- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa historian who crisscrosses the state on a bus converted into a museum is pursuing an independent bid for U.S. Senate, arguing his nonpartisan approach offers a needed alternative to longtime Sen. Chuck Grassley.

More attention has been focused on four Democrats seeking the nomination to face Grassley, who was elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and to the Senate in 1980. But Michael Luick-Thrams, a 53-year-old Mason City resident, said he’s the right person to bring new ideas to Washington that will help Iowa.

Although Grassley has repeatedly won re-election by overwhelming margins, Luick-Thrams said his 36 years in the Senate is long enough, making his point by invoking images of the 1970s.

“We’re at times the laughing stock of the country because we have a senator who was elected when I was a junior in high school,” he said. “ABBA is gone, the platform shoes are gone, so why are we still being ruled by people with ideas from the 1980s?”

Luick-Thrams grew up on his family’s farm between Mason City and Clear Lake and received his Ph.D. in modern European history in Berlin. Since then he has written or edited 15 books about Midwest cultural history and launched the TRACES Center for History and Culture, a nonprofit that documents Iowa’s connections to Nazi Germany, including the stories of war refugees who fled to Iowa.

Luick-Thrams has brought those stories to all of Iowa’s 99 counties through traveling displays in what he calls a “Bus-eum,” along with lectures, films and conferences.

Because he gets public funding for his exhibits, Luick-Thrams said he doesn’t mix his political and historical messages as he travels the state. He does most of his campaigning at weekend farmers’ markets, where he’s collected signatures he needs to make the November ballot.

Luick-Thrams said he’s focused primarily on invigorating Iowa’s rural areas, which have seen decades of declining population. A vibrant rural economy is essential to the state, he said, and could be accomplished by better promotion of government programs already in place.

“We can’t have healthy cities in Iowa without a healthy countryside. It’s not possible,” he said.

Luick-Thrams also supports limiting federal office-holders to no more than 12 years in office and changes in pay that would reduce congressional salaries and tie wages to politicians’ productivity in office. He would seek more transparency about the source of campaign contributions.

Pat Schultz, who was Luick-Thrams’ high school journalism teacher in Clear Lake, said she’s kept in touch with him and has been impressed by his commitment to telling the stories of Iowans. It shows his strong roots in the state, even after he spent over a decade living abroad, she said.

“The simple way to put it is that he cares,” she said. “He cares about the people and the places that make up the Midwest and particularly Iowa. He believes that we have both an important story to tell now and in the future.”

Richard Campagna, who has worked with Luick-Thrams on his campaign plans, said he admired the historian’s ability to look at issues without being blinded by party ideology.

“I just appreciate his willingness to roll with the punches and look at the issues in an intelligent, fair and compassionate way,” Campagna said.

As he campaigns, Luick-Thrams said he frequently hears from people who say they like his ideas but believe only a Democrat or Republican can get elected to statewide office. Whether or not that’s true, Luick-Thrams said he hopes his campaign shakes up the current two-party system.

“I live by principles and at least I will know that I have done something against the madness; that I did what all of us should be doing,” he said. “I got into the process, I rolled up my sleeves and I tried to make a difference.”

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