/* */ <img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1706078429670727&ev=PageView &noscript=1"/> /* */

Alumnus represents MI-69th House district

April 18, 2023 - Claire Smith

Alumnus Spotlight: Jasper Martus (IR ’21)

A lifelong resident of Genesee County, Michigan, Representative Jasper Martus (MI-69th House District) became one of the youngest legislators elected to office during the Nov. 2022 election. Rep. Martus earned a degree in international relations with a minor in world religions in May 2021. As a student, Rep. Martus was the founding member of Kennedy Democrats and active in UMMA (United Madison Multicultural Association) and JMC Madhouse.

Jasper Martus sits at his desk in his Lansing office.

Why did you run for public office, and what was the campaign process like?

I come from a family that has instilled in each generation to find a way to serve others. Whether it’s been through teaching, union advocacy or non-profit work, each generation of my family has tried to figure out how to help others. For me, that has always been through government work.

I worked for Congressman Dan Kildee and for the Michigan House Democrats in Lansing where I learned the only way a community like mine gets the resources and respect they deserve is if it has an advocate in the room.

A little over a year ago, the lines were redrawn because of redistricting and because of the way Genesee County is trending. A few years ago, there were five Democratic members of the state house from Genesee County. Now there’s only two: Cynthia Neeley and me. We’re seeing when Genesee County loses that representation, our voice lessens in Lansing, and that's what motivated me to run — to make sure my community had an advocate in the room and a seat at the table.

During my campaign, of which almost all of my staff were either current or former students of James Madison, we wanted to make sure we had the hardest working campaign possible. To me, the way that you run a campaign is indicative of how you will serve in office. I walked over 1005 miles knocking on doors. Every day, I talked to folks that grew up with my parents, that knew my grandparents, that could tell me stories about my great-great grandparents. I think we won because of our work ethic, and we are a reflection of the community that we sought to represent.

The challenges of working in public office at such a young age seem rather apparent. Do you ever feel your age works to your advantage?

I've had friends who have run for office in their late thirties and early forties, and they've been told that they are too young. On the campaign side, age was never really a problem. It can be for other folks, but for me it wasn't.

I represent, statistically, one of the oldest districts in the state. My constituents tend to be much older. My age was actually an asset because people were excited that a young person wanted to get involved and was going to be fighting for our community.

I’m very thankful to have good mentors and good folks in my corner. I had their support not because I came from a well-established political family or because I had the money, but it was because I put in the work for these people, and they wanted to return the favor.

Tell me about your short-term goals for this position as well as long-term goals.

With the ARPA  package, the infrastructure package and the Inflation Reduction Act, we have tens of billions of dollars that have been sent or are currently being sent to the state of Michigan.

With just a few years to spend it, the question is not, “Are we going to spend it?” It is, “Where and how?”  I want to make sure those funds, combined with our priorities and our state budget, are going to communities like Genesee County. We are really trying to reverse that trend we’ve experienced of underinvestment and being undervalued as a community and as a region. So, my short-term plan is to make sure that gets taken care of, but that’s also related to the long-term plan. It may not be what's exciting to campaign on, but I said to folks when they ask what I can do as a state rep or what we can do as government in Lansing. I said we can’t fix these problems overnight, in a single day, in a single year or in a single term, but we can start.

The longer-term goal is reversing that trend of folks moving away from Genesee County, of job opportunities drying up in Genesee County, of Genesee County not being an area where people can see a future. Those shorter-term plans — when it comes to making sure that we invest in Genesee County — are short term because we only have a few years to spend these dollars, but that relates to the longer term plan because we’re not going to see that return on investment for a few years.

Were you envisioning a team of Madison alumni/students before hiring your staff? If so, was there a reason you only wanted Madison alumni/students on your campaign?

For both the campaign and the governing side, almost all my staff has been made up of James Madison graduates. I think it is because the JMC curriculum produces the best that this generation has to offer. I know I wouldn't be where I am or who I am without JMC.

My two staffers and intern are not only from James Madison but also from Genesee County, which I am very proud of. Similarly, with the campaign, I wanted folks who were ready to go on day one, who had done the work, who had been in the room, and it just so happened that those were also folks that also used to call Case Hall home.

How has Madison prepared you for the role you serve in today?

I think from a comradery standpoint, you get to connect to folks who have similar interests, similar talents and similar ambitions. I graduated two years ago, and I have friends that work not just all over the country, but all over the world. To be able to get plugged in with folks who have similar visions and interests as you is very helpful.

I would also say the mentoring component of it. I had some fantastic professors: Rodney Phillips, Melissa Fore, Norman Graham, Yasumasa Komori and others who were really helpful to me —  mentors who me on a track for success. I’ve relied on the lessons they taught.

I never walk into a room thinking that I know it all. I want to seek out the folks that do know a lot more than me, and I learned that skill at James Madison.