Race for rural seat pits Republican vs. Democrat

Incumbents Harris and Oleson compete for new District 3

John Harris
John Harris

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County incumbent Supervisors John Harris and Brent Oleson are competing against each other for the county’s lone rural representation seat, District 3.

Both have served multiple terms on the Board of Supervisors, with Democrat Oleson serving for a decade and Republican Harris for eight years. Both were unopposed in the June primaries but meet Nov. 6 to decide one of the board’s three seats.

For Harris, his time in government — which ranges from interactions with individual residents on something as simple as a pothole to passing countywide initiatives — is a chance to help.

John Harris Candidate Endorsement Video

“It’s an opportunity to make a difference. Perhaps you get a chance to improve people’s lives a bit. There’s problems everywhere throughout the county, some are big some are small, but problems indeed,” Harris said during a meeting with The Gazette editorial board. “Some can’t be fixed, but most of them can, that’s where I think the best part of the job comes. That’s helping folks with their problems, making a difference to the good in their lives, and I do enjoy that.”

Oleson said he has spent his 10 years on the board trying to lead.

Brent Oleson Candidate Endorsement Video

“I’m hoping (voters) put a premium on the word ‘lead.’ You can simply manage county government, that is what I consider a baseline attribute to competently serve and a county supervisor, and then you can lead,” Oleson said during a meeting with editorial board, citing efforts he has made on finances, conservation and transportation.

While Harris and Oleson expressed similar views on representing rural residents, county conservation and flood control, the two have disagreed on issues including the minimum wage or the county’s use of a lease-purchase agreement — rather than traditional bidding — to construct a public health and youth development services building.

Oleson championed the lease-purchase agreement, arguing it provided the county with the best price while maintaining the ability to give the job to local workers.


“Low bid is never the bid that actually gets paid on a project. There are always the overruns or cost changes that happen. So we don’t even know what the low bid would have been on this, but we know that once we did the lease-purchase and did value engineering we saved $2 million off that negotiated price right away,” Oleson said.

Harris was the lone vote against the agreement. While he has committed to ensuring the county gets the best building possible, he said he likely still would have preferred a competitive bidding approach.

“I’m not sure where a low bid would have come in; we weren’t able to go that far in the process to find out,” he said. “I still have it in the back of my mind a low bid would have been pretty low, it would have created some extra work for us to make sure that costs are in check and change notices are few and far between. You can do that, but you’ve got to be diligent.”

Harris was the only Linn County supervisor to oppose a measure increasing the minimum was in the county. The Iowa Legislature later struck down local efforts to raise the base wage.

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