Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Geri Huser is in a place that feels like home - the chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives.

"If you want a reality check, this is it," she said. "You think about all of the people who have sat here over the years and all of the issues."

On this summer day, she could serve as a tour guide. She tells a man and a woman not to be shy about wandering through the chambers.

Huser was elected to the House in 1997, representing a large chunk of eastern Polk County and a portion of western Jasper County. She is a Democrat who has taken a few positions that have been contrary to her party's leadership.

She is less concerned about political victories, and focuses instead on doing the right thing by her constituents, first, and all Iowans as a result.

"Why do you have to be a winner?" she asked. "Why can't it just be the right thing to do?"

Her causes rarely involve sweeping social issues. Huser counts as her most significant contribution changes that were enacted in 2004 to laws governing fire service and training for volunteer firefighters.

Huser relishes the idea that her areas of expertise - transportation and local government issues - fall outside the categories of issues traditionally championed by female legislators.

Prior to running for the statehouse, Huser served on the Altoona City Council and worked for 22 years as a social worker with Polk County Social Services, where she created the property tax suspension program, instituted the first welfare reform project in Iowa and prepared the budget.

Huser remains active on a variety of boards and state and community organizations.

She became a lawyer five years ago after deciding that the profession needed more people who were willing to take on pro bono cases and focus on family law and domestic abuse.

"I'm proud to be a social worker and an attorney," she said.

Huser is the daughter of Polk County lawyer and Democratic Party stalwart Ed Skinner. Huser said he was not enthusiastic about her decision to run for the statehouse.

"When I asked him whether to run, he said, 'No, you need to focus on your family and your job.' So I decided to run," she said.

Her time in office has not been without some controversy. She was part of the so-called "six pack" of Democrats who blocked passage of a prevailing wage bill in 2009 that would have established pay and benefit standards for workers on taxpayer-financed jobs. Labor unions support the legislation, and opposition can be politically damaging for Democratic lawmakers.

However, the decision to oppose the bill was part of Huser's philosophy of listening to her constituents, following her instincts and ignoring political expediency.

And that one vote has not cost her all of labor's support. Huser was named a "friend of AFSCME," the large public employee union, this year. She also has gained business support. The political arm of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry dubbed Huser a "friend of Iowa business."

The fault Huser will confess to results from her love of golf. She has been known to add 100 miles or so to a trip in order to play a top golf course.

"It gets me in trouble," she said.

• Education: Drake University, law degree and masters in public administration

• Hometown: Altoona

• Family: Husband, Dan; daughter, Kelli, 23; son, Blake,17

• Hobbies: Golf

• About her job: "Our job is to find a path and show people that there will be a better tomorrow. That sounds mushy, but it is what it is. People need to know that we care and that we are listening."