Chesterton Tribune

Former Congressman Jim Jontz dies in Oregon at 55

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INDIANANAPOLIS (AP) — Jim Jontz, whose environmental activism sparked a political career that led him to three terms in Congress, has died, his stepfather said.

Jontz died Saturday afternoon at his home in Portland, Ore., said his stepfather, Paul A. Lennon of Indianapolis. He was 55.

Jontz had lived in Oregon since 1999.

He was diagnosed two years ago with advanced colon cancer that had spread to his liver and had been at home under hospice care this month, said his sister, Mary Lee Turk.

Jontz, a Democrat, was 35 when he was elected in 1986 to his first of three terms in Congress. He was a strong supporter of preserving the Indiana Dunes and authored legislation to expand the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Jontz represented a largely rural swath of northern Indiana including Liberty and Jackson townships in Duneland.

“Jim was always focused on doing the right thing, the good thing, the thing he believed to be right and true,” said Tom Sugar, who served as his chief of staff during his third term in Congress and now works for Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.

“People become very cynical about politics today, but Jim Jontz was the real deal,” Sugar said Saturday.

After leaving Congress, Jontz led an anti-NAFTA coalition of labor unions, environmentalists and others as Congress debated the free-trade treaty in 1993.

He returned to Indiana in 1994 for his last political campaign, challenging Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.

Jontz did not consider quieting his liberal views in hopes of winning another election, said Turk, his sister who is a lawyer in Chicago.

“He was first and foremost very principled about what he believed,” she said last week. “He would not have compromised any of his stances.”

Jontz was married twice while in his 20s but never had any children, said his sister.

Jontz grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Indiana University in 1973. He moved to the Lafayette area and became active in the fight against a proposed dam project.

At age 22, he won election in 1974 to an Indiana House seat that he held for 10 years before he was elected to the state Senate in 1984.

After leaving Congress, Jontz led several environmental organizations and was president of the liberal lobbying group Americans for Democratic Action during 1998-2002. His most recent project for that group was leading its Working Families Win effort, which targets issues such as raising the minimum wage and improving health care of the uninsured.

Funeral arrangements were pending, his stepfather said, but memorial services were expected to be held in Portland, Indianapolis and Washington.


Posted 4/16/2007