by Craig DeVrieze
They work on opposite sides of a river, campaigning for incumbent candidates who stand on opposite sides of the aisle in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Yet 2010 St. Ambrose University graduates Henry Marquard III and Aaron Windeknecht also share common ground.
"He is a good friend," Marquard said. "We had a whole bunch of classes together. Obviously, we had some different views about how the country should go forward, but Aaron has a great mind. We both double-majored in political science and philosophy. He is big into political philosophy and we both had a lot to talk about."
Marquard is the 2nd Congressional District field director for the Iowa Democratic Party, working for the re-election of Rep. Dave Loebsack as well as President Barack Obama and other Democrats on the November ballot. The past two years, he worked on Loebsack's staff as a district representative in Iowa City.
Windeknecht recently became a district director for the campaign of Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling in the 17th District in Illinois. He spent the winter working in a similar capacity for Rick Santorum during the Republican presidential primaries.
Joseph Hebert, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the St. Ambrose political science and leadership department, said both students seemed destined for political careers during their active years on campus.
"I like to think that the things we study in political science would prepare young people to do that sort of thing," Hebert said. "They were both very bright, very studious, very accomplished while they were here. It is really nice to see them finding opportunities to use those talents and their education."
Both young campaign professionals said their St. Ambrose experience has been beneficial in getting a quick start in politics.
"I think probably the best thing was the interaction I had with my teachers," said Windeknecht, a Davenport native who, like Marquard, started his post-secondary schooling at the University of Iowa but finished at SAU. "The class sizes were great at St. Ambrose. I actually got a chance to talk with my teachers and just grow more as a student."
Marquard said the University of Iowa's political science and philosophy departments featured faculty well known in political research and publishing circles. But he added, "I really believe that when you look at St. Ambrose professors Parsons and Miclot and Hebert and Jacobson, you've got just as good a lineup there. And the real difference is that you can go in and talk to them.
"They really are there to increase your learning experience one-on-one. I took advantage of that and I got pushed into doing things I really enjoyed and wouldn't otherwise have done."
With Hebert's urging, Marquard participated on the mock trial team coached by his father, Muscatine, Iowa, attorney Henry Marquard Jr. That's something he expressly had vowed not to do, said the younger Marquard. But he wound up captaining the team and also met his future wife in teammate Kelsey Ann (Ward) Marquard '09, who recently graduated from law school at Iowa.
At St. Ambrose Marquard also met Windeknecht and they became two of the more active members of what came to be known as "The Politics Club."
"The basic idea was to get together students and faculty who were interested in discussing a wider range of things than we covered in the classroom," Hebert explained. "We would come in on a Friday afternoon, have a coffee and talk about current events or ancient philosophy or whatever it might be."
The subjects weren't necessarily political and the conversations never were contentious, even though Windeknecht said he and two other conservative Republican students were slightly outnumbered by members with more liberal viewpoints.
"We were all good friends," Windeknecht said. "I don't think we ever got in any heated discussions."
Now, both he and Marquard find themselves in the midst of an election season that could be among the most heated in recent memory, participants in a political process in which the concepts of bi-partisanship and compromise may have lost their place.
"The whole idea of a statesman is the ability to see two different viewpoints and find common ground," Marquard said. "And theory tells you that you are going to have to move to a more centrist position as the election progresses. Unfortunately, we're finding that notions like that are just being thrown out and I think both parties are to blame.
"It makes it really tough if you want to make a difference, which I think is why most of us go into politics."
The political arena never has been a place for the meek, but both Marquard and Windeknecht said the increased stress and demands placed on candidates today have made them reconsider the prospect of eventually putting their names on a ballot.
"I have thought about it, but it's probably not something I would ever do," said Windeknecht, who aspires instead to build his own campaign consulting firm. "I have seen the kind of toll that being a candidate takes on people first hand. We work 60 to 80 hours a week over here and the candidates do more than that."
The loss of privacy and the exposure to attack ads and voter vitriol have made Marquard re-evaluate, as well.
"It's a lot to give up. It's tough to do. It's tough on your family," he said of running for and holding office. "If I have kids, it will certainly make me less inclined to do it."
Hebert is hopeful both former students can turn to their common Ambrosian experiences as a way to become part of a solution to the contentiousness.
"I think at this level of academic inquiry, there is really a lot of common ground, even between people who disagree on policy issues," he said. "Because it's not about trying to posture and win an argument or drive home a point. It's about trying to have a deeper understanding of how things work, what things are all about.
"The issues that divide us politically are sometimes rhetorical, but sometimes very real. In the latter case, there may be no easy solutions, but true progress will depend on three things: mutual respect, deeper insights into the nature of the disagreement, and the ability to persuade rather than vilify one's opponents. I'd like to think the education we provide will help our students to contribute these elements to our political process."
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