Mertz fought for agriculture during legislative career
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 04/22/2010 9:07 AM
OTTOSEN, Iowa — During her 22 years in the Legislature, Rep. Dolores Mertz said there has been no stronger advocate for agriculture.
"Agriculture is not a political thing," she said. "With me it's a passion, and I tried to do the best I could for agriculture. I've said it hundreds of times, 'Ag was, is and will always be the foundation of Iowa's economy, and we need to respect that industry.' "
Mertz served on the House Agriculture Committee for 22 years, chairing the committee the past four years. She is the first woman to hold the position. She was on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Subcommittee for 20 years.
Mertz, who will be 82 in May, isn't seeking re-election. It was a difficult decision.
"I think you know when it's time," she said. "I'd get up in the middle of the night, and I kept a pro and con list on my desk. When the cons started getting longer and longer, I knew that was telling me something."
House District 8, Mertz's district, includes Kossuth County south of Highway 18, all of Humboldt and Pocahontas counties and three townships in northwest Webster County.
Mertz was a Kossuth County supervisor for five years prior to her legislative career. When her husband, H.P. "Pete" Mertz, died of a heart attack in 1983, she was appointed to fill his seat. She and 19 men applied for the post. She then ran for re-election for the remaining years of the term and ran unopposed for a second term.
"Twenty-seven years in public service is a long time," Mertz said. "I'm glad I could do something for my state, my county and my people."
Mertz has seven children, Peter, Mary, David, Ann Marie, Helen Kay, Janice and Carol. She and her sons farm at Ottosen and raise hogs, corn, soybeans and oats. One daughter lives in Algona, and the others are spread from Louisiana to Michigan. She has 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
"When my husband died, my second to the youngest daughter was in college, and my youngest was a sophomore in high school," she said. "It was challenging. We went through the crisis of the 1980s, and I got two through college by myself."
Mertz's reputation as a fighter came early in life.
"I was a 26-week baby," she said. "I weighed 1 pound and 3 ounces at birth. My grandmother tended me night and day. To warm me up, she put me on a cookie sheet and stuck me in a corn-cob heated warming oven. I guess that's why I'm such a tough bird."
Looking back on her legislative career, Mertz is proud of her work to establish an ag drainage well demonstration site at Gilmore City. She is also pleased of her work with then-Rep. Hubert Houser, now a senator, to create the Empowerment program, which provides education funding for preschool children and their parents.
She worked with establishing the underground storage tank fund, and she inserted language in the gambling bill that created a county endowment fund so counties that don't have casinos can get some of the funds generated by those facilities.
"Working to get money to close ag drainage wells has been my mission," said Mertz. "They're not all closed, but we keep working on that."
Mertz was instrumental in getting the Council of State Governments to create State Ag Rural Leaders. The organization includes all state agriculture committee chairs and ranking members.
Mertz enjoys the legislative process as long as legislators let it work.
"If you don't let it work, it's no good for anybody," she said.
Mertz is a Democrat, but she has tried to work with all legislators to find solutions.
"That's how you get good legislation, and that's what people expect," she said.