Keep Harkin's efforts in mind for future


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Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, announced on Jan. 26 that he will choose to retire rather than run for a sixth term in the U.S. Senate.

Harkin has served on the Senate since 1984; before that, he was elected to serve in the House of Representatives in 1974. In all, Harkin has served Iowa on a federal level for 38 years, and in his statement, he expressed his belief that it is time to give someone else a turn.

“I was blind-sided like I think was everyone else was; his announcement was completely unexpected,” said Terry Dahms, the head of the Johnson County Democrats. “There was just no indication that he was going to retire — no hints.”

Despite the shock, there are many working hard to find the right person to fill Harkin’s seat, but his seniority and accomplishments will have lasting effects on Iowa and the nation. Iowa’s voters must remember his accomplishments and efforts when seeking another to take his place in 2014.

Among the many issues the senator worked for, some of the most important and influential pieces of legislation were regarding farming, education, health care, and Americans with disabilities.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act was certainly important not just to Iowa but to what the whole country was doing,” Dahms said. “It made it easier for those with disabilities to have access to buildings, and to this day, there are still changes being made. I’m sure that will be his legacy.”

Harkin sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which now affects more than 300,000 people, or 11 percent of Iowans. It is still prevalent in our lives today.

Still, his work in the Senate spans a wide variety of issues. Over the years, he has endorsed and sponsored various farm bills that have a great effect on Iowa’s economy, and he is now the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Even as recently as last week, Harkin sponsored a bill called the Healthier Lifestyles and Prevention America Act. This piece of legislation, as its name implies, seeks to promote health in communities, improve education, and offer ways of not only keeping people healthy by lowering their risk of chronic illness but also being financially conscious of the cost those chronic illnesses can be for the federal debt.

Harkin has also had influence on the Affordable Health Care Act, and has had very liberal leanings in terms of fiscal reform.

“More recently with the fiscal cliff deal, Harkin was stronger even then some other Democrats were about increasing taxes on the rich,” said University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle. “Once he has been around a while, he could express himself in more forceful terms because he had such strong support.”

In many ways, the senator’s tenure may be the most challenging aspect for the next Iowa senator to overcome. After serving in the Senate for 30 years, chairing several committees, and having the respect of those on either side of the aisle, Harkin was able to keep the support of Iowans and be elected five-consecutive times.

“I think 2014 will be challenging; it is going to take a lot of hard work, and we are already preparing for that hard work,” Dahms said. “We need senators who will put the good of their country before the will of their party; that’s something we should be looking for.”

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