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Black to retire from Iowa Senate

Published: Monday, March 10, 2014 8:34 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, March 10, 2014 10:38 a.m. CST

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State Sen. Dennis Black (D-Lynnville) announced this morning to colleagues in the Iowa General Assembly that this, his 32nd year in the legislature, would be his last.

In a statement this morning, he told fellow legislators and members of the Iowa media he intends to retire at the end of his current term. He said he plans to devote his time to family and friends.

"Following ample consideration and pondering my professional responsibilities and commitments to family and friends, something had to give," he wrote. "I am fortunate to have an active, eventful, productive and busy life."

Black, 74, said he "thoroughly enjoyed" his service to the state. But, he realized that if he won re-election in November, he would be 79 years old by the time that term ended.

"I owe those years, God willing they come, to me and my family," he said. "Thus, I shall not be seeking a return to the capitol experience I have so dearly enjoyed."

Black said he has three books he is currently working on, all of which are already "well underway." He is also co-authoring a book with State Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) about the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa.

"Writing is my passion, and I hope to be able to take these responsibilities to completion," he said. "Add to this my Asian travels, spending time with family and friends, restoring unique furniture and a substantial amount of volunteerism towards natural resource protection and enhancement, and I shall still not be 'retired.'”

He said, frankly, he doesn't know the meaning of the word "for there is too much to do." He added, however, it's been "an honor beyond description to be a voice of the people in state government."

"I thank the citizens of Jasper and Polk counties for having faith in my ability to serve in what has been a joyful and humbling experience," he said. "I have always worked hard, taken the responsibilities very seriously and above all, done my best."

His counterpart in the Iowa House of Representatives, Rep. Dan Kelley (D-Newton), was among the first to respond to the news Monday morning.

"Senator Black's career and work in the Legislature have been inspirational to me. He's been very helpful in my work here at the Capitol," he said. "Most importantly, he's been a very good friend and I truly value his friendship."

Newton community leaders reflected both on Black's service to Iowa and Jasper County, as well as his efforts involving Southeast Asian trade and environmental conservation.

"Senator Black has served for a long time, and has done a wonderful job representing this part of Jasper County," Newton Development Corporation Executive Director Frank Liebl said. "His views on conservation have been very important to this area, and to Iowa. His concern for the environment has made him a leader in that area. And, with his ties to Taiwan, he has set Iowa up to be a strong trade partner in that region."

Mayor Mike Hansen said he was surprised by the announcement. However, he said Black's retirement will be "well earned."

"He's been quite the champion for the folks in Jasper County over the years, and he's done a superb job of representing our interests," he said. "He did a fantastic job on economic development issues over the years, and he was always out promoting Iowa all over the world."

Hansen called Black "a good friend," and said he would miss having him at the Statehouse. Hansen's predecessor, former Mayor Chaz Allen — who now serves as Executive Director of Jasper County Economic Development Corporation — also applauded Black's service.

"Senator Black was a partner throughout my terms as Mayor," he said. "From the speedway to wind energy, Senator Black was always there to help shepherd a project through the government's processes. I wish him the best with the next chapter of his life."

Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop sounded off with his appreciation, as well.

"Senator Black has been a consummate supporter of Jasper County and Senate District 15," he said. "We appreciate his dedication and lifetime of service. It will be a change, but I am excited to see what the future holds for Senate District 15 and its citizens. This should make for an exciting election between two fresh candidates."

During his announcement at the Statehouse on Monday, Black was asked what he considered his major accomplishments. His response related to economic development of the agricultural base of the state, and working to enhance Iowa’s position in commodity growth and development. 

“Iowa has solidified its position as a world leader in food production," he said. "Being No. 1 in the nation in the production of soybeans, corn, hogs, corn-fed beef, eggs and pigskins for leather production, has been an economic boon to the state’s economy.  When other states were ‘in the red’ with the deep recession starting in 2009, Iowa was one of two states in the nation with a healthy state surplus. The ag economy was our bedrock.”

Black acknowledged other accomplishments, including his role in authoring REAP, the nationally award winning natural and cultural resource program of Resource Enhancement and Protection. He also co-authored legislation in 1983 and 1984 to have the state acquire the east-west segment of the Rock Island Railroad in Iowa, now known as Iowa Interstate Railroad, which bisects Polk and Jasper counties.

“I knew the bankrupt railroad was going to be sold off in pieces, so I, along with two other legislators, several community leaders, and shippers along the line who collectively didn’t believe railroads were an antiquated thing of the past, went to Governor Branstad to obtain his support.”

The state purchased the right-of-way from Council Bluffs to Bureau, Illinois, for $15 million. The purchase “loan” was paid back to the state’s coffers by Iowa Interstate.

"Today the railroad moves much of Iowa’s agricultural production to barges on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and to transfer points for allowing other railroads to move shipping containers to the coasts and gulf ports for freighters to ship to countries around the world,” Black said.

His term will not expire technically until next January. However, the current legislative session is set to end in the next few weeks. He will continue to work with Iowa and Asian buyers and ag commodity suppliers.

Black said his involvement has been on a gratis basis, accepting that role as a responsibility of his position in state government.

“Folks think I’m rich off my international activities," he said with a laugh. "Little did they know that the late Representative Bell and me never sought or received personal payment for our years of work in enhancing Iowa’s economic foundation.”

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