Opponents question the 'Full Grassley'
They assert senator avoids public meetings in key areas
James Q. Lynch
ANAMOSA — Facing criticism for a lack of accessibility, Sen. Chuck Grassley said visits to factories, high schools and civic clubs allow him to meet with more Iowans — and a more diverse group of Iowans — than simply having public town-halls.
Thursday in Anamosa, Grassley completed this year’s edition of the 99-county tour he has been making every year for 36 years.
“If they are saying every meeting should be like the meeting we had here that you call an open town meeting, then I’d be talking to roughly the same people all the time in every county year after year,” Grassley said. “I have a responsibility to get as broad a section of the population as I can, so when people don’t come to me I go to them.”
The Iowa Republican has come under fire this summer from Democratic challenger Patty Judge and others opposing his re-election to a seventh term who say he does not hold truly public events in some of the state’s most populous counties.
“Unlike Chuck Grassley, Patty Judge will hold open forums with Iowans from all backgrounds,” Judge campaign spokesman Sam Roecker said. “During her first year in the U.S. Senate, she will hold a public town hall in Sioux County, the county with the largest percentage of registered Republican voters in the state.”
According to Progress Iowa, which calls Grassley’s travels the “Fake Grassley,” he hasn’t had a public meeting in Polk, Linn, Johnson, Black Hawk, Woodbury, Dubuque, Story, Dallas, Jasper, Buena Vista or Fayette counties in the past six years.
“When (Grassley) talks about being open and accessible to the public and his constituents, he’s really being disingenuous,” Matt Sinovic of Progress Iowa said at a Des Moines news conference.
Johnson County was the only one of those counties Grassley did not carry on his way to re-election in 2010.
Tammy Wawro of Cedar Rapids, the president of Iowa State Education Association, and state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, said in a news conference outside the Jones County Courthouse that people in their communities should have the same opportunity to meet face-to-face with Grassley as Jones County residents did.
“Our members should not have to drive to another county, quite frankly, on a Thursday morning to be able to talk with Sen. Grassley,” Wawro said.
Grassley was in Dubuque on Wednesday, but it was a visit to a private business, Finkenauer said.
“That’s great,” she said, “All elected officials typically do that, but we also hold public forums.”
According to Grassley’s schedulers, during the Senate’s summer recess, he has had three question-and-answer session in Dubuque and five in Cedar Rapids. In addition, Grassley has had tele-town hall meetings that included those counties and he’s on radio public affairs programs every month in Dubuque and Cedar Rapids.
Grassley found it interesting the criticism was coming from people who never criticized Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin “because he didn’t go to all 99 counties every year and do what I’ve done for 36 years in a row.”
Harkin served 30 years in the Senate before retiring in 2015.
The difference, Finkenauer said, “is the way (Grassley) touts it.”
“He acts as though he gives this 99-county tour, the ‘Full Grassley,’ and acts as though he is as accessible,” she said. “That’s the problem. He’s not.”
Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines bureau contributed to this report.