Steaks, celebrities, issues bring students to political event


by Kate Paulman

Behind the small stage where Sheryl Crow, Tom Arnold andElizabeth Edwards would soon appear, a small red tractor slowlypulled its plough through the green field.

Handmade signs on the road read “Parkin’ for Harkin”.

It’s September and it’s campaign time again in Iowa.

With a little over a month left until the general election onNov. 2, Tom Harkin’s 27th Annual Steak Fry was the latest in astring of political events in Iowa – a swing state in thepresidential race.

Harkin is not up for re-election this year – the event was heldto support Democratic candidates.

According to Maureen Knightly, communications director for Sen.Harkin, around 5,000 people showed up for this Sunday’s SteakFry.

Among those 5,000, there were more than 90 from the Simpsonstudent body – and not all of the ticket holders wereDemocrats.

Junior Nancy Johnson is a registered Republican, but was in thecrowd at the Democratic event.

“I came to hear the other side, to be a more informed voter,”Johnson said. “It’s good to look at both sides of the fence and notjust vote straight Republican. And of course to see SherylCrow.”

Johnson proved a point Sen. Harkin made in a telephone interviewlast week: “Some Republicans may even come because of the low costand big-name celebrities.”

“I commend that effort [of Republicans attending the event],”said senior Tracy Loynachan, a Democrat. “I think it’s great forsomeone to get out of their comfort zone and, being of a differentparty, come to an event that is specifically catered to theDemocratic party.”

Around 2 p.m., comedian Tom Arnold took the stage. After Arnold,singer Sheryl Crow performed live with her band.

“For some reason the Democrats have a lot of celebrities ontheir side,” senior Ashley Hanson said.

The celebrity lineup at this year’s Steak Fry seemed to be adrawing factor for Simpson students. Simpson College Democrats sold96 tickets to the event, the largest number of tickets sold by anyDemocratic college group in Iowa.

Joe Walt, professor emeritus of history, was among the membersof the Simpson community at the event. Walt said he understood theimportance of this event when it comes to young voters.

“[The Steak Fry] has really grown into a major political event,”Walt said. “It’s critical to get every last student to vote,however he or she wants to.”

However, some students felt that the presence of celebritiespushed any discussions of the issues to the sidelines.

“I don’t think [the Steak Fry] will help me [decide who I’mvoting for],” said senior Kristi Prostine, a Democrat.

Senior Jessica Schultz, a Democrat, said the event gave her abetter idea of what the candidates looked like, but missed in-depthdiscussions.

Schultz and Prostine volunteered at the event as part of afund-raiser for the basketball team.

Senior Amber Woodley agreed with Schultz and Prostine.

“The speeches [were] pretty informal and general,” said Woodley,an Independent. “[The speeches] haven’t been specific to the issuesor really even addressed them.”

Woodley said that last year’s Steak Fry, at which many of theDemocratic presidential candidates spoke, was more exciting.

Junior Macy Allen also came to the event to learn more about thecandidates and the issues.

“I want to learn more about Kerry’s campaign,” Allen, aDemocrat, said. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to vote for him. I’mhere to make sure I’m going to vote for him.”

Hanson said she was concerned with President George W. Bush’slimiting of women’s rights – especially reproductive rights – andwanted to support the Democratic candidates.

Loynachan said she was pleased with the discussion of issues atthe event, especially in the speech given by Elizabeth Edwards.

During her speech, Edwards addressed the issue of high-costpharmaceutical drugs and the need for price competition betweenAmerican and foreign drug companies.

“I think it’s important that we’re able to get over [superficialissues that have been in the news] and get into deeper issues,issues that are going to affect the nation,” Loynachan said. “It’sreally important to talk about domestic policy and realize thereare more things going on than just the war in Iraq. There are lotsof domestic policies that we need to take care of.”