Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says “it’s too bad” questions were raised about the creation of a public policy center at Iowa State University that will carry his name. The Iowa Board of Regents approved the move last week, over objections about the ethics of naming the center after a sitting senator. Harkin, a Democrat, says the criticism came from Republicans.
“I was hoping all along that this would not evolve into any kind of a political battle or a political context,” Harkin says. “That’s why I never got involved in it. I was dismayed to see that certain members of the Iowa legislature decided to make this a political matter.”
I.S.U. officials say the center will be nonpartisan and would be run by an advisory board that would keep it free from any taint of political influence or partisanship. “I think this is for the benefit of the institution,” Harkin says. “It’ll be to the benefit of scholars at Iowa State for many, many years to come, long after I’m gone from this world.”
Harkin is a 1962 I.S.U. graduate. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and served five terms before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, where he’s now in his fifth term. The I.S.U. center will focus on the policies Harkin has worked on while in office. “I never went to Iowa State to ask them to do this,” Harkin says. “They came to me and said they wanted to do this and to set up this institute and would I agree to put my papers of 35 years or more, depending on how long I’m here, there. I agreed to do so and said I was honored but that I was not going to be involved in setting it up or anything like that.”
Harkin’s wife, Ruth, sits on the Board of Regents and she abstained from voting on the center. Democrat and former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson is leading the fundraising effort for the institute. Regent Craig Lang, a Republican from West Des Moines, opposed the institute because of ethical questions.
Before last Wednesday’s vote, Lang said: “I believe that it is absolutely wrong for us to consider this institute at this time when we have an individual who is prestigious and so powerful in that position to ask for an institute to be named using their name, and I don’t care who it is. Now, if the senator was making an announcement about his retirement, I would change my vote.”