Elections

Win or lose, Sturgill wants his campaign for U.S. Senate to do good

Jerry Sturgill talks money, incumbency

Jerry Sturgill, the Idaho Democrat running for U.S. Senate, talks at a fundraiser Sept. 28, where Idaho jazz musician Curtis Stigers played and where donors also supported Interfaith Sanctuary.
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Jerry Sturgill, the Idaho Democrat running for U.S. Senate, talks at a fundraiser Sept. 28, where Idaho jazz musician Curtis Stigers played and where donors also supported Interfaith Sanctuary.

When most politicians talk about running government more like business, they usually focus on reining in spending.

Balancing budgets are important to lawyer, businessman and Democrat Jerry Sturgill, the Twin Falls native who is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Crapo.

But there’s a better way, says Sturgill, who today is managing director of Denver-based financial advisory firm Headwaters Merchant Bank. He learned that lesson when he turned around a struggling armored car service company, he says.

“For a company, profitability is more a function of productivity than it is pinching pennies,” said Sturgill.

For government, “productivity leads to economic activity, which pays down the national debt,” he said. But Congress over the past five years has not been productive and has not encouraged productivity in the private sector.

Sturgill says instead of raising money for attack ads, he’s steering money to groups solving Idaho problems.

Sturgill, 63, saw an opening earlier this year when the Republican Party was divided by the candidacy of Donald Trump. The former New York corporate lawyer, financier and CEO saw a chance to serve.

Crapo was supporting Trump, and Sturgill thought that would hurt him. Crapo withdrew his support a week ago, after Sturgill criticized him for continuing to back Trump; then Trump supporters started calling to tell Sturgill they were going to vote for him because they couldn’t support “traitor” Crapo.

MONEY AND CAMPAIGNS

Getting into the race, Sturgill knew he couldn’t compete with Crapo, who had $5 million in the bank and the backing of many of Sturgill’s former Wall Street colleagues. Sturgill put $245,000 of his own money into his race, but says he wants to work to get money out of politics.

“Incumbents who have raised large amounts of money ought to be considered lifetime appointees,” he said. “We need to change that.”

I’d ban senators sitting on regulatory committees like banking from taking money from the people they regulate.

Democratic Senate candidate Jerry Sturgill

But he’s not just spending money on his campaign. He’s also spending his time and raising money for programs that help people. One is the Interfaith Sanctuary, which provides shelter and services for the homeless.

“He’s making change happen as he’s running,” Jodi Peterson, director of the Interfaith Sanctuary, said at a fundraiser where her fiancé, musician Curtis Stigers, performed. “He’s not just standing there saying ‘If you elect me, I’m going to go do this, this and this.’ He actually does it while he’s running.”

A.J. Balukoff, the Boise businessman and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, hosted the event. He and other donors who had maxed out on their allowed donations to Sturgill said they’d match donations to the candidate dollar-for-dollar with money for the Interfaith Sanctuary.

Money is still coming in, Sturgill said, but the effort raised $15,000 for the sanctuary.

‘THE CAUSE OF SERVING PEOPLE’

Sturgill says he wants to restore the government’s mission of solving problems, which has been lost over more than 30 years of anti-government rhetoric. He’s not talking about making government bigger, he said, but better and focused on the fundamentals.

“Let’s get back to the basic cause of government, the cause of serving people,” Sturgill said. “The biggest problem I see is the loss of focus in helping people.”

Sturgill grew up a Republican in Twin Falls and left for college and law school at Brigham Young University. He spent his summers guiding rafters on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Selway rivers.

After school he went to work as a corporate finance partner at the international law firm Latham & Watkins, before coming to Boise in 1995 to become a partner in the energy practice of the Stoel Rives law firm.

His expertise is investment law and he served on the board of an ice cream manufacturing company before becoming in 2002 CEO of Respond Inc., which serviced ATMs with armored cars.

When he took over, the company had 500 employees and was struggling with centers all over the West. Many workers had to buy their own bulletproof vests, which many had no vests, a safety issue that was costing the company contracts.

The company was offering health insurance but so inadequate that one worker said he paid for his diabetes insulin by mowing his doctor’s lawn.

“It was basically worse than the employees not having health insurance,” said Janis DeVore, who was Respond’s human resources director. “It gave them a sense of false security.”

GENEROSITY TOWARD EMPLOYEES

Sturgill invested in vests and good health insurance, and made getting people what they needed to do their job his top priority, DeVore said.

“He did things out of generosity and care for those employees he didn’t have to do,” she said.

He always said doing the right thing was also good for the business.

Janis DeVore, former executive under Jerry Sturgill

Sturgill sold the company to Loomis Fargo in 2003 after getting it back into profitability.

“Even when it was sold, he was making sure that as many people as possible were able to transition over to the new company,” DeVore said.

Until recently, Sturgill was the bishop of his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward. He served on the board of the Idaho Conservation League and as chairman of Riverstone International School.

He and his wife, Kris, have been married 37 years and have three grown children.

Education remains one of his major issues, he said. He would go to the Senate “fighting for federal funding without strings attached that take away local control.”

He hopes to go to Washington to change it and make it work again for the people, he said.

“I may not agree with Donald Trump on anything else,” Sturgill said. “But I agree on one thing: The government is broken.”

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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