When I was first running to represent Iowa in the United States Senate, it wasn’t uncommon to hear residents complain that politicians only come around when an election nears. I took that comment to heart. Representative government is a cornerstone of our democracy. To work effectively, it requires dialogue between elected officials and the people we serve. And it must be carried out every day of the year, not just in an election year. That’s what citizens deserve and should demand of their elected representatives.
I set out to change the attitude of people who felt politicians only needed them for their vote. I decided I would hold at least one question-and-answer session in every county, every year.
It didn’t change overnight but eventually, my annual 99 county meetings helped reduce cynicism and grow civic engagement. I work hard to earn the respect and trust of Iowans. I want to know what’s on your minds when I come to town. Boy, do I get an earful from time to time. That’s what representative government and my 99 county meetings are all about. Not every six years, every single year. I’ve worked hard to earn a reputation for being accessible, dependable and effective. Those values drive my service for the people of Iowa.
This year was no different. On September 1, I completed my annual 99 county meetings for the 41st year in a row. I crisscrossed the state to hear from Iowans from all walks of life, including farmers, small business owners, health care workers, students, seniors, veterans, civic leaders and factory workers.
I heard from leaders in Pella, Davenport, Bettendorf and Indianola how an investment in infrastructure will improve the quality of life and economic vitality for their communities. It will allow them to upgrade their roads, bridges, locks and dams and broadband.
In Des Moines, I saw firsthand how MercyOne is working to combat the nursing shortage and provide quality health care to their patients during the pandemic. Earlier this year, I met with a fired up crowd of 150 cattlemen in Jones County demanding that something be done to give independent cattle producers a fair shake as they go up against the four big packers who control more than 80% of the market.
My county meetings inform the approach I take at the policymaking tables in our nation’s capital. A stop at a local high school makes government come to life for students. My Q&As allow for Iowans who need help cutting through bureaucratic red tape to learn that my office is here to help solve problems with Social Security or Veterans Affairs, for example. And it provides a forum for Iowans who are upset about what the government is doing or is not doing and how that affects their lives and livelihoods. My county meetings give them an opportunity to let off some steam. And I’m all ears.
My 99 county meetings are just the bare minimum. Representative government doesn’t end when my annual tally hits the 99th county. My commitment provides Iowans with the certainty that every Iowa community matters and every Iowan deserves to be heard.
Every county, every year. And I’m already looking forward to 2022.
Sen. Chuck Grassley has represented Iowans in the U.S. Senate since 1981. His commitment to hold at least one Q&A in every county, every year, is often called ‘The Full Grassley.’