Iowa’s Bi-Partisan Leadership for National Service
Iowa has a long history of political support for AmeriCorps, and I recently had a chance to visit with three of Iowa’s champions for national service at the “State Fair Soapbox” in Des Moines. The Soapbox is a chance for people to come and listen to candidates in an ‘up close’ setting, and to visit with Members of Congress in person, as I did, with Congressmen Dave Loebsack (D,) Leonard Boswell (D,) and Tom Latham (R.)
Mr. Loebsack has long been exceptionally well-versed in AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America; in fact, upon seeing the “Expand National Service” slogan on my ServeNext t-shirt, he was ready to roll about fully funding national service for Iowans - young people, students, and seniors specifically. Mr. Loebsack is engaged in a tough election in his district, but even with that, he spends a substantial amount of time on national service, having recently introduced a bill to refocus the federal Department of Education’s service structure. I’ve worked in organizational politics for getting close to 15 years now; in that time, few things have made me as happy as having a Member of Congress simply say loudly and clearly, “Don’t worry - I love national service and you can count on my vote” as Congressman Loebsack did.
Of course, in Iowa, sentiments like that happen very often in Iowa, and were echoed by Congressman Leonard Boswell later that day. Mr. Boswell spent years in the US Army as a helicopter pilot, came back home from Viet Nam to farm, and to enter state politics. Representing a rural area in the State Senate and then in the US House, his experience with RSVP, FGP and Senior Companions, in addition to AmeriCorps, has influenced his work in the House as a member of the National Service Caucus. He spoke at length with me about the work members are doing in the state of Iowa, and asked us to set up a site visit for him. Congressman Boswell has seen the efforts of AmeriCorps disaster relief up close - his home city of Des Moines was hit hard during the floods of 2008.
Mr. Latham, also a member of the National Service Caucus in the US House, has most recently visited a Habitat site in central Iowa, and is scheduled to attend a state mentoring program later this month. Mr. Latham and his senior staff specifically mentioned budgetary issues in the House and asked us to keep working with them to ensure consistent support for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. It should be noted that Congressman Latham is the only senior Republican member of the House who has supported us consistently over the years, even when doing so went against the wishes of his party leadership. I thanked him for that; he simply responded by telling the AmeriCorps members to keep up their service and good work.
It should be noted that due to Congressional redistricting, Mr. Boswell and Mr. Latham are currently opponents in this upcoming election, which unfortunately means the Congress will lose one or the other major supporters of national service. It is nonetheless a sign of how fundamentally decent these two Members are, that even in the heat of a very difficult campaign, that they both continue to put partisan difference aside and come out strongly in support of national service.
In addition to these three Members, we are uncommonly fortunate to be represented by Senators Tom Harkin, Chuck Grassley, and Representative Bruce Braley. They are simply national leaders in the service community, and have earned our gratitude. Senator Harkin, Senator Grassley, and Congressman Braley are up next for site visits later this year, so stay tuned and serve proud!