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UI senior to run for Iowa House of Representatives

BY BETH BRATSOS | JANUARY 24, 2012 7:20 AM

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Jake Highfill could become the youngest member of the Iowa Legislature.

The 21-year-old University of Iowa student said he honed his interest in politics during a high-school government class, and he is now seeking a Republican nomination for a Iowa House of Representatives seat, with plans to reduce the state budget and balance tax distribution. Highfill will run for the seat of incumbent Erik Helland, R-Johnston.

One main focus, he said, lies in reshaping alcohol regulations.

"There are laws that have been passed recently that directly affect businesses in Iowa, such as 'businesses can't deliver alcohol,' " he said. "As an employee, I know this actually affected Hy-Vee. If an old lady who needs [a] delivery ordered a bunch of groceries and a bottle of wine, we couldn't deliver that to her."

Highfill also volunteered with the organization Yes to Entertaining Students Safely, which supported keeping the Iowa City bar-entry age at 19 during the 21-ordinance vote in 2010.

Matt Pfaltzgraf, the organization's former campaign manager, said Highfill recognized the ordinance was an issue that resonated with many fellow UI students and did his part to help the cause.

"Jake was another concerned student who saw the results [of the ordinance] firsthand," he said. "… it pushed more people to house parties that are unregulated and where there's more of a chance for things to go wrong."

Highfill's youth would put him in the minority of elected officials in Iowa.

Raj Patel, the former UI junior who ran for and lost an Iowa City City Council seat last year, said he thinks college-age politicians are an under-represented population.

"Holding political office is an awesome responsibility," he said. "A lot of people get involved in city council elections who wouldn't be involved if it weren't for a young person. I think even older people want to see more young people running."

But Tim Hagle, a UI associate professor of political science, said a lack of experience can hinder younger people in a run for political office.

"People are usually going to want to see someone who has established themselves in something before running for office," he said. "Something that would cause voters to say, 'Yeah, that person would be a good representative for me.' "

Hagle said the possibility of a young person winning a political position arises when the person's name is known in the district before running or when the district is smaller. He mentioned Iowa Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who won in a district in which voters knew his grandfather — Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

"My advice for young people running for political office is to work really hard in terms of articulating a message and getting their names out," Hagle said. "Name recognition is critical."


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