Guest Column: Senator Hamerlinck Should Resign in Wake of Comments

Dear Sen. Hamerlinck:

Your offensive and disrespectful comments to Iowa university student leaders who were invited to the June 5 Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearings disqualify you from serving Iowans. When they attempted to discuss the effects that a seven percent budget cut would have on students, you dismissed their remarks. In the wake of this conduct, you should resign. We need elected officials in this country at all levels who encourage citizens to be informed and participate in government. No citizen should be told by any elected official that their participation in government is unwanted.

According to the Des Moines Register’s coverage of the hearings, you told these students the following:

“I do not like it when students actually come here and lobby me for funds. That’s just my opinion. I want to wish you guys the best. I want you to go home and graduate. But this political fear, leave the circus to us, OK? “But actually spending your time worrying about what we’re doing up here, I don’t want you to do that. Go back home. Thanks guys.”


You believe younger voters should not worry about what elected officials are doing? On the contrary, you should be encouraging all voters, including those you might perceive as young and politically unsophisticated, to be informed and vigilant about what all elected officials are doing at the city, state, and national levels. You have an affirmative responsibility to do so. Do you honestly believe that democracy works best when voters of any age don’t worry about what elected officials are up to?

You have a responsibility as an elected official to listen to what all citizens have to say about how you and your colleagues are handling the state education budget and other matters. You might well have learned something from these informed and involved students had you respectfully listened to them. If you thought their comments were misinformed, instead of dismissing them as unimportant voters, you might have taken the opportunity to meet with them about their concerns. Unlike you, they would have listened to and seriously considered what you had to say. They are, after all, good and concerned students, as demonstrated by their appearance before the June 5 hearing.

The paternalism inherent in the weak apology you made in an editorial published the Quad Cities Times is also offensive:

“After offering eight years of instruction at a local community college as well as being a politician, my goal has always been to keep students out of the political fray in order for them to form their own opinions and ideologies. With that objective in mind, perhaps I should have reworded my comments in such a manner as to avoid the political fray which a politician should know would follow from opposing political parties and the media … In the end, my attempt to keep impressionable students out of the fray has instead ingested them into it, and for that I apologize.”

Impressionable students? Really?

Why do you believe that it is important to keep younger voters “out of the political fray?” As someone with experience as an educator, I am surprised that you believe that direct experience in the political process is not a good extension of their classroom educations. Perhaps some of these students will be inspired to run for office in the future because of such experiences. Let’s hope your poor behavior toward them during the June 5 meeting doesn’t make their active participation in electoral politics less likely.

You also state this in your editorial:

“I was trying to keep students from being used and I fear they have become the very theater I hoped to shield them from. I apologize for not catching the motivation of the event sooner and wording my speech in a manner which allowed students to focus on their studies rather than playing into partisan politics at the Capitol.”

Are you assuming they were simply reading statements prepared for them by Democrats, who were using them for political “theater”? If so, you are underestimating the intelligence of these informed and involved students. Why not meet with them to find out how they prepared their statements? By the way, students are citizens. Why shouldn’t they participate in partisan politics if they so choose, like any other citizens. Like all Iowans, they’re guaranteed the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. This right is enshrined in both the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

I studied the political socialization process — how people acquire their political orientations — for 30 years as an university professor. We know from such studies that voters between the ages of 18 to 29 are among those least likely to be knowledgeable, interested and active in the political process. We need to encourage greater participation by younger citizens, not less. Thus we need elected officials in Iowa and elsewhere who welcome and encourage their participation in governing.

Since you do not seem to believe that, it’s time for you to go home to Dixon. No citizens should be told their participation in democratic government is not welcome.

Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, teaches at Clinton Community College and represents Iowa’s 42nd Senate District. Contact him at [email protected].

Dr. Smith is a Republican and a retired professor emeritus of journalism and communication at Iowa State University.