BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
CORALVILLE – A 2009 Fort Madison High School graduate is seeking a state senate seat in Iowa’s 37th district which encompasses mostly Johnson and Cedar Counties.
Eric Dirth, son of Fort Madison Middle School Principal Todd Dirth, announced this week that he’s seeking the seat being vacated by 22-year veteran state senator Robert Dvorsky. The Burlington native has said he will not be seeking re-election. The seat is now open and is being contested by three newcomers to Iowa politics, 26-year-old Democrat Zach Wahls and 60-year-old Janice Weiner, who’s spent more than 2 decades as a foreign service diplomat and former school board member.
Dirth, a Democrat, who is in his final year of law school at the University of Iowa, said Fort Madison helped shape his values and he wants to carry that into the state legislature.
“It’s a great experience and it taught me about the beauty and quality of a smaller Iowa environment and the value of a public education that supported me and helped me define who I want to be,” he said Wednesday.
Dirth moved to West Point in 8th grade and attended Fort Madison public schools. He had attended a private school when he was growing up near Waterloo and said he was a little intimidated about going into the public system.
“There was a little apprehension on my part,” Dirth said. “In 8th grade my dad had just started at the FMMS, but I was welcomed into the community. I played every sport. My cross country coach Brian Mendez invited me to join the cross country team and I did that, and he became one of my closest mentors.”
Dirth said Mendez recently wrote a letter of recommendation that will help Dirth pass the Iowa Bar exam.
“Fort Madison is one of the most beautiful places in the state. With the picturesque Mississippi River and Rodeo Park, it’s just a beautiful community and it shows what smaller communities in Iowa have to offer,” he said.
A committee was formed just last week prior to announcing his run for the district seat. Dirth said two of his main issues is the environment and water quality, and the ballot initiative which would give voters a say in laws that are being passed at the capitol.
A ballot initiative is a form a direct democracy, where citizens through a signature process, can put laws on an election ballot and determine if they stay or become laws. Dirth said he favors instituting ballot initiative language in the Iowa code because it gives Iowa voters a voice in the process.
“That gets to the heart of why I’m running,” the 26 year old said. “Iowa is best when we are leaders. There are always stories about Iowa leading the way and the nation in education and other criteria, and I believe that starts at the local level. True grassroots has to encompass everyone, not just one legislative body telling everyone what they are going to do. It’s not uncommon, legislatures don’t like it because it limits power. Voters have the ability to say they want it and it means giving voices back to local Iowans and I trust them.
“How are to move forward if the legislators set ceilings on what we can do? We need to empower local communities to do more and engage those local people so their voices are heard. That’s how democracy is supposed to happen, and it’s just not right now.”
Dirth is also a proponent of environmental stewardship.
According to a release on Wednesday announcing his candidacy, Dirth calls for action to address the water quality crisis in the state, including funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The fund was approved by voters eight years ago yet remains unfunded to this day. He also calls for real, substantive action to combat climate change because it is the “single greatest challenge that all future generations of Iowans will face.”
Dirth has worked at the Office of the Attorney General of Iowa, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and at BrownWinick, a Des Moines-based business law firm. Before law school, Dirth earned his Master of Arts in Environmental Advocacy from James Madison University, where he was an instructor of communication.
On January 22nd at 6:00 PM, Dirth is hosting his first campaign event, a canned food drive at Coralville Public Library in meeting room B. Community members are invited to stop in to meet Dirth and support the Coralville Community Food Pantry.
He lives in the Iowa City/Coralville area and teaches Catholic education at St. Patrick’s Parish. More information about Eric Dirth and his candidacy can be found at dirthforiowa.com and on Facebook and Twitter at @dirthforIowa.