They say that converts are often more zealous than people who have grown up with a belief system. So it fell to Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren, who was raised and educated in California before settling in Iowa as an adult, to push for economic sanctions over the Stanford band's halftime performance at the Rose Bowl.
William Petroski got the scoop for the Des Moines Register: Chelgren has introduced a bill stating that the Iowa Board of Regents "shall prohibit any future collaboration or cooperation between the institutions of higher learning governed by the board and Stanford university, excluding sporting events, until Stanford university officials publicly apologize to Iowa's citizens and to the university of Iowa for the unsporting behavior of the Leland Stanford junior university marching band." Chelgren told Petroski, "I think it's unfortunate because here in Iowa we try to teach sportsmanship. We try to teach courtesy, and when someone behaves in a way that is contrary to that, we need to point it out."
First, based on news I read and posts I saw on my social media feeds in early January, masses of Iowans have already expressed their disappointment in the Stanford band's lack of courtesy and sportsmanship. Surely most of Palo Alto, California received that message.
Second, this bill is a clever publicity stunt for Chelgren, the only Republican challenger to U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack. (The second Congressional district covers most of southeast Iowa.) But how would any Iowan benefit from preventing collaboration between University of Iowa personnel and those affiliated with Stanford? Democratic State Senator Herman Quirmbach, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told Petroski,
"Stanford University is one of the premier research universities in the world and for us to cut off contact with Stanford over something that happened on a football field I think sinks to a level that would be unworthy of our fine research institutions," said Quirmbach, who is an economics professor at Iowa State University.
Third, if you're upset about the band's improper behavior during a sporting event, how much sense does it make to ban interaction between the University of Iowa and Stanford "excluding sporting events"?
Fourth, Scott "Iowa Nice Guy" Siepker is unquestionably correct that Stanford band members will be elated to learn their stunt got under the skin of an Iowa lawmaker to this degree. Why would they care if some joint academic projects were shelved? Democratic State Senator Bob Dvorsky, whose district is mostly populated by Hawkeye fans, emphasized that the Stanford band is not "official" like the Hawkeye Marching Band: "It is just some sort of loosely organized student organization." Former band geeks tell me pushing the boundaries of good taste is standard operating procedure for "scramble bands."
Fifth, over-reacting is the worst way to handle any kind of personal insult. According to the Des Moines Register's Nathan Groepper, Petroski's article on the Chelgren bill was "our most popular story" today. Everybody wins! Except that most outsiders who hear this news will think wow, those hyper-sensitive Iowans can't let go of a bad joke weeks later.
Full disclosure: one of my nieces is in the Stanford band. She told me the bit was supposed to come across as funny and competitive. When they rehearsed the routine, no one expected Stanford to be crushing Iowa so badly by halftime. By the way, who thinks Iowans would have reacted so strongly to the band's antics if the Hawkeyes had beaten the Cardinal in a rout?
Petroski received the following statement from Stanford University spokesman Brad Hayward:
"The Band's halftime show has provoked a variety of reactions. The performance was intended to be irreverent fun, given Iowa's connection to farming and Stanford's historical nickname "The Farm." The script posted on the Band's Facebook page provides fuller context. We understand that some viewers took offense at the performance, which we regret and which will be the subject of further discussion with the Band's leadership"
Chelgren has already shown he will play on nativist prejudice. Now we know he will exploit passion for the Hawkeyes to boost his political career. What a sad display.
UPDATE: Asked on February 4 whether he planned to bring up Chelgren's bill, Iowa Senate Majority Leader told reporters, "Are you serious? Is that a serious question? It is absurd," Petroski and Jeff Charis-Carlson reported for the Des Moines Register. Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter commented the same day,
“I was one of the ones that booed the Stanford band because they were inappropriate and offensive, and I think we’ll just leave it at that," Rastetter said. But he added, “It would have been better had we beaten them in football in the second half than worry about the band at halftime. They were inappropriate, they were offensive, but that’s for Stanford to decide. I don’t think we’re going to stop doing business with the Stanford business school – if Iowa is, for instance – just because of their band.”
For his part, Chelgren welcomed the comment from the Stanford University spokesperson:
"I think that we are halfway there," Chelgren told The Des Moines Register. "I guess I was always taught that if you regret an action, then you apologize for it. All we are asking for is an apology, and then the bill will accomplish that goal."
Responding to critics who said his proposal was a waste of the legislature's time, Chelgren said,
"I am fully capable of multitasking, and I am one of the most prolific bill writers and amendment writers in the Iowa Senate. I am not so limited that I can't do this bill and others and still be productive."
Personally, as a life long Iowegian, I found this pretty funny. Suppose the Senator could benefit from the advice I give my middle school aged children. Tease a bully back with better humor or ignore it completely, just don't respond to it or it will continue.
And, it could have been worse. Stanford has it band banned at some locations. Harvard's band spelled wrote out a suggestive abbreviation of Penn State 2015 as a very suggestive PEN15:
Could have been worse...
our silly lawmakers
This is yet another reason the Iowa Legislature should have a firm rule to be in session one month only. Deal with serious business — no frivolous junk like this allowed — and go home. Please. Iowa has done enough politically in the last week to embarrass itself.