SOLON— Last year’s redistricting process for Iowa State Representatives led to several changes from new districts being created to re-aligning existing ones. House District 73 is one that changed and now includes Solon, Lake Macbride, Morse, all of Cedar County and parts of rural Muscatine County. Four-term Representative Jeff Kaufmann introduced himself to the district in anticipation of a reelection bid this November. Earlier this year however, Kaufmann decided instead to leave the house at the end of this year’s session.
Kaufmann’s son Bobby hopes to fill that seat and usher in a new era of cooperation in Des Moines.
The younger Kaufmann, 27, owns a farm in rural Cedar County where he raises organic hogs, cattle and sheep in addition to maintaining a row crop operation. He also has two small businesses, one in steel recycling the other in minor construction and demolition work. In addition to his entrepreneurial pursuits, he has had a life-long interest in politics, one he blames on his dad.
“Dad turned off the cartoons and made me watch ‘Meet the Press,’” Bobby said, with the trademark Kaufmann smile. From political shows on TV, he progressed to knocking on doors for his preferred candidates by age eight. He also would be seen holding signs for candidates along Interstate 80. In college, both at Muscatine Community College and at the University of Iowa, Bobby was heavily involved with the College Republicans and was elected the State Chairman of the College Republicans.
Kaufmann credits his time as the chair for teaching him “the art of politics and the importance of working with the other side. You have to meet in the middle.” During his time at the University of Iowa, College Democrats and Republicans often held joint events. “We still strongly disagreed, but became friends,” he said. Kaufmann said this reinforced for him the need for bipartisanship.
After his dad had been elected to the House, Kaufmann went along and clerked for him for six years, an opportunity he said allowed for a large role in meeting with members from both sides of the aisle.
With this background, Rep. Kaufmann turned to his son when the time came to find a replacement.
“Dad said he was ready (to step down), and said I was ready (to take on the challenge), so here I am.” He said he’s had a wonderful reception so far knocking on doors and attending community events throughout the district.
“I’m hearing ‘good for you!’ a lot, it’s been overwhelmingly positive.” Kaufmann said he’s noticed an ongoing trend as he visits with people. “They want to see you, to talk to you, and hear you, and to be listened to. I will leave no stone unturned in this district.” He added he plans to knock on doors two to three times just to prove that he’s willing to listen, even if the person is voting for his opponent, Democrat Dick Schwab. “I will represent all voters.”
His campaign officially kicked-off in March and he figured recently he’d visited over 2,000 households, and counting. One of his primary messages is that “on day one (of the next legislative session), everybody in the district comes first, that’s 11 towns in three counties.”
Previous sessions, including this year’s time in the capitol resulted in little legislation being passed, and some major issues stalling-out again, locked-up in partisan bickering between a Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate. Kaufmann hopes to change that environment.
“I’m not going to be overwhelmed by the building. I’m going to walk in there knowing the representatives, knowing how to write and pass a bill.” In other words, he feels his experience will give him an edge over other freshmen new to the capitol and new to the legislative process. Kaufmann says he’ll be able to hit the ground running.
Kaufmann has a platform of job creation, protecting the family budget, an emphasis on education and supporting agriculture, “Iowa’s bread and butter.” In order to introduce him to the district and let the voters decide for themselves, Kaufmann was asked about several topics which have been debated in the last two sessions.
Property Tax Reform has been a contentious issue with both sides pushing plans, yet not reaching an agreement. “It’s a travesty that little to no reform was able to go through. I am sick and tired of the state kicking the bucket down the road. I don’t see a lot of bold moves, I see timidity,” Kaufmann said. The lack of reform hurts small businesses, farmers and homeowners and he wants to completely reform the tax system in Iowa. First he said it would be necessary to analyze how tax dollars come in as well as how and when they go back out, not looking at just the pot of money; but how the pot was established in the first place. Ultimately, he said, the tax burden on all three classes is too high and hampering all.
Second amendment issues such as a push for “constitutional carry” and passage of stand your ground laws drew headlines with legislative efforts to lessen restrictions on lawful gun owners being stone-walled. County sheriffs such as Johnson County’s Lonny Pulkrabek stand opposed to the “shall issue” gun permit mandate which replaced “may issue,” giving sheriffs more discretion. Kaufmann said no area of government law is flawless, acknowledging concerns of people like Pulkrabek. He believes in the second amendment and said law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise it.
Looking at the various debates, Kaufmann said, “people tend to pick out one or two cases and make it an over-arching issue, poisoning the pot.” Regarding stand your ground, Kaufmann wants a clause for civil protection if a gun is used in self-defense in a situation where a person breaks into a residence intending harm.
On “constitutional carry” he said he likes it in theory, but is very cautious of what the law entails. Kaufmann added he would want to see the meat of the bill before commenting, and added it is often easy to simply support or not support a bill several pages in length often containing provisions with unintended consequences.
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was debated in the last session with a stated goal of reform. Kaufmann pointed just down the road for a big reason why. “Coralville is the poster child for financial piracy,” he said. The city has come under fire for luring businesses away from Iowa City and for controversial uses of TIF. Kaufmann has a problem with how TIF is used, saying, “(it) pits citizens’ tax dollars against their own businesses, and when the back-fill (of revenue by the state) doesn’t happen, it’s the people who are asked to bail them out or cover the non-existent funds. It’s not something an informed citizen would support.”
Kaufmann calls for sunsets (expiration dates) and laws against misuse of TIF.
“I actually understand TIF. TIF has values and advantages, but needs reform back to its roots, back to its original intent.” While TIF has been beneficial in some cases, in general Kaufmann said it has become a tax eating monster.
Same sex marriage has been a hot-button topic reaching all the way to the White House. As for Iowans, Kaufmann said, “one thing should happen: voters should vote. It’s a travesty that one person (Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal) is holding up a vote with passionate people on both sides. Our voices, on both sides of the issue, for and against, are not being heard. It should be put to a vote.”
His campaign got off to a rocky start with some who disagree capitalizing on a West Branch Times article in early April about a public intoxication charge and deferred sentence against Kaufmann. Bloggers for the progressive Blog for Iowa and other websites discovered Kaufmann had racked up several moving violations including speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, and operating a vehicle without registration. This led to some questioning his ability to represent the area in Des Moines.
Kaufmann did not shy away from his record and offered the following statement: “Over the last 12 years I have been pulled over once or twice a year for seat belt, speed, etc. They were stupid mistakes and I have paid my fines for them. They have made me an extremely cautious and conservative driver today. I have not received a moving violation in four years and all seven of my vehicles and trailers are now updated yearly and on-time.” He added, “the best indicator that I have learned my lesson is that recently my local police chief, Tim Leathers of Wilton, and the state-wide respected Cedar County Sheriff, Warren Wethington, have enthusiastically endorsed my candidacy.”
As for the public intoxication charge, which some have taken to exploit and even exaggerate, again Kaufmann was forthcoming about the circumstances. He was at a private birthday party for a business partner at a downtown Iowa City bar. “One place, one seat, the entire night except for my unfortunate incident. As I was trying to go to the bathroom (I wasn’t leaving yet) I got shoved into another guy, a complete accident, a product of a packed room. I don’t think you could even classify it as a shove because we were complete strangers. He turned around really fast and his whole body weight was coming toward me, shoving me into another man.” That individual accused Kaufmann of trying to pick a fight and complained to a bouncer who then escorted Kaufmann outside where an Iowa City police officer happened to be standing.
“I told the cops my story, but they said they have a firm policy of believing bouncers over a random person. They were extremely cordial to me and I was extremely cooperative. But, they said that since I was slightly over the legal limit (.11, the legal limit for intoxication is .08), and that they had been told I was causing trouble; they had to give me a public intoxication ticket.” Out of fear and uncertainty he pled guilty to the charge. “After talking with my lawyer, he spoke to the judge and explained the circumstances.” The result was the deferred judgment which includes probation. He said he wasn’t angry or surprised his record had come up and added he was willing to deal with it at face value.
Kaufmann said Schwab has promised to run a clean, positive campaign, and so will Kaufmann who asked his supporters to remain civil. “People are getting sick of the ugliness of politics. They’re getting tired of politicians’ public lives being the subject of the campaign over the issues. If the focus is on positive campaigns talking about the issues and working together once elected, you would see more efficient government.”
Kaufmann believes a reverberation would be sent across the state if Johnson County would help elect a Republican, either him or District 77 candidate Steve Sherman of North Liberty. “What’s wrong with having a voice from both sides?” Kaufmann asked. “What’s wrong with having a different perspective?” He noted there are seven Democrats in Des Moines from Johnson County currently, and he wants an opportunity to show that diversity of thought is a good thing.
A life-long Republican, he describes himself as, “an open-minded, pragmatic Republican willing to listen to everyone, willing to do the hard work, and not beholden to the party.”
“You get what you see. My word is my bond, write it in stone, put it in the bank, it’s going to happen.” Kaufmann also made another promise, “I guarantee I’ll be here (in Solon) so much you’ll think this is my hometown.”