Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Will District Get Dworshaked?

I have no favorite in the upcoming appointment for the open Iowa City school board seat.

But my trivia skills have been called upon to address one facet of this process. The rumor mill says that Karla Cook, a former board member elected to a short term in 2011 but defeated in 2013, has the inside track.
It's pointed, but it's interesting, and it took me a couple days to think through.

Five of the nine applicants lost in their most previous appearance on a ballot. Phil Hemingway and Jason Lewis also lost in 2013. Former board member Orville Townsend won one term in 1986 but lost narrowly in `89 (which may or may not be beyond the statute of limitations). And John Weihe, after several terms on the Coralville city council, tried and failed to move up to mayor in 2011.

Actually, make that six out of ten applicants losing their last election, counting both Herbert Hoover's application and his reeeealy big loss in 1932. Bonus points for whatever wag thought of that, but If I was picking a dead president for the school board, as a former Roosevelt parent I'd have to go with Teddy. He lost his last race too, in 1912, but can you really call this losing?

But Cook's case is notable because she was in the same office and defeated. Hemingway, on the other hand, can argue that he was "next out" in both 2011 and 2013. Fifth for four seats in `11, fourth for three seats in `13.

That's a tricky argument. If four seats had been available, it doesn't mean Hemingway WOULD have won. It would be an alternate voting universe with different behavior and maybe even different candidates. Hemingway was many people's first choice but more people's LAST choice.

I crunched numbers after last fall's election and noted especially heavy "under" voting - voters choosing only one or two candidates instead of the allowed three - in North Liberty and Coralville. The North Corridor group was backing incumbent Tuyet Dorau and newcomer Chris Lynch, the two candidates from Coralville, and added a tag line "IF you cast all three votes, cast your third vote for Sara Barron," an east sider acceptable to the west. IF was the key word, and a lot of those third ovals were blank. With four seats open, it's very possible Barron would have pulled votes from people who liked her but had prioritized Dorau and Lynch.

A similar question came up at the county in 2009 after supervisor Larry Meyers died. Larry had knocked off Mike Lehman in the 2006 primary, and Lehman was one of a dozen who applied for the vacancy. Mike's defeat was definitely an issue in that process. Meyers' supporters objected, and former auditor Tom Slockett had an iron clad rule of not considering anyone who had lost their most recent election for anything.

But there was also strong sentiment for considering Lehman, given his experience. The other two appointment committee members decided he deserved an interview and he got one vote for the appointment, but Janelle Rettig got the other two and later won the special election (Lehman didn't have any role in the petition for the election; that effort was Republican Party led).

Earlier this year, Oxford appointed a city election loser. Gary Wilkinson was in mid-council term when he was elected mayor to replace the irreplaceable Don Saxton last November. The council appointed Lorena Loomis, who had finished third in the race for two seats, to the last two years of Wilkinson's council term. That was completely non-controversial, unlike pretty much ANYTHING involving the ICCSD these days, and Loomis may even have been the only applicant. Those jobs often go begging.

And the other difference: Loomis was, like Lewis and Hemingway, a candidate who tried and fell short, not like Cook or Lehman, incumbents who had been tossed out. To get to exactly Liebig's scenario, "filling a vacancy with someone who was recently voted out of that very office," we have to journey to the Truman era and to Idaho.

Like every other Republican in the country, Senator Henry Dworshak was expecting a big GOP year in 1948 against Hapless Harry. Idaho's other senator, Democrat Glen Taylor, had joined Iowa's own Henry Wallace on a Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn-Famous Potatoes Progressive ticket which looked likely to split the Spud State's Democratic vote. And Dworshak had beaten his opponent, attorney general Bert Miller, a decade earlier in a House race.

The Wallace ticket fizzled, Give Em' Hell Harry sizzled, and took Idaho, and carried Bert Miller to a narrow win over Dworshak. The Idaho Republicans did, however, hold the governorship...

...which proved important just nine months later when Senator Miller dropped dead of a heart attack. The Republican governor promptly sent the defeated Dworshak back to the Senate.

Idaho voters didn't seem too upset, especially since the previous Senate vacancy a couple years earlier had been filled by a governor who appointed himself. (Always a bad move in the long run. You have to do it like West Virginia's Joe Manchin did: appoint a placeholder, then run yourself.) Dworshak won the 1950 special election and two more terms before he, too, died in office.

So Leibig proposes adding "Dworshak" to the political vocabulary and I'll let him claim credit. A narrow, specific, useful term limited to the exact scenario of appointing a former incumbent to the same office from which they were recently defeated. Sample usage: "Will the schoolboard do a Dworshak?" "They're thinking of Dworshaking the appointment." "Will Cook be Dworshaked back into office?" "The school board is a bunch of Dworshaking Dworshakers." Say that three times fast.

But no endorsement here. This is just an exercise in trivia, proposed grammar, and alleged humor. Like I say, as an ex-Roosevelt parent I still feel some bemused detachment from school board drama.

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