Fool me once

As a lobbyist, having lunch with a legislator is a great opportunity to discuss the issues that matter most to you, and if it’s just the two of you, the legislator’s ear is all yours. And if the legislator is the chair of a committee, you have really scored in having your concerns met.

In the mid-1990s, State Representative Chuck Hurley (Republican from Fayette, Iowa) asked if I had lunch plans one morning. After letting him know that I hadn’t thought that far ahead, he asked if I would like to join him for lunch. “Absolutely!” I excitedly exclaimed. Rep. Hurley was the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and most of the bills I followed went through that committee.

We met in the cafeteria in the basement of the Capitol. We were as far away from everyone else as we could get, but I didn’t care, I had a one-on-one with a man who could help my bills pass or die. I had purchased my lunch from the counter, he brought a sack lunch. He wanted to know more about me; marital status, children, age, was I a hippy at one time, etc. He shocked me when he told me that he had hair longer than me when he lived in Kansas. At this point in his life, he was a Christian man appointed by God to do God’s work.

After that experience, it was no shocker when I was asked again if I had lunch plans. Often, I didn’t, but I would have taken anyone else’s invitation over Chuck’s. However, this time he asked if it would be okay if Rep. Dan Boddicker (Rep. Tipton) joined us. Wow! I couldn’t pass this up. Rep. Boddicker was the Vice Chair of the House Human Resources Committee, and would probably be the Chair next year. If my bills didn’t go through Judiciary, they would probably be in Human Resources. This lunch was going to be fruitful; I just knew it.

When it came time to go to lunch, I was happy to see that we were grabbing coats. This lunch was not going to be in the crowded Capitol cafeteria. I never thought to ask where we were going to dine. That would be rude, unless they expected me to pay, but that’s not an option when lobbyists are limited to spending more than $3.00 a day per legislator. In the mid-1990s I could have bought each one a hamburger at McDonald’s, but one of them said we were going Dutch (is that term offensive to people of Dutch heritage?) So, I sat in the back seat and let them take me to wherever they desired to go.

We parked in a parking garage downtown and exited on to the Skywalk. Since my office was in a downtown building I knew where a lot of good eateries were on the Skywalk system. Most of them were fabulous.

I was genuinely surprised when we took the escalator down to the first floor of the Convention Center. We walked back to a breakout room, and I was informed that it cost $7.50 for a sack lunch to enter. What? My attitude was ‘let’s see what happens.’

The room was filled with men, most of them in suits. I looked at my sack lunch. A Delicious apple. I dislike Delicious apples. A bag of greasy potato chips. A wrap with mostly lettuce and a thin slice of ham. A small container of milk and a flimsy napkin. I felt ripped off just looking at the lunch. What sort of program were we going to witness? I have to say that I was confused.

Confusion turned to anger when someone began to give grace. Upon ending the grace with a collective “amen,” the speaker said, “welcome to Crossworks.” Crossworks at that time was a spiritual program for men only. I really knew I was in the wrong place when the leader of the group was Governor Terry Branstad. The governor and my two legislator hosts were Republican, and although I am a Democrat, it didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the theme of the meeting: “How to be nice to the little lady – your wife.” Okay, maybe that wasn’t the exact title of the meeting, but that’s what I got out of it. The program was condescending, terribly old-fashioned, and sexist.

Not only was I not married at the time of this event, but I may also not have even been in a relationship. Even if I was, the relationship was most likely not far along. I have no idea why these two legislators would have wanted me to join them in this adventure. Was it a joke to them?

They knew that I represented the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, an organization most people find objectionable because we represented atheists. There were Bible verses, prayers, and perhaps even a hymn. To make matters worse, we stood the entire time. How was I supposed to eat?

We left the event and walked back to the car. I was fuming. They asked me what I thought. I didn’t hold back. “Please, don’t ever do that to me again,” I pleaded. They laughed.

I would have been happy if someone would have paid my $7.50 entry fee. I only drank the milk. And it wasn’t chocolate.

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