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First-in-the-nation caucuses good for the United States

BY GUEST OPINION | AUGUST 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Every four years, national reporters focus on Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. The State Fair is often a backdrop for news coverage, showcasing Iowa classics such as the quality and variety of our livestock and agricultural commodities and the famous cow sculpted out of butter.

Also on view is the civic-mindedness that puts the White House hopefuls through their paces every four years.

Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s exciting to have the nation learn more about Iowa. And it’s invigorating to be reminded of how individual citizens propel our democracy forward.

Iowa’s presidential caucuses have been a fixture for decades. Thousands of Iowans gather in public meeting halls, schools, gymnasiums, and even private homes to elect delegates for the 99 county conventions.

Iowans are well-informed and take their civic duty seriously.

The hundreds of service clubs and nonprofit organizations across the state show what I know from experience — Iowans are involved in the community.

People in both rural and urban areas tend to know their neighbors, and they help out. A flood or tornado predictably brings an army of volunteers.

Civics and government are emphasized in schools. When I speak to students, their questions about representative democracy are well-informed.

The same is true for my town meetings all over Iowa every year. The depth and variety of questions are consistently extensive.

Whether people have criticism or praise, their participation is important to the health of our form of government. I always say representative government is a two-way street.

It’s not enough for the officeholder to convey her or his views to the voters. The citizens also have an obligation to state their opinions, concerns, and questions to their elected representatives.

It’s important for each of us to look for every opportunity to keep the dialogue going.

While chances for interaction include attending town meetings and engaging in tried and true letter-writing, technology offers ever-changing, additional means of keeping the conversation going.

Email and social-media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are quick and direct for many people.

And lately, I’ve been taking the opportunity to be a resource for school kids and classrooms through Skype.

By using Skype, the students can ask me their questions, which usually range from what I’m voting on in Washington to what a typical day is like for a U.S. senator, as easily as if I’m standing in their classroom.

Every one of these conversations makes our democracy a little bit stronger.

When citizens petition their government, and when they exercise their right to vote, they breathe life into the Constitution.

Citizens should hold officeholders accountable for their words and actions.

Iowans do their part at all levels of government, and our country is the better for it.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is the senior senator from Iowa. This commentary originally appeared on Sen. Charles Grassley’s website.


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