In what might be described as a Christmas miracle, a Democrat has stepped up to run in the January 6 special election to represent Iowa House district 4. The vacancy arose when State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last month.
John Buntsma is the first Democrat since 2008 to contest the Iowa House district covering most of Sioux County (scroll down for a detailed map). Of the 100 Iowa House districts, this is the most Republican, with only 1,498 active registered Democrats, 13,279 Republicans, and 3,555 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. GOP presidential candidates routinely top 80 percent in Sioux County, and Governor Terry Branstad got about 91 percent of the votes there this year. In a statement I’ve enclosed below, Buntsma said he is running because “It is important for all of us to have choices. I felt that the voters should have more than one choice.” Good for him. I would love to see Democratic candidates compete in every Iowa House and Senate district, no matter how hopeless the race may appear.
I haven’t seen any detailed background on John Kooiker, the “military veteran, family farmer and retired postal service worker” who won a Republican nominating convention in House district 4. A short press release noted that Kooiker “heavily emphasized his social conservative beliefs,” which helped him secure the GOP nomination on the third ballot. That probably makes him a pretty good fit for the district. Alons was one of the most outspoken social conservatives in the Iowa House Republican caucus.
After the jump I’ve enclosed two press releases containing background on Buntsma. Note the difference between the version circulated by the candidate himself and the shorter release from the Iowa Democratic Party. I’ve often heard Democratic candidates complain that party types warn them against speaking their minds on potentially controversial issues. In a race like this, what difference could it make to downplay Buntsma’s beliefs on immigration, the minimum wage, or the exemption casinos received from Iowa’s public smoking ban?
Press release distributed by John Buntsma:
John Buntsma seeks seat in Iowa House — District 4
ORANGE CITY – John Buntsma is the Democratic candidate for Iowa House District 4. A special election will be held January 6 to fill the seat of the late Representative Dwayne Alons.
Buntsma, known across the county and state for his volunteer work with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life events, works at Staples Promotional Products in Orange City. He spent many years as general manager and editor of several Midwestern newspapers, including The Dayton Review, The Canton Pilot (KS), The Sioux County Capital-Democrat in Orange City, and The Le Mars Daily Sentinel.
Buntsma, who is familiar with the Iowa House and Senate because of his work with the American Cancer Society, believes that some of the major issues facing the state are jobs and the economy. He is also interested in education, health care reform, infrastructure issues and immigration.
Born in the Netherlands, Buntsma and his family immigrated first to Canada in the 50s, and then to Boone IA. He spent much of his childhood in a single-parent family, his mother struggling to make ends meet. In fact, one local resident “had the misguided impression that we would be better of if we were deported,” said Buntsma. Thankfully, he said, that process was stopped.
He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in ’67. He would like to see immigration dealt with “in a fair and equitable way.”
Buntsma attributes much of his success to his educational opportunities at Boone High School, Bemidji State College (MN) and several other colleges, including Iowa State University. He doesn’t want Iowa to slip in providing quality education to its young people, he said.
He would like to see smoking banned in Iowa casinos, and more funding for tobacco control. And he believes that the minimum wage should be increased gradually, over the course of a few years.
Buntsma is a fiscal conservative, he said. “I think we all need to be fiscal conservatives, spending wisely. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in the state and its people.”
Buntsma is running for the House seat because he was asked by a number of people to do so. “It is important for all of us to have choices,” he said. ” I felt that the voters should have more than one choice.”
District 4 includes all of Sioux County except four townships in the extreme northeast section of the county: Sheridan, Grant, Lynn and Floyd.
Buntsma and his wife Cheryl have one daughter, Katie. He and his family have been a vital part of Trinity Reformed Church and the Orange City Tulip Festival. Buntsma has also been an active member of the Orange City Public Library board, the Orange City Arts Council and the Downtown Visioning Committee.
Iowa Democratic Party press release, December 22:
Buntsma to Seek HD 4 Seat
Orange City – John Buntsma of Orange City received the Democratic nomination for House Distirct 4 on December 18. A special election will be held on January 6 to fill the seat of the late Representative Dwayne Alons who passed away in early December.
Buntsma was born in the Netherlands in 1952 and moved to the U.S. in his childhood. He is a graduate of Boone High School and received a BS in Mass Communication from Bemidji State College in 1974. Since that time, he has been employed as general manager and editor of several Midwestern newspapers, including The Dayton Review, The Sioux County Capital-Democrat, and The Le Mars Daily Sentinel. Buntsma has been employed by Staples Promotional Products in Orange City since 1997.
Buntsma spent much of his childhood in a single parent family and believes a solid education afforded him opportunities to get ahead. “We must continue to fund Iowa schools-particularly our rural schools-to ensure our children get the best preparation for adulthood,” Buntsma said.
Buntsma and his wife, Cheryl, have been married for 26 years and have one daughter, Katie. He is a long-time volunteer for the American Cancer Society. In addition, he has been active with the Orange City Tulip Festival, the Orange City Arts Council, the Dutch Front Committee, the Downtown Visioning Committee and the Orange City Library Board where he has held executive office. Buntsma and his wife attend Trinity Reformed Church where he has served as a Sunday School teacher, missions committee member, Wednesday night children’s worker, deacon, and elder.