Corn Feed

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin speaks at the inaugural Iowa Corn Feed, hosted by the advocacy group Progress Iowa and held Sunday afternoon at the Simon Estes Amphitheater along the Des Moines River in Des Moines.

ERIN MURPHY, Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES | Former Sen. Tom Harkin is calling for a progressive agenda that would rival any that the liberal lion presented during his 40 years in Congress.

Harkin delivered the final address at the inaugural Iowa Corn Feed, hosted by the advocacy group Progress Iowa and held Sunday afternoon at the Simon Estes Amphitheater along the Des Moines River.

Harkin, who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2014, called on the roughly 200 people who attended Sunday’s event to push for progressive policies, including single-payer health care, a 30-hour work week and year-round school, among others.

“I just think, as progressives, it’s not enough to just stay with old progressive (ideas). We have to start pushing the envelope out there,” Harkin said after the event. “What’s the new America going to be like in the future? That’s why I wanted to talk about some of these provocative ideas.”

Harkin also suggested education funding should be paid for not by property taxes but by general funds to avoid property-rich districts having better schools than property-poor districts.

He also said he believes the federal government should purchase the more than $1 trillion in student debt, which he said would spur the economy by freeing recent graduates to purchase vehicles and homes.

Asked if his retirement from the Senate has freed him to push such an expansive and aggressive progressive policy, Harkin smiled and said, “Probably so, I guess.”

The event also included remarks from Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee, and spokespersons for Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.

Harkin has endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary. He was asked if Clinton could support the progressive policies he laid out at Sunday’s event.

“Well, yeah. Probably not all of them,” he said.

Harkin also was asked if the policies he promoted more closely align with Sanders, a self-described “Democratic socialist.”

“I’m pushing the envelope on this deliberately to try to get some new thinking out there,” Harkin said. “I think most of the candidates running for president on our side, while they may not endorse it fully, they might endorse some of it.”

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, the lone Democrat left in Iowa’s Congressional delegation, appeared with Democratic candidates for Congress.

Harkin encouraged the crowd to be active in electing more progressive candidates to federal and state office. He borrowed what he said was a labor quote: “Late to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize.”

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