Sunday, May 18, 2014

JCDems Hall of Fame Honors Six

Loebsack Endorses Lyness

The story was stepped on a bit by Bernie Sanders' visit to Clinton County, but Johnson County Democrats had their own big event last night as a crowd of 150 inducted six new members into the county party's Hall of Fame.

The biggest actual news came from Dave Loebsack. "I don't usually get involved in primaries," said the congressman, "but we need to keep Janet Lyness as our county attorney." Lyness, who was on hand, is in a noisy primary battle with John Zimmerman, who was not.

Hall of Fame night is about the inductees and the history. The names most non-Johnson County folks would recognize were David Osterberg and Joe Johnston.

Osterberg is the first Hall of Famer who's not actually FROM Johnson County. He lives in Mt. Vernon in Linn County, but the Cornell College town has sort of honorary People's Republic status and Osterberg's district included our northern tier.

After his legislative retirement in 1994, Osterberg took on the tough job of challenging Chuck Grassley in 1998 and founded the Iowa Policy Project, the state's liberal think tank. In a feisty speech Osterberg attacked Republican climate change deniers: "Facts Matter. Research Matters. Knowledge Matters."

Johnston also served in the legislature and challenged Cooper Evans for Congress in 1984. Johnston drew plenty of laughs with his self-deprecating style, and a few tears as Randy Larson described Johnston's near fatal heart attack a couple years ago. Johnston joked away the near-death experience. "I didn't see a bright light, but I saw some flames and got really hot so I thought I better go back."

"I was elected because I was too conservative and voted out because I was too liberal," Johnston said of his Vietnam era legislative service. He also credited past Hall of Famers, now departed, for educating him: "Bob Burns taught me how to be a politician, Minnette Doderer taught me how to be a legislator."

Looking at modern politics, Johnson said, "There was not the passionate partisanship in those days that there is now, I really hate to see it."

Two local labor Democrats were honored. Unfortunately the award to IBEW member Dennis Ryan was posthumous, because the always feisty Ryan would have given a memorable speech.

Iowa City Federation of Labor president Patrick Hughes was also honored. Pat has been in ill health and wasn't feeling well enough to stay to the end of the program, but was honored by Royce Peterson and Jesse Case.

Former county supervisor Carol Thompson, who served 1999-2004 and had a long human services career before that, took her turn to encourage women to run for local office. "With citizen government the group is always greater than the sum of its parts, and I know there are other women who can do it - it's the foundation for higher office."

Honoree Pat Cancilla was former co-chair of the League of Women Voters but, in a twist reminiscent of Julia Sweeney's "It's Pat" sketch, is male. "It takes a real man to join the League of Women Voters," joked Joe Bolkcom.

Two statewide candidates also spoke. There was a little grumbling about the length of the Jack Hatch speech on a night meant for the inductees, but Hatch told tales I hadn't heard before about his childhood struggle with dyslexia, tying it into the importance of funding pre-school.

Sherrie Taha, candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, said all the right things for a liberal Johnson County crowd but was hardly a spellbinder. Democrats have lost this office with "greener" contenders like Denise O'Brien and Francis Thicke, and won with people with farm roots: Dale Cochran and Patty Judge.

Plenty of the current generation of elected officials and candidates were on hand 17 days before the primary. In addition to Lyness we saw the three leading supervisor candidates, incumbent Janelle Rettig and challengers Mike Carberry and Lisa Green-Douglass. (The fourth candidate, Diane Dunlap, was not on hand, not a surprise since she had never once been sighted at a political event.) Also on hand from the courthouse were unopposed recorder Kim Painter and off-cycle officials Travis Weipert, Terrence Neuzil and Rod Sullivan, the evening's emcee and the main organizer of the event.

From the legislature, Bolkcom, Dave Jacoby, Sally Stutsman and Vicki Lensing were in attendance, along with candidates David Johnson and Kevin Kinney.

And in the night's oddest appearance, Davenport Senator Joe Seng showed up; it seems he's an old friend of Johnston's. In case you're wondering, Seng was seated FAR away from Dave Loebsack.

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