BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison resident Jeff Kurtz has announced plans to run this year for the Iowa House District 83 seat.
Kurtz sent out a press release on Friday at about 11 a.m. announcing his “Lets Get Iowa Back on Track” kick-off event Tuesday at the Newberry Center in Fort Madison beginning at 5 p.m. The seat is currently held by Jerry Kearns who announced earlier this year that he would not be seeking re-election.
The district includes the cities of Keokuk, Fort Madison, Montrose, and the Southern and Eastern Townships of Lee County.
Kurtz said Friday afternoon he thinks it’s even odds on whether the Democrats can take back control of the legislature. He said short of that, the plan turns to the defensive.
“I’m hopeful we can,” Kurtz said. “I’m about 50-50 on it. It seems like a lot of people are really disgruntled and I don’t know how that translates to Nov. 6, we’ll see. If we don’t then we shift to defense and maybe slow some of this stuff down.”
Kurtz, currently will face Fort Madison Democrat Robert Morawitz, who’s also officially announced his run in a June 5 primary. Other candidates could surface as paperwork can’t be turned into the county until Monday, with a March 28 filing deadline.
Kurtz said what has happened and is continuing to happen with the pending tax bill has derailed the state, including a $1.2 billion tax cut bill and the possibility of renegging on commercial property tax backfill.
“The backfill issue might be the least of our problems,” he said. When you look at what they did with gutting Chapter 20 and underfunding education. If we pass something like this tax bill there’s going to be very little left. We’re already dipping into reserves and look what’s happened in Kansas and Oklahoma where they tried the same thing.”
Kurtz has been politically active in the past serving as President of BLET Local 391 for eight years and as Iowa State Legislative Board Chairman from 2004-2014.
“I’ve been politically active for quite a while. I was the head of our legislative department in Iowa and would make frequent trips to the legislature. I’ve been retired for more than three years and enjoying retirement and doing some work with labor federations,” he said. “But I got into some policy as I saw how hard it was for Iowa workers. When Jerry sprung this on us, I looked around and thought we had someone to run. I talked with some people and then sat on it for a couple weeks and decided if I’m ever going to do it, it’s going to be now.”
He said with his experience with the BLET Local 391, they were able to get things done, but it takes a lot of people to get it done.
“I need the voters help on this, that’s all there is to it. Then we need to follow through with what we say we are going to do,” Kurtz said. “In 10 years with the BLET, we got some things done, but it wasn’t easy. We got it done with people working together. With this current political climate and having one party in charge, I don’t see how we get anything progressive done.”
In his release on Friday, Kurtz said he wanted to help Iowans with jobs, economic development, and getting Iowa…back on track.
“I intend to focus this campaign on jobs and economic development, on fully funding education and essential public services, and restoring devastating cuts to our mental health and Medicaid system,” Kurtz wrote in the release. “We also must focus on rebuilding our communities by not only creating jobs but making sure the jobs created pay a decent wage and have good benefits.
“Iowa has been an education leader for generations, but Republicans seem determined to change that. Senate leaders just approved a paltry 1% increase in state funding which amounts to an average increase of only $67 per student. This will cause schools to close, classroom sizes to increase, good teachers to leave the state, and a generation of students will suffer for it.”
Kurtz said he is also motivated by the decision of the legislature to take away union rights for public workers.
“Under the current Republican leadership, Iowa is heading in the wrong direction,” he said. “In the last year we saw the state take away rights from teachers, police officers, correctional guards, firefighters, bus drivers, and other public-sector workers who are the backbone of our community. This is not the Iowa I know and love. Iowans deserve better.”
Kurtz was born in Fort Madison and has lived there most of his life. Jeff graduated from Aquinas High School in 1972. He attended Southeastern Iowa Community College and Iowa State University before joining the Santa Fe Railroad in 1974, first as a locomotive fireman, before being promoted to locomotive engineer in 1975.
Throughout his career, Jeff held multiple positions within the union, including serving as President of BLET Local 391 for eight years and as Iowa State Legislative Board Chairman from 2004-2014, where Jeff lobbied extensively for rail safety at both state and federal levels. Jeff retired from the BNSF Railroad in 2014 with almost forty-one years of service.
He has long been active with the labor movement in Iowa. Most recently he was a co-chair of the Lee County Raise the Wage Coalition which succeeded in passing a local minimum wage ordinance prior to the legislature’s preemption bill. He has been married to his wife Debbie for 38 years and they are the proud parents of three children, Adam of Fort Madison, Nathan of Maryland, and Mindy McPherson of Cedar Rapids. The couple also has four grandchildren.