May 17, 2022

Rob Sand talks frustrations with partisanship, importance of communication during Berg visit

State auditor answers questions from Newton middle schoolers

Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand speaks to students May 5 at Berg Middle School in Newton.

When Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand finished answering questions about the Hot Lotto fraud scandal, what an average day is like in his office or the biggest challenges he faces as an elected official, the students of Berg Middle School on May 5 eventually changed the subjects of their Q&As to something a little lighter.

Batman or Superman? Which portrayal of Spider-Man is your favorite? What were your favorite bands growing up? What do you listen to now? What is a recent movie that made you cry? Do you think there are more doors or wheels in the world?

One student asked Sand: “If you could write a song, what would what it be about?” So he thought about it. Maybe it would be a blues song. But if he had to write about something right now, it would be a song that would try to connect to people about “how we can do so much better than what we’re doing right now.”

People “are so divided from each other, they’re so angry with each other, so unwilling to listen to each other” that it is “kind of pathetic,” Sand said. There are challenges people are facing right now and there will be more in the future, he added; but instead of solving them, people decide to yell at each other online.

“It’s not a super effective way to solve problems, is it?” Sand said to the class. “I would probably write a song about calming down and trying to find someone you think you disagree with and then maybe finding something you both enjoy. How’s that sound? Does that sound like a good song? Needs music and lyrics, but…”

For the next 20 minutes, the students fired away with even more questions, ranging from his job to his hobbies to pop culture. What’s the easiest part of your job? What sports did you play in school? Do you prefer Marvel or DC? What’s your favorite way to hunt? How are your skills as a skateboarder?

To answer the latter, the state auditor concedes he was not very good at skateboarding. But it played a “big piece” in him getting involved in public service. While attending high school in Decorah, Sand and his friends were getting kicked out of all the places they wanted to skateboard.

“I spent a big chunk of my time my junior and senior year of high school getting a skatepark built in Decorah, and it was successful. It’s there. That, to me, really opened my eyes to how you can actually solve problems through government, which is kind of the purpose of government,” Sand said.

Shortly before leaving the middle schoolers, Sand drew attention to the connections being made and the similar interests being shared amongst students in the classroom that morning, suggesting the same applies for elected officials or people they disagree with.

Conversations can be civil, common ground can be found — even between political parties. Sand told students one of the political challenges of the job is partisanship. It frustrates him, he said, that there are “way too many people in politics” serving a political party over people.

“People who go in and they’re like, ‘I’m a Democrat! I’m just going to do what Democrats do! I’m going to criticize Republicans! When Democrats do the same things I’m gonna shut up!’ It’s ridiculous,” Sand said. “Why would you do that? What are you here for? We have a higher calling than that.”

To close the Q&A, Sand told students it is important to keep informed about governments, and that life is kind of like a game of telephone — sometimes the message, he suggested, can get lost or skewed. If people do not have good information, they can end up doing things they wished they would not have done.

“You hear that somebody said this and somebody said that. You get super upset with them, have an argument and it turns out it was totally wrong,” he said. “…Having reliable, good information is super important, and making sure the things we’re doing in our personal lives, and also in the larger world, are good things to do.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.