Citizens Trade Campaign mourns the passing of Jim Jontz who represented Americans for Democratic Action on the CTC executive committee until his death, and who had served as the first executive director of CTC, 1993-94.
Jim was a tireless advocate for economic and social justice and the environment, and a mentor and inspiration to many. His passing is an enormous personal loss to the myriad activists whose lives this gentle, brilliant man inspired. His mission and values live on in his accomplishments and the inspiration he provided to so many.
Jim taught by example and mentored countless young people, including Andy Gussert, the national director of CTC. Jim is survived by legions of activists imbued with his tireless, passionate and fearless advocacy for what is right.
James Prather Jontz (December 18, 1951 – April 14, 2007) was an American politician from Indianapolis, Indiana who represented the state’s sprawling 5th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 1987 to 1993.
Jontz was born in Indianapolis. His political career began in 1974, sparked by his opposition to a dam-building project in Central Indiana. Running for a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives against the dam’s sponsor, John Guy, the House Majority Leader, he was elected at age 22 by a margin of only 2 votes. He continued to win re-election as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, even after Republican gerrymandering in 1980 drastically re-drew his district. He was elected to the Indiana Senate in 1984. As a progressive Democrat representing one of the most conservative Republican areas in the country, Jontz relied on two key strategies for his congressional elections. First, he embraced a very personal style of populist politics that included frequent appearances in every community in his district. Secondly, Jontz assembled a highly talented and dedicated staff of individuals to work with him, and later many of them-including Tom Sugar, Mike Busch, and Kathy Altman-held prominent government positions.
Jontz was re-elected to Congress in 1988 and 1990. During his six-year tenure, he simultaneously held committee memberships on the House Agriculture, Education and Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Select Committee on Aging. He also championed the preservation of the ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest, and worked to foster collaborations between organized labor and environmentalists. He was considered by colleagues to be one of the hardest working members of the U.S. Congress.
His campaigns for Congress drew national attention. Celebrity supporters included singers Carole King, Bob Weir, and Don Henley, designer Liz Claiborne, and actors Bonnie Franklin and Woody Harrelson. Most of this support stemmed from Jontz’s work on environmental issues. In 1992, Jontz was defeated for re-election by Steve Buyer. In 1994, he lost a U.S. Senate race against incumbent Richard Lugar.
Jontz began his collegiate studies at Williams College and transferred to Indiana University, where he graduated with honors (Phi Beta Kappa) in less than three years with a degree in geology. He was active in Crisis Biology and lobbied on behalf of a host of environmental causes while a student on the IU Bloomington campus, despite his heavy study load, and helped to found the Indiana Public Interest Research Group. While serving in the Indiana legislature he did graduate work in history at Purdue University. Moving to Portland, Oregon in 1995, he began working as Executive Director for the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, and in 1999 he helped organize the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment (ASJE). While with WAFC, Jontz built an extremely effective grassroots organizing campaign, which pushed aggressively to protect forests, remove federal subsidies that financed clearcutting, and preserve millions of acres of previously unprotected roadless areas in National Forests. During his tenure with WAFC, he travelled extensively around the country forming relationships with state and local forest protection groups. As a result, Jontz was revered by forest activists throughout North America. In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jontz participated in acts of civil disobedience — including blocking a logging road in the Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon — to raise awareness about the plight of ancient forests. Those courageous acts were hailed by forest advocates as further proof that Jontz was one of the greatest leaders of the modern environmental movement. In 1998, Jontz was elected president of Americans for Democratic Action(ADA). He was most recently the ADA president emeritus and served as a project coordinator for ADA’s Working Families Win project.