BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
KEOKUK – Putting the county back on solid economic footing and overcoming the delineation of county are top priorities for an ISP correctional officer currently seeking a seat on the Lee County Board of Supervisors.
James Steffen, a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps, the United States Army, and the Iowa Army National Guard, is running for the District 3 seat being vacated by current supervisor Don Hunold, who said earlier this year that he would not be seeking re-election to the seat. Steffen said he’s disheartened with economic conditions in the county, although he doesn’t lay all the blame at the feet of county elected and economic development officials.
“I don’t know that we’re effective there at all,” Steffen said. “They’re going to tout the fertilizer plant as a success, but we got stuck with that. I was against that facility just for the amount of money the state put in down here, which I think was close to $1.5 billion, for 163 jobs? That is having a huge effect on the state budget right now.”
Steffen said Lee County was not the first choice of Orascom, but the other larger communities in Iowa, such as Davenport had enough money to drive them out.
He said the divide between Keokuk and Fort Madison also must be dealt with and remains one of the biggest hurdles to overall growth in the county.
“Whatever it is behind the scenes that is keeping us from getting industry and technological jobs has to be dealt with,” he said. “There’s that friction between Fort Madison and Keokuk that hasn’t been resolved and we’ve lost numerous companies from coming. I think it’s got to be settled one way or another. I hear the state’s looking at it, too, and at some point, it may be that no one gets to decide because they may not get a chance.”
A Keokuk High School graduate, Steffen pointed to the lost effort with Winnebago after Fruehauf left the area and before Siemens came into the area.
He said with the county putting $200,000 annually into the Lee County Economic Development Group budget, we should be attracting more businesses.
“We have to attract manufacturing and newer technology,” he said. “Our employment rate is 5.4% and it wasn’t that long ago that we had the highest unemployment rate in the state. It’s getting better, but it can get a lot better. We’ve got to get better paying jobs in the area. Most of the people here are underemployed and they just aren’t making enough money. We’ve got people off the rolls that don’t count in that unemployment percent, and then we’ve got people that are never going to work but you’ll have that problem everywhere.”
Steffen ran for the Iowa House of Representatives in 2012, which was his first attempt at running for office, but said he took a break after that run, and this is the first time since then that he’s put his name on a ballot.
He’s a firm believer that education should be out of federal hands, although he admits he won’t have a lot of pull there as a supervisor.
“I’ve always advocated that education control should be local.” he said. “I don’t think the federal government should be involved in curriculum. What they are teaching in other areas of the country may not be the best thing to teach here. Right now they have these standardized tests and we’re teaching to pass those tests at the expense of other curriculum and that isn’t right.”
He said education should be an endeavor where parents and teachers get together and have a say in how things should be taught.
“They don’t have a say now. We need to get the federal government out of it and give control back to local communities and the state.
Steffen and his wife Diana have four children James, Darian, Jared, and Tamsen and are lifelong residents of Lee County. After graduating from Keokuk High School in 1983, he went straight into the U.S. Marine Corp and Active Army before going back to school at Southeastern Community College and completing his degree at SCC in 2008. He shared his graduation party with his oldest son, James, who graduated from Central Lee the same year. He’s also a veteran of the United States Army and the Iowa National Guard.
Steffen has always taken his oath to his country and state as one of his highest responsibilities and is one of his proudest accomplishments. He’s also been actively involved with the Salvation Army and is a founding member of the committee to bring RiverFest back to Fort Madison and has worked at the festival since its return.
He’s a member of the Republican Party and is a member of the Des Moines Township Fire Department and the Cowboy Country Church in Wayland, Missouri. Steffen, his daughter Darian, and grandchildren enjoy riding, showing, and working their American Quarter Horses.
Steffen said in a press release for his candidacy, he’s always maintained duty to his country and state, but now, his county is of the highest importance and he will bring that conviction to the office of County Supervisor. He believes that the government should be more limited in scope, transparent, and more responsive to the people and that Lee County can become a better place to raise our children and grandchildren by improving employment opportunities and bettering our education system.