Flood Waters Ripple Through Iowa Politics, Part 2
Governor Chet Culver left Saturday's Iowa Democratic Party convention quickly after his speech Saturday, with a good excuse. The governor was traveling to the town that has been harder hit than any other in the state. Oakville, where the Iowa River joins the Mississippi, is 100 percent evacuated, and there's open discussion about whether the community should be completely bought out and abandoned.
Oakville is, or was, the most Democratic town in Louisa County (how Democratic? Even I was able to win it), where Columbus Junction also saw levee breaks and evacuations. Those may affect the House District 87 race, where Democrat Frank Best is challenging GOP incumbent Tom Sands.
In Cedar Rapids, entire precincts have been flooded. The hardest hit areas are in the legislative districts of the two Taylors -- unrelated Democrats Dick and Todd. Dick Taylor is opposed in November by Republican activist Kathy Potts; Todd Taylor is unopposed. Beyond that, flood recovery is likely to be the overarching issue in local politics, including the re-organization election on the presidnetial ballot that will replace three at-large Linn County supervisors with five supervisors elected by district.
The flood hit the University campus harder than any residential area of Johnson County, and University funding will likely be on the agenda for any special legislative session. But the largest residential issue is resolved, as Mayflower Residence Hall will be open for fall semester,
The hardest hit residential areas in Johnson County are in Iowa City Precinct 4, represented by Rep. Mary Mascher, and Coralville Precinct 1, in Rep. Dave Jacoby's district. Both Democrats are unopposed in the fall, as is Iowa City Democrat Vicki Lensing.
But the bigger impact in Johnson County may be on a $20 million conservation bond issue that will be on the presidential ballot. Local Democrats have endorsed the land acquisition measure and put it in the county party platform. But at last week's meeting where the Board of Supervisors officially placed the issue on the ballot, Republican activist Deb Thornton argued that the county could not afford the measure after the flood. "It's gong to be a financially difficult time for all of us for the next few years as we deal with this flood situation," said Thornton, urging the Board to take the issue off the ballot. "This could be put under a want, not a need."
"In considering the massive flood damage in Johnson County, the Supervisors have once again demonstrated a set of priorities that do not meet the needs of Johnson County residents," writes conservative blogger Mike Thayer of Coralville Courier.
"It's precisely because of the flooding that we should be voting on this and creating conservation areas to control runoff," said bond supporter Janelle Rettig. "Because we've drained the wetlands and torn up all the prairies, the water has nowhere to go."
The Board itself did not take a formal stand on the issue, saying they were simply acting to place the issue on the ballot and let voters decide. Supervisor Sally Stutsman said that if the Board had not placed the issue on the ballot, bond supporters could have, and likely would have, petitioned to get a vote on the issue.
In Johnson County, election preparations weren't slowed much. The county's administration building was evacuated June 13, as flood waters flowed into the parking lot. But the Iowa River crested a foot and a half lower than expected and flood waters never entered the building. The auditor's office was opened to staff on June 17 and the parking lot reopend on June 23.
Linn County was not as lucky, and the auditor's operations have temporarily relocated to Westdale Mall.