Grassley Tribute to Senator John Culver
Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
On the Life and Legacy of Senator John Culver
Friday, January 4, 2019
Mr. President, I rise today to pay my respects and give tribute to a fellow Iowan. He served for six years right here in the United States Senate. In fact, the Iowan who brings me to the floor today is my predecessor: The Honorable John C. Culver.
I was sorry to learn that Senator Culver passed away the day after Christmas. I have no doubt that his spirit of public service and commitment to civic engagement will carry on for generations to come. I will come back to this legacy in a moment.
John and I had our differences. He was a Democrat and I’m a Republican. But we shared a commitment to public service and working to advance the interests of the people of the great state of Iowa.
We both had the privilege to serve Iowans in both houses of Congress. For a decade, John represented Iowa’s second district in the House of Representatives, from 1965-1975. I represented Iowa’s third district, from 1975 to 1980. And then we each had the opportunity to represent the State of Iowa in the United States Senate.
John made the decision to pursue a life of public service early in life. After graduating from Franklin High School in Cedar Rapids, Senator Culver headed east. To Boston, Massachusetts. He earned his undergrad degree in American government from Harvard University. He also played full back for the Crimson football team. He was brawny and had a big build. In fact, he was even drafted to the NFL.
But John punted a career on the grid-iron and answered the call to a different vocation. To public service. First, he served for three years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Then, after earning his law degree from Harvard Law School, he returned home to Iowa and ran for public office.
When Senator Culver was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, I was serving in the Iowa state house.
Although we shared a passion for public service, we didn’t share the same space on the political spectrum. But our constituents expect their elected officeholders to bring Iowa integrity to the job.
In politics, family is often a uniting factor. Senator Culver’s son, Chet, served as the Governor of Iowa from 2007-2011. The last time I saw John was at Governor Culver’s Inaugural Ball. I had the chance to tell him, I know how proud you are of your son. That’s a feeling I know well, as my grandson is serving his 7th term in the Iowa House and serves as the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee which I once chaired. Senator Culver and I know the importance of family and are fortunate to have family who value public service.
When Senator Culver won election to the U.S. Senate in 1974, he won the seat left open with the retirement of another towering figure in Iowa politics, the Man from Ida Grove, former Iowa Governor and U.S. Senator Harold Hughes. Here in the Senate, he served with his long-time friend and liberal lion, Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator Culver served on the following committees: Armed Services, Judiciary, Environment and Public Works and Small Business.
That brings me to another similarity that Senator Culver and I share from our respective service in this institution: our assignments on the Senate Judiciary Committee and our interest in helping at-risk juveniles avoid a life of crime. Senator Culver chaired the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency. He convened oversight hearings to examine the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, now widely known as the JJDPA.
At a hearing in 1977, Senator Culver pointed out that in our state of Iowa, 8,400 juveniles were processed through the courts in 1965. By 1974, the number had increased to 20,200— highlighting the need for reforms like those in JJDPA. John’s leadership on the subcommittee helped make sure that this sweeping new law worked to help keep youth on the right track and away from a life of crime. His focus on helping youth lead productive lives became a mission he pursued long after he left the U.S. Senate.
Four decades later, JJDPA is as necessary as ever. In 2015, 14,837 violations of law by a minor were adjudicated in Iowa. That same year, I held a congressional hearing to raise awareness about the need to reform and renew the JJDPA so that it works effectively to help at-risk youth. The JJDPA had not been updated or reauthorized since 2002. I was pleased as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to champion a successful, bipartisan, bicameral effort to update and reauthorize JJDPA. The updates emphasize substance abuse and mental health services, efforts to help at-risk youth obtain an education and stronger accountability measures to protect taxpayers and to better serve youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
Senator Culver’s work on the “Culver Commission” also deserves recognition. The audit was the first-of-its-kind review of the Senate’s legislative and administrative operations. In his words, he said the Senate needed, quote: “a careful and probing study of the whole central nervous system of the Senate and its institutional well-being.” Unquote. As the newly chosen Senate President pro tempore and author of the Congressional Accountability Act, I also want this institution to run as efficiently and effectively as possible for the American people.
In 1980, Senator Culver and I faced off in an election for the U.S. Senate. He was a formidable opponent and ran a solid campaign. Ultimately, I won the election. And while I’m sure that wasn’t the outcome he wanted, John was gracious. I will never forget his grace and good wishes after the 1980 election.
After his departure from the Senate, Senator Culver continued an extraordinary career, practicing law until 2009. He was a gifted athlete and a gifted public speaker. He became an author, guest lecturer and visiting professor, carving an extra wide path with extra broad shoulders to inspire generations of young Americans to engage in civic life, service and politics. His list of achievements and awards reflect a tireless devotion to service and country.
Since 1975, he served on the Senior Advisory Committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In 2013, he became Chair Emeritus. In 2012, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government created the John C. Culver Scholarship.
In 2008, Senator Culver was presented with the Norman E. Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service.
In 2010, he was presented with the Congressional Joint Leadership Foundation’s Leadership Award for his work encouraging young Americans.
He received six honorary degrees. And in 2010, Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, partnered with Senator Culver to launch the John C. Culver Public Policy Center. The nonpartisan policy institute is designed to educate and inspire participation in our democracy. It seeks to encourage young people to consider public service as their life’s work.
John’s life reminds us that a life spent in service of others is a life well-lived. John’s tireless efforts to serve his country and the people of Iowa will be long remembered and serve as an example to all of who honor his memory.
Barbara and I extend our deepest condolences to the entire Culver family. May God bless them in their time of bereavement and may God bless Senator Culver.
I yield the floor.