Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Downballot is Quiet in Johnson County

It's almost all about the federal races in Johnson County this year. There's only one contested race between candidates below the U.S. House level on the ballot.

Today was the filing deadline for county offices, and the Democratic primary winners will be uncontested in November. Of course, the three Supervisor candidates - incumbents Rod Sullivan and Lisa Green-Douglass and newcomer Kurt Friese - are the survivors of a hard-fought June primary.

Sullivan will also, with the retirement of Pat Harney, become the senior supervisor in January when he starts his fourth term. Green-Douglass will be serving her first full term after winning a January special election.

The 2014 general election saw a decent supervisor race because Republican incumbent John Etheredge, an upset winner in a 2013 special election, was defending his seat, a task that proved impossible against Johnson County's Democratic counter-trend of that cycle.

Remember that term: counter-trend. Planning to discuss that soon.

Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek and Auditor Travis Weipert will also be uncontested. It'll be Pulkrabek's fourth term and Weipert's second.

The legislative races are also quiet. Johnson County's three state senate seats are all on the governor cycle, so we'll be bystanders in the hard-fought battle for state senate control. Last cycle we were critical in that fight, with Kevin Kinney's gain for the Democrats offsetting a loss in Ft. Dodge and keeping Mike Gronstal's magic number at 26.

The only down-ballot contest between candidates is in open House District 77, where Democrat Sally Stutsman is retiring. North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen is favored to hold the seat for the Democrats over Republican Royce Phillips, former Tiffin mayor.

Johnson County's other four state reps - Democrats Dave Jacoby, Vicki Lensing and Mary Mascher and Republican Bobby Kaufmann - are all unopposed. That's normal for the three Democrats. Kaufmann saw serious opposition in 2012 and less serious opposition in `14.

The back side of the ballot is quiet too. With marriage equality now the law of the land, the desire for revenge on the last three Varnum-Brien Iowa Supreme Court justices has fizzled. Of course, that was always a non-starter in the People's Republic. In 2010, when three judges were defeated, I never saw a NO sign until the day after the election in the Des Moines Register.

The last few general elections saw high-profile ballot issues in Johnson County: two courthouse/jail issues, a local option sales tax, and the Mother Of All Issues, the 2010 21 Bar vote. We also had special elections for city offices, most notably in North Liberty in 2014. Solon has two city council seats on the ballot this year, but only one candidate filed for each seat.

There is one issue on the ballot, and it's as meta as you can get: a referendum about referendums. There's an Iowa City charter amendment to lower the petition requirements for city ballot issues.

That was the one substantive change from the charter review process of 2014-15. The city dropped the requirement that all signatures had to be "qualified" electors, which they interpreted as meaning registered to vote at current address. They checked every name and if your apartment number was wrong they crossed you off.

Now the the signatures can come from "eligible" electors, meaning you CAN register to vote even if you haven't done so. This is the standard for almost all other petitions, and these signatures are accepted at face value unless you're goofy enough to put down Coralville or West Des Moines for your address, or unless an opponent contests them. Good deal. But the trade off for that was raising the NUMBER of signatures. I wrote at the time that it was a fair compromise that would probably break about even, and most people seemed to agree.

But, it appears, not all. It seems to me like a presidential cycle would be a good time to get a high profile substantive issue on the ballot (the drug war has been mentioned) rather than a process issue. My guess is that the Referendum Referendum will mostly just confuse people. At least they have little else to be confused about. Heck, even Soil and Water and Ag Extension are uncontested. (Pro tip: Don't ask for information so you can "study" the soil and water and ag extension candidates. No such information exists.)

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