Waterloo Congressman Bruce Braley speaks with Carroll-area Democrats about his campaign for the U.S. Senate during a Wednesday lunch at Sam’s Sodas & Sandwiches.
Waterloo Congressman Bruce Braley speaks with Carroll-area Democrats about his campaign for the U.S. Senate during a Wednesday lunch at Sam’s Sodas & Sandwiches.
April 4, 2013

Politicians looking to yarn folksy images often talk of being plain-speaking, just-folks fellows.

Bruce Braley, who grew up in Brooklyn, Iowa, takes that angle a step further. He authored a bill requiring Washington bureaucrats to dispense with what Braley, a Waterloo congressman, calls "gobbledygook" and deliver information in clear English.

Braley's Plain Writing Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, forces government agencies to assemble forms and public documents in simple, easy-to-understand language.

All federal agencies are graded to see if they are meeting the requirement.

"My staff and I constantly monitor how each federal agency is doing," Braley said.

Braley added, "It's having an enormous impact and could save the federal government billions of dollars."

He said it's one thing to have an honest debate over the legitimacy of a regulation.

"It's another if you don't even understand what you're being asked to do," Braley said.

Braley has introduced follow-up legislation, The Plain Language in Government Regulations Act, which would require federal regulations to be written in straightforward language.

"It probably could have one of the most profound impacts on businesses and people who interact with the federal government," Braley said.

The lone Democrat in a 2014 election for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by veteran Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, Braley campaigned in Carroll Wednesday afternoon. He met with a dozen active local Democrats at Sam's Sodas & Sandwiches - where he delighted in downing one of the Beef Industry Council's Top 10 burgers of the year. Braley also sat for a 40-minute interview with The Daily Times Herald at the newspaper's offices.

No Republican candidate has announced for the seat, although U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said Monday he's more than 50-50 on a possible bid.

For his part, Braley is not expected to have any serious primary opposition and this week announced the endorsements of all of Iowa's 26 Democratic state senators and most of the Iowa House Democrats, as well as a fundraising effort milestone of $1 million. Harkin is firmly in Braley's corner.

"I think most people who have experienced both sides would tell you that the opportunity to avoid a primary, to focus on putting your campaign structure in place, and preserving your resources for the tough general election is always a benefit so that's what we're hoping happens in this case," Braley said.

Although not officially in the race, King already has sought to cast it as a battle between King on the side of "liberty," and Braley running as an advocate for a "dependency." Braley strongly disputed King's terms of political engagement.

"Steve King and I grew up in very similar backgrounds," Braley said. "He grew up in western Iowa. I grew up in eastern Iowa. My parents grew up on Iowa farms during the Depression with very little. My grandfather was a sharecropper. I worked on the farm with both of my grandfathers when they were in their 80s. I've had a job since I was in second grade. I never had an allowance growing up. I've always paid my own way through college and law school and as an adult. I am not in Congress to promote a dependency agenda. I am in Congress to lift people up and give them the same type of opportunities to live the American dream that I've had living here in Iowa my entire life."

Braley and King part ways on a number of high-profile issues - notably immigration reform.

In recent interviews, King said that if China could build a 5,500-mile Great Wall centuries ago, the United States surely could construct a workable structure on its 2,000-mile-long southern border.

"I think it's just an example of him being out of touch with reality," Braley said. "That's not what the experts at the border are asking for. They're asking for technology, human resources and infrastructure to help them do their jobs. And they say, 'We don't need a border fence that covers the entire border of Mexico. Where they need it the most, they'll tell you, is in high-population areas because they use it to funnel people who are crossing the border into a specific area where they can use high-technology, including eye imprinting and a host of other things, to make sure that dangerous people aren't crossing our border."

Braley referenced a 2008 illegal-immigration raid in Postville - a community he has represented - and said it cost more than $1 million to deport nine people to Guatemala.

"When you take some of those numbers and you apply them to the estimates of how many people are here in this country illegally, and we're in a time of concern about our deficit, I think you have to be honest with taxpayers about what would be involved if the people who want everyone in this country illegally to be deported had to pay the price," Braley said.

Braley said it doesn't make sense to ignore the rest of the puzzle on illegal immigration as the fence fight proceeds. He supports what is widely referred to as a path to citizenship for many of the estimated more than 11 million immigrants who are in the United States without proper papers.

"Amnesty is when you break the law and there are no consequences," Braley said. "That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the same type of thing that happens in Iowa courthouses every day, when Republicans or Democrats or independents get picked up for breaking the law, maybe for drunk driving. They admit they broke the law. They pay a steep fine. They're put on probation for a period, and if they satisfy the terms of their probation, their record can be expunged and they return to society."

Braley said the constituents who routinely approach him about immigration reform are dairy farmers in northeast Iowa who can't find people who want to work demanding hours. Seed-corn companies across Iowa are in the same situation, Braley said.

"They're looking increasingly to migrant labor to fill those jobs," he said.

Moving on to education issues, Braley's wife, Carolyn, is a teacher at Waterloo West High School, which brings school safety issues into his home.

"I don't think my wife wants to be carrying a firearm in school to keep school safer," Braley said. "I think my wife and most teachers in Iowa want to make sure we are providing a safe place for students to learn."

Braley said the answer to boosting school security is not to introduce more firearms to the schools. He wants to see more effective regulation of visitors on school property.

On a key foreign-policy issue, Braley said the United States and other nations should continue to use diplomacy and sanctions to prevent Iran from developing military-nuclear capabilities.

"I don't think it's too late for diplomacy, and we know that the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran have had a significant impact on their economy, and they've allowed world opinion to play a greater role in pressuring Iran to do the right thing," Braley said. "At the same time, we have to send a tough message to them that we're not going tolerate their ongoing development of a militarized nuclear weapon."

The United States can be doing more as a nation to show a good-faith commitment by examining its own nuclear arsenal, Braley said.

"It was designed for a Cold War threat that does not exist anymore, and we have to be pragmatic about how we use and maintain our own nuclear arsenal to send a message to states like Iran and North Korea that seem to be outside the world community and say, 'We are also taking steps ourselves because we believe that nuclear proliferation is not good for the world,'" he said.