Students had a lot of questions for senior United States Sen. Charles “Chuck” Grassley during a town hall meeting Tuesday at Mount Ayr Middle/High School.
Grassley, a member of the Republican Party who has served Iowa since 1981, answered questions asked by students for over an hour regarding issues ranging from gun control to gay marriage, but the students recieved insight into some issues that affect all of them personally, such as college funding.
A male student in the crowded auditorium opened the dialog with Grassley by asking what programs are being worked on to lower student loans.
Grassley explained he agrees with President Barak Obama and his message in the State of the Union address.
“Since I am a Republican and he is a Democrat, maybe there’s not a whole lot of things we agree on,” said Grassley. “But, when we do agree on something, I want to give him credit and work with him to accomplish it.”
Higher education is one of those “things”.
Grassley said there are two main ways of funding college education and why one of those ways, Pell Grants, is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with.
“With gauaranteed student loans the money is available,” said Grassley. “It’s like a revolving fund. We don’t mess around with guaranteed student loans.”
According to Grassley, every year goverment must decide on appropriation, or how much to spend on Pell Grants.
“Right now there are about $5,500 (per student),” said Grassley. “You don’t have to worry about it going down, but how high is it going to go?”
With the county in 1.6 trillion dollars of debt, Grassley said it is very difficult to promise the amount of pell grants will increase, which makes higher education difficult to obtain amid rising costs.
Grassley told students colleges and universities need to share in the responsibility of making the college experience and the debt incurred worth it.
“Maybe we pushed the B.A. degree too much in the sense that people will go to college for four years, accumulate a lot of debt and maybe can’t get a job,” said Grassley. “You may want to major in archaeology, but if there’s no jobs in archaeology, shouldn’t the university be telling you that you might not get a job when you get out?”
While some gun owners fear the federal government will infringe on their right to bear arms, students are concerned about saftey.
Mount Ayr student Balea Stark asked Senator Grassley what his thoughts were on teachers carrying weapons at school for the protection of students and staff.
Grassley said he believes the decision should be left in the hands of the local school district.
“Here in Mount Ayr, the situation is not the same as it is in Chicago,” said Grassley. “If I make a law in Washington, and I’m looking at Chicago (where) things are so violent ... maybe every teacher ought to carry a gun.”
But Grassley doesn’t believe gun violence is so prevelant across the board to require teachers to carry weapons. He also commented places with hightened levels of violence, such as Chicago, do not reflect the same level of violence, if any, in Mount Ayr.
“Would you want that imposed upon you, here in Mount Ayr?” he said. “I don’t think you would.”
So, maybe every teacher carrying a gun is not the solution. Either way, student Matt Poore asked what is being done on the federal level to prevent tradgedies such as the Aurora theater and Sandy Hook School shootings.
“I’m a supporter of the second ammendment,” said Grassley. “I don’t think banning certain guns will do any good.”
According to Grassley a ban was in place at the time of the Columbine High School shooting in 1998 where restricted firearms were used by two teens to kill 13 people and themselves. He also said Connecticut’s gun laws, which are stronger than federal law, didn’t do any good in the case of the Sandy Hook School shooting.
“What we need to do is plug the holes the best we can to make sure that people that shouldn’t have guns don’t have guns,” said Grassley.
Part of Grassley’s proposed solution for gun control is to mandate every state to report felons to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to log their names into the FBI’s database. According to Grassley, only 13 of 50 states report felons to the FBI.
Secondly, Grassley proposed tracking individuals with severe mental health issues in the FBI’s database.
Grassley’s last point pushed for tougher laws to prevent straw purchasing or trafficking of firearms. In other words, purchasing a gun and selling it to a felon, knowingly or not, who might not otherwise be able to obtain a gun.
Grassley said theft will happen, but tougher laws will help prevent such incidents.
“If someone is willing to kill, they are willing to steal,” he said.
Violence against women
Before the hour-long session came to a close, Mount Ayr resident Tracee Knapp challenged Grassley on his change of heart when it comes to the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
Even though the Senate voted to renew the act in April 2012, Knapp brought attention to Grassley’s vote against it when he orginially voted in support of it.
“Since 1994, we’ve had a very good piece of legisation,” said Grassley. “I have always voted for it except for last Tuesday,”
According to Grassley, 98 percent of the bill, or what has been in the bill since 1994, he continues to support. He said there are a couple of reasons he voted against it, but provided “the most important.”
“This bill, has this provision in it which I think is unconsitutional,” said Grassley.
The problem to Grassley is not so prevalent in Iowa, but in states with a large number of Indian reservations such as California, Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and New Mexico.
According to Grassley, when a non- Native American enters an Indian reservation and violates a woman, the perpetrator is not prosecuted in federal court.
“They are opening up the tribal courts to non-Native Americans to be tried there,” said Grassley. “We have a requirement that the jury pool has to be reflective of the community. What kind of a deal are you going to get from a jury that is all Native American?”
Grassley also refered to the constitution and said perpetrators cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
“In the case of being tried in the tribal courts, you can still be tried in the U.S. courts,” said Grassley. “And I think that is unconsitutional and (should) be thrown out.”
Grassley offered an amendment to correct the problem and was defeated in the Senate.
“I put up $25 million from other places in the justice department where I think it was being wasted and put it toward more prosecutors and magistrates so these people will be prosecuted,” said Grassley. “I think the House of Representatives will bring it back, and I can vote on it then.”
Students also also covered topics, such as Social Security, drug testing for welfare, nuclear development in Korea, clean energy and domestic drilling, homeland security, and the president’s State of the Union address.
The president’s speech
Guidance Counselor John Larson asked Grassley what he thought of Obama’s State of the Union address.
“It would be half as long ... and not as smooth.” he chuckled.
Grassley, who conducts at least one meeting in each of Iowa’s 99 counties every year, said he visits maybe 10 to 12 high schools a year.
“I try to go to high schools because I don’t get people your age to go to town meetings,” said Grassley. “I think the purpose of town meetings is to keep in touch with what your constituents are interested in. It isn’t only people that are 40, 50 or 70 years old that I represent. I represent all the people.”
The session ended with students requesting Grassley take part in a video which they will enter into an online school spirit competition. Grassley agreed and walked on stage. for a student to film him.
With the student body behind him, Grassley said, “This wouldn’t be possible without” before the students stood up, pumped their fists and chanted, “M-A-C! M-A-C! M-A-C! M-A-C! M-A-C!”
Grassley thanked the students, commenting on their good manners and smart questions.