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Thomas H.
Former Democrat IA
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    Tribute to Brian Ahlberg

    by Former Senator Tom Harkin

    Posted on 2014-12-11

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    HARKIN. Madam President, as I prepare to depart the Senate, I would like to take a few minutes to express my deep appreciation to Brian Ahlberg, my chief of staff for the last decade. Of course, every Senator knows that the title ``chief of staff'' encompasses a vast range of roles and responsibilities--counselor, confidant, kibitzer, trouble-shooter, day-to-day manager, strategic planner, and, in Brian's case, trusted friend. Brian has excelled in all of these critical roles, and I am very grateful to him.

    Knute Rockne was fond of saying: ``I've found that prayers work best when you have big players.'' As Senators, we know that it is not enough to be on the side of the angels; we have got to have big players. For me, that means big intellect, big work ethic, big heart. And those are qualities that Brian Ahlberg possesses in superabundance.

    Brian originally joined my staff in 2003 as legislative director, after a decade of service in that role and others for my great friend Senator Paul Wellstone. In short order, I promoted him to chief of staff, and he has served in that role with enormous skill and professionalism ever since.

    Staff directors on committees have the challenge of managing large staffs. As chief of staff, Brian has had what is arguably an even bigger challenge: managing me. He has done so with great loyalty, intelligence, tact, and consistently good judgment. He is the proverbial calm amidst every storm. When my Irish is up, Brian's Norwegian cool serves as a calming counterweight. He has never hesitated to speak up when he thinks I am wrong or misguided--an invaluable service. He has done a great job of allowing me, as Senator, to get into just enough trouble to be effective in my own job.

    It has been said, perhaps only half jokingly, that Senators are a constitutional impediment to the smooth functioning of staff. I long ago learned to get out of Brian's way and let him manage my far-flung operation. We call ourselves Team Harkin--staffers on my Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on my Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and on my personal staff, both in Washington and back in Iowa. Brian is the impresario who skillfully coordinates their work as a single, collaborative team, skillfully resolving conflicts and keeping people focused on the mission at hand. I believe that Brian's skill in this role is a major reason for Team Harkin's remarkable legislative productivity over the last decade.

    Brian has a great way of keeping my staff and me focused on what is truly important and strategic, avoiding detours and sidetracks. In meetings and [[Page S6684]] one-on-one, he functions like a whetstone--his aim is to make things sharper, and to cut to the heart of an issue or task.

    I also appreciate the way Brian interacts with staff. He helps me to hire seasoned professionals, and then he empowers them to do what they do best, giving them confidence that he will be there to back them up when the going gets tough. His authoritative but soft-spoken, even- tempered approach seems to bring out the best in people around him.

    Brian's focus is always on the task, not his ego. Washington is to self-promotion what Iowa is to corn and soybeans; but self-promotion is the opposite of Brian's style. He is always quick to spread the credit around, especially if that is what it takes to strengthen the team or seal the deal.

    The questions you can always count on Brian to ask are: ``How does this help people in Iowa?'' and ``How does this give a hand up to people who truly need it and deserve it?'' Over the years, Brian Ahlberg has become a consummate Washington player. But he remains a Midwesterner through and through, a passionate progressive like his early mentor Paul Wellstone, with a passion for fairness and justice, a determination to make life better for ordinary working Americans.

    Finally, I want to note that Brian has always been wonderfully attentive to my staff members' family needs, doing everything possible to accommodate them in times of sickness, bereavement, or emergency. Certainly, family comes first in Brian's own life. On that score, I realize that Brian's wife Jodi and sons Anders and Lucas have sacrificed because of his long hours at work, and for that I owe them a debt of gratitude.

    Brian Ahlberg is my colleague, my confidant, my trusted friend. He is also a wonderful public servant. I will always be grateful to him for the personal sacrifices he has made to help me advance my agenda here in the Senate. Likewise, I will always be grateful to him for his extraordinary service to the people of Iowa and, more broadly, the people of the United States. I wish Brian and his family much happiness and success in the years ahead.


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