Iowa’s Senior Senator Holds Q&A With East Students
What do you get when you mix an 82 year-old United States Senator who grew up on a farm in rural Iowa with an auditorium full of high school seniors whose heritages span the globe?
At East High School on Monday afternoon that was the recipe for a lively, wide-ranging Q&A between Senator Charles Grassley and AP Government students.
To his credit, Grassley was forthright in his answers, even when he suspected that most of his audience might disagree with his position.
To their credit, the students were respectful and well-prepared for their chance to get some up close and personal insights into what makes the long-serving and still vigorous Sen. Grassley tick.
“Chuck” Grassley, as he’s familiarly known to many of his constituents, recalls taking an interest in politics from an early age when he was growing up in New Hartford, Iowa.
“My parents talked a lot about government and politics,” he said, “not so much from a Republican or Democrat perspective as just a good citizen perspective.”
In case anyone listening has the same curiosities as the young Grassley, he encouraged them to visit his website and check out his robust intern program that he estimates has given more than 1,000 young Iowans a chance to come to Washington DC and work in his office over the span of his long career.
He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in political science and an inkling that he would like to run for the state legislature someday. He’s been running ever since and still maintains a jogging habit that makes a great metaphor for his life of public service.
After 16 years in the Iowa general assembly Grassley ran for Congress where he served for six years in the House of Representatives before getting elected to the US Senate in 1981. He is currently the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after two previous stints as Chairman of the Finance Committee. Before his legislative career became a fulltime proposition Grassley worked as both a farmer and a factory worker.
The East students peppered him with questions on all the hot button issues: ISIS, Syrian refugees, abortion, educational funding, immigration, etc. His positions are well-documented and none of them were changed.
But he also answered questions about what he considered his greatest accomplishments (e.g., passage of the Congressional Accountability Act) and biggest regrets (votes in favor of increasing the national debt). He told the students that one of the biggest perks of being in the Senate versus the House is the greater potential to get to know colleagues as one of only 100 instead of one among 435.
The easiest answer of all came when someone asked Sen. Grassley what his plans are for Thanksgiving Day.
“Dinner with our family at the farm,” he said. “My wife’s at Hy-Vee right now buying out the store. There will be about 25 of us (Grassley and his wife Barbara have five children and nine grandchildren). She makes specialties of baked beans, cherry cobbler and apple crisp.”
That answer was an I-told-you-so moment for a teacher in the back of the room who told Sen. Grassley that he had predicted essentially that itinerary when the subject of the senator’s holiday whereabouts came up in class. The consensus guess among the students was that Grassley would be heading someplace warm and exotic like Hawaii.
If they didn’t know Chuck Grassley before, maybe they do now.