In an op-ed published in today's Des Moines Register, Iowa's governor Chet Culver calls on his attorney general to prosecute Agriprocessors "promptly."
But is there a catch?
I think so. Here's why.
Both Culver and his lieutenant governor, Patty Judge, have taken campaign contributions from Agriprocessors' owners, the Rubashkin family.
Judge in particular took large donations from the Rubashkins while she was Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, during the PETA scandal and at a time she was supposed to be enforcing Iowa law. After a staged tour of Agriprocessors – the slaughter line ran just for her – she made a statement much like the statement made almost four years later by the Orthodox rabbis who 'cleared' Agriprocessors.
The governor's op-ed reads like a campaign speech and the outrage it tries to project seems to me forced and insincere.
And, Culver writes:
The lieutenant governor and I, in the strongest terms, call on the attorney general promptly to prosecute all alleged criminal and civil-law violations that are backed by sufficient evidence.
No attorney general should need direction on how to press charges, and I doubt this one does– especially when the evidence is so compelling and overwhelming.
The governor's column could be read as an attempt to cover for himself and Judge in the event – perhaps already agreed on –charges are not pressed.
On the other hand, Judge wants to be governor one day and Culver would like to keep his office.
Even though agriculture is to Iowa what oil is to Texas – perhaps even more so – there is only so much horrific news Iowans can take. If the fix is in, like it clearly was during the PETA scandal, the backlash against Culver and Judge would be significant.
Iowans now know too much about Agriprocessors and the Rubashkins to remain silent. The same can be said about the nation as a whole.
Below is Culver's article in its entirety:
Guest column: Governor — Agriprocessors must operate responsibly
CHET CULVER IS GOVERNOR OF IOWA
As governor, I have worked to attract and to grow businesses large and small throughout Iowa. By taking what might be called the "high road" to economic development, we are showing that investment in Iowa's work force is a good value to Iowa taxpayers, and we are creating good-paying jobs as a result.
So, I'm proud to say Iowa's business climate is strong, and it's getting stronger. Make no mistake, as long as I have the honor of serving as governor, I will continue to work every day to bring good jobs to Iowa.
Lt. Gov. Patty Judge and I are committed to supporting businesses that play by the rules. They are an essential part of our future economic growth. Which is why I am very concerned about the events at the Postville Agriprocessors facility, before and after the May 12 federal raid.
The sad events surrounding the federal Postville raid, resulting in multiple federal criminal-law convictions of line workers and low-level supervisors - and, notably, not yet of the company's owners - are strong evidence of a company that has chosen to take advantage of a failed federal immigration system.
In doing so, this company has fallen far short of meeting the high business standards that Iowans expect. Our laws reflect these standards. They protect consumers, Iowa workers and the state's environment.
Before the federal raid, Agriprocessors already had a history of sanctions by Iowa's state regulatory agencies for water pollution, as well as health and safety law violations. Alarming information about working conditions at the Postville plant - including allegations ranging from the use of child labor in prohibited jobs to sexual and physical abuse by supervisors; from the nonpayment of regular and overtime wages to the denial of immediate medical attention for workplace injuries - brought to national attention by the raid forces me to believe that, in contrast to our state's overall economic-development strategy, this company's owners have deliberately chosen to take the low road in its business practices.
I believe Iowa businesses should take the high road by following the law.
The Culver-Judge administration's executive agencies are reviewing documents and other evidence obtained in the course of their independent regulatory efforts and from the federal raid of the Postville plant. In response to these allegations against Agriprocessors, I have done the following:
First, I have directed my Cabinet members with responsibility for the meatpacking industry to ensure that they are aggressively and fairly applying Iowa's laws to this company.
Second, I directed Iowa Workforce Development Director Lis Buck to prevent Agriprocessors from listing open positions on state job-listings services due to the unsafe working conditions at the Postville facility.
Finally, as a result of my request to investigate Agriprocessors, Iowa Commissioner of Labor David Neil has filed complaints with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller alleging multiple prohibited uses of child labor. The lieutenant governor and I, in the strongest terms, call on the attorney general promptly to prosecute all alleged criminal and civil-law violations that are backed by sufficient evidence.
Agriprocessors has every resource at its disposal to be a good Iowa corporate neighbor - one that provides a safe workplace, pays good wages and benefits, protects our environment and respects the dignity of our workers. If its owners choose to operate in this manner, they will find a skilled work force ready to join this company. I want to publicly ask Agriprocessors to "take the high road" and join the family of responsible businesses in Iowa.
To date, in public statements, Agriprocessors' owners have denied any wrongdoing related to their business practices. They are entitled to do so. Because of Iowa's long history of clean and fair regulatory and judicial processes, companies like Agriprocessors, if accused of wrongdoing, will be afforded every due-process right to which they are entitled under law. But, at the end of the day, they must obey each and every law that protects workers and keeps our food supply safe.
A century ago, the great American novelist Upton Sinclair wrote of the horrifying working conditions in the meatpacking industry of the time. His classic novel, "The Jungle," drew attention to the issues of worker protection and food safety, and helped the industry modernize as a result. There will be no industrial "jungles" in Iowa on my watch.
Rather, let's use this occasion to ensure that all workers in Iowa - at Agriprocessors and elsewhere - are treated fairly, and under safe working conditions. Workers and consumers deserve no less.
[Hat Tip: The Other DK.]