Government

Health protocols don't mask opinions at Grassley town hall

Senator keeps his distance at stop on annual tour

Sen. Chuck Grassley addresses constituents Tuesday at the Columbus Junction City Hall. The meeting is part of his visits
Sen. Chuck Grassley addresses constituents Tuesday at the Columbus Junction City Hall. The meeting is part of his visits around the state, which continue this week. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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COLUMBUS JUNCTION — Spread out and many wearing masks, the constituents who came Tuesday to meet with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley didn’t make for the type of scene he typically encounters on the 99-county tours of Iowa he has made over seven terms in the Senate.

“It’s not a pleasant environment,” the Iowa Republican said after meeting with about 20 people at the Columbus Junction City Hall. “It’s not the face-to-face dialogue you like to have.”

Grassley, who greeted Mayor Mark Huston with an elbow bump rather than a handshake, removed his own mask only when he was at least 6 feet away from the constituents and reporters.

“I hope we get a vaccine so we don’t have to do this very long,” he said.

However, the public health protocols didn’t mask the opinions of audience members who don’t like what some said was the liberal takeover of public education, the failure of schools to teach the “true history” of the country and the news media’s role in creating political divisions.

That was all right with Grassley, who said his county meetings are the place “where I find out what’s on people’s minds so I can be a better representative of the people.”

Based on his interaction with high school students, Grassley pushed back a bit on criticism that K-12 schools aren’t adequately teaching citizenship and civics.

“At least in Iowa, it seemed to me they’re trying to teach at least the principles of government,” he said. Grassley, a history buff, said it’s important that history is taught “because you got to understand the past if you’re going to see a path forward, a pathway forward for the future.”

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He did share another speaker’s concern with the removal of historical monuments, some of which have been criticized as racially or culturally insensitive.

Grassley said he thinks it’s the duty of the federal government to protect monuments on federal property, and to have a process for determining “if they come down and how they come down, as opposed to having mobs tear them down.”

In response to questions about privacy concerns of companies collecting personal information and sometimes selling it, Grassley said there are discussions in Congress about regulating the process “but it is not going to be an easy process.”

California has taken the lead on addressing privacy issues with a state law that sets rules and allows people to see the data a company has collected about them. Grassley said the state has followed the lead of the European Union, which he said is considering even more extensive privacy protections.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re liberal or conservative, you got a lot of people that respect freedom of expression enough that you don’t want too much government regulation,” Grassley said.

Companies like Facebook, which has huge amounts of customer data available, may prefer Congress to act rather than deal with 50 different state laws.

Grassley recalled that a couple of years ago the Judiciary and Commerce committees heard testimony from Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s data mining. Since then, he said, the discussion has evolved to questions about whether social media platforms are censoring political speech and doing enough to prevent those from using the platform to promote violence.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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