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Grassley backing grandson for Iowa agriculture post

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has endorsed his grandson for the soon-to-be vacant job of Iowa secretary of agriculture.

The current secretary, Bill Northey, is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate this fall as an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If that happens, Gov. Kim Reynolds will appoint a successor.

Iowa House Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, has been mentioned as a possible appointee.

“I know darn well you expect me to support my grandson — and I am,” Sen. Grassley told reporters Wednesday during his regular conference call. “I hope he will be appointed.”

Reynolds hasn’t said much about her plans to replace Northey. At this time, she doesn’t have a “short list,” according to a spokeswoman.

In addition to Rep. Grassley, a number of names — all Republicans and all farmers — have surfaced as possible replacements, including former state Rep. Annette Sweeney of Alden, Sen. Dan Zumbach of Ryan and Sen. Tim Kapucian of Keystone.

All said they would be interested if asked to fill the remainder of Northey’s term, which extends to January 2019.

Sen. Grassley said he thought his grandson would be a good fit.

“I think being former chairman of the Agriculture Committee and demonstrating real leadership in the 18 months he’s been chairman of the Appropriations Committee” — a post the elder Grassley once held — “and recognized as a leader in the Iowa Legislature, plus being in the farming operation, I think he would fit in very well,” he said. “He wants it and, obviously, I’m going to advocate for it.”

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Former North Iowans cleaning up after Irma's 'punch in the mouth'

ORLANDO, Florida | Former North Iowans living in Orlando have been without power all week and have been told it will be at least Sunday before they get it back.

"Trees and power lines are down everywhere and most businesses are closed because there is no power," said Matt Werner, a Lake Mills native who lived in Mason City with his wife, Erin, before moving to Orlando several years ago.

Hurricane Irma swept through the Orlando area and its impact will be felt for a long time, Werner said.

"She punched us in the mouth," he said.

In addition to flooding and trees and power lines down, Werner said there have been several deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning — the result of fumes from generators operating too close to houses.

Also, he said, many people have had sewers backing up into their homes.

Without power, there is no way to refrigerate food, which is a problem not only for consumers but for grocery stores that depend on refrigeration.

Twenty-six area schools are closed because of the power outage, as well as downed tree limbs and electrical lines making travel unsafe for school buses.

Werner said planes are now coming in and out of Orlando which means hundreds of tourists can return home. "Most of them were trapped," he said.

Werner's wife, the former Erin McMillan, who grew up in Manly and also lived in Mason City, is a nurse who has had trouble getting to work at the hospital where she was needed. Last year, during a hurricane, she spent three days and three nights there without coming home.

This year, she got to work, but it wasn't easy. "First there was the hurricane on Monday," said Werner, a stay-at-home dad and a former flight nurse at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. "Tuesday, she couldn't get out because of a tree that fell on our driveway. Then the exit she usually takes to get to the hospital was washed out."

Werner said he spent much of Tuesday with a chainsaw helping clean-up efforts in his neighborhood.

The recovery process will be long, he said, but it could have been worse, like it was in many other parts of Florida.

"We're the lucky ones," he said.

Alliant Energy announced earlier this week its trucks would assist in the massive effort to restore power across Florida. 

More than 200 line workers, safety staff, vehicle mechanics, support staff and managers from Iowa and Wisconsin volunteered to help, the company said in a news release.

They will join more than 18,000 utility crews from across 30 states and Canada working to restore power to more than 6 million people affected by the hurricane.

Florida utilities — which are responsible for the costs, not Alliant Energy's customers — requested help through a nationwide mutual assistance program among utilities, Alliant said. 

Many southern power companies were already assisting with response to Hurricane Harvey, and damage from Hurricane Irma was so extensive the request for help extended to Midwestern energy companies.