Earlier this week, Gov. Terry Branstad gave his frank assessment of who should not be running for U.S. Senate:
“I really believe that Iowans want somebody that will serve in the Senate that will be an Iowa problem solver, not another congressman,” Branstad said this morning during his weekly news conference.
“You know congress is a mess. We’ve seen them spend a trillion dollars more than they take in every year and so the Democrats have decided, ‘Well, we’re going to send up another congressman.’ That’s the last thing we need is another congressman in the United States Senate.”
“That last thing we need is another congressman in the United States Senate,” Branstad said. “The congress is so messed up. They are so unable to make tough decisions. They are so far out of touch with the public in terms of their spending policies that we just need somebody that’s going to come there with fresh ideas and we’ve got some of those in Iowa.”
The governor seemed to be talking mostly about U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat, who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin. But everyone was all like, whoa, hey, wait a second, Rep. Steve King also is a congressman!
A busy one, too. So busy, he hasn’t had time to make a final decision on running for the Senate. But I think we all kinda know that he’s made up his mind. Yup. Not a chance.
Branstad’s diatribe reminded me immediately of a story Lamar Alexander used to tell when he was running for president. He walked up to a woman outside her job, having a smoke. He told her he wants to be president. “Great, that’s all we need. Another president,” she says.
Great, that’s all Iowa needs, another congressman. A congresswoman would be great, for a change. But not another congressman.
Branstad has a point. Congress is a dystopian disaster area. Voters are going to smell the dysfunction. It smells of cherry blossoms and flop sweat.
On the other hand, the Senate is one of the two major chambers within that dystopia. So it is possible that having some knowledge and experience with the lay of the wasteland could be beneficial. Republicans, pundits and such often knock President Obama for not understanding how to navigate Congress, how to build relationships, pull the levers, stroke the egos, fight off the flying monkeys, etc. And they have a point.
History also suggests that experience in the House isn’t all bad for a senator. Both Harkin and Sen. Chuck Grassley served in the House first. They seemed to do all right.
So did one of the most famous senators in Iowa history, Johnathan P Dolliver. Dolliver served in the House from 1889 to 1901, when he was appointed to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat. He was then elected to keep the seat, by the Iowa Legislature in those days, and served until 1910, when he died.
Dolliver, according to the interwebs, was very nearly President William McKinley’s running mate in 1900, but lost out to Theodore Roosevelt. So Dolliver could have been president. The son of a Methodist minister is also credited with a snappy soundbite. “Iowa will go Democratic when Hell goes Methodist.”
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Dolliver Memorial State Park south of Fort Dodge. Beautiful place. No flying monkeys.
Some of America’s most famous senators served first as bleepity bleeping congressmen. Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Robert LaFollette each served time in the House.
But there was some guy from Illinois who served in the House and then lost his Senate bid in 1858. What was his name again?
So House membership may be a disadvantage in our turbulent times, but it shouldn’t mean automatic Senate disqualification. It will mean some very nasty TV attack ads, maybe showing you in a grainy black and white photo with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Hugo Chavez, but not outright disqualification.
And remember, just because your opponent says you’re wrong for America, that does not mean you’re necessarily wrong for the United States Senate.
Also, governors who seek to live in Terrace Hill for nearly a quarter-century should not throw stones while demanding “fresh ideas!”