Government

What They're Thinking: 12 questions with U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack

2018: U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack greets attendees in line Dec. 9, 2018, to congratulate Congresswoman-elect Abby Finkenauer during “Cue the Confetti: the First District Honors and Celebrates Abby Finkenauer” at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids. Loebsack for two years was the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation until Finkenauer and Cindy Axne were elected to the House in 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
2018: U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack greets attendees in line Dec. 9, 2018, to congratulate Congresswoman-elect Abby Finkenauer during “Cue the Confetti: the First District Honors and Celebrates Abby Finkenauer” at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids. Loebsack for two years was the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation until Finkenauer and Cindy Axne were elected to the House in 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, an Iowa City Democrat serving in his seventh term, has announced he will retire and not seek re-election in 2020 in Eastern Iowa’s 2nd District.

A native of Sioux City, Loebsack, 66, first was elected to the U.S. House in 2006, when he defeated longtime Republican Jim Leach. He won re-election six times, including his 2016 victory that left him the only Democrat in Iowa’s six-member congressional delegation. But after the 2018 election he was joined by U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer when Democrats regained control of the House.

Loebsack said he planned to serve no more than 12 years, but after the 2016 election of Republican President Donald Trump decided to run for one more term.

His district includes most of Iowa’s southeast quadrant, including Davenport, Bettendorf, Burlington and Iowa City.

Loebsack — an emeritus professor of political science at Cornell College, where he had taught since 1982 — said he plans to use the rest of his final term to help the new U.S. House majority serve as a check on Trump and to help Democrats retake the White House in 2020.

Loebsack said he also will continue to work on what he called middle class issues like affordable and quality health care, access to quality education and rural broadband internet access.

Q: What prompted you to decide to retire?

A: Oh gosh, a lot of things. When I first got elected I thought 12 years would probably be plenty of time. I guess a lot of people didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t want to do this forever, but I really meant it, actually. And then when Donald Trump got elected, it became apparent to me and a whole lot of other people that I was talking to that it would be a good idea for me to try to continue for two more years and that’s where we are now. So after considering it and thinking about it, talking about it with my family, I decided to run again. I do want to see my children more, and my grandchildren, and maybe there are other things that I can do with my life. I’m still young enough that I might be able to do other things. What those might be I’m not sure at this point. But I also thought it was time to turn it over to someone else.

Q: Explain the timing of your decision — in April of your current term?

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A: I think it gives folks who might want to take my place a lot of time to prepare for it. Clearly, there are people on both sides of the aisle that would want to do this — a good number of them — and it certainly gives them time to do that. I thought giving a number of people a good heads up on this was probably the right thing to do.

Q: What stands out as your top accomplishment?

A: “I’m very proud of the fact that I come home almost every single weekend. I get around, I talk to my constituents, I go to all 24 counties (in the district) on a pretty regular basis. I’m going to continue to focus on veterans issues. That’s something I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done on.” (Loebsack also counted his work for flood recovery efforts after the devastating 2008 flood and rural education as high points.)

Q: What won’t you miss when you end your tenure in the U.S. House?

A: Making phone calls to my friends for money. Also, just the incredible polarization and what it means for the inability of Congress to get done as much as we really ought to get done. Also, things like watching people who — especially on the Republican side — will see what Donald Trump is doing and I understand entirely what their thought process is and what the rationale is, but being unable because of a concern for their political future — which I understand — being unable or unwilling to hold him to account for his worst excesses has been incredibly frustrating. And I know that if that were to happen on my side of the aisle, it would be frustrating for people on the other side of the aisle, but I think it’s frustrating for the American people.

Q: How did politics change during the time you served in elective office?

A: There’s no question it’s gotten significantly uglier, there’s no question about that. And certainly Donald Trump has not caused it but he has contributed to it. He has fed into the worst instincts of our political process and many of our politicians and really lowered the bar and that’s been really disappointing.

Q: How has Washington changed with Democrats in control of the U.S. House?

A: I think we’re getting a lot good things done. We got a good anti-corruption and a bill that’s trying to clean up the electoral process. We got that done. We restored net neutrality in the House. There are a number of things that we have passed, but unfortunately the graveyard in the Senate isn’t helping things. Mitch McConnell has been very good over the years — first, in stopping Barack Obama and stymieing him and now doing the same to Democrats in the House.

Q: What’s your most memorable moment in your years in Congress?

A: I might have one by the time I leave. There have been a lot of them, I’ll tell you that. Some good and then some not so good. I’ll have a catalog of those things by the time that I leave.

Q: How to you plan to spend life after Congress, have you given it much thought?

A: I’ve given it some thought. I might go back to teaching. I might work in the nonprofit sector. I took a personal oath that I would not become a paid lobbyist, so I’m not going to do that obviously. I think there would be a lot of people who would be upset if I did that, including myself. So I’ve got a lot of time to think about that and we’ll see what presents itself.

Q: You came from academia. Do you think you’ll go back in any capacity?

A: Yes, I could very well, whether it’s teaching or going to a think tank or something. I miss the research. I miss reading lengthy articles instead of just an executive summary that my staff presents to me. I’ll be reading the Mueller report in its entirety. I haven’t gotten to that yet by any means. Things like that I really miss because there’s just a limited time to do that sort of thing.

Q: What’s your advice to young Iowans today thinking about getting into politics?

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A: Keep your head down, work hard and I just think there are all kinds of opportunities. Right now if you’re a Democrat, get involved in a presidential campaign. We have so many candidates that they are looking hard for folks who are willing in particular to volunteer for a campaign and I think that a good opportunity right now. Iowa is very open on that front.

Q: Do you have a 2020 presidential candidate you’re leaning toward yet?

A: No, and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. Sorry. I’m trying to welcome any and all who come here as you might imagine. I think that’s my role certainly at this point. Down the road, I think I’m more likely to endorse than not. I don’t know quite honestly how much effect that has now days because I think our politics is that much more democratized, I think it’s much more open as far as who has a voice in the process especially with the rise of social media. But certainly if it gets to the point where I think somebody is the right person and is most likely to beat Donald Trump and can do the right things for Iowa, then I’ll endorse that person.

Q: Do you think that would be after the Iowa caucuses?

A: No, I’m not sure about that. I think there is some chance that I will do this before the caucuses as I did in the past. I’ve got some return calls to make to some of these folks, and now I’ve got a little more time. I’ve been at some events where some of these folks have been and chatting with them and doing the best I can to give them as much advice as they might want.

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