Staff Columnist

Imaginary scandal hits Johnson County politics

The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the empty fourth floor at the new MidWestOne OnePlace building on South Clinton Street in Iowa City on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Johnson County and MidWestOne are having discussions about purchasing or leasing a floor of MidWestOne's new building to relocate the county attorney's offices. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the empty fourth floor at the new MidWestOne OnePlace building on South Clinton Street in Iowa City on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Johnson County and MidWestOne are having discussions about purchasing or leasing a floor of MidWestOne's new building to relocate the county attorney's offices. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A prominent liberal blog is accusing my local Republican Party of trying to corrupt the democratic process.

After Democrat Royceann Porter won a special election for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors last month, DailyKos blasted out the headline, “Iowa county elects its first black woman, so GOP decides it should change the whole electoral system.” The article, posted anonymously under the name “Blue Tuesday,” alleges there’s a direct link between the recent election and a discussion about implementing district elections for the county supervisors.

It fits neatly into the national narrative about sore losers changing the rules of the game. Except it’s not true.

Indeed, some local Republican activists would like to see district representation at the county level, but that discussion has been going on for several years now, since long before Porter was a candidate for county office. The idea is that voting by districts would give voters outside the Iowa City echo chamber more representation in county government.

I have not advocated in favor of district representation, and I see reasonable arguments on both sides, but it is foolish to suggest racism or election theft are the only possible reasons people support it.

The latest election results demonstrate there is a very real urban-rural divide in Johnson County politics. Porter easily won almost every precinct in Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and University Heights, while Republican Phil Hemingway easily carried the rural and small town precincts. Their margins suggest a few Republicans in town voted for Porter, while some Democrats in the country voted for Hemingway. Local politics do not always settle along party lines.

Among the current board of five Democrats, three live within a mile of each other. Just one lives outside Iowa City, even though the city only contains about half the county’s population. Supervisors sometimes bicker, but have often voted in unison in the past. They all appear to be good pals as well — the five sitting members attended the same party on the night of the special election.

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There is no way to draw districts in Johnson County to create a purely rural district, or to guarantee Republicans a safe seat. Republicans who want districts are under no illusions to the contrary, but they still would like to see some greater level of geographic ideological diversity in their local government.

It’s worth noting that among Iowa’s 10 most populous counties, four already have some form of district representation on their boards of supervisors. Among the large counties with districts, two lean Republican and two lean Democrat. There is no grand partisan conspiracy here.

Hyperpartisan political blogs like DailyKos are not known for their nuance or truthfulness, but this is troubling because it distracts from the very real situations where politicians actually are trying to distort the process to their favor. We live in a political climate where everything is scandal and all our opponents are seen as morally corrupt.

I worry that the boy who cries “election hacking” will soon find nobody is willing to listen.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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