State Sen. Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant) announced his Listening Tour as he considers running for Iowa’s Third Congressional seat on Monday. He served in the Iowa House from 2014-18 and entered the Iowa Senate in 2019.
A family of service
Nunn told The Iowa Standard he comes from a family that has served for generations. His grandfathers served in World War II and the Korean War. Lester Nunn received a Purple Heart as an Infantry Scout at the Battle of the Bulge. His grandmothers worked in factories, taught in one of Iowa’s last one-room school houses and helped start the town’s first volunteer fire department.
His mother was a nurse and his father a public school teacher.
“We didn’t have a lot growing up in rural Polk County, but my parents showed by example that ‘boot straps’ and ‘kindness’ are real, and a life well spent should be purposeful,” Nunn said.
A graduate of Southeast Polk, Nunn went on to earn a degree with honors from Drake. He taught U.S. Government before taking a position on Sen. Chuck Grassley’s legislative staff. Nunn graduated with first-distinction honors for his Masters in International Relations at Cambridge University when he was stationed in England. He earned a Masters of Military Operational Arts and Science from the Air Command and Staff College.
After Sept. 11, Nunn said he felt called to serve like his family before him. He flew over 700 combat hours over Helmand, Kabul and the Sinjar Mountains. In a sustained 18-hour engagement with Taliban forces, Nunn utilized decisive leadership and close air support to ensure a defensive canopy to protect U.S. Special Forces ambushed by 2,000-plus hostile combatants. The operation resulted in zero friendly losses and earned Nunn and his team the best “Air Crew of the Year Award” for life-saving support.
He currently serves as Lieutenant Colonel and is Commander of the 233rd Intelligence Squadron in the Iowa Air National Guard. His military background also includes active duty service in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He has received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal and Aerial Achievement Medal as well as others. The U.S. Cyber Command named Nunn “Top 1-percent of all Field Grade Officers.”
“My primary responsibility today is to enable Iowa’s all-volunteer force to serve our state in times of disaster, our nation in times of crisis, and importantly, serve with dignity and integrity as members of our communities,” Nunn said.
He entered the U.S. Intelligence Community in 2008. He’s been assigned to direct U.S. Embassy construction overseas including sites in Russia, China and central Asia as National Counterintelligence Director of Operations. He co-authored America’s first Unifying Intelligence Strategy–Cyber, as the nation’s chief of Cyber Counterintelligence. This classified document provided the Office of the Director of National Intelligence a comprehensive strategy to address national cyber-security priorities.
He also served as a Director of Cybersecurity on the White House’s National Security Council where he developed public-private partnerships to counter foreign intelligence services’ threats attacking crucial U.S. infrastructure sectors.
Nunn married his high school crush, Kelly, in 2013. The couple returned to Iowa shortly after.
“Iowa is a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Nunn said. “I believe public service is still an honorable calling — in the military, in the classroom or representing our community at the Statehouse. I first decided to run for office because I wanted to be a force for good — to help my hometown, listen to my friends and neighbors and work for world-class opportunities right here in Iowa.”
He earned a seat in the Iowa House to represent District 30 by beating Democrat incumbent Joe Riding by 12 percent. Nunn was re-elected by 24 percent in 2016.
In the Iowa House he wasted little time standing up for his district.
“My very first year I stood up against the increase on the gas tax,” Nunn said. “I got called out for it and I stood up to the Speaker of the House as a freshman and they kicked me off the committee. I took a lot of heat for it, but that’s what my community wanted.”
Nunn was reinstated on the Ways & Means Committee and eventually elected by his peers as the Assistant Majority Leader. He served as House Majority Whip and chair of Judiciary.
He led on the passage of bills on judicial reform, mandatory sentencing for domestic abusers and cop killers, and remains committed to protecting life.
In 2018 Nunn won his Senate seat by 12 percent in a Democrat district during a supposed Blue Wave election year. This past legislative session he highlighted his work on the right to keep and bear arms amendment to the Iowa Constitution as well as the truth in taxation property tax bill.
His work on combating Human Trafficking resulted in Nunn receiving the “Uncommon Public Service Award” from the Hoover Foundation.
“When I first decided to run, we campaigned under the theme Community 1st,” Nunn said. “That’s really what every elected official should consider their first priority — family, friends and neighbors. Running for Congress should be a focus on the same priorities that helped us win in the legislature — work for the community and stand firm.”
He’s definitely looking
For all intents and purposes, Nunn is in this race of Congress, even though the tour is labeled as just a “Listening Tour.”
“We’re definitely looking,” Nunn said. “But I have service commitments that I’m not going to give up on. I have a service commitment as military commander to an Airmen training event the entire month of June. It’s wrong for me to jump into a race before I fulfill that service. I have a service commitment to my district I represent. I didn’t jump into the race while in session because that was my priority. When I run for Congress I’ll have a service commitment to get out to every county in the district, not just one county.”
Democrat Congresswoman Cindy Axne currently holds the seat. She beat former Congressman David Young in 2018. Young announced earlier this week he would seek the seat once again as well.
“We’ve got a Congresswoman who is a quarter of the way through her time and still hasn’t shown up in every county in the district,” Nunn said. “And we’ve got another candidate who is a good man, but we don’t want to see a repeat of 2018. That requires that we have a new narrative and a new dedication.”
Young shockingly won the GOP’s nomination in 2014 during a six-person campaign. Brad Zaun, Nunn’s current colleague in the Iowa Senate, won the primary, but received less than the 35 percent necessary for the nomination. Young finished fifth in the race. But he emerged from the party’s nominating convention.
It’s fair to say Young was never the choice of Republican primary voters.
“That’s not up for argument, that’s a fact,” Nunn said. “That primary had a lot of good people form all over the district. But I think it was indicative of the fact that we got to a spot where we found a compromise candidate.”
No matter which candidate wins the Republican primary, it’s likely that having President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket will be beneficial for Republicans in a state Trump won by almost 150,000 votes as he attracts voters who don’t necessarily always make it to the polls.
“There are people who are never going to be comfortable with his Twitter handle, but I think every Iowan is experiencing a life that is better than it was in 2016,” Nunn said. “The economy is stronger, they’re getting paid more and it’s truly impacting folks at the lowest level of salary and working its way up. This is what capitalism is supposed to be about. This is what a true market economy does. When people succeed wages go up and when people have more money they spend it locally.
“When the President talks about making America a priority versus a presidential candidate who is more focused on whatever — the environment, reimbursement for college, giving immigrants greater rights than people who have lived here for generations or have come here legally — that’s the kind of stuff that shows America, with all of its challenges, has a very effective form of government.”
Young faced criticism at times from Trump supporters who did not feel the Congressman saw eye to eye with the President.
“Conservatives come in a wide variety,” Nunn said. “But when we become so committed to an establishment Republican that we forget there are folks who are conservative in different ways, we do an injustice. President Trump won because he appealed to people who didn’t define themselves as Republican but wanted a change. I get concerned when I see establishment Republicans who think they know better than everyday Iowans.”
Nunn’s biggest supporters, he said, are on board as well.
“Kelly, the kids, our family and friends are all standing with me in consideration of a bid for Congressional District 3,” he said. “I’m proud to serve. I’m committed to running a campaign with military efficiency and proven results. And, most importantly, the community should have high expectations of their elected officials.”