Government

Newest Linn County supervisor Louie Zumbach hopes to be rural voice

Former state representative is the board's sole Republican

Louie Zumbach is the newest member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Photographed Jan. 21 at his farm in Coggon.
Louie Zumbach is the newest member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Photographed Jan. 21 at his farm in Coggon. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Louie Zumbach said he wanted to run for the Linn County Board of Supervisors years ago, but was persuaded to try for a seat in the Iowa House instead.

“The House was never on my radar,” he said. “But one day, I was pushing snow and my phone rang. It was Speaker (Linda) Upmeyer and she asked me to run for District 95.”

Zumbach went on to serve two terms in the House, from 2017 to 2019, as the Republican representative for District 95, which includes his home in Coggon, before running last year for county supervisor. He has also has served on the county’s planning and zoning board including as its chair, and was president of the county fair board.

“I just feel we weren’t given much attention anymore out here in the rural area and I wanted to see if I could change that,” said Zumbach. who won the open seat and now is the newest of the three-member Board of Supervisors. “Oftentimes, when I got calls (as a representative) it was more local. I enjoy fixing things for people and it was more local in the end and supervisors are more adept with that.”

A Coggon native and fifth-generation farmer, Zumbach plans to balance working the farm with being the District 3 supervisor, which the county considers a full-time job.

“I’m pretty much working all the time,” Zumbach said. “Farming is my full-time job not only as a business but a livelihood.”

Zumbach, the sole Republican on the board, joined Democrats Ben Rogers and Stacey Walker when he was sworn in Jan. 4.

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His District 3 seat includes Marion, Ely, Lisbon, Mount Vernon, Springville, Bertram, Waubeek, Whittier, Prairieburg, Coggon, Central City, Alburnett, Center Point, Walker, Troy Mills, Fairfax and Walford, plus the unincorporated rural areas of the county.

He succeeds now-former Supervisor Brent Oleson, who retired from the seat last year. Zumbach won the seat against longtime deputy sheriff and Center Point City Council member John Stuelke. Zumbach received 23,159 votes to Stuelke’s 20,978.

Zumbach said he would like the board to put more emphasis on the rural areas of the county.

“I want the people to know they can call somebody that can make a difference and will get back in touch with some kind of a result,” he said. “I’d like the roads in rural Linn County to get more attention. … I’d like the county to be more county-oriented instead of things that seem to be more national based, climate change type things.”

In November, Zumbach said one reason that made him want to run for supervisor was the issues surrounding a raise the supervisors took in early 2019, pushing the salary for the position over $115,000 a year, which Zumbach has previously said he thinks is too high.

Previously, when board salaries initially went over the six-figure mark, voters showed their anger by downsizing the board from five to three members in 2016.

“I do know, that in two and a half weeks (on the job), that I’m confident that when the board went from five to three, that was one of the biggest mistakes Linn County residents made,” Zumbach said in mid-January. “I think right now, the number of supervisors is more important than the salary. I wouldn’t have said that before.”

If he had it his way, Zumbach said, he would tie the population to the position so each supervisor would represent 30-35,000 people with a portion of those people being from Cedar Rapids and the other portion being from the smaller towns and rural areas.

He said that if that happened, he would want it “tied to a payscale” that wouldn’t rely on recommendations from a compensation board.

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“I think that would give better representation with less pet projects,” Zumbach said. “If you did that with seven supervisors, it could be considered a part-time job. … If the law were to change and go to seven, the salaries would no doubt come down, because you’re sharing the workload. … I’m still advocating that we are very generously paid. It’s service oriented and if you want to keep that, you wouldn’t have to pay as much.”

Though Zumbach acknowledged that he and his Democratic colleagues on the board may have political differences, he said working with Rogers and Walker so far has been a great experience.

“My colleagues have been more than fair to me,” he said. “I do think that most of the time we want to get to the same place, just a different way.”

Supervisor Walker said that despite the political differences between him and Zumbach, he appreciates people who run for office and want to serve their community. He said he hopes Zumbach understands the differences of the Board of Supervisors and the Iowa Legislature.

“Louie Zumbach is a good person. ... It hasn’t quite yet become clear what he intends to focus on and it’s still early in his tenure,” Walker told The Gazette. “There is no caucus here. We are all on the same team that has to work to make Linn County better.”

Walker added that Zumbach has made comments to the board as well about te job of supervisor being part-time.

“I know there was a big push from his district to reduce from five to three and I know he’s talked about wanting to add additional supervisors. So my hope is before he rushes to judgment about the nature of this work, he will give it a little time,” Walker said.

Supervisor Rogers said that Zumbach’s perspective as a farmer and former legislator will help the board look at issues with a different lens.

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“When you meet Louie, you can tell he is genuine in his desire to find solutions to help people and solve problems,” Rogers, who has served in the role since 2008, told The Gazette. “He has asked a lot of great questions about the county and as someone who was once new, I can attest there is a significant learning curve in learning about county government and the services we provide.”

Comments: (319) 398-8255; gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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