When Abby Finkenauer was born, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley had already been in the U.S. Senate for nearly eight years.
The feisty, 33-year-old Dubuque native is hoping to send the 88-year-old Washington insider retiring for good this November, seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate.
“It’s not so much the fact that he’s 88 as the fact that he’s been there for 47 years,” a frustrated Finkenauer said Sunday on Local 4’s “4 The Record,” noting the time Grassley has been in Congress. He was first elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and the Senate in 1980. “What has he done lately?”
“I don’t even think they know why they’re there anymore,” she said of longtime members of Congress. “It’s really disappointing to see how the special interests have taken hold of these folks and it’s why I think term limits are so important and it’s time we replace Chuck Grassley.”
In her 2022 campaign announcement, Finkenauer said politicians like Grassley “who’ve been there for decades, don’t really want us there. They think they own democracy, and they were silent when it was attacked,” she said of the violent insurrection at the Capitol Jan. 6, 2021. “It’s politicians like Senator Grassley and Mitch McConnell who should know better – but are so obsessed with power that they oppose anything that moves us forward.
“Since the Capitol was attacked, they’ve turned their backs on democracy and on us,” Finkenauer said.
She is calling for 12-year term limits for Congress – two terms in the Senate and six in the House.
There are self-imposed term limits this year for many. As of this month, 47 members of Congress—six members of the U.S. Senate and 41 members of the U.S. House—have announced they will not seek re-election. Thirty-two members—six senators and 26 representatives—have announced their retirement. Five retiring Senate members are Republicans and one a Democrat, and of the retiring House members, 20 are Democrats and six are Republicans.
According to a September 2021 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, Grassley led Finkenauer by 18 points among likely voters, 55% to 37%. Another 7% were not sure who they would vote for in a head-to-head matchup, and 1% said they would not vote.
Democracy is in trouble now because of the corporate special interests that have this grip on politicians, Finkenauer said on Local 4.
“It’s gross and it’s what is wrong with politics today,” she said. “The more I’ve gone out and talked to Iowans across the state, the more they feel it as well.”
It’s not just Grassley, though, Finkenauer said. “This seat belongs to Iowans, not the Grassley name. It’s about time we give it back to Iowans – which is why I would not serve more than two terms in the U.S. Senate.”
Among three Democrats seeking the chance to unseat Grassley, she said she’s the best choice since she loves Iowa; is the daughter of a union pipefitter/welder and public school secretary, and veteran of two years in the U.S. House.
“I saw folks like my dad getting screwed,” Finkenauer said, “when it comes to workers’ rights. We saw that play out in Davenport, when it came to John Deere and the UAW strike. They had such a loud message – hey, we’re here, we deserve dignity, we deserve respect. And that’s why I got into this in the first place, because I saw that slipping away from our politics.”
Touting strong grass roots
Finkenauer channeled her family’s tradition of public service by running for the Iowa House of Representatives when she was just 24 years old – and winning. She opposed massive corporate giveaways to out-of-state companies, fought to make high-quality health care available to all Iowans and supported high-quality education for all students.
Four years later, Finkenauer ran for Congress, becoming the youngest woman to flip a Congressional seat from red to blue and became one of the first women to represent Iowa in the House of Representatives.
She was the youngest woman ever to pass a bill in the House – a bipartisan bill focused on supporting small businesses. In Congress, she built a reputation as someone who would work with anyone in either party to get things done, including funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program, strengthening Iowa’s flood prevention infrastructure and securing needed resources for our rural communities.
A lifelong Iowan who chose to stay even while watching so many of the friends she grew up with move out of state, Finkenauer and her husband Daniel were married in August 2020 in their backyard in Cedar Rapids, where they continue to reside.
Finkenauer represented Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, from January 2019 to January 2021. She lost the 2020 election to Republican Ashley Hinson, 51.2%-48.6%, or less than 11,000 votes.
“I just tried to keep my head down and do my job, and that’s what I think Iowans deserve,” Finkenauer said recently.
She was one of the first two women to win election to the U.S. House from Iowa in history. The other, Cindy Axne (D), also won election in 2018. At the time of her election, Finkenauer was also the second-youngest woman (at age 29) to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) in New York, who also won election in 2018, was also 29 but born later than Finkenauer.
Prior to serving in Congress, Finkenauer worked for a Dubuque-area nonprofit and served as a member of the Iowa House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019.
2022 will be one of the biggest mistakes Republicans ever made, having Grassley run for re-election, she said. “I have seen what he has done and what he hasn’t done over 47 years,” Finkenauer said. “Stuff I did in the last two, I would put up against what he’s done in the last 10 to 20 years any day of the week. The work we have left to do for Iowans – people are tired of the bickering, tired of sitting in these seats forever.”
Running against Grassley will be a stark contrast, she said. “I am really worried about the state of affairs, whether it’s in Iowa or it’s in Washington, D.C. We deserve better.”
“I’ve served in Washington, and I’ve seen firsthand how decades in D.C. can change people. I’ve watched Washington politicians who don’t even know why they’re running for office anymore, politicians who just want to keep a seat for the perks of the job or to create some sort of dynasty. We need fresh perspectives and people who are serving to do the work, not sitting there as barriers just to keep Washington broken.
“That’s why I’ve come to support term limits that ban members of Congress from serving more than 12 years in office.
“Iowa’s Senate seat belongs to Iowans, not the Grassley family name. And if Iowans trust me with the honor of serving them in the Senate, I’ll return this seat to them and step down after two terms so that our future leaders, rooted in Iowa, can step up and fight for us all.
“Even Chuck Grassley once agreed. Sen. Grassley has been voting for 12-year term limits for at least 30 years. However, as the decades roll by, Sen. Grassley seems to only truly support them for everyone else but himself. It’s clear that over the decades, D.C. has changed Chuck Grassley, and he does what he’s told by lobbyists and corporate industry donors rather than the Iowans he represents.
“Senator, enough is enough. 63 years in public office and 47 years in Washington D.C. is too damn long,” Finkenauer said.
Showing up for her state
When she was in D.C., she didn’t join a specific caucus of Congressional reps. “I didn’t fit in any of them, and I had no interest in joining something that just told me how to vote – versus going and showing up for my state every single day,” Finkenauer said.
“It’s why I’ve been the only federal Democrat to win Dubuque County since 2014, because those are the folks I show up for,” she said. “This is not about just some title. It’s about public service and it’s something that I take very seriously and it’s something we need more of in the United States Senate.”
In Grassley’s last campaign, in 2016, he beat Democrat Patty Judge 60.1 percent to 35.6 percent (there were also three independent candidates).
“He’s actually the least popular he’s ever been, because he’s been in D.C. too dang long,” Finkenauer said. “I don’t care who you are; 47 years in Washington is too dang long for anybody and you don’t need another six. I truly believe that Iowans see that as well.”
She said Grassley hasn’t been held accountable for his positions on many issues, including the Republicans’ persistent attempts to overthrow the Affordable Care Act.
Finkenauer supports eliminating the filibuster, since some Senators hide behind it.
“It’s this archaic rule that was made up decades ago, where you just bring it up so you don’t have to be on record on the specific vote,” she said. “Getting rid of the filibuster would bring more transparency, because you would bring more people together, have to work with each other.
“When it comes to voting rights in particular, we’ve gotta get that done,” she said.
What has ruined bipartisanship is gerrymandering, where districts are redrawn to be so far left or right, Finkenauer said. “They won’t even talk to each other because they’re afraid they’re gonna get primaried. That’s what is hurting our country right now and that’s why we need real reform.”
She also supports paid family leave and to allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, to bring down the cost of prescriptions. “This is the type of stuff we need to be doing to move things forward,” she said. “Put those savings into hearing and vision coverage. That is huge – how can we afford not to do that?”
For his part, Grassley has said people are “are fed up with the one-size-fits-all, Washington-knows-best approach,” he said in a recent email. “On top of that, the Biden administration’s agenda to push transformational change on the economy, our elections and our way of life would create unprecedented dependency on government with suffocating taxes that restrict economic freedom and deficit spending for generations to come.
“That’s not what Iowans want. In my county meetings and conversations around the state, I’m hearing directly from farmers who are worried about the rising costs of fertilizer and delays in the supply chain as they prepare for spring planting,” Grassley said. “Cattle feeders and consumers are getting squeezed by the Big Four meatpackers and that’s why I’m pushing for price discovery and transparency in livestock marketing to ensure farmers get fair prices for their beef.
“Businesses, hospitals and nursing homes are struggling to hire enough workers to serve their communities,” he said. “The Biden administration’s open borders policy is giving free rein to dangerous drug cartels to funnel fentanyl and methamphetamine into our communities. It’s no coincidence there is an alarming rise in overdose deaths in the United States with lawlessness at our southern border. This year I’ll continue pressing for passage and grow support for my bipartisan bill to reduce prescription drug costs, an issue that comes up at nearly all of my county meetings.”
The Democratic primary will be held June 7, and the general election will be Nov. 8, 2022.