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The Man Behind the Lecture: The Legacy of Jim Jontz

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 5:03 PM
FALL 2011 >>

By Sarah Wright

The Jontz Lecture’s namesake was the kind of progressive leader who succeeded as progressives always should: by educating, engaging and listening to the public he served.  Jim Jontz used those skills in the 1970s and ‘80s to get elected to the Indiana legislature and the U.S. Congress from districts not normally thought of as liberal. 

And he used them to bring new energy and expanded programs to ADA, which he served as President and then President Emeritus from 1998 until his premature death in 2007.

ADA National Director Michael J. Wilson, who met Jontz when he was first running for Congress, recalled at this year’s lecture being skeptical of the chances for a candidate espousing such an openly progressive agenda. But Jontz proved him wrong. “If there is such a thing as political genius, Jim Jontz had it,” Wilson concluded.

Jontz was drawn to politics through environmentalism, but quickly expanded his portfolio to cover economic issues like trade, health care and worker rights.

Concerned that the middle class was often voting against its own economic self-interest because of  misinformation, Jontz founded Working Families Win (a joint project of ADA and the Education Fund) to pursue the same kind of grassroots educating, organizing and mobilizing on issue advocacy he’d used in his successful political campaigns.

Pondering the policy complexities of this year’s Jontz lecture on health care reform, Wilson noted, “This is the time when we really need Jim Jontz-- if there was anyone who could explain this, it would be him.”

Sarah Wright in an ADA intern.