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A Tree Limb From Family’s Farm Adds to Historic Day in Des Moines

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A gavel is an essential piece of equipment for a speaker of the House to demand attention while presiding over legislators. On Monday during the first day of the 2020 legislative session, that wooden gavel also sounded a personal connection.

"That's kind of neat," said new Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, a New Hartford Republican, "...and special...pretty special thing."

It was so special for Grassley on his first day as speaker because it came from an old walnut tree on the family farm in New Hartford. His father, Robin, found the limb.

That family connection was only part of what was a day full of family connections. Grassley's grandfather escorted him before his swearing in and sat in the House chamber as he gave his first remarks as speaker. His grandfather is Chuck Grassley, Iowa's longest-ever serving United States Senator. Grandpa Grassley told Channel 13 that he never expected a day like this.

"Of course, I'm proud of Pat," the elder Grassley said, "I've seen him develop from a person who never discussed politics with me ever until he was about 22 years old (14 years ago) when he says, 'I want to run for the Iowa House ... what do you think?' Since then,  it's all been politics."

Politics has been part of the Grassley family for the past 61 years, when Chuck Grassley got elected to the state legislature. He served there until 1975, when he left to begin his career in Congress.  That career has included three terms in the U.S. House before his current streak of 39 years in the U.S. Senate. That is a streak that no other Iowan has ever matched.

Pat and Chuck Grassley also celebrated a link to another historic Iowa family. Pat Grassley replaced Linda Upmeyer as speaker. Upmeyer retired from the position and plans to leave office after her term expires in 2021.

She is the first Iowa woman to serve as speaker and part of the first-ever, daughter-father combination to the office. Her father, Del Stromer, served as speaker from 1981-1982. In one more connection, he and Chuck Grassley both held seats in the house from 1967-1975.

In her closing remarks as outgoing speaker, Upmeyer said that she hoped that her tenure inspired girls across the state and that she hopes to be able to talk with her late father in Heaven one day.

"Some day, God willing, I'll have a discussion with my dad. I'm sure that he will be very proud of what we have accomplished on behalf of Iowans," Upmeyer said.

She added without elaborating, but with a smile, "I'm also sure there will be a couple things where he will say...'Girl, what were you thinking?'"

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