Former Houston CEO pins Iowa political bid on job creation12/4/2013
A 51-year-old retired Texas energy company CEO, who recently returned to his native Iowa to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate, says Hawkeye State voters will overlook the carpetbagger tag if he can make the case as a candidate with job-creating bona fides.
“I think what people care about here is having opportunities,” Republican Mark Jacobs said. “I think that the core problem I see in America today is a lack of good jobs.”
The West Des Moines Republican’s campaign features a five-point jobs plan: tax reform, improved education, reduction in government regulation, health-care reform and an expansion of domestic energy sources.
“When I look at the policies that we have been promoting in Washington, D.C., today, they have gotten in the way of the growth of the private sector,” Jacobs said.
In an interview, Jacobs, who had helmed Houston-based Reliant Energy, a Fortune 500 company, before retiring and moving to West Des Moines in August 2012, stressed his connections to Iowa.
“Iowa has always been at the core of who I am,” he said. “Our family has deep, deep roots in Iowa. I brought my family back to Iowa every year to vacation at Lake Okoboji. In fact, we’ve rented the same house for the last 24 years. It’s a five-bedroom, two-bath house, and this last summer, we had 28 of us.”
Jacobs’ family moved to Iowa in 1958 when his father founded a small business, A.B. Dick Products Company of Des Moines (now called Infomax Office and operated by his brother Steve).
A 1980 graduate of Roosevelt High School, Jacobs talked in the interview of working a night shift in the Hy-Vee deli during school and delivering newspapers.
“I owe everything to growing up in this state,” he said.
Jacobs said he is now retired. He did not dispute the point that he had not spent an adult, professional working year of his life as an Iowan.
“I had a chance to live my version of the American dream,” Jacobs said. “When I had the opportunity to retire a couple of years ago, it was easy for me to move back home to Iowa.”
Jacobs started as chief financial officer with Reliant in 2002. Prior to that, he worked for 13 years advising companies in New York and Houston on what he termed “strategic and financial matters.”
In the spring of 2013, Jacobs taught a business strategy class to graduating seniors at Iowa State University. He also founded the non-profit organization, Reaching Higher Iowa, to raise awareness of the need for improvement in Iowa public education.
Jacobs said the idea of entering the political world is an extension of public service.
Republican insider Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney who has been at odds with many social conservatives in the GOP over the direction of the party, is a Jacobs confidant.
“Doug’s a good friend,” Jacobs said. “I’ve asked Doug for advice.”
That considered, Jacobs said he also has spoken with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a conservative firebrand, about the Senate race.
Jacobs said he can reconcile the competing ideologies of Gross and King as he develops his own campaign strategy. In public-relations materials, Jacobs describes himself as a “strong conservative.”
One of the things I tried to do as a CEO is, I always tried to surround myself with people that had different points of view from myself and then create an environment where you could have a healthy dialogue about that,” Jacobs said.
In the 10-minute interview, Jacobs and Political Mercury delved into one major social issue.
Jacobs said he is “pro-life” on abortion but believes the procedure should be legal in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.
He would not say whether he thinks doctors who perform abortions or women who have them should be fined or jailed should lawmakers again criminalize abortion.
“I think how we can make the most progress on the pro-life agenda is to get people back to work,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs earned his Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1984 and a master’s degree in management with distinction from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., in 1989.
Jacobs and his wife, Janet, are members of the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines. They have three children: Clark, Christy and Sam. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.