An Interview With Tom Harkin On 2016, The Steak Fry, And His Future Plans

The Iowa Daily Democrat asked former Senator Tom Harkin to share his thoughts on several political issues. With the election just a few days away, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are fighting for millennial voters.

Some millennials still have questions about how progressive she is perceived to be compared to Bernie Sanders. Is Hillary progressive enough?

“I’ve talked with Bernie Sanders just recently and we will have groups coming together that will be putting pressure on President Hillary Clinton to continue to enact the Democratic platform, which is probably the most progressive political platform ever adopted by a political party in our country. Do the millennials think they will have a better chance with Donald Trump in the White House? That’s the question they must ask themselves? If they think so, then let them vote for Donald Trump. And we will see what they get out of it. They’ll get nothing. They will get Supreme Court Justices that will vote against their progressive instincts and their progressive values for the next 25-30 years. I get really upset when I hear this, from millennials, when they say she’s not progressive enough. OK, she’s not as progressive as they are. But you have to ask the question, you have two choices, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Which one will be closer to what they want for this country as president of the United States? That’s their choice.”

Should Democrats be actively recruiting a candidate to oppose Branstad?

“I assume as soon as this election is over and we’re into the next election cycle, which is the gubernatorial election, people will step forward. I’m sure there will be people coming forward testing the waters on the Democratic side. I’ve heard two or three names floated around. We have some really qualified Democrats that can run for governor, I have no concerns about that.”

Should the Harkin Steak Fry be revived?

“I have had a lot of people ask me about reviving the Harkin Steak Fry. It brought people together at a critical time, but it took a lot of work and we never really made any money on it. It was just sort of a get together event. We never lost money, but we didn’t make any money for the party or for my campaign. It was more about getting people together, getting them enthused about the campaigns. I wish we had something like that. It was good timing being after Labor Day and back-to-school. We had decent weather, it only rained on us twice in 38 years. It would be good to have something like that, right after Labor Day. It just takes a lot of work.”

What are your future plans?

“First of all, my goal is to promote the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Drake University. It’s non-partisan. I want it to do good things with citizen engagement. The goal is to get more citizens involved in policy development, determining which way our state and nation should be going. I want to do that on a non-partisan or bi-partisan basis. I don’t think we have enough of that in Iowa. I’m also working on the first Harkin Summit. The Harkin International Disability Employment Summit is planned for December 8-9 in Washington.” (The promotional website states it will “bring together change agents to develop strategies for increasing disability employment around the world.” He added that he’s planning on having an annual Summit to bring together private sector, government and disability advocates.)

“As for my party work, I will be involved; obviously, I’m a Democrat. I will be helpful any way I can to the party structure. Because the Harkin Institute at Drake is non-partisan, I won’t be involved in any individual races. I will support our presidential candidates, but not specific races in Iowa.”

You have been so successful in your campaigns in all of Iowa, urban and rural. How can Democrats build the rural vote?

“You have to spend time there. You’ve got to go to small towns, have meetings and listen to people. You can’t take people in rural Iowa for granted.  You can’t just reach them through ads. That’s one thing that disappoints me with the Democratic Party in Iowa. It almost seems like we have given up on Democrats running for local office. The Republicans do a much better job in rural Iowa, running for county sheriff, county auditor, county attorney and for state legislative seats. When I ran for office in the 1970’s we worked tirelessly in recruiting candidates to run for local office, and we were pretty successful.”

“We won some and we picked up those county seats. And we picked up legislative seats in Western Iowa. That made everything easier for people up ticket. It seems like lately, over the last dozen years, it seems we can’t find Democrats to go out and campaign hard and seek those county offices. We should be focused on that. We need to be seeking folks to run for these county offices, especially young people. I think there are people in these counties that would love to see more young people. I think they would be energized by young people staying in those counties and raising their families there. There’s a lot to be gained by the party focusing on these county and legislative races.”

How are we doing recruiting and supporting female candidates?

“That’s one thing we have done a good job at, recruiting women to run for office. But I have to hand it to Republicans, so have they. They’ve come up with a lot of women running for county offices. I don’t need to remind anyone of two of their women officeholders Lt Governor Reynolds and Senator Ernst for the first time.”

“I do think a lot of women in Iowa will be turned off by Republican office-holders’ loyalty to Donald Trump. We are the only state in the Midwest where every major Republican office holder supports Donald Trump. That’s not even true in Nebraska, Kansas or the Dakotas! I think that’s going to hurt the Republican Party in Iowa.”

Will Iowa’s Republican office-holders pay a price for unwavering support for Trump should he win?

“I think people will be reminded. Where were they when America was really threatened by a person that would have done tremendous damage to our country if he ever got to be President? Where were they? Why were they silent? Why were other Republicans speaking out but they weren’t? I think this is something that needs to be asked. There comes a time in your life when you just can’t be silent.”

“It is like George Wallace running as a Democrat. A lot of us said no, we would never support him as a Democrat. He was a racist, a bigot and he would have ruined our country as president. There are a lot of Republicans nationally that have said they just can’t abide a Donald Trump. They have come out and said that, but it’s interesting, not one in Iowa. None in Iowa!”

Why are Iowa Republicans so afraid to speak up?

“I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. I’ve always thought Iowans were pretty independent-minded people. I’ve always considered Iowans to be level headed with common sense. Where are the common sense, levelheaded moderate Republicans we’ve had since Robert Ray, Art Nue, Joy Corning, Jim Leach, Tom Tauke and Greg Ganske? These weren’t right-wing people. They were very moderate Republicans. Where are they? That’s who I think of as common sense Republicans.”


Thanks to former Senator Harkin for sharing his thoughts. His leadership and wisdom remind us of the powerful voice we miss in the U. S. Senate today. We look forward to his continued leadership in guiding public policy in Iowa and the nation.


by Rick Smith
Posted 11/1/16

2 Comments on "An Interview With Tom Harkin On 2016, The Steak Fry, And His Future Plans"

  • I love it when Tom Harkin speaks the truth: Referring to the Democrat platform, he describes it as “… the most progressive political platform ever adopted by a political party in our country.” Inspiring, isn’t it?

  • Iowa Starting Line. You misspelled the name of one of our late and former Lt Gov’s. It should be Art Neu and not Art Nue. I had a lot of repect for Art when I was the Dem chair of Carroll County year back. He was GOP but was open minded to Democrats. He would probably be an outsider with the GOP as it is today.

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