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Political Mercury

13 things I learned in Washington, D.C.

6/24/2015

1. The political spectrum of influences in the Iowa congressional delegation has lurched to the right. For the last 30 years, Iowans, or businesses, needing Democratic and Republican influence on Capitol Hill had both in the form of men who became institutions, Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley. We no longer have that, and it’s a devastating loss for the state.

When it comes to specific matters of constituent service, sometimes you need a Democrat, and sometimes you need a Republican. Iowans tossed out a wisely constructed balance.

That said, Joni Ernst is nothing if not earnest. And she is awfully nice, even to critical columnists. She also just moved into her Russell Senate Office Building digs and is just beginning to be fully staffed. To be fair, she deserves some time to prove her mettle.

2. Congressman Steve King says the outlier candidate to watch in Republican presidential caucuses and primaries may very well be… Donald Trump. The argument: Money in America, is well, money in America. Trump, says King, has the resources to define opponents at key times in certain states.

3. The access we have to presidential candidates in Iowa is simply extraordinary. The average Iowan, in this context, can connect in ways with top political candidates that your average congressional staffer would covet. I missed better campaign stories at home in central and western Iowa by spending only a few days in Washington, D.C.

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4. King, agree or disagree, is a quick wit. In talking about the potential for xenotransplantation — animal-to-human transplants — King said he could be counted on for full support of a groundbreaking rural Iowa venture involving a specialized or so-called “clean pig.”

“I want this to work,” King said. “I might need a heart.”

5. The best lunch, bar none, on the Washington Mall, is at the Native American Museum. There’s a wide selection of ethnic foods and a beautiful seating area.

6. City dwellers just walk so much more than we rural Iowans do. So says my Fitbit, which regularly registered six to eight miles of walking during routine days of meetings on the Hill and commutes from my Northern Virginia hotel into Washington, D.C.

7. There doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the Nationals ballpark. And the mascots outfitted as former presidents — Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Washington — are delightful. I’ve never seen so many fans smile so much at the sight of mascots.

8. Spanish-language immersion classes are HUGE in cities. Our rural kids can’t be competitive in future without knowing two languages.

9. Government is a growth industry in America. That’s what Washington is, government, and the spillage associated with it. The amount of residential development occurring in Northern Virginia is utterly mind-boggling. The D.C. suburbs consistently rank in the top of the Census-based average-annual-incomes lists for a reason. Out here in rural Iowa, we have to make things to feed our families.

10. Great name for a pizza place in the D.C. area: We, The Pizza. (And it’s good.)

11. You’ll see more photos hanging publicly of Herbert Hoover at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, than probably anyplace outside of West Branch, where the only Iowan to serve as president came of age. As secretary of commerce in the 1920s, Hoover played a key role, or “agreed to help wholeheartedly” as the club frames it, to develop a course for members of Congress to meet with businessmen. Congressional Country Club pays great respect to Hoover.

12. If the two escaped New York State inmates had to break out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s hulking federal buildings, they’d still be lost in some hallway, not on the lam.

13. Iowa Republican and Democratic leaders should work on this: more direct flights to D.C. It would be good for Iowans with business, and the journalists who cover our first-in-the-nation caucuses. Being from Iowa is a big deal to Washington folks. Go out to visit Capitol Hill with friends from Kansas, and you’ll see eyes light up at the phrase, “I’m from Iowa.” Kansas, not so much. Although, take heart, Kansas, every politico in D.C. has read that book about what’s wrong with you. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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