2014 Harkin Steak Fry

Well, hello, Iowa. I’m back and so glad to be with all you on this beautiful day. We’re all here to thank Tom and Ruth for their decades of service to our nation, for their generosity, their optimism, their unflagging energy, and their passion to help more people in more places share in the American Dream. I want to thank not only Tom and Ruth but I want to thank Amy and Jenny and the entire Harkin family for sharing Tom and Ruth with all of us over those years.

It’s also great to be with a lot of friends. I see some special friends, Tom and Christie Vilsack, and I heartily echo what Tom Harkin said about Tom’s service as Secretary of Agriculture. He and I worked together. He really likes my book because he’s in it. I also want to thank Christie for her service, and she is carrying that forward at USAID continuing the work on Feed the Future and a lot of the programs that Tom and I pioneered together.

It does really feel just like yesterday when I was last here at the Harkin Steak Fry, or as my husband now prefers to call it, the stir fry. As I recall, there was a young senator from Illinois there the same time, and I wonder whatever happened to him?  Well, it’s been seven years and a lot has changed. Senator Obama became President Obama, and to my great surprise he asked me to join his team as a member of his cabinet. We went from rivals to partners to friends. Sometimes we would even reminisce about old days, and let me tell you, he sure loves Iowa.

When Tom Harkin called and asked me to come, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve got a few things on my mind these days. First and most importantly, Bill and I are on constant grandchild watch. I’m calling Chelsea every five minutes to make sure things are going all right. When the big moment comes, you can bet that I will drop everything to be there in a flash so I’m telling you know, if you see us sprinting off the stage that’s why.  And then, of course, there is that other thing. It is true, I am thinking about it, but for today, that is not why I’m here. I’m here for the steak.

For four years as Secretary of State, I was more likely to be eating yak meat in Mongolia, having a great time doing it, but thinking a lot about being back home. I am here first and foremost for Tom, for Ruth, and for the great candidates that you have a chance to elect, for Bruce Braley and Jack Hatch and Monica Vernon, his running mate, for Staci Appel and Dave Loebsack and Jim Mowerer and Pat Murphy, all of the great candidates that are bearing the Democratic Party standard.  Now think about it. In just 50 days, Iowans have a choice to make, a choice and a chance. A choice between the guardians of gridlock and the champions of shared opportunity and shared prosperity. A chance to elect leaders who will carry on Tom Harkin’s legacy of fighting for hardworking families. A chance to elect a governor who actually believes the economy should work for everyone. A chance to elect a senator who knows that women should be able to make our own health care decisions and that, believe it or not, equal pay should mean you get equal pay for equal work.

Although it’s wonderful we’re all here to salute Tom and Ruth and for Bill and me to come back to be with you, I know there are a lot of other things that you could be doing on this beautiful afternoon. There are errands to run and kids to watch and television to catch up on, but you’re here, too. You’re here because something or someone inspired you to get off the sidelines. Maybe you want to do your part to strength the basic bargain of America. You know what it is, no matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard and you play by the rules you deserve the opportunity, the same opportunity, as anyone else to build a good life for yourself and your family.

For Tom Harkin, that spark was lit just 20 miles from here in that small town of Cumming, Iowa. For Ruth it was a small farming town in Minnesota. The coal miner’s son and a schoolteacher’s daughter learned that the only direction that matters in life is forward. They also learned to never quite, never lose faith, never stop fighting for others, and when you get knocked down get right back up. That’s why they’re champions for families fighting to get into the middle class and those fighting to stay there, for children, for veterans, for farmers, for people with disabilities, in fact, for all of us. By the way, if you need any further evidence for how important control of the senate actually is, look no further than Tom’s efforts to help us pass the Global Treaty on the Rights of People with Disabilities. As Secretary of State working with the President, we made the case that this was a tribute to the United States because it was based on the landmark legislation of the Americans with Disabilities Act that was one of Tom’s finest accomplishments. But unfortunately, a handful of Republican senators stood in the way despite impassioned pleas from people with disabilities from across our country including their own former leader, war hero Bob Dole. Don’t let anyone tell you that it really doesn’t matter.

Throughout his career, Tom has gotten results by finding common ground where he could and standing his ground when he should – good jobs, higher wages, better, schools, a cleaner environment, civil rights, quality affordable healthcare – Tom has fought for them all. I served in the Senate with him for eight years, as he said, we were on the same committee. I know how hard he worked, and I know how effective he was at getting things done for Iowa and for America. How did he do it? Well, there is a story told about Tom that I think is pretty telling.  One of his neighbors from Cumming says that when he was young, Tom was pitching hay on a nearby farm to make a little extra money for his family. He was up on a truck catching the bales and suddenly he lost his balance and fell. Everyone froze. When Tom got up, everybody there said he should just call it a day, but not Tom Harkin. Instead, he dusted himself off and climbed right back up on that truck and got back to work.

I grew up in a middle class family outside of Chicago, very different from where Tom was raised, but when I got to know Tom and Ruth, I recognized in them the same values that I learned from my own parents. My mother had a childhood that none of us would want, abandoned and mistreated first by her parents and then by her grandparents so she had to start working when she was 14, but she overcame all that she faced and became a wonderful mother to me and my brothers. She channeled her own struggles into a deep conviction that there is worth and dignity in every human being, that everyone matters, that everyone deserves not just a chance but a second chance and even a third chance to keep going and to make something of themselves.

That was one of the most important lessons of my life, and I know that it was for Tom and Ruth as well. They have never forgotten where they came from, who they are, and what they want to do, to open doors and to put that ladder up for others. They’ve actually lived that lesson. Now Tom keeps score in politics the same way that Bill and I do. We ask ourselves, are people better because of your efforts? Do children have brighter futures? Do we find ways to work together instead of being apart and divided? One of the reasons this election is so important is because in Washington there is too little cooperation and too much conflict. When it comes to moving America forward, we know what it takes. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it in Tom Harkin. We’ve seen it in Bill Clinton. We have seen it in Barak Obama.

Under President Obama’s leadership, our country is on the road to recovery. Now, here in Iowa for example, exports are up. For farmers, they are way up. Unemployment is down, down more than 25% since 2009 to just 4.5% this summer.  Renewable energy production has quadrupled in Iowa which means more jobs and a cleaner environment. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies have been forced to refund more than $1.7 million to Iowa families.

But for all the progress we’ve made, President Obama and the rest of us will be quick to say that we have a lot of work today because it used to be that when productivity went up, wages went up. People could actually see all of that in their paychecks and feel it in their wallets. Today, you know so well, American families are working harder than ever, but maintaining a middle class life feels like pushing a boulder uphill every single day. That is not how it is supposed to be in America. This is the country, remember, where if you work hard you can make it. Each generation has done a little better than the one before. That is who we have always been and that is who our country must be again.

That’s what this election is really about because in 50 days every Iowa voter needs to know that from the President on down to local officials, we Democrats are for raising the minimum wage, for equal pay for equal work, for making college and technical training affordable, for growing the economy to benefit everyone and our opponents are not.

For Jack Hatch, fixing up rundown homes led to a business building affordable housing and then to the State House where he worked to provide health insurance for children, improve foster care, and clean up the environment.  It’s no wonder Tom Harkin asked him to be his State Director. He and Monica Vernon are going to make a great team in the State Capitol.

I met Staci Appel and her family over a pork dinner in Indianola seven years ago when she was in her first year in the State Senate. She had worked her way up from minimum wage to manager at an Iowa department store. As a financial consultant she helped families plan for retirement and save for college, and she did it all while being a great mom to her six kids. Her firsthand experience with economic pressures facing Iowa families made her look around and think, ‘maybe we can do better.’ Now with your help, she is poised to be the first woman ever to represent Iowa in the United States Congress.

Dave and Jim and Pat will bring wisdom, compassion, and Midwestern common sense to a Congress where, frankly, those qualities are in short supply. Bruce Braley, well, Bruce has his own story. After his dad was badly injured in a grain elevator accident, his mom went back to school and worked like crazy to get her teaching degree and to support their family. She inspired Bruce to devote his life to fighting for other families facing hard times.  As a congressman he has done just that. He went to bat for Iowa’s National Guard members and won them the pay they deserved. Just for a moment, think about the issue of the federal minimum wage. I understand it is being hotly debated in Bruce’s race. Some are even talking about eliminating it all together, if you could believe that.  Well, here’s a little fact or two: women hold a majority of the minimum wage jobs in this country, and women also hold nearly three-quarters of all jobs like waiters, bartenders, hair stylists that don’t even get the minimum wage. Legally they are not entitled to it. It’s thought, ‘oh, they’ll do fine with tips.’ Now these are often moms contributing to their family’s economic well-being, sometimes they are single moms trying to give their kids the support they need on wages like that without paid family leave, without sick leave, without flexibility, or predictability at work, without access to quality affordable childcare. I think Bruce Braley gets that.  He gets it in his heart as well as his head because of his own experience. That is why easing the burdens on Iowans working families is more than a policy proposal for him. It is a personal commitment. I look at him and I see a leader who is going to do his best to make this a better country for my grandchild and all of our children.

Iowa, leave here committed to working as hard as you can. When you see your neighbors in the supermarket or pick your kids up from school, tell them about our candidates. Share your passion. Share you enthusiasm, knock on some doors, and make some phone calls. Remember, when Democrats show up we win, not just by electing our candidates but by voting for the kind of future all of our people deserve.

After traveling nearly a million miles and going to 112 countries on your behalf, I know we face a lot of economic, political, and security challenges here at home and around the world, but everything I’ve seen convinces me that we can meet those challenges and seize big opportunities, too. We have human and natural resources to do it. We have the knowledge to do it. We have the will, if we decide to exercise it, to do it. We can build a growing economy of shared prosperity and a more equal sharing of responsibility for a secure world. That’s what America has always done and it’s time to summon that spirit again. Too many people only get excited about presidential campaigns. Look, I get excited about presidential campaigns, too, but those campaigns only happen every four years and every two years you’re electing members of Congress and senators and state officials who will have a big say in the quality of your schools, your health care, your lives so use the enthusiasm that Iowa is so well-known for every presidential year and channel that into these upcoming elections. Don’t wake up the day after the election and feel bad and wonder what more you could have done. Do everything you can now to make sure when you wake up that morning after the election that you breathe a big sigh of relief because you will have done everything you could to make sure that Tom Harkin’s legacy of service, of fighting, of standing up, and making it clear whose side he is on will continue.

It’s time to heed the push of our values and the pull of our future. It’s time to write that new chapter in the American Dream because, remember, when we show up we win. I thank Tom and Ruth for always showing up and showing us the way. It’s really great to be back. Let’s not let another seven years go. Thank you, all, very much.

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