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Sen. Grassley answers media questions as he launches 99-county tour

Published: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 11:27 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 11:29 a.m. CDT

United States Sen. Chuck Grassley kicked off his annual 99-county tour of Iowa Friday with stops in Nashua and Charles City. But before he took off from his farm in Butler County, he took a moment to answer a few questions about topics ranging from school lunch programs and Common Core to farm labor regulations and mentoring.

“I’ve done these tours enough times now that I’ve learned something: you don’t go to Northwest Iowa in January,” he quipped during a brief telephone interview Friday morning. “The wind blows all the time up there; in fact, it’s blowing right now here in Butler County.”

Grassley encouraged those interested in learning about the topics he covers during each of his townhall meetings to follow his Twitter account. He said he “tries to give a word or two” about each of the issues discussed at the meetings.

The interview was part of Grassley’s weekly public affairs program in which members of the print and broadcast media spend a few minutes asking the sentor questions about current and pending legislation. AJ Taylor of KIOW-AM radio in Forest City represented the broadcast media.

Taylor first asked about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent decision to loosen regulations on school lunch programs. Grassley called it “one of the few instances where Washington bureaucrats actually listened to the grassroots of America.”

He noted the Healthy School Lunches program had “good intentions,” but was hampered by a variation of an old adage.

“You can put a healthy meal in front of kids, but if they don’t like it, they’re not going to eat it,” he said. “I think the amount of meat they’re putting back in addresses the number one problem I was hearing from parents of students.”

Taylor also asked about a recent poll that suggests citizens’ negative view of government has reached an all-time low. He asked Grassley what is being done to address the general public’s lack of hope in government.

“Well, I think one of the problems is that there aren’t enough people taking part in the process of representative government. I don’t mean just voting. Once you’ve sent someone to Washington, even it’s someone you didn’t necessarily vote for, you should contact them ... or even like I do where I invite people to come to meet with me at town meetings. I wish more people would attend those meetings.”

He also noted the process of representative government is a give-and-take whereby a broad array of viewpoints are competing to be recognized. He said he frequently hears complaints about “partisanship” from constituents, but that citizens need to also understand that the political parties, at their grassroots levels, are each passionate about particular issues.

Following a question from Taylor about Common Core, Grassley took a moment to give his opinion, in general, about Common Core.

“Common Core may be well-intended. It may even be needed. I’m not going to argue that point,” he said. “But I resent very much the federal government using federal dollars, or the hope of federal dollars, to push Common Core down the throats of 50 different states, when education has always been a state’s responsibility. We ought not to have the federal government dictating a national curriculum.”

Due to technical difficulties, the Daily News was unable to participate in the program. However, Grassley took time to answer questions directly from the Daily News following the completion of the program.

Prior to the start of the Senate’s Christmas break, Grassley joined a bipartisan group of more than 40 senators in signing a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez expressing disappointment that OSHA was attempting to regulate on-farm harvest activities. Farms with less than 10 employees have been exempted from OSHA regulations since 1976.

Friday, Grassley said he has yet to hear of a response to the letter. But he did say he learned of another instance in which a farmer in Ohio was being fined for not complying with OSHA regulations.

“We still have had no response regarding the case in Nebraska ... Someone in the Labor Department was smart enough to withdraw the violations in [the Ohio] case,” he said. “This is a fairly typical example of what happens when you have Washington, D.C., bureaucrats running amok ... It’s an island surrounded by reality out there.”

Grassley said it’s hard to fathom how one part of a farm operation can be considered exempt from OSHA, and another part isn’t, when it’s the same family running the combine, hauling the grain out of the field, running it through a drier, and storing it in a bin. He said he is confident the fines will be dropped against the Nebraska farmer involved in the case, because OSHA’s attempt at regulation “doesn’t pass the common sense test.”

In addition to providing a jump start to his annual 99-county trek across Iowa each year, January holds a special place in Grassley’s heart for another reason. It is National Mentoring Month, a subject very near and dear to the senator and his family.

“I did some mentoring myself, though not through an organized effort, and I’ve worked with a group of people in Sioux City, too,” he said. “My son-in-law was an early retiree from John Deere, and he spends up to three days a week now working with Boys and Girls Clubs.”

Grassley said there is a growing need for adult figures, particularly adult men, in the lives of young people all across the U.S. He said he thinks it’s vital for those who have the time to mentor to do so.

He noted there were 31 people at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner this year, including three people he “never met before.” They were three people who is grandson was mentoring.

“Any mentoring you do, even for a single person, can make a big difference,” he said. “I highly encourage it.”

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