Balancing School with Political Ambition

A picture of students during graduation

He’s a student assistant for the Defender men’s basketball team, a tax intern at De Koster & De Koster PLLC, a senior analyst for Defender Capital Management, a co-chair for the College Republicans, and a treasurer for Student Government.

Also, this spring, Zylstra is running for Iowa House District 4. If elected, Zylstra will be the youngest member of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Over the past few months, Zylstra has put thousands of miles on his car by driving around Lyon County and northern Sioux County to speak with constituents. He has sent out mailers, put up lawn signs, attended events—“doing everything I possibly can to get my name out there,” he says. “I’ve met with small groups of farmers, spoken with the Lyon County Pork Producers, gone to local banks to talk with employees, and more.”

Zylstra has been interested in politics his entire life, but what reinvigorated his love of politics was the opportunity to help Representative Randy Feenstra (‘91) with his 2020 campaign for Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District.

“I mostly did grassroots campaigning, like making phone calls and speaking at public events on Representative Feenstra’s behalf,” says Zylstra. “Being in high-pressure situations was exciting, and I realized that I could handle difficult conversations and speak well.”

With his own political campaign in full swing, Zylstra feels like a good representative of a typical Iowa House District 4 resident. “I’m from Larchwood, I lived by Hull for a while, and I attend Dordt, which is in Sioux Center. I’m from here—I was born here, I go to school here, and I work here. This place is what I’m all about.”

When it came time to choose a major, Zylstra was drawn to accounting and finance. And, given that two of the strongest industries in Northwest Iowa are agriculture and banking, Zylstra says his accounting and finance double major translates well into his political ambitions. “I’m a numbers person, and I have good analytical skills,” he says. “It’s important to understand and articulate commodities and other aspects of banking. I’m able to do that, thanks to my majors and the fact that I grew up on a farm.”

Ultimately, Zylstra wants to work in accounting or financial sectors. He is interested in legal work; he has even been accepted into a couple prestigious law school programs this fall.

“At this point in my life, I am in a personal situation where I’ve been able to run for state representative,” he says. “I have other professional goals that I ultimately want to achieve other than going to the legislature, but I feel like I’m truly representative of where I live, so I want to run. Iowa needs legislators like me who truly understand the challenges that Northwest Iowans face.”

It's been tough to balance his final semester of college with running for political office.

“I really relish Sunday as my day off, and for the other six days of the week, I go hard,” he says. “Yes, I’m really busy, but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run, and I feel like I’m doing what God wants me to do.”

Zylstra says that studying at Dordt has helped him to gain a vast array of experiences, making him a more well-rounded political candidate. For example, as co-chair of the College Republicans, Zylstra is able to help with facilitating on-campus and community events during the last election cycle. He has been involved in Student Government all four years at Dordt, from representing his residence hall to serving as Student Government president. He’s also thankful for the opportunity to get to know faculty members and other students well.

“Senator Jeff Taylor is a wonderful professor; his classes are really enjoyable,” adds Zylstra.

Dordt has shaped him as a leader, he says. “If you’re going to be a state representative, then you should have leadership qualities. I’ve been able to develop and discover those as I’ve been here at Dordt.”

In the end, Zylstra didn’t win the race; he received 2,201 votes (48 percent), whereas his opponent received 2,421 (52 percent). Still, he is grateful for the experience.

“What we accomplished was considered impossible by many, and we certainly have a lot to be proud of,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I knocked on over 3,400 doors and met with thousands of people throughout this process. I’m encouraged by the people I met and am excited about the future of Northwest Iowa.”

What will he do now? He’s not sure yet. As a planner, he says that “kind of freaks me out a little bit, because most of my friends have their post-graduation plans in place. But I trust that God will lead me to what’s next.”