A day in the life: Representative relishes new role

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


Editor’s note: This is the second in a new “day in the life of” series. We launched the series in February with Representative Patti Ruff who shared a specific day with readers. Today, Representative Darrel Branhagen takes a broader look at his time.

A Northeast Iowan with deep roots in this part of the state, Darrel Branhagen is the freshman representative for Iowa House District 55, which includes parts of Fayette, Clayton and Winneshiek counties. Branhagen lives on his family’s 150-year farm south of Decorah. He holds a law degree and has worked as a farmer, lawyer, businessman and educator.

 How do you balance being a legislator and farming?

 Since I am only farming a little, being in the legislature does not really affect my other work. I can put in one to three acres of organic wheat, corn and soybeans on the Friday or Saturday I’m home from the session (weather permitting).

How does your wife, Betty, deal with your absence?

Betty accompanies me to Des Moines each week to practice as a physical therapist part-time.  My neighboring farmers, Milton and Orma, stop by our farm to make sure our dog, Buddy, is staying out of trouble and is taken care of.

What time does your day start? 

 My day usually starts at 8 a.m., as there is either a committee or a meeting that I attend almost every day at that time. The official session starts at 8:30 each day but rarely does it last a half an hour at this point as most business is taking place in the committees.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at the Capitol?

The day’s schedule of committee meetings rule my days, and sometimes I don’t know what the schedule is until almost 8:30, and it often changes during the day. So the first think I do (and do it many times during the day) is to evaluate the schedule and plan my days accordingly, knowing it always changes. 

How is your lunch spent?

Sometimes I eat lunch in the Capitol cafeteria if there is anyone from my district who happens to show up at that time, but many more times I just get a quick sandwich somewhere and eat while I sit at my desk, or, if I can, bring it to an informal subcommittee meeting if one is happening.

What are your afternoons like?

Subcommittee and committee meetings continue dominate the afternoons, and, if I’m lucky, someone from my district just shows up and I can have a discussion with them and show them around.

What sort of evening events do you attend?

There are usually two to three events that I can attend each evening, and I choose the one that is closest to my personal or committee interests.  For example, (a recent) event was sponsored by the Sheriffs and Deputies Association, and they are involved in almost 100 percent of my Judiciary committee bills. The Judiciary Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee dominates my time on the days it meets. We are trying to fashion a two-year budget for the Court System, the Highway Patrol, the Prison System, and others.

Who creates/monitors your schedule?

  My clerk, Susan Ridgway, is continually receiving schedule updates and gives them to me throughout the day.

How do you maintain energy and focus through such long days?

I think every Representative feeds off the energy and enthusiasm of all the other Representatives – the type of people who aspire to work here for you have usually done something with the same high activity before, and they are just continuing with what they do and do best.

When do your evenings end?

Although there have been times that the session will go longer into the night, even midnight, these are rare and the session usually closes off by 5 p.m.  Then if there are any evening events I feel are important, they usually go to 7:30 or 8 p.m., then off home to our apartment.

This is a crazy schedule. Why do you do it?

  This is one of those lifetime experiences that you want to put everything you have into it.  The closest I can compare this to is my Army basic training or my first year of law school – you do as well as you can with as much energy you can gather.

How does your work as an elected official match with the expectation you had when you ran for office? Any big surprises?

Since I studied the legislative process so much when in graduate school and law school, and since I had worked as an intern in the Iowa legislature before, my surprise was that I had so many surprises. Some were at a fundamental law-making level – the extraordinary power of the party caucuses and the dominating importance of the small three-person bill subcommittees. Others were at a more personal level – the openness and friendliness of representatives of both parties, even when there were at times deep differences in backgrounds and opinions.  It is something to experience to believe.


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