Iowa’s congressional delegation hasn’t changed this much since 1975

The membership in Iowa’s congressional delegation has been largely stable over the years, a seat changing hands here or there, but the same faces often returning for long stints in office.

After this year’s elections, at least half of the state’s House and Senate seats will turn over.

The delegation hasn’t seen that level of change since 1975, when half the House seats were taken over by “Watergate baby” Democrats and another House seat was won by Chuck Grassley. A Senate seat changed hands that year too.

Now, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring after 30 years in the Senate. Harkin was one of those “Watergate babies” in the House nearly 40 years ago and went on to become a national force on health, education and labor issues.

GOP Rep. Tom Latham of southwest Iowa’s third district is also retiring. Latham has served since 2003 and he gives up an influential post on the Appropriations Committee and his place as House Speaker John Boehner’s top confidante.

Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, in office since 2007, is leaving his first district seat and a spot on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. He hopes to walk across to the Capitol and take Harkin’s place in the Senate.

Grassley is sticking around in the Senate, where he has served since 1981 and carved out a national profile for himself on tax, health, judicial and many other issues.

Republican Rep. Steve King (class of 2003) and Democratic Rep. David Loebsack (class of 2007) hope the voters will return them for another term in the House.

Potomac Watch turned to Iowa’s veterans of life on Capitol Hill and asked what their advice would be for next year’s newcomers.

The answers were remarkably similar: Listen, go home to Iowa as often as possible, and don’t become too enamored of life in the nation’s capital.

“Iowans know policy and they know politics,” Grassley said. “They pay attention to what you’re doing. So, it’s important to get to the grass roots and listen to your constituents as much as possible. Representative government is a two-way street, so you have to have communication with the people you represent. I go home every weekend to help stay in touch. I’d also say to pay attention to your mail and provide informative answers to the questions you get from Iowans.”

Latham agreed, saying: “The most important key to success is listening to your constituents. If you listen and do the right things for the right reasons you will be successful in the most important part of the job – working for the people who you represent.”

Braley offered a point he has made frequently in his Senate campaign: “Never forget where you come from. I grew up in the small town of Brooklyn, Iowa, where my parents taught me the value and dignity of hard work. ... I think if more people in Washington never lost sight of their roots, our country would be a lot better off.”

Stay connected to home, Loebsack said.

“You should come back to your district as often as possible and spend time meeting with, and listening to, Iowans,” Loebsack said. “Whenever the House is not in session and every weekend, I spend time traveling around Iowa and it allows me to hear directly from folks about what is affecting their lives and what is most important to them. Don’t allow yourself to become so focused on Washington that you forget who you represent.”

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Rep. Steve King, the Kiron Republican, thinks his comments about gay rights in a recent interview were misrepresented by Potomac Watch, which wrote that King had “offered his allegedly scientific view that gays don’t deserve constitutional protections.”

King vehemently objected to that characterization and his office stressed that the lawmaker supports the constitutional rights of every American.

Duly noted.

In the WHO-TV interview, King was discussing a vetoed state bill in Arizona that addressed the right to refuse service on religious grounds, a thinly veiled attempt to allow businesses to turn away gay customers.

King spoke in support of the Arizona bill, saying: “I’m always uneasy about the idea of the philosophy that you’re a private-slash-public business because you have a door that’s open that anybody can walk in. That doesn’t mean you have to perform any kind of service they demand.”

King went on: “Although it’s clear in the civil rights section of the code that you can’t discriminate against people based upon ... race, creed, religion, color of skin, there’s nothing mentioned in there on self-professed behavior, and that’s what they’re trying to protect: special rights for self-professed behavior.”

King said the Constitution spells out protections for certain activities, like religious practices, and provides protections for “immutable characteristics” that can be “independently verified and can’t be willfully changed.”

Where does that leave gay people? King meandered on a bit about nature versus nurture and said, in any case, the market provides plenty of options for people turned away by a given establishment.

So King supports the basic constitutional rights of gay Americans, but he doesn’t believe they have any recourse if they are denied services by a private establishment simply because of who they are.

That’s a narrow reading of our freedoms and it was soundly rejected in Arizona by the Republican governor, the state’s two GOP U.S. senators and the business community.
 

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