Few U.S. congressmen or senators show more devotion to their home state than Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. Less than one month into 2012, Grassley has already completed more than one-third of annual 99-county tour of Iowa. It’s a journey he takes every year in order to promote “citizen participation” in government.
“Even if nobody participates, I still have to know what’s on people’s minds if I’m going to represent them,” Grassley told a group of students at Dallas Center-Grimes Middle School last week. “My first motivation wasn’t necessarily that. It just irritated me when somebody would say, ‘How come we see you politicians only at election time?’ I wanted to make sure that people knew I was interested in what they were thinking when it wasn’t around election time. I’m coming around because this is my job.”
The visit to the middle school was number 32 out of 36 stops he has made in Iowa counties so far this year. Three of those took place at schools. The visit to Dallas Center-Grimes was arranged by Brad Grout, an English teacher. He wrote to the offices of Grassley and fellow Senator Tom Harkin several months ago, in hopes they would visit. Harkin declined the invitation. Grassley accepted in December. “This is a lesson to the students on the power of writing,” Grout said. “It shows the power you have when you’re not willing to let your voice go unnoticed.”
The 60 students came armed with plenty of questions for Senator Grassley. They ranged from his favorite sports team (St. Louis Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, UNI Panthers) to SOPA (watch the video below) to ‘Do you ever talk to President Obama?’.
“I’m a Republican, he’s a Democrat, so I don’t get invited to White House very often,” Grassley responded. “I would guess I’ve been to the White House six times to talk to him. He’s a very personable person. I don’t agree with him politically, but he’s a very nice person.”
The students’ questions helped paint a revealing profile of six-term U.S. Senator. “When I was our age, I loved politics,” Grassley told the students. “There was something about government, and more importantly history, that I liked. My parents would often talk about politics and I guess I just picked up on that. I don’t remember this, but teachers that I used to have told me that I knew who was in the cabinet at various times.”
One student asked the senator what he thought was the most important school subject. “The most important thing is to learn how to read and communicate because you’ve got to have that important tool,” Grassley said. He also stressed the need for U.S. students to know math and science in order to compete with the rest of the world. Knowing government is another priority. “You ought to be an intelligent voter,” he said.
Chuck Grassley never envisioned he would wind up in the U.S. Senate. His political career slowly evolved to that point. “I was educated to be a teacher,” he said. “I was going to teach government if I wasn’t elected a politician. I had to be a factory worker to supplement my income.” Grassley taught on a part-time basis while working the assembly line at a Cedar Falls factory.
“When I was your age, I just kind of made up my mind that I was going to run for the state legislature,” Grassley told the students. When he was 22 years old, he did just that. And lost by 80 votes. Grassley has not lost an election since then. He served for 15 years in the Iowa House, six years in the U.S. House and 31 years in the U.S. Senate. Grassley’s earlier electoral failure told him an important lesson that he passed on to the middle school students. “You can fail and still succeed,” he said.
Another student asked Grassley about how he spends an average day. The answer shows why Grassley is renowned for being one of the hardest working senators in the country and why he is highly respected by many Iowans. While Democrat Tom Harkin is rarely seen in the Hawkeye State, Grassley comes home to Iowa every weekend.
“I spend about 40 percent of my time in Iowa and 60 percent in Washington,” he said. “I’m probably in D.C., 40 to 42 weeks a year.” In Iowa, much of his time is devoted to working on the family farm and touring the state to listen to his constituents. In Washington, Grassley’s usually arrives to his senate office at 6 am.
“Usually until 8 o’clock, I just study,” he said. “8-10 is either a working breakfast or meeting with staff or studying. 10-12 is reserved for committee meetings…The senate starts its session at 9 and goes until 7 at night. You are not very often on the senate floor unless you’re giving a speech or voting…Usually I can go home at 6 o’clock, but since traffic is so bad I don’t leave until 7. So I put in about 12 hours a day.”
Other questions from the students included his thoughts on a four-day school week, bullying, and the rising cost of tuition. The New Hartford native was impressed with the middle-schoolers.
“They asked questions that were very mature,” Grassley said. “Some of them were questions of process, some of them were questions of issues before Congress. I really enjoyed it and I come here to make government real to students. I come here to learn what’s on young people’s minds. That’s very important. And I came here to encourage the process of representative government.”
Following the visit to Dallas Center-Grimes Middle School, Grassley made stops in Greene, Boone, Story, and Marshall counties. The U.S. Senate reconvened Monday. Grassley’s week in Washington has included having his Twitter account hacked and attending President Obama’s State of the Union speech.
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
blog comments powered by Disqus