Home Rule, the Iowa Legislature, and Your County Board

The Iowa Senate is considering a bill that would force Iowa’s 10 most populous counties (and only those 10) to use districts to elect Supervisors.  Not only that, but supervisors would be elected only by the people in those districts, not by everyone in the county.  It’s called HF2372, and it’s a bad idea.  And I say this not just because I have a dog in this hunt.  

The numbers say I’d stand a pretty good chance if I were to run for re-election, with or without the districts (no decisions on that yet, btw, though at this point I don’t see why I wouldn’t).  But the aim of the plan, which depending on who you ask is to get either more Republican or more rural representation on the board, is misguided at best, and foolish at worst.  There is no legal way to create a majority rural (or majority Republican) district in #JoCo.  Why?  Because math.

I’ll leave the wonkier details to resident election data guru John Deeth, who handled it quite aptly on his blog a while ago.  The long and short of it is that no matter how you draw districts, here or in at least 8 of the other 9 counties (Woodbury: maybe), no model shows both evenly distributed districts AND a majority of either rural residents or Republicans.  Besides, historically, Johnson County has done just fine with rural representation, and today two of the five live in unincorporated Johnson County (myself and Supervisor Green-Douglass), and two others grew up on farms (Supervisors Carberry and Sullivan).

It’s another aspect that I feel is more important, though.  The Board of Supervisors is a unique governing model in the US, in that it is both legislative and executive.  As such, as a member of that Board, I am a lot more comfortable being accountable to ALL of the people of Johnson County, not just one-fifth of them.  I would hope those constituents would feel the same way.

In addition, a cynical person might ask: “If each of the five supervisors represent only their own districts, and no one else, why would they vote to support, for example, a road or bridge repair for one of the other districts instead of for one that helps their own constituents?”  That could lead to either gridlock or some pretty shady horse trading, don’t you think?

This bill is a result of the same sort of tunnel vision that led to the extremely ill-advised reduction of the Linn County Board of Supervisors from five members to three.  Proponents of that measure would have you believe not only that three people can do the work of five, but that they can save taxpayers money doing it.  That just ain’t so, because, again, math.

As things stand right now, decisions about district representation and the number of people on the BoS are up to the residents of each individual county.  The Republicans in the Iowa Legislature want to take that choice away from you, but only if you live in an urban (read: “Majority Democratic”) county.  The rest can do as they please, apparently.  Why they believe the top ten most populous counties need this kind of oversight and the rest don’t, I will leave up to your imagination.