He may hail from a small northern Jackson County community named Leisure Lake, but Pete Hird’s focus in his campaign for State House is all about work and the working people he hopes to represent. The 33-year-old electrical worker is an active volunteer in the small, dirt-road rural neighborhood of about 100 families, and recently decided to take his interest in legislative issues to the actual Legislature with a bid for House District 58, which covers Jackson County and parts of Jones and Dubuque counties. A number of Iowa leaders have high hopes for the young candidate, who they see as an excellent candidate that can win the Democratic-leaning district.
Hird’s Early Life
Hird grew up in rural Jackson County with his parents and one sister. His father worked in a factory and ran a small-time construction business. His mother went back to school while in her late 30’s for computer programming, and Hird notes he was one of the few kids who had a computer at home back in 1988.
His mother was also deeply involved in their community, the secretary for the property owners association. The area isn’t a very wealthy one, and got by on many donations.
“It instilled a lot of responsibility it puts in you as a citizen to be liable to what goes on in your own community,” Hird says of his mother’s work. “I remember when I was a little kid we went after a tornado in Maquoketa to help cut trees down. … I always still remember when the tornado hit Maquoketa, and my mom hauled us kids there in the car, grabbed a neighbor with a chainsaw and helped everyone out.”
After attending Maquoketa public schools, Hird got a degree in electronics from Northeast Iowa Community College. He graduated in 2002, which turned out to be a down time for the industry, and ended up getting into a different electrical program, sticking with electrical work ever since. Hird is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union and has worked on a wide range of construction projects in the Dubuque, Maquoketa and Platteville region.
Hird now serves on the board of directors for Operation New View, which works to reduce poverty by empowering low-income residents, and volunteers with a food bank in Dubuque. He lives at his house in Leisure Lake with his girlfriend and a couple dogs.
Motivation To Run
“I’ve always tried to educate myself fairly well on the issues that are going on, and it didn’t seem like anybody was stepping up to do it,” Hird says of what finally pushed him to a run for public office. He attends legislative classes through his union and has become dismayed at what he’s seen come out of the Iowa Legislature in recent years.
Hird’s particularly disappointed when he sees local children who don’t have the same educational options that he had growing up. He credits the apprenticeship program he went through as key to his successful job, and worries what economic opportunities everyone misses out on without those.
“There’s a lot of huge problems out there – this last year gave a magnifying glass into it,” Hird explains. “The battle with education seems like such a simple goal to educate our kids and then it turns into a huge fight. I’ve been to a lot of local schools talking to kids about the apprenticeship programs, and they don’t have the access that I had 18 years ago when I was in high school to take these extra-curricular or class programs, like carpentry and electricity and a house-building program. A lot of these schools, if they do offer something like it, they don’t offer anything new … they’re working with older parts that were donated … I think a lot of that is coming from the education cuts going on.”
He’s also cognizant of the setbacks public education has faced in the neighboring state of Wisconsin in recent years.
“I want to make sure teachers are protected,” Hird says. “There’s been a lot of attacks on them in Wisconsin, a nearby state, and I’d hate to see that happen here. It’s taken a real toll on their education system.”
Governor Terry Branstad’s recent controversial actions on mental health and Medicaid has also stirred opposition in Eastern Iowa.
“The closures of the mental health facilities are really going to affect most of Iowa,” Hird says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the privatization of Medicaid. Our Governor came out and said that just because a judge said we should throw out one of these programs doesn’t mean we should slow it down. There’s very few people in this state that believes that comment.”
The Campaign Ahead
Defeating a three-term incumbent is never an easy task, but Hird will be facing an unusual opponent. Representative Brian Moore used to be a Democrat, ran as a Democrat in a 2010 state senate primary race, and then switched loyalties to the Republican Party to run for the House seat and got swept into office in the wave year. Moore had a close race in 2012, then won again in 2014 when many Democrats failed to show up to the polls. The district itself contains 6,984 registered Democrats, 4,710 Republicans and a healthy 9,125 No Party voters.
“Brian’s a nice guy, but I really think we can’t follow-the-leader when our Governor starts doing the kind of things he’s doing right now,” Hird says of his general election opponent. “I think that’s what’s going on with the Republican Party … we need some opposition to some of the things going on right now.”
Hird says he’s found good support for his run so far, and has been attending local party meetings and has started up fundraising, though he notes he doesn’t come a wealthy family or area in the county.
He hopes his youth will provide a special appeal in his campaign. He’s noticed a large number of younger people taking interest in the Iowa Caucus this year and plans to work to keep them involved for 2016.
“As being a younger person I think I’m more directly involved in the community – since I don’t have any kids yet, I’m still able to get out and about with the volunteering I do and being on the board of Operation New View,” Hird says. “It allows me to talk to people. I’ve directly worked with the working people. They’re the ones I want to represent … that includes workers and farmers, there’s a lot of people struggling out there.”
by Pat Rynard