JOHNSON COUNTY– Johnson County Supervisor Sally Stutsman has a long history of serving her communities; it is within that spirit that she hopes to takes a major step into a new and wider realm of public service.
Stutsman has announced her intention to run for the Iowa House in 2012. She decided to run after the state adopted a legislative redistricting plan that created House District 77, which includes all of Johnson County and has no incumbent representative.
“The opportunity presented itself, and I think this district appears to be favorable for a Johnson County Democrat,” said Stutsman. “It seems to better reflect the people of Johnson County.”
Stutsman said she likes the new district’s mix of urban and rural areas.
“There is a strong rural community, but also the vibrant urban areas,” she said. “We are very fortunate to live where we live.”
Stutsman didn’t always live in this area; she was born and raised in Fort Dodge, where she attended college before transferring to Iowa State University to earn a degree in sociology. That’s where she met Roger, an agricultural sciences student, long-time resident of Johnson County, and her future husband.
“How fortunate I was to meet and fall in love with someone from Johnson County,” said Stutsman. She and Roger have a farm west of Hills and south of Iowa City, a registered Black Angus cow-calf operation where they also raise feedlot cattle, and corn, soybean and hay crops. Also, her daughter-in-law has taken over the organic portion of the Stutsman farm, carrying on the business after Stutsman’s late son, Michael, lost his life in a combine accident in 2008.
Given her family’s background and occupation, Stutsman has a strong commitment to rural issues. But her tenure on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors– this year marks the start of her fifth term and 17th year– has taught her much about urban issues as well.
“I have learned so much as a supervisor,” she said, such as “building roads, funding for persons with disabilities, the management of a large number of personnel, and so many other issues. What I enjoy most is that every day is a different learning opportunity.”
Johnson County has been a good model for reasoned government, Stutsman said, in that the county has generally followed the adopted Land Use Plan, and has avoided some of the pitfalls and conflicts other growing counties have had. With the county’s mix of rural and urban populations, Stutsman has learned to appreciate the strengths of Johnson County, and said she will continue to support those strengths at the state level.
“I want there to be a strong rural presence in the district. We can’t forget how important agriculture is to this county, so we need to make sure farmers and farms can continue to do what they do best. That’s what has kept the Iowa economy going. But we are in such a great position to be leaders in biofuels, biotech industries, education– and not just K-12, but we have good higher education, good universities– we need to capitalize on all the things we do best. There is such potential here.”
Stutsman feels her tenure on the board in Johnson County venue has been the perfect experience to prepare her as a representative for even more Iowans– the 30,000-plus people who reside in the new 77th House District that encompasses much of Johnson County, primarily the portion west of I-380/Highway 218, but also the townships of Pleasant Valley, Lincoln and Fremont to the east. It also includes the townships of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Oxford, Clear Creek, Hardin, Union, Washington, Sharon, and Liberty, as well as the cities of North Liberty, Tiffin, Swisher, Shueyville and Lone Tree. It does not, however, include the community of Hills, closest to Stutsman’s home.
Stutsman said the issues for the people in the 77th District will be similar to the concerns of the Johnson County residents she has been elected to represent.
“I think property tax is always a concern,” said Stutsman. “The legislature has been focused on commercial property tax, and I think the whole system really needs to be looked at. I fear that it might be like a finger in a dyke– I’m worried that if we tweak something here, something else is going to break there.”
Stutsman said she also worries about the impact of steep tax cuts, concerned that officials will have the opportunity to look back on their decisions and think they were short-sighted.
Stutsman believes she can bring a sense of balance to those precarious discussions.
“I like the challenge of hearing both sides of something, and making decisions that are in the best interest of the people,” Stutsman said. “I know it’s going to be even more challenging on the state level. And it’s going to be tough dealing with more partisanship, but I feel it’s very important to look at where we can compromise.
“I admire people who are good statesmen,” she continued. “We may not always agree, but we are always better off when we can work together. I feel strongly that good government is compromise.”
If elected, Stutsman could put those compromise skills to the test, as the composition of Iowa’s 85th General Assembly could change dramatically, come election cycle 2012. According to the Legislative Services Agency, in the Iowa House, where Republicans have a 60-40 majority, there are now 14 districts with no incumbent. Twenty-seven House incumbents are now in districts with more than one incumbent. Democrats have a slim 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate, and there are just seven districts without an incumbent, including House District 77th where Stutsman looks forward to getting to know constituents. To do so, she plans to set up office hours, hold listening posts and attend a lot of small-town celebrations.
“Door-knocking will be a big part of it,” she said. “I intend to do a lot of one-on-one interaction. I’ve always had an open door policy.” As a county supervisor, Stutsman publicizes her home phone number and email address to make herself available to the public. She credits late County Attorney Pat White for helping develop that sensibility.
“Pat was a great mentor,” she said. “He had solid ideas on how elected officials should be accessible. He believed in the open records policy. I was fortunate that he was there when I was new to the board.”
As Stutsman begins her campaign, her platform reflects similar promises: balance, openness, fairness and sensible compromise.
“People get upset when their tax dollars are wasted,” she said. “So as an elected official, I need to make sure that the services work, and it’s what he people want. Government needs to be accountable, needs to be efficient, and needs to be run well.
“That’s what I can do; I listen to people and try to reach a common goal on issues because I care about Iowa and the people who live here.”
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