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Citizen legislator

SOLON– Earlier this year, legislative districts across Iowa were redrawn with many legislators finding themselves representing new territory and new constituents.
Jeff Kaufmann was one legislator so affected.
Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, represents the 73rd District, which now includes Solon and Lake Macbride.
District 73 also includes all of Cedar County, Morse and parts of rural Muscatine County. Now in his fourth term, Kaufmann admits his district has never been a “Republican stronghold,” with his native Cedar County split roughly 1/3 each to Republicans, Democrats and independents. While Cedar County independents tend to vote Republican, Kaufmann says he is in for a challenge as Johnson County independents tend to go Democrat.
A farmer and educator by trade, Kaufmann lives on a seven-generation Century Farm near Wilton. For the past 21 years, he has taught history and government courses at Muscatine Community College (MCC), and currently serves as a department chairman.
“College tuition has always been an issue for me as a legislator,” Kaufmann said. “Now, I’m living it up close and personal.” Two of his sons are enrolled at the University of Iowa (UI) while his youngest attends MCC.
As he gets to know his new territory, Kaufmann said two things immediately stood out to him.
“What I see here are signs of a stronger economy,” Kauffman said, which he attributes to being located in the corridor and in close proximity to the UI. Also, “having a large lake with a controversy (Lake Macbride) will be different.” Kaufmann was referring to the debate which came up during the last legislative session about what size boat motor should be allowed on the lake. He has been named co-chair of the Lake Macbride Interim Committee looking into the issue. Kaufmann emphasized that he is eager to listen to both sides and will not shy away from this or other controversial topics.
“I always jump in feet first, and everybody will be heard,” he noted.
Kaufmann keeps in frequent contact with his constituents through regular newspaper columns and email updates. During the recent debate over mourning dove hunting, Kaufmann asked his constituents’ opinions on the matter.
“It’s an empowering feeling,” Kaufmann said, of getting 200 emails on an issue. He uses those communications, from both sides of an issue and both sides of the aisle, to form his opinion if he doesn’t already have one. He is turning to his district again as the topic of lead shot comes up for discussion.
“Experts like Ducks Unlimited are opposed to using lead shot. That gives me pause,” Kaufmann said. He is torn on the issue, which would require hunters to use steel shot instead, at a higher cost. “My gut tells me to go with the ban. In the district I represent, hunting isn’t just a pastime, but also a family affair.”
Kaufmann is pro-second amendment and holds an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization which endorsed Nevada Senator Harry Reid (D) in the 2010 elections. He has however, run afoul of some gun groups such as Iowa Gun Owners (IGO) over his initial opposition to an “Alaska Carry” type law for carrying firearms. Under the Alaska model, anyone 21 or older, who may legally carry a firearm, can also carry it concealed without having to obtain a special permit.
“I believe individuals have the right to bear arms,” Kaufmann said, but “I can’t in good conscience vote for a bill that would give someone a firearm without some kind of background check.” He took flak earlier this year when an open microphone on the floor of the Legislature caught him making a joke about schizophrenics carrying guns.
While he regrets the comment, saying he could have made his point in a better way, he does have very real concerns about the possibility of mentally impaired people legally carrying guns.
Kaufmann followed the advice of the Democrat sheriff of Muscatine County and Cedar County’s Republican sheriff when he voted yes for Iowa’s Shall Issue gun permit law. He acknowledges that Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, a Democrat, is less than thrilled with the law as it currently stands. Kaufmann said there may be some adjustments to the law, based on Pulkrabek’s concerns in the next legislative session.
Also likely to be discussed again will be the “Castle Doctrine” bill also known as “Stand Your Ground,” which passed the Republican House but died in Senate Committee this past session. The bill would protect a homeowner acting in self-defense.
“It’s inherently wrong that an injured invader, or his family, can sue you,” Kaufmann said.
The Republican also expects a renewed push to bring property tax relief, particularly on commercial property, to Iowans. The effort died last session with Republicans and Democrats deadlocked. While both sides acknowledged there had to be some effort to back-fill revenue dollars the cities would lose, the process was a source of contention.
Kaufmann explained the legislature mandated that communities define their essential services, and devise a plan to cut non-essential services.
“Parks and libraries were the only things left as non-essential,” Kaufmann said. “You can’t balance a city budget on that.” The requirement was quickly pulled, he said, so as to not decimate the state’s libraries.
Additionally, Kaufmann added that a multitude of state and federal mandates have been placed on the cities, which can’t be pulled and necessitate the back-fill.
“We could end up breaking a Bennett (Cedar County town, pop. 344) with this.”
“I have no problem limiting the growth of property tax. I have no problem with a commercial tax rollback,” he said, pointing out Iowa has the second worst commercial property tax rate in the nation. Bolstered by support from small business owners, Kaufmann is confident “we’re on the right side of Main Street,” and anticipates the Republicans will “hit this hard and fast” in the next session. He acknowledged this would be in stark contrast to the last session, where the debate occupied the closing weeks of the extended session.
“I won’t be 100 percent satisfied. (Sen. Bob) Dvorsky won’t be 100 percent satisfied either. But, if it (tax reform) works, we’ll take the credit,” he said with a laugh, showing his trademark sense of humor.
A proud Republican, Kaufmann is known as one of the more bipartisan politicians in Des Moines.
“I will join with Democrats if I believe that together, we can make a bigger difference,” he noted.
It’s all part of what he calls “Cedar County common sense.
“Pragmatism trumps ideology, and no one person or party has all of the answers,” Kaufmann explained. People in small towns and rural areas typically do not care for the “inside baseball” aspects of politics, he said. They just want results.
Although his campaign for reelection won’t start until next year, he says his opponent (David Johnson, a Democrat from West Branch) has already been taking shots at him.
“Check me out, see what kind of guy I am,” Kaufmann said to his new constituents. He or his sons will be knocking on doors in the Solon area as he continues his efforts to get to know the people of the district.
“I want people to define who I am by talking to the people who know me,” he added. Kaufmann said he will give people several opportunities to talk to Republicans, Democrats and independents who support him. He also is willing to respond one-on-one if somebody wants to ask him directly about negative things they’ve heard.
“I wish they’d talk to me personally,” he said.
Kaufmann can be reached via email at jeff.kaufmann@legis.state.ia.us.