Staff Columnist

Politics and civility at the Johnson County Fair

Has the nastiness of the news cycle trickled down to the fairgrounds?

Lucy Bowling, 1, of Coralville, Emalyn Poe, 9, Korbin Poe, 7, Izak Poe, 4, of West Branch, Jordan Schaapveld, 3, and Macy Schaapveld, 1, of North liberty play in corn kernels at the Johnson County Fair on Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Lucy Bowling, 1, of Coralville, Emalyn Poe, 9, Korbin Poe, 7, Izak Poe, 4, of West Branch, Jordan Schaapveld, 3, and Macy Schaapveld, 1, of North liberty play in corn kernels at the Johnson County Fair on Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)

It’s summertime in Iowa, and that means politics are on display at your local county fair.

I visited the Johnson County Fair over the weekend. It runs through Wednesday night, with dozens of businesses and local organizations participating. I was curious to see if the vitriol we see in national politics has trickled down to the fairgrounds.

All three of Iowa’s official political parties are hosting displays at the fair this week, with the Johnson County Republicans in Building C safely separated from the Johnson County Democrats in Building B, a row away from the Libertarian Party.

I only spotted one candidate who is running for office this year, Marco Battaglia, the Libertarian nominee for Iowa attorney general. Battaglia was inviting visitors to take the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz,” a 10-question survey which places respondents on a two-axis political philosophy grid. I was rated a perfect libertarian, while my date to the fair scored as a slightly liberal centrist. We carried on nonetheless.

Nearby is the People’s Coalition for Social, Environmental and Political Responsibility, an umbrella exhibit entry for a handful of local leftist organizations. They’re hosting a corn kernel caucus, offering visitors the chance to weigh in on what they see as the most pressing issue facing the globe. I dropped my kernels in the “nuclear war” spot, but would have settled for just “war.”

Volunteers with the Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action are there to advocate for gun control and domestic violence prevention, while Johnson County Right to Life is in a nearby building distributing information in opposition to abortion rights. Both invited me to join their groups, even though I don’t necessarily agree with their missions.

County government has a strong presence at the fair, including the auditor’s office, the conservation department, public health, and the sheriff’s office. The auditor no doubt has the most interesting exhibit — a mock election for favorite fictional villain. As the staff pointed out, this is the one race where you’re supposed to choose the greater evil, an oddly refreshing switch from our real elections.

I was persuaded to vote for Darth Vader, who held a narrow lead over the Grinch by day’s end. In the simultaneous mock gubernatorial election, Fred Hubbell held the lead at 52 percent after the first day. He will have to post a much higher figure in Johnson County in the real election if he hopes to win in November.

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Outside the exhibit halls, a small group of protesters greeted cars entering the fairgrounds. They were raising awareness about the rodeo events scheduled for this week, which they say is a form of taxpayer-funded animal abuse, since local government subsidizes the fair.

Throughout the afternoon, none of the workers and volunteers I interacted with were anything but Iowa nice. As far as I saw, nobody yelled, threatened or asked anyone to leave because of their political views.

It was a great reminder that despite all our differences, Iowans have no problem coming together to enjoy a nice afternoon. If you need a break from hostile politics, visit your local fair.

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

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