Sunday, March 07, 2010

Earthpark's Life After Death

March 7, 2010, 11:30 p.m.

Senator Grassley's Pork Keeps on Giving
But Will It End His Senate Career?
(brought to you by*)

The idea of building a $300 million indoor rain forest in an Iowa cornfield was first launched in 1996. Ten years later, it had been unable to raise a dime from Iowans beyond the original pledge of the creator of the idea, Ted Townsend. It went through many names: the Iowa Child project, Coralville Rainforest, Iowa Environmental Project, and finally Earthpark. It was offered to, and turned down by, Cedar Rapids, Coralville, Des Moines, Dubuque, Grinnell, Iowa City, Riverside, and Tiffin -- ultimately ending up in a tulip bed in Pella, the flowers of which have yet to be disturbed with any construction. It's mission varied from time to time from tourist attraction, to public school, to national research facility, to overnight camp site. After a number of architects had been brought in, the construction budget declined from $300 million to $150 million and the design was also altered.

I was first troubled by, and wrote about, the Iowa Child in January of 2001. "'Iowa Child' Concerns," January 22, 2001. By 2007 my writing on the subject included at least 14 op ed newspaper columns and 15 additional articles.

In February 2004 it was obvious the project was going to be around for awhile, so I created a Web page which still gets an amazing number of hits, considering that the project has been seemingly dead since the end of 2006, Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark" -- a Web site that would ultimately print out at well over 100 pages, with links to hundreds more of cartoons, newspaper stories and editorials, and ridicule from everyone from the Speaker of the House to "West Wing."

But despite it all, the project would never seem to die, as this political cartoon from Sharpnack captures:

So while I would have no right to be stunned, I was surprised when a friend pointed out to me that the Earthpark project's Web site now bore a copyright date of 2010. What was going on, I wondered?

I had not visited either the project's site, nor my own Earthpark Web site for so long it took me awhile to find both. And the very next thing I checked was the site that collects the stats on the number of hits that come to this blog and a number of the Web sites that I maintain.

Much to my surprise the numbers were well up above what they usually were on my Earthpark site. So I started digging deeper. Where were these hits coming from?


As a University of Texas graduate, with my first law clerkship (U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit) in Houston, I'm familiar with many of the cities in Texas. But my Earthpark site was getting hits from Texas towns I'd never heard of in addition to those I had.

What was going on? What could possibly cause Texans from all over the state to want to learn more about the old Iowa rain forest project?

All I could figure out was that the never-say-die Earthpark promoters had finally found some Texas oil money and a place to build their rain forest dream -- in a climate, not incidentally, a little more consistent with a rain forest than anything an Iowa winter could ever offer.

But as creatively as I was constructing Google searches I could find no news stories about a Texas town that had agreed to build Earthpark.

Until I came upon news of the Republican primary for Texas governor between the incumbant, Governor Perry, and Texas' U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

For it seems that Governor Perry was running against pork, and the commercial he was running throughout the state . . . but rather than my describing it, why don't I just play it for you:

Here's the story:

Last year, the San Antonio Express-News ran a story with the headline "Texas senator is queen of earmarks." Picking up on that theme, the Perry campaign hits her for voting for bills containing earmarks for the World Toilet Summit, fruitfly research in France, a teapot museum in North Carolina, and an indoor rainforest in Iowa.

Hutchison isn't the only teapot enthusiast in the U.S. Senate. The appropriations bill with the earmark for the North Carolina museum passed with unanimous consent. The vote in favor of the bill containing the World Toilet Summit funding was 91-0. The fruitfly vote in question was 76 yeas to 16 nays, and the indoor rainforest vote — the closest of the four mentioned — was 65-28.

The fact that plenty of other senators voted the same way isn't likely to impress the Perry camp. They close the ad by hitting Hutchison for "voting with Washington since 1993.
Reeve Hamilton, "Ads Infinitum: Perry's 'The Queen,'" Texas Tribune, February 22, 2010.

(Here's the script for the commercial:
Before Senator Hutchison voted for the $700 billion Wall Street Bailout
TEXT ON SCREEN: Before Senator Hutchison voted for the $700 billion Wall Street Bailout

She voted for billions in taxpayer-funded earmarks
TEXT ON SCREEN: She voted for billions in taxpayer-funded earmarks

That’s why a Texas newspaper dubbed her the “Queen of Earmarks”
TEXT ON SCREEN: Texas senator is queen of earmarks San Antonio Express-News 10/6/2009

She spent billions on projects like
TEXT ON SCREEN: She spent billions on projects like

the World Toilet Summit
TEXT ON SCREEN: the World Toilet Summit

Fruitfly research in France
TEXT ON SCREEN: Fruitfly research in France

A teapot museum in North Carolina
TEXT ON SCREEN: Teapot museum in North Carolina

And $50 million on an indoor rain forest in Iowa
TEXT ON SCREEN: $50 million indoor rain forest in Iowa

She kept spending and spending … billions of taxdollars
TEXT ON SCREEN: She kept spending and spending … billions of taxdollars

Senator Hutchison voting with Washington since 1993
TEXT ON SCREEN: Senator Hutchison voting WITH Washington since 1993
It was an expensive campaign. Wayne Slater, "Hutchison, Perry spend more than $14 million in advertising," The Dallas Morning News, February 25, 2010; Kate Alexander, "Republicans Perry, Hutchison lead fundraising," Austin American-Statesman, February 25, 2010.

But when it was all over, curious Texans had found out about the ill-fated Iowa rain forest from Governor Perry's commercials, and my Web site, and he walked away with the Republican nomination for Governor. Associated Press, "Hutchison Concedes to Perry in Texas G.O.P. Race," New York Times, March 2, 2010.

There's a lesson here for Iowans.

That $50 million in pork was the product of none other than Iowa's own Senator Charles Grassley. In case you haven't yet noticed, he's running for re-election.

His rain forest has now contributed to the election of two governors, one each for Iowa and Texas.

What he may discover this year is that it is also capable of defeating a U.S. Senator from Iowa as well as the U.S. Senator from Texas who just lost her bid to run for Governor.

Earthpark does indeed have a life after death.


* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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1 comment:

What was done said...

Here is a kind of life after death you can be sure of...