The idea of returning home to one's roots is a classic device that's used all too often to add dramatics to a story or film. Whether it's a sports star returning to play for their "hometown" team or a politician running for national office from his "home state" - or in some more recent cases, states - the idea of returning home has become less about the actual act than about the benefit one can gain from it.
But for Representative Bruce Braley, the opportunity to represent voters from his hometown (Brooklyn, in neighboring Poweshiek County) and Tama County is something that's truly meaningful.
Beginning this fall, residents in Traer, along with the rest of Tama County, will be voting for the first time as part of Iowa's 1st Congressional District. Braley (D-Waterloo) has represented the district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007, and will now have the opportunity to serve not only northeastern Iowa, but much of central Iowa as well. Marshall, Poweshiek and Tama are among the counties now included in his district.
Representative Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo) took the time to speak with the Star-Clipper about some of the most important issues he sees facing Iowans today. Begininng with the election this November, Tama County will now be a part of Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Waterloo, and had expanded to include Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown and most of northeastern Iowa. Here, Braley speaks at President Obama’s campaign stop in Waterloo August 16.
While many residents are familiar with him due to his work in nearby Waterloo, many might not realize just how deep his roots go and how knowledgeable he is on the issues facing many in Traer and Tama County as a whole.
"I'm very familiar with Tama County and very excited about the possibility of representing Traer, Dysart and many of the other communities that I've known for a long time and spent a lot of my life in," Braley said.
One of the most pressing issues that Braley sees is the need to get a new farm bill passed. As a predominantly rural and agricultural county, Tama is among the many Iowa counties that would benefit greatly from the stability of having a new farm bill in place. Despite a vote on the bill and the September 30th deadline fast approaching, the prospect of getting things done before the election is growing more bleak, despite Braley's work.
"It's very frsutrating to me and a lot of people in Iowa who are impacted by the bill, as the Senate passed it in a very strong bipartisan vote," Braley said. "The House Agricultural Committee passed it on July 11th, also with a very strong bipartisan vote."
With the legislative session convening again in September after a break, which Braley voted against, there will be precious little time to get something done without drastic measures, which the congressman said he was willing to take.
"I have been working with Republicans and Democrats to use a special procedure called a discharge petition to force a vote on the bill," Braley said. "Once I get that petition on the floor, I can collect the 218 signatures needed so that we can have a vote on it."
Among the other issues Braley sees as important for Iowans is the extension of the wind energy production tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year. The uncertainty surrounding the extension has already cost Iowans jobs, with Clipper laying off workers at its Cedar Rapids facility just last week.
"I've been a very strong supporter of wind energy ever since I was sworn in, and unfortunately, because of partisan politics, we may not get to vote on [the extension] until after the election," Braley said. "We need to get it reauthorized as a tax incentive to continue to invest in wind energy in Iowa, where we have about 22 percent of our energy now coming from wind."
The reluctance of House Republicans to pass anything that would add to the deficit, despite the creation of jobs, is something that has frustrated members of Congress - on both sides of the aisle - for the past few years. In 2011, a non-election year when things would typically get done, the House had passed 326 bills through November 30, according to a report by the Washington Post. Braley believes the problem is one of House Republicans putting political party first and the people second.
"I think it's because they're dead set on trying to win the White House, and some of these votes will have their members go on record on things they don't want to vote on," Braley said. "If you're the majority, you're supposed to govern, and the way you govern is by passing bills that are not controversial like the farm bill, which has never been the victim of partisan politics."
Braley has been among the most active members of the House in making compromises to get things done with his Republican colleagues. Many readers may remember the State of the Union Address earlier this year when Braley sat with Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) in an effort to return to an era of civility in Washington.
"One of the things I pride myself on is that I have a lot of Republican friends, and although we don't always agree on everything, I've had great success in passing bills that I've introduced with strong Republican support," Braley said. "That's the way people expect government to work - and it can work - but it doesn't work that way often enough."
For the congressman, it all comes back to working for people he's known his whole life: Republicans, Democrats and most important of all, Iowans.
"What I want people in Tama County to know about me is that I'm a small-town boy, I've lived in Iowa my whole life and I've been privileged to have the job that I have," Braley said. "I've worked very hard to try and help the people I represent to continue that way of life by providing economic opportunities for people to live and work in a great state like Iowa and a great place like Tama County."
"I'm looking forward to getting a chance to know them even better," Braley said. "And hopefully I will have the opportunity to earn their trust, earn their vote and represent them in January of 2013."