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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

If You Can't Win, Change The Rules: Local Version

The recent Republican effort in swing states to game the electoral college by changing to a district system died a quick death, in large part out of its own shamelessness.

But as usual, the Johnson County Republicans are behind the curve, so they're getting ready their own local If You Can't Win, Change The Rules plan. After failing to get the signatures two years ago, they're making another attempt to change the Board of Supervisors to a district system.

Right now, all county voters elect all the supervisors. It's worked well. No matter where the supervisors live, they have to listen to voters from Sutliff to Frytown, from Lone Tree to Swisher. Under the most restrictive district system, it would be very easy for an urban supervisor to oppose, say, the whole Secondary Roads budget, because her or his district had zero miles of those roads.

The Republicans will no doubt make arguments about increasing rural representation, the same kind of rhetoric their special election candidate is using even though Democrat Terry Dahms is ALSO a rural resident. As I'll show in upcoming posts, the math and the history don't match the rhetoric.

But as usual the real reasons aren't as high-minded as the surface arguments.

The district plan is, frankly, an blatant effort to gerrymander one of either Rod Sullivan or Janelle Rettig out of office. Both are hard-working officials who have won multiple contested elections, and by coincidence they live in the same east side precinct. (As we'll see, NOT a historic pattern.)

Rod annoys them because he's an unapologetic liberal; Janelle annoys them even more because she's that AND a lesbian AND she stomped their candidate last time they made a serious run at a board seat in 2010. In an ideal set of circumstances for Republicans, a low turnout January special election with a deep pockets candidate, they lost by more than 20 points.

They forced that election by a petition, and the bill was in the $75,000 ballpark. And because they can't win by the rules, the Republicans, self proclaimed guardians of tax dollars, are now trying to force you to pay for a FOURTH special election of the year in August.

And they're trying to force that election because they can't win.Ex-chair Bob Anderson directly admits it's a motivation: “Those (rural)  areas are much more competitive in elections, it’s not to say they are heavily Republican, but they’re much more competitive and that’s certainly a side benefit to the Republican party,”

The Republicans are oh-fer-a half century on the Board: their last winner was Oren Alt in 1958. Their last win for any courthouse office was Sheriff Gary Hughes in 1984. It's not just the courthouse jobs. Take away a couple Jim Leach and Chuck Grassley races, and some legislative districts based mostly in neighboring counties, and the record is dismal. The last Republican presidential winner in the county was Nixon - not over McGovern, but over JFK. That was before I was born, and I'm a grandfather.

True, just on sheer size their varying margins of defeat have played important roles in statewide wins. There are more Republicans in Johnson County than in overwhelmingly Republican Sioux County.

But at some point you have to conclude that Republican ideas are just not popular here. If anything, they are getting less popular. A public university town where even the rich doctors are government employees isn't going to respond positively to tea partyish spending and tax cut talk. Our 25,000 extra young people think opposition to marriage equality is a joke. Our fast growing Hispanic community is threatened by Steve King's anti-immigrant rants.

Local Republicans could choose to adapt by recruiting popular candidates with popular ideas. Most elections, they don't even try; the Greens and Libertarians are more likely to find a legislative candidate for one of the core Iowa City/Coralville legislative seats than the Republicans are. In 2010 Dave Jacoby's opponent actually left the Republicans specifically to run as a Libertarian. That's how damaged the GOP brand is here.

Or they could do as they have done: accept a lesser local role, settling for winning "nonpartisan" city races and occasionally helping swing a Democratic primary, while trying every couple years to cut their losses by a few percentage points and contribute to a statewide win.

Instead, as is so often true with today's Republican Party, they're gaming the system.

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