KNOXVILLE — State Rep. Greg Heartsill’s announcement last Wednesday night that he won’t seek a fourth term caught many folks in House District 28 off-guard, but some didn’t wait around listening to pins drop.

By Thursday morning, another Republican was off and running; Democratic applause Saturday meant the start of a horserace.

State Trooper Jon Thorup, a Republican from rural Knoxville, was quick to announce that he’ll seek Heartsill’s post in the June 5 primary. Ann Fields, a Democrat who once led William Penn University, made her intentions public Saturday afternoon at a political event in Pella.

Heartsill (R-Columbia) said in a news release that he is stepping down after six years to focus on his family as its members enter new stages in life.

“I have enjoyed building relationships with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Heartsill said. “That has made all the difference in getting legislation passed that is meaningful to Iowans.”

The folks vying to replace Heartsill met earlier this week and pledged to maintain a positive focus, Thorup said Wednesday.

"We had a very friendly and honest discussion," Thorup said. "I think that we both have a lot of respect for each other. We are both going to keep our campaigns on a positive note, focused on the issues that our state faces."

Thorup throws hat

Thorup, a political newcomer who was raised in Knoxville, said his relationships with law enforcement officials and others would serve him well as a legislator.

“A legislator is many times expected to be an expert on everything. That’s just not possible,” he said. “You have to look into topics you might not be knowledgeable about to begin with. Relationships in all fields of endeavor are pretty important for a legislator.”

Thorup said mental health and public safety are among his top concerns. He also spoke Thursday morning about the growing opioid crisis in Iowa.

“It’s just one of several public safety issues. I don’t think we have a great grip on how big a problem it is,” Thorup said. “We need to do all we can to prevent it from spreading.”

The state’s mental health crisis and its effect on schools also concerns Thorup.

“The earlier in a person’s life that we can recognize and treat any mental health concerns, the better the chances that they can live a happy and productive life.”

Thorup said his experience as a trooper would be an asset if he is elected. Serving on the House Public Safety Committee, as Heartsill has, would appeal to him, he said.

“There are more and more preventable deaths on Iowa’s roads,” he said. “Iowa has hundreds of unsolved homicides. We need to get as prepared as we can in the case of a terrorist act or a school shooting.”

State law allows troopers and other public servants a 30-day leave of absence prior to both primary and general elections, Thorup said. If he is elected, the state would be required to

give him a leave of absence during the session, after which he’d return to his job with the Iowa State Patrol, he said.

Heartsill said he’s known the trooper through his role on the public safety panel.

“I have had numerous ride-alongs and discussions about public safety issues with him,” Heartsill said. “Mr. Thorup has dedicated his life to public service and this would be a natural extension of that service.”

Thorup told county Republicans convening Saturday morning (see story, Page 8) that, if elected, he’d do all he can to provide state help and Knoxville city leaders work to develop the Veterans Administration campus.

Fields joins field

Fields, who lives south of Knoxville, told the Red Rock Social Justice Advocates that Heartsill’s announcement signals a time for change.

“We can’t think about the government being the center of Iowa,” Fields said. “We need to think about the people as the center of Iowa.”

Fields said she’d considered running for office through the years, but a trip to the capital last week inspired her move. Cuts funding for education, water quality and mental health should concern all Iowans, she said.

“These are issues we can’t just cut funding for and think that they’re going to get better,” she said.

Fields said she was a farm wife until the farm crisis of the 1980s, when she began studying agriculture at Iowa State University. She said she was instrumental in founding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU and, if elected, will fight to restore its funding.

“We really need to talk about how to make farming sustainable and profitable,” she said. “We’ve lost over half of our topsoil over the past 20 years. We cannot continue that.”

After earning her Ph.D in 2001, Fields joined William Penn, eventually serving five years as its president. She returned to teaching in 2013 and will retire this May, she said.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” Fields told the crowd in Pella.

“You might be overqualified!” replied Linda Wormley of Newton.

Fields has been a board member of the state’s Family Planning Council for 10 years and supports funding for Planned Parenthood. She opposes a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. It would give Iowa the strictest anti-abortion law in the nation and would be unconstitutional, she said.

“It’s just setting Iowa up to spend millions of dollars that we don’t have in a legal battle,” she said.

Her husband, Lanny, is a retired after a career as a social worker with the state Department of Human Services. Fields said she supports the restoration of collective bargaining rights for state workers and teachers. She also supports increasing the minimum wage in Iowa to between $12 and $15 per hour.

“We need to look at a living wage,” she said. “If people are paid more, they will spend more, we will have more taxes and we can provide better services.”

Looking ahead

Fields said Saturday that the political landscape is divided and hopes the District 28 might break the mold.

“We have to promote, starting here in Marion County, what’s best,” she said, noting the need to change the divided political landscape. “It’s not what’s wrong with everybody else. We have to get on the same page.”

Candidates have until Friday to enter the race for the June 5 primaries.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at pfinan@journalexpress.net.

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