Gentleman farmer

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Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
In case you're wondering whether Iowa's hardworking senior senator has any hobbies it's time to set the record straight: He doesn't. 

“The only fun I have is on the farm and what I do for politics,” Charles Ernest Grassley says adamantly. “My profession is fun and I don't play golf. I don't play tennis. I don't fish. I go to a movie every two years.” 

If Grassley, a five-term Republican senator and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, says it, you can most certainly believe it. The 74-year-old, who can seem cantankerous at times, has earned the admiration of colleagues, constituents and even the long-term care industry he frequently lambastes.

“I think you'll find that he is the most respected by people on the opposite side of the aisle as well as his own side because he is a straight shooter,” says John Maxwell, a political strategist who has worked on all of the senator's campaigns since 1974. “He'll tell you what he thinks, not what he thinks you want to hear. And when he gives his word, he sticks to it.” 

That means speaking his mind even when it is unpopular, such as picking on his own party for wasteful spending, or on the long-term care industry for substandard resident care.

“As long as you're consistent and you're not doing it for political reasons or for reasons of your own self-enhancement, you'll be respected for it even as you make people irritated,” he says. 

And he does tend to irritate, not least of all those in long-term care. Just last month, Grassley introduced a bill that would bring more transparency to nursing homes and increase oversight of large companies by the federal government. 

Bruce Yarwood, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, noted jokingly that Grassley is “busting my chops all the time.” 

Still, Yarwood, who calls the senator a friend and has visited his farm, conceded, “He just wants us to do a better job.” 

What endears the senator to his so-called opponents are the ethics and morals behind his toughness – namely to make sure that the government is using taxpayers' dollars wisely and that the elderly receive a high level of care.  

It's hard to dispute the strength of his character. One of the longest serving Iowa senators, he has visited all 99 counties a year for the last 27 years. He also holds the record among his Senate peers for the longest streak of not missing roll-call votes. 

And how many senators actually don't mind picking up a piece of trash or two from the floor of the Senate office building? 

“He lacks any pretension,” notes Maxwell, who tells a story of how the senator noticed a stone in Maxwell's hubcap at the farm and then promptly removed the hubcap and the stone. 

Grassley, who likes be known as “Chuck,” remembers a love of history and politics as a child. He ran and lost for the state legislature at the age of 22. The senator credits growing up on a small 80-acre farm for his fiscal conservativeness and his devotion to his state. 

“I think being close to a farm taught me an appreciation for being close to Iowa, and that's essential to be a good public servant because you can't forget your roots,” he says. 

Grassley, who has lived in Beaver Township his entire life, remains close to his now-754-acre farm where he grows corn and soybeans. He goes home every weekend. Robin, one of his five children, manages the farm. A devout Baptist, Grassley has been disappointed with one of his children for not being in church on Sunday, preferring to golf instead. 

“Three of those kids ought to be in church with me every Sunday,” he says.  

While he might lead an impeccably clean life, he does have one vice: Dairy Queen. In fact, he may know the location of every one in the state, his friend Maxwell jokes. 

He also has one outside interest to mention. He runs – a morning ritual he picked up when he was 65. The senator sets out on his three-mile hike at 5:15 a.m. Whoever comes with him gets to partake of his wife's oatmeal.  

He says that as long as he stays healthy, he plans to keep running for re-election. After all, why stop when you're having fun? 

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Resume
1955
Graduates from the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls

1959
Serves as member of the Iowa House of Representatives. Also works as sheet metal shearer

1974
Wins seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Re-elected two times

1980
Elected to the U.S. Senate. 
Now serving 
his fifth term

1997
Assumes chairmanship of the Senate Aging Committee

2001 and 2003
Named chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Currently serves as its ranking member

2008
Introduces the “Nursing Home Transparency 
and Improvement Act of 2008” 
with Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI)