The board met in May and determined that Hampton could keep the chickens so long as she built a pen for them and kept them contained. Hampton complied.
That probably would have been the end of it — just another routine spat between neighbors resolved by a local council — had Bruce Braley not picked up the phone on a May afternoon and called the board’s attorney, Thomas A. Lacina, to check up on the resolution of his family’s complaint.
On May 29, Lacina wrote to the board to relay the message from Braley.
"Last week I received a phone call from Bruce Braley,” Lacina wrote to the board. “He was complaining about the lack of action by the Holiday Lake board as to chickens at Holiday Lake. The implication from Mr. Braley was that he wants to 'avoid a litigious situation' and believes strongly that chickens are not pets and should not be permitted at Holiday Lake.”
The single line — that Braley, a trial attorney and member of Congress, had hinted at the possibility of a “litigious situation” — is probably the reason you’re reading about free-range therapy chickens in Iowa right now. Residents were outraged at the way the Braleys handled the situation. In an agricultural state like Iowa, which is also the largest egg producer in the country and takes pride in its reputation for people there being laid-back and “Iowa nice,” even the most casual mention of a lawsuit over four curious hens was enough to raise hackles. In short, the email was a surprise golden egg for Republicans hungry to paint Braley as out of touch with his fellow Iowans.
As Republican Joni Ernst notes, she would have handled the matter differently:
“I am campaigning that Bruce Braley, who occupies a seat in Congress for the past eight years, is caught up in doing things the Washington way,” Ernst told me in her campaign office in Urbandale, about an hour and a half drive from Holiday Lake. “This is just an example of that. He is a trial attorney and the only way he knew how to solve a problem is to threaten to sue a neighbor over a chicken. The Iowa way, if I had a disagreement, was to reach out to my neighbor and say, ‘Hey come on over, let’s have a glass of tea and let’s talk about this.’”
Why Braley's farmer comment hit a nerve in Iowa