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Political Mercury

Will ‘family values’ folks embrace a bare branch?


Van Meter bachelor, David Young, vies for a nomination in the family values party.

Van Meter bachelor, David Young, vies for a nomination in the family values party.

There’s a term in China and India for men like me and U.S. Senate candidate David Young: bare branches.

We’re single, never-married, with no kids — branches on a family tree with no leafs or splintering twigs. Bare. Nothing. Lineage dead-enders. Young is 45. I turned 44 last week.

Young, a Van Meter native who recently served as U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley’s chief of staff, is seeking to win the nomination for one of the most powerful positions in Iowa politics, representing a party that brought “family values” from the church pews to the voting booth. In fact, one of the Republican Party’s key Hawkeye State advocates (most of the time) is the Bob Vander Plaats vehicle known as The Family Leader.

Much attention is being paid these days to race in American politics. But there are clear divisions between the married (more likely to vote Republican) and single (trending Democratic).

So an obvious question faces David Young: Can he win a primary in the family values party without a wife and kids?

“So far, and I’m going to do it,” Young told me in a recent interview. “I’m just going to tell folks that I’ve got nothing holding me back except my passion for Iowa. A lot of other people do think about their family. It does have an effect on the family. I’ve seen it. I’ve managed U.S. Senate campaigns and seen the effects on relationships. It’s a Catch-22 for me.”

But won’t Young look awfully lonely or strange in those campaign brochures, with no doting wife, the absence of kids to gaze up approvingly at him, as if he were some Michael Landon TV father.

“I think Iowans are serious enough to take a look at the candidate and the issues and the future,” Young said.

Has anyone else during the campaign asked him about not being married?

“Well, my mom,” Young said.

What would he say to somebody who asked why he isn’t married?

“I’d say I haven’t found the right girl yet, and I’ve just been pretty much married to public service,” Young said.

But you’re 45. You lived in Washington, D.C., where single people populate the government — and robust social lives are easy to develop.

“I’ll just say, ‘I’m picky, and maybe I’m a little stubborn and set in my ways,’ ” Young said.

But you’d still like to get married someday?

“Oh, absolutely, I took forward to it,” Young said.

I’ve probably made some of the same decisions Young has in terms of prioritizing a career in the public arena over working to build a private life with a wife and children.

If you’re involved in journalism or politics, you tend to have a lot of interaction with people all day, long days for that matter. So you don’t exactly go home at night and curl up in loneliness. At the end of the work day, in your place, reading or in front of the television, you feel, well, relieved that you have a few minutes. I made these observations in the conversation with Young.

“How did you get into my head?” Young said.

Of course, the counter is that Young and I don’t have the perspectives of a father or husband to apply to our analysis of how issues and policies affect families — as the head of the family. Our salaries only have to clothe and feed and entertain and pay doctor bills for one person.

“That can be a fair criticism,” Young said.

Then again, Young knows what it’s like to have parents, siblings, nieces. He’s not at a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve.

And he is right about time management, his complete availability for the job of representing Iowa. Young can devote himself as something of a priest in politics. No kids’ soccer games. No medical emergencies forcing him to miss votes. No balancing of family and work.

“It allows me to spend all of my time, like you have done, just on the task at hand,” Young told me. “For you, it’s the paper. For me, it was public service and working until 8 or 9 at night.”

So Young, if he dares, can say to Iowans: Enough with politics as Christmas-card photos. Ditch the wives, kids and dogs and start living for God and country.

This could be said by people in both parties, really.

Several years ago, the Iowa Democratic Party sent out a news release congratulating then-Secretary of State Chet Culver and his wife, Mari, on the birth of their first child.

The release of that information through political channels is bad enough.

But to make matters worse, the statement quoted Sheila McGuire Riggs, at the time that state party chairwoman, as saying: “We are very pleased Chet and Mari have teamed up with Governor Vilsack to bring us more Iowans and younger Iowans.”

Hmm. Very interesting.

Exactly how were you involved in this process, Governor Vilsack?

If it were a simple misprint it would be forgivable. But it wasn’t.

People in campaigns have this inexplicable desire to connect every earthly happening to the political issue of the day.

Unless you are in England, the birth of a child should not be a political event.

Not having to deal with some of the family-values gushiness may actually be refreshing for Iowa.

And productive.

Some of the most effective political advocates have been single.

One of the top legislators this nation has seen was the late Speaker of the U.S. House Sam Rayburn of Texas, a man who served in that position for 17 years during World War II and after.

He was a bachelor who could be found smoking, drinking responsibly and reading Westerns when he wasn’t shepherding through legislation or advising presidents. But he was always on the clock.

Rayburn’s lifestyle sure wasn’t the fluffy stuff of family-centered television commercials. But his work, his 48-year career in Congress and his commitment to the nation, made him a legend. The most prestigious House Office Building in Washington, D.C., is named after him, and in 1961 he was the only speaker in history to earn a standing ovation.

“He was 30 when first elected to Congress in 1912,” The New York Times obituary of Rayburn reads. “In 1927, Mr. Rayburn married Matze Jones of Valley View, Tex. They separated almost immediately, and the marriage was dissolved a year later. Mr. Rayburn subsequently lived a bachelor’s life, but, contrary to some reports, it was not a lonely one. A moderate drinker, he enjoyed parties and accepted many invitations, particularly if the event was to be a small dinner where politics would be the main conversational topic.

“It was an almost daily ritual for him to ‘visit with’ a few close friends, as he put it, in a hideaway that he maintained on the ground floor of the Capitol.”

Rayburn’s integrity was exemplary. He never took campaign money from lobbyists. He viewed the people of his district and his valued colleagues as his “family.”

burns doug 12-10-25And the nation is better for him.

Rayburn would surely get support over the current cast of “family men” running for offices in Iowa and across the nation.

Whether David Young can is an open question. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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