," he said with pride.
Lopez also golfs, a fixture of sorts at Covington Links Golf Course in South Sioux City, where he once shot a 63. "I bogeyed two of the easiest holes in that round," he said, adding, when pressed, that he's a scratch golfer, a sure shot in the tradition of his countryman, World Golf Hall-of-Famer and U.S. Army veteran Juan Antonio "Chi-Chi" Rodriquez.
It was on the golf course that Lopez met Scott Heeren, a Sioux Cityan who retired as a U.S. Army captain in 2015. Heeren, an avid golfer in his own right, noticed the Purple Heart plate on Lopez's golf cart. Heeren asked if Lopez had the actual medal. Lopez admitted he'd left it in Vietnam a half-century ago.
Heeren, who had connections with Ernst, the first woman to serve in active combat and the U.S. Senate, helped Lopez file his paperwork while correcting a unit number that had been misreported years before. Heeren said his small role in all this is simply his way of fulfilling his Army values in aiding a fellow soldier.
"I'm thankful for what Scott did and for Senator Ernst," Lopez said.
Lopez said he's not sure where he'll put the Purple Heart once it's in his possession. He's not sure when the ceremony takes place. That's up to Senator Ernst, who continues to juggle commitments in the Senate and across Iowa.
Frankly, Tony Lopez, the Vietnam War veteran, won't sweat it. He's grateful.
"I've waited 50 years, a few more weeks won't hurt," he said.