I saw Joni Ernst, and I didn’t even get a T-shirt

I’m of the generation that, maybe even more than the concert itself, prized the concert T-shirt.

Printed on the back would be all the cities the tour hit, and you wore that thing with immense pride if it said “Des Moines” or “Ames.” It made you feel like a witness to some part of history. And I’m talking American history — not just Aerosmith or Van Halen history.

But let’s say you somehow come across a Rolling Stones T-shirt, and on the back it says, “North American Tour 2018.” And on the back it lists not only “Des Moines” and “Ames,” but “Sioux City” and “Cedar Rapids,” too.

“Oh, wow,” you think, “how did I not hear that the Stones were playing all these Iowa shows? I totally would’ve gone!”

You start digging around, and find out the Stones were indeed at Wells Fargo Arena, Hilton Coliseum, et al. — but they only played to the employees of each venue.

And no pictures were allowed.

That’s sort of how I’m starting to view the “99-county tours” conducted annually by our elected representatives.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley — who, in rock ‘n’ roll years, was first elected to the Iowa Legislature when Buddy Holly was still alive — started the whole thing, and the “full Grassley,” as it’s officially called, is now something elected officials and candidates for office aspire to complete.

Completing a 99-county tour is a demonstration of blue-collar resolve, an endurance test that shows you may be on the take from billionaires and the pharmaceutical industry, but there’s still enough of a human being left inside that you’re still able to pretend to care about the folks back on Main Street.

Why else would anyone have reason to visit Ringgold County?

Increasingly, though, it seems they want to take credit for completing a “99-county tour” by meeting with the fewest folks possible.

That came to mind Friday as I waited around to take U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s photo following a tour of Bauer Built Manufacturing in Paton.

No, you had no idea she was coming. You never usually do. We in the media are typically notified in advance of these trips, but are told that the information is “for planning purposes only.”

In other words, “Shh!”

Nevertheless, this visit to Greene County counted as her stop on her annual 99-county tour.

The Republican senator from Red Oak, who rose to fame as an Iowan so humble she wore bread sacks for shoes, was here and gone in give or take an hour.

Greene County? Check! See ya next year.

You know, I once switched flights in Dallas and had to kill about three hours there in the airport, but I can’t really claim to have visited the great city of Dallas, Texas.

New rule: In order to claim a county on the 99-county tour, they should have to at least interact with more than five or six people.

And more and more, with so many businesses wanting to safeguard their intellectual property, we in the media aren’t even allowed to accompany Ernst or Grassley onto the factory floor.

That was the case with Ernst’s visit late last week to Bauer Built.

As we milled around the lobby, promised that we could take a group photo and ask a few questions afterward, I leaned over to Coltrane Carlson from Raccoon Valley Radio, the only other local media person there, and said, “You know, if we split right now, no one would ever know Joni Ernst was in Greene County.”

But nope. We waited. But don’t stop the presses or anything. My picture is on Page 10 of this week’s Herald.

Not to be outdone, the old iron man himself, Grassley, was in Jefferson on Monday. At least I think he was, anyway.

He was supposed to be touring AAI at 8:45 in the morning.

I read the email at 8.

To be fair, the media advisory — “for planning purposes only” — was sent Saturday morning.

Not only did I not check my email this past weekend, I already had something on the books for Monday morning.

Besides, media was instructed to contact the organization (AAI) directly if we planned to come. That was a note I’d never seen before. Before, I guess it was always just assumed that if a U.S. senator made plans to look around, a reporter or two might be in tow.

Of course, in the case of U.S. Rep. Steve King, we aren’t even told that he’s visiting. He’ll just slither on in and slither on out.

In their defense, they like to claim they want to meet face-to-face with local manufacturers to gauge how policies in Washington are impacting business.

I’m cool with that. But, as cool as AAI’s pommel horses are, there’s also a time to meet face-to-face with your constituents, to field questions from people whose employers aren’t simultaneously staring them down.

There are more questions than ever about our nation’s direction.

But maybe that’s the point.

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161