By CLARK MOORMAN/Montana State News
Becoming mayor of Bozeman was not Jeff Krauss’s childhood dream. In fact, Krauss, who was described by his son Ryan as “an efficient perfectionist,” was born in Kentucky and grew up in Richmond, Va., and had never even been to Montana until after he had graduated high school.
However, Krauss, now 60, fell in love with the area, and in the early ‘90s, he moved here for good, eventually serving Bozeman as mayor and now in his third term.
Krauss’s road to the mayor’s office has been a long and winding one that has taken him almost 30 years and multiple career changes and cross country moves to navigate.
In August 1975, shortly after graduating high school, Krauss and a friend packed up and headed west from Virginia. Krauss’s friend was headed for college in Montana, and Krauss simply wanted to travel the country for a bit, after being laid off from his high school job working on the railroad.
They took Krauss’s car, and upon leaving it with his friend at college, Krauss was stuck in a foreign state with no vehicle. So he decided to hitchhike, with no particular destination in mind.
While hitchhiking through Oregon, one of the men who picked Krauss up saw that he had a fishing pole and invited him to join him on a fishing outing, which led to Krauss staying the night at the man’s house.“I liked the town, so I decided to stay for a while.”
Krauss quickly found a new job: planting trees as part of a commune that would follow behind forest clear cutting crews with tree saplings to plant. While living in Oregon, Krauss decided to save money on rent by living in a tipi.
Before long, Krauss decided he wanted to move to Montana. He got back into the railroad business and worked in Livingston, Butte, Laurel, and Missoula as a “car knocker,” someone who fixes rail cars, until the mid-80s, when he was permanently laid off.
After leaving the railroad, Krauss decided to move to Bozeman to attend Montana State University. He wanted to learn a practical skill that would be portable enough to allow him to move and work anywhere, so he chose to study accounting.
While at MSU, Krauss had his first experience with political life. He ran for senator in ASMSU and was elected. While senator, he went to Helena as part of a group of students and faculty to protest a proposal to get rid of MSU’s School of Architecture. They won.
Halfway through his college career, Krauss married his girlfriend Peggy, and in 1988, he graduated from MSU cum laude. With his new degree, it was time to put accounting’s portability to use. Krauss and his wife hooked their Airstream trailer up to their truck and set out to find the right job. Krauss entertained offers from Seattle, Portland and Salem before eventually taking a job at an accounting firm in Reno, Nev.
Right after settling in Reno, the couple had their first child, a son named Wynn, and not too long after that, the couple decided to move to Bozeman for good. In 1990, Krauss started working within the Gallatin County Treasurer’s Office, and moved up the ranks over the next few years until he was elected county treasurer.
Krauss cites his reason for running for country treasurer as simply recognizing the potential the county treasury had and seeing himself as the most qualified person for the job.
During this time, the Krauss family welcomed their second son, Ryan, into the world.
In 2001, Krauss decided he needed a new job. “Tax collectors aren’t super popular. No one wants to be a tax collector forever.” Furthermore, Krauss himself admitted that he was “already pretty notorious by that time.”
Through a couple of old ASMSU contacts, Krauss found out an opening for financial director at the Museum of the Rockies (MOR). Interestingly enough, at the time, the museum’s executive director happened to be one of the people who was on the other side of Krauss and ASMSU’s earlier protest in Helena.
In 2003, Krauss once again decided to run for another public office, and once again, he won, but this time he became the mayor of Bozeman. He ran again in 2007, and won again, and again in 2011, and he is currently serving his third term as mayor, all while remaining MOR’s financial director and a supervisor of various MOR departments.
But Krauss’s run as mayor has not been entirely without controversy. In 2009, Krauss made headlines when he and Gov. Brian Schweitzer had a disagreement over use of federal stimulus money. Krauss wanted to use some of the money for tennis courts in Bozeman. Schweitzer had previously OK’d the plan, but later recanted his approval. Krauss followed his gut and went ahead with the plan, and public opinion seems to indicate that it has paid off.
Despite their public disagreement and different political parties (Krauss is a Republican and Schweitzer is a Democrat), Krauss says that he and Schweitzer are friends who have a mutual respect for each other’s conviction and willingness to stand against their respective parties’ established platforms. Schweitzer has even appointed Krauss to the Board of Regents (the same group Krauss once demonstrated against while a student).
When jokingly asked if him and Schweitzer would ever run for president and vice-president of the United States, Krauss replied, “Nah, man, I’m about to retire in a few years.” And what will he do with his newfound free time? “I want to learn to dance.”
– Edited by Jon-Paul Galeas