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U.S. Senator Tom Harkin on "Legacy" Tour

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is embarking on a "Legacy" tour across Iowa as he winds down his lengthy career in Washington, D.C.

All I ever wanted to do was fly airplanes and here I wind up doing this.

The tour is allowing him to meet with Iowa residents and to examine projects he was a part of making happen during his tenure.

Harkin's political legacy began when he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974.  He advanced to the U.S. Senate ten years later, where he has served ever since.

He said it is starting to hit him that his political career is winding down.

"I just can't imagine that 40 years has gone by," Harkin said.  "I never dreamed I would be doing this.  All I ever wanted to do was fly airplanes and here I wind up doing this."

He said the political bug never caught anyone else in his family, despite his longevity.
Harkin said he loves the Senate and that he will miss it, but neither is a good reason to stay until they "carry me out."

Harkin said the biggest change he has seen in Washington, D.C. over the last 40 years is the atmosphere.

"People, even Senators, now come in Monday night and leave Thursday afternoon," Harkin said.  "We used to get together a lot for dinners and lunches.  We even had a lunch room in the Capitol that was just for senators... no staff, no press.  (It was) just for senators to come in, have lunch together, tell stories and talk, get to know (each other) as human beings.  We don't even have that anymore (and that) is just a shame."

Fixing that, Harkin said, will require the elimination of money from politics and the removal of the filibuster.

He said the easiest, and most fulfilling, vote during his career in the Senate was the passage of his own legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On the other side, the most difficult vote was in 2002 when he cast a vote that essentially granted President George Bush the authority to enter Iraq.

"It was a tough vote," Harkin said.  "I thought about it a lot at the time.  It was just a bad vote and it will forever haunt me that I voted for that."

Harkin said once he leaves Washington, D.C., his focus will be on the new Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University.

He said the institute will examine a variety of topics, in particular the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.