Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren already had a bit of a reputation as a lawmaker who loves to court controversy. But the scandal that came to light last week is probably not what he had in mind, and we have a feeling that he is none too happy about all the attention it's receiving.
Here's why: It now appears that a section on the senator's official website claiming that "he has a degree in business management from Forbco Management School and attended the University of California at Riverside majoring in astro-physics, geo-physics, and mathematics" in fact referred to the one year he spent in college before dropping out, and to a management course he took once at a Sizzler (yes, the steakhouse chain) in Torrance, California.
Mr. Chelgren did not respond to our requests for a statement and his voicemail box is (unsurprisingly) full. But in a phone interview with NBC, when pressed about Forbco—which we now know is not a school at all, but a company that operated a Sizzler franchise—Chelgren became vague, remembering only that "the school [read: Sizzler] was created by Forbco Management," and that he "got a degree in hotel restaurant management." That "degree" was, in fact, a Sizzler management certificate, and likely not even that; Chelgren has been unable to produce documentation of any kind.
Chelgren remembered that he completed his course "around '88 or '89," although he said that "it's going back a ways, so I don't remember."
Luckily for skeptical journalists and citizens, the Republican Party has been more forthcoming, even gleeful. Also speaking to NBC, Ed Failor, a spokesperson for the Iowa State Republicans, described Chelgren's alleged alma mater as "kind of like Hamburger University at McDonald's."
Pressed over whether the senator had a college degree at all, Failor ultimately conceded: "That's not accurate."
Listen, no one is trying to disparage the man for working in food services, or for wanting to better himself in his profession. But Sizzler? Sizzler is the safety school of fun family dining. Not everyone is Chili's material, we'll grant you, but you hope a state senator could at least manage a Ruby Tuesday.
When NBC reached Mr. Chelgren on Wednesday, he also claimed that "this was not an attempt to inflate anything," that he wasn't even previously aware these statements were on his website, and that "I didn't concern myself about this, honestly."
All mention of Forbco was promptly scrubbed from his website.
Unbelievably, it was Chelgren himself who originally drew attention to his academic background when he unveiled his latest controversy-courting, no-hope-of-passing bill proposing a hiring freeze that would put a cap on the number of Democrats universities were allowed to hire. Explaining the necessity for the bill, Chelgren cited his time as a student butting heads with liberal professors—who we know now were actually Sizzler managers.
And while this all might seem bad for his career in politics, in the current climate, we're not so sure. Sizzler is at least an institution that President Trump is familiar with. Come to think of it, no one can overcook a steak quite like Sizzler.
It pains us to say this, but with his Sizzler management certificate in hand, Chelgren might go far.