Grassley, why avoid the public?

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Matt Sinovic, guest columnist

Since joining the Senate in 1981, Senator Chuck Grassley has claimed to visit each of Iowa’s 99 counties every year. In recent years, his 99 county tours have gained more prominence, being referred to as the “Full Grassley.” His annual county tour has also been emulated by a number of candidates campaigning in Iowa.

Unfortunately, these tours aren’t as accessible as Senator Grassley would like Iowans to believe. They don’t include public meetings in Cedar Rapids (or anywhere in Linn County) or in most of Iowa’s largest counties.

Progress Iowa conducted in-depth research detailing Senator Chuck Grassley’s public town hall meetings during his current term in office, since the beginning of 2011. What we discovered is that Senator Grassley has not held an open public meeting as part of his annual 99 county tour in nearly all of the state’s major population centers, including no public meetings in Polk, Linn, or 8 of Iowa’s most populous 10 counties. These counties represent more than 40% of our state’s population, and they have been ignored for public meetings by Senator Grassley.

To determine what the Senator considers a public meeting, we used the standard set by his office. According to a statement published by Senator Grassley, there are a variety of formats during his 99 county tour: private question and answer sessions at businesses or organizations, visits to schools, and “open-to-the-public town meetings.” These town meetings are the only format used by Senator Grassley that are open to the public, and are “announced in a news release,” according to that same statement. Despite having different categories of meeting during his 99 county tour, Senator Grassley has blurred the line between public and private events when discussing them. For example, in April of this year he stated:

“And when I’m in Iowa for 36 years I’ve held a town meeting in every county...”

Based on that statement, one would think that Senator Grassley holds a public town meeting in every county, every year. But the results of our research are clear. Senator Grassley’s description of his 99 county tour is not true, and misrepresents how open his meetings are to the public. Our research also discovered that the majority of these meetings are in fact not public. This year, only 36 of his 99 county meetings were “open-to-the-public town meetings.” Nearly two thirds were private meetings, unannounced and without the ability for public input.

The results of our research were surprising for a Senator who regularly claims to be open to public input and whose annual county tours have become the stuff of political legend. The data tells the story quite clearly – Senator Grassley has consistently avoided holding “open-to-the-public town meetings” in most of Iowa’s largest counties. Instead of avoiding our largest counties, Senator Grassley should engage in regular and open dialogue with all of his constituents. Based on our findings, his 99 county tour, often referred to as the ‘Full Grassley’ would be more aptly named the ‘Fake Grassley.’ You can visit to read our research in full detail.

• Matt Sinovic is the executive director of Progress Iowa. l Comments:

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