Rough edges linger from Braley’s ‘farmer’ insult
Perhaps no area of the state has such a celebrated agricultural history.
Home of Henry Wallace, who was born near Orient, grew up in a pioneering ag-business family and ascended to the presidency — through the office of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
For the past 125 years, no newspaper family in the United States chronicled rural life with more clarity and force than the Sideys, who owned the Greenfield-based Adair County Free Press.
So, Chuck Grassley, the farmer-politician, found a friendly, familiar audience on a visit to Greenfield last week for a town hall meeting.
He weaved through a king’s ransom of issues — from renewable energy to Syria to veterans benefits. But take note Iowa Democrats: One of the GOP senator’s comments eclipsed all others in eliciting sustained clapping and plenty of resolute head-nodding from most of the 50 people in attendance.
Grassley said Iowa Republicans are poised to capture the U.S. Senate seat being vacated at the end of the year by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a veteran Democrat.
“Most of that goes back to, I’m not a lawyer, I’m a farmer,” Grassley said.
Yes, Grassley says he’s forgiven. But forget? This is about the control of the U.S. Senate.
Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, made the recent mistake of telling some Texas trial lawyers that Grassley — a farmer who has served in government since the Eisenhower administration — could chair the Judiciary Committee if the GOP snares control of the Senate in November.
“If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice — someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary (Committee),” said Braley. “Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary.”
Grassley, who travels to all 99 counties each year, dutifully recording all questions from constituents in a notebook before answering, said the Braley comment is frequently referenced.
And Braley’s remark makes rural Iowans angry, the senator said in an interview following his Greenfield town hall meeting.
“Similar to what you heard in here,” Grassley said. “I think he realizes he made a mistake because he more or less told The Des Moines Register board of editors — I think that’s who he was appearing before — he said it was a humbling experience for him.”
Braley apologized to Grassley during a meeting of the full Iowa federal delegation in Washington, D.C., Grassley said.
“It’s water under the bridge,” Grassley said.
From a personal point of view the two Iowans dispatched with the matter in a short conversation, Grassley said.
“He followed me out,” Grassley said. “And he said, ‘I want to apologize for the statement I made,’ and I accepted it, and that was the end of it.”
But not politically.
Grassley expects the Braley comment to have serious life in the general election.
“I think you’ve already seen candidates that want to be his opponent already use it,” Grassley said. “And I think there will be other groups that will use it, too, probably independent groups that will use it.”
State Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, said the Braley comment is politically fatal.
“In this state, you’re going to find that what we do in the Iowa House and Senate relies on the farm economy,” Baudler said in an interview. “It drives the whole state.”