Mount Vernon grad taking on new role as congressional chief of staff for Randy Feenstra

Fifteen years after spending an afternoon door-knocking with former Eastern Iowa U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, Matt Leopold is going to Congress.

“I was I was struck by his character, his honesty, his willingness to help people,” said Leopold, who was a Mount Vernon High School senior in fall 2006. “And I think that’s what propelled me to stay in politics.”

Leopold, now 31, won’t be going to the U.S. House as an officeholder, but as chief of staff to freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra from Iowa’s sprawling 4th Congressional District.

Leopold managed Feenstra’s campaigns — defeating U.S. Rep. Steve King in the GOP June primary and Democrat J.D. Scholten in November. It’s a big transition for Leopold, who has been involved on the campaign side since college. A former high school and college baseball player who describes himself as “intensely competitive,” Leopold’s resume includes “a couple of pretty crushing losses that really pull on your heartstrings.”

“But I’ve had a couple of fantastic wins” while working for former Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Senate Republicans. Those have “sort of kept me in politics and kept me engaged.”

Politics wasn’t something he expected to do while growing up with his parents, Gary and Mary Leopold, and four brothers and sisters. However, he credits high school political science teacher Ed Timm with encouraging his interest, including that afternoon with Leach, that set him off on path leading to Congress.

He knew Feenstra, then a state senator from northwest Iowa, as a team player and someone who was willing to do the work to help Republicans gain the Senate majority in 2016.

“So in 2018, I think a lot of us around the state realized it was really time for a change in the 4th District, that we needed somebody who could get things done for Iowa, to have a seat at the table,” Leopold said.

As Feenstra’s campaign manager, he helped to defeat a nine-term GOP incumbent by nearly 10 percentage points and getting 62 percent of the general election vote.

Leopold, who has worked only for Republican candidates, said political ideology is not his only motivation. He also wants to help elect people “who want to do the right thing, to bring people to the table and deliver results for Iowans ... people who can do the actual hard work of government.”

That’s critically important in a moment “when people are really struggling in the middle of a global pandemic,” he said.

As chief of staff, his role will be “to do everything I can” to help Feenstra “deliver for the constituents who sent us to Washington.”

“They’re worried about how they’re going to get their kids safely back to school, how they can navigate this pandemic while keeping their businesses open, how they’re going to get their next paycheck if their business shuts down, how they’re going to get food on the table,” Leopold said.

“If I can have a little bit of an impact on a family’s life, that’s what I want to do, to make sure that we hear their concerns and we’re responsive to them,” he said.

Too often, Leopold said, “people feel like government is something that’s separate from them and from their daily lives.”

“But if you really step back and think about it, we are the government, the people are the government,” he said.

As chief of staff, Leopold said, it will be his job to help people make that connection between themselves and their government.

“It’s my job to make sure that our office is focused on that motto — Feenstra delivers — and actually putting that into action,” he said.

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Mount Vernon grad taking on new role as congressional chief of staff for Randy Feenstra