Iowa county elects a black woman, GOP again floats changes to the whole electoral system

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Republicans lose an election, then decide they want to change the rules.

Earlier this month, voters in Johnson County, Iowa elected Democrat Royceann Porterto the Board of Supervisors, making her the first African-American supervisor in the county’s history. Now, Republicans are making noise about wanting to remake the entire system, changing from at-large elections (which is how nearly every Iowa county does it) to district-based contests.

Republican Phil Hemingway, who got thumped 56-43%, thinks that geography is why he lost. Via local KCRG TV:

Following his recent defeat, Hemingway is analyzing what went wrong during that special election. At least playing a factor, he says, electing supervisors to county-wide positions. It could be benefiting Democrats as the large metro population tends to vote left, overshadowing right-leaning rural votes.

“I think can’t look at the results of this past special election and draw any other conclusion but that.”

Democrats dominate the Board of Supervisors in Johnson County, but that’s not due to any flaw in the government structure; Johnson County is home to Iowa City and is the most liberal county in the state, which makes Democratic dominance of local politics no strange coincidence or irregularity. It’s in the state’s second congressional district, represented by Dave Loebsack. Trying to get more Republicans in office isn’t ameliorating a problem, it’s creating an unnatural imbalance.

Ironically, the at-large representation system has been used to disenfranchise black voters in the South, as it negates the power of geographically concentrated minorities. In the case of Iowa City, some Democrats say that Republicans are actually spread out enough that changing the system may not even make a difference.

Rod Sullivan, Democrat, and longtime supervisor felt the switch to districts wouldn’t really change much. He explained the law requires equally proportion populations in each of what would be five divisions of about 31,000 people. Metro zones, he said, would still likely be a big influence on each of them.

“Now you’ve got a North Liberty district, a Coralville district,” said Sullivan. “There would be two district’s completely contained in Iowa City. Plus another 15/20,000 Iowa City residents who would be combined with rural residents. There is just no way you can divide it up and get a district that is all rural.”

This is a broader Republican goal, as earlier this year, the party proposed messing with the way larger counties select representatives across all of Iowa, so as to dilute Democratic power in those counties. Right now, counties can choose to break things up into districts, but the GOP wants to FORCE them to do so.

We have to remain vigilant, because Republicans are like vampires that live on fresh democracy — they do their most bloodily efficient work under cover of the night. After all, in just the last month, the GOP has gutted voter-approved initiatives in Michigan (while considering doing so elsewhere) and launched attacks against fair redistricting in states across the country.

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