Farmer, restaurateur earns seat at the table

Above: Sen. Steve Halloran with his wife, children and grandchildren.

At some point early in his term as president of the National Farmers Organization, Sen. Steve Halloran realized he was a political outlier in the group he had been elected to lead.

“The going joke internally was I was the token conservative in all of the organization,” he said.

The nonprofit, whose headquarters is located in Ames, Iowa, helps farmers market their grain, livestock and dairy. After he was elected to lead it in 1991, Halloran quickly had to learn to work with its 48 board members, each with competing loyalties and interests.

“You don’t have a board of 48 people and not have to have some level of compromise from time to time,” he said.

The same thing held true for Halloran then as it does now as a senator: “Compromise is OK as long as it doesn’t compromise your principles and the principles that you ran on.”

Halloran’s principles — fiscal restraint, minimal government, opposition to abortion — were shaped by his church, his family and a life centered on his family’s farm, he said.

His great-great-grandfather homesteaded near what is now Hastings, farming 1,500 acres with horses and mules. As a boy, Halloran helped his father farm the same ground.

Halloran attended Catholic elementary and high schools before earning a degree in management from Creighton University in 1970. He thought about attending law school but decided to take a year off and return to the farm. He ended up farming with his father for another 20 years.

After his term at the National Farmers Organization ended, he formed a web-based agricultural marketing company and served as membership director of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. His sister’s family started a stir-fry restaurant franchise in 2001 and, in 2003, Halloran became co-owner of several of the restaurants.

As an executive, Halloran said it has been difficult adjusting to the reality of the Legislature, in which no single person is responsible for making decisions. But so far, Halloran said, he has enjoyed the postgraduate-level instruction on the issues that come before his committees.

“You shouldn’t come into [the Legislature] thinking you know everything you need to know,” he said. “It’s an education.”

Whenever he has free time, Halloran and his wife, Ann, visit their children, Michael and Lindsey, and four grandchildren. Halloran remembers talking politics around the dinner table with his family when he was young, and he did the same with his children. Michael, who Halloran described as a political junkie, encouraged his father to run for senator and attended the swearing-in ceremony with his family.

“That was special,” Halloran said. “It was a great experience for everybody.”
Halloran said he is honored to be a senator and takes the responsibility seriously. At the same time, he said, he likes to use his wry sense of humor to defuse tense moments in committee hearings or floor debate.

“If you don’t have some occasional levity, we all get kind of caught up in being more important than we really are,” he said.

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