Democrats to choose nominee December 16
Things moved fast Wednesday and Johnson County will go directly to a January 19 special election to fill Terrence Neuzil's soon to be vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Democrats almost immediately scheduled a December 16 nominating convention, and two names surfaced even before the decision was made to hold an election. Lisa Green-Douglass, who narrowly lost the 2014 primary, and first time candidate Kurt Friese have already announced for the June 7 primary. (More on that confusion below.)
The three member committee charged with filling the vacancy - Treasurer Tom Kriz, Recorder Kim Painter and Auditor Travis Weipert - met for a half hour Wednesday morning and opted for an election, with Kriz dissenting and favoring appointment.
The vote followed a public feedback session that illustrated some of the Democratic divisions going into the abbreviated election cycle. I've been through six of these over the years, and I've seen a
lot of people, myself included, on both sides of the appoint vs. elect
dynamic depending on the circumstances.
Green-Douglass and Friese both attended the meeting, with Green-Douglass speaking in favor of election. Tom Carsner, who is chairing Friese's campaign, argued in favor of appointment.
More pointedly, Caroline Dieterle argued for appointment and in favor of something she called "the Slockett rule." Former auditor Tom Slockett had an absolute policy that he would not consider anyone for an appointment who had previously run and lost. The mention of the "Slockett rule" seemed aimed at Green-Douglass, who ran 126 votes behind Mike Carberry in the 2014 primary (she actually led in the election day vote, but lost on absentees).
By coincidence, the January 19 date parallels the 2010 special election calendar. Janelle Rettig was appointed to the Board October 31, 2009 following the death of Larry Meyers, but a Republican-led petition drive forced a special election. It was high-profile and contentious, but Rettig handily beat Republican Lori Cardella.
The Democratic convention nominee would seem to be the favorite - but that's not how it worked out in the March 2013 special election for the Board when Democrat Terry Dahms lost a shocking, low-turnout upset to John Etheredge, the first Republican to win a Johnson County supervisor race since 1958. Etheredge lost that seat to Carberry in the 2014 general election, and is not believed to be interested in running again.
The special election cycle overlaps with caucus season, the holidays, and most importantly the Hawkeye football team's improbable national title run. But that's just how Neuzil's life events worked out, as he landed a county manager job in Michigan a year before his term expired.
It also overlaps with the first stages of the June 7 primary season as well. Three supervisors are up in 2016 - Pat Harney, Rod Sullivan, and the soon to be former Neuzil seat (the resignation takes effect December 20). De facto announcements will be happening soon, as candidates traditionally pass nomination papers at the caucuses. Sullivan and Harney both seem likely to run, and Friese and Green-Douglass have announced.
The top three Democrats go into the November general election as heavy favorites. Even as a personally popular incumbent, Etheredge managed just 39% in 2014 with an R after his name. Pushing against the straight ticket tide is even harder for a Republican in a presidential year.
The upcoming primary also affects the special election cycle and enforces at least a minimum of party unity. You could call that the "Sehr-Lacina rule." After losing at a convention in 1997, then-supervisor Steve Lacina ran as an independent in a special election for recorder, losing by 17 votes to appointee Deb Conger. Lacina then ran for the same job in the 1998 Democratic primary, but his special election defection from the party was an issue and he lost to Painter.
Similarly, in 1994 Don Sehr, a rural conservative Democrat, was appointed to a Board vacancy, but the more liberal, party-active Democrats petitioned for a special election. (Like I said about people being on both sides of the appoint vs. elect issue at different times.) Sehr lost the nomination at convention, and won the election as an independent. But two years later, that defection was still an issue, and he lost the 1996 primary to Jonathan Jordahl.
So if it still matters to primary voters a year or two later, it would be VERY awkward for a losing convention candidate to bolt the party in January to run as an independent, then immediately file as a Democrat in March for a June primary.
Green-Douglass has more or less kept running since the 2014 race, and seems likely to pursue the convention nomination. Friese got a somewhat later start, but has been testing the waters for a few months. His convention plans are less clear.
In contrast with recent complaints that Democrats have run too many Iowa City candidates, both Friese (Penn Township) and Green-Douglass (Madison Township) are rural residents.
The December 16 Democratic convention is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Coralville library. The convention delegates are people who got elected at the off-cycle 2014 caucuses - another reason caucuses are important.
No word yet from the Republicans; independents can file with 250 signatures. The deadline is December 28.