# Tom Harkin



The Tom and Ruth Harkin Center: It's official

Julie Gammack first published this piece on her Substack, Julie Gammack’s Iowa Potluck.

No, it’s not just another new building. It is a liberation movement.

Usually, a dedication to a new building isn’t big news except for those with a personal stake in the construction. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are pro forma events that give those involved a deserved acknowledgment. Funders show up to congratulate one another.

Last Saturday, August 20, was all of that, but oh, so, much more.

Continue Reading...

Three Iowans in Congress support federal guarantee of marriage equality

Three of Iowa’s four U.S. House members were part of the bipartisan majority that voted to guarantee same-sex marriage rights across the country.

Every House Democrat, including Iowa’s Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03), voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed on July 19 by 267 votes to 157 (roll call). So did 47 Republicans, including Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02). Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) joined the majority of House Republicans in opposing the legislation.

The bill repeals the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996 to protect states from having to recognize same-sex marriages, and to define marriage in federal laws and regulations as between a husband and wife. The Respect for Marriage Act also prohibits states from refusing to recognize any marriage due to the “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” of the individuals involved.

House leaders brought the bill to the floor in response to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote in a concurring opinion to the Dobbs case that having overturned Roe v. Wade, the court should reverse other precedents. Among other cases, Thomas mentioned the 1965 Griswold opinion establishing a right to contraception and the 2015 Obergefell ruling on marriage equality. Like the Roe and Griswold decisions, the Obergefell majority relied on a legal analysis that recognizes some liberty interests (like privacy and the right to marry), even though the Constitution does not specifically mention those rights.

Continue Reading...

What the federal government has done for veterans in 2021

November 11 was first celebrated as “Armistice Day” in 1919 and became a national holiday in 1926. Since 1954, it has been known as Veterans Day.

It’s customary for American politicians to release statements on this day thanking veterans for their service to the country. But what has the government done concretely to return the favor to veterans? This year, more than usual.

Continue Reading...

Remembering Neal Smith

I was so sorry to hear that former U.S. Representative Neal Smith passed away on November 2 at the age of 101. Iowa’s longest-serving member of the U.S. House represented Polk County in Congress for 36 years, rising to the third-ranking position on the powerful Appropriations Committee. He had tremendous knowledge and wisdom. Having grown up poor during the Great Depression, he sought to use government to improve people’s lives.

I didn’t know Smith well but I always enjoyed seeing him at Democratic events, most recently at a Polk County or Third District event in 2018. The last time we spoke on the phone was in the summer of 2019, when I was working on a piece about the first passage of the Hyde amendment. At the age of 99, Smith recalled details about that 1976 House floor vote clearly.

Of all the events canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the one I was saddest about was the planned celebration of Smith’s 100th birthday at Drake University in March 2020.

Continue Reading...

A new path for Iowa Democrats

Lori Hunt is a Democrat from Polk County, a member of the Planned Parenthood Speakers Bureau, professional cat wrangler, writer, breadwinner, and bread baker. -promoted by Laura Belin

The first time I got into a cab in DC, the driver asked me where I was from. When I said Iowa, he turned around and told me Senator Tom Harkin had ridden in this very same cab, and how lucky we were to send a very good man like that to Washington.

Since then, we’ve lost Congressional seats and state legislative chambers, watched Iowa Supreme Court justices thrown out for an unanimous ruling on marriage equality, and lost the governorship again and again.

My, how far we’ve come, Iowa Democrats. And not on a good path either. What can we do to turn this around? I’d be foolish to say this can all change in a cycle or two. The New Iowa Project is a fantastic start. It’s amazing to see activists fired up and ready to work year round to have the deep conversations needed to change hearts, minds, and votes.

Here are some things I’d like to see us focus on as well. It’s not exactly rocket science.

Continue Reading...

Joni Ernst learned the wrong lesson from Chuck Grassley

Senator Joni Ernst shouldn’t be in this position.

Given Iowans’ tendency to re-elect incumbents and the state’s rightward drift this past decade, she should be running ten points ahead.

Instead, Iowa’s Senate race is universally seen as a toss-up. Ernst has led in only two polls released since the June primary. Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield has led in fourteen polls during the same period.

Not all of Ernst’s political problems are her own creation. The COVID-19 pandemic and President Donald Trump’s disastrous leadership have put at risk several GOP-held seats that once seemed safe.

But Ernst could have set herself up better to survive a tough environment for her party. Her most important strategic error was not following the example Chuck Grassley set as a 40-something first-term senator.

Continue Reading...
View More...