Stage nearly set for new Johnson County supervisor


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Johnson County officials say a late-evening snowstorm, “voter fatigue,” and a proposed Cedar Rapids casino are all contributing factors in the dismal voter turnout leading up to tonight’s election of a fifth county supervisor.

“It’s a little bit slower than what we’d like to see,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said. “I think the casino vote and media attention in Linn County has really overshadowed this race.”

The special election vote to choose a new Johnson County supervisor will take place today, following more than two months of campaigning from both the Democratic and Republican candidates. The winner will fill the seat vacated by former Supervisor Sally Stutsman, who won a seat in the Iowa House in November 2012.

When the polls close at 9 p.m. today, either current Johnson County Democrat head Terry Dahms or GOP nominee John Etheredge will claim the seat.

The last time there was a vacant seat on the board was in October 2009. Now-Supervisor Janelle Rettig filled that spot.

As of 8:30 p.m. Monday, roughly 1,854 early votes had been cast, 313 of which were made on Monday. During Rettig’s special election in 2009, Weipert said more than two times as many votes had been cast by that time.

Despite the low numbers, he said the voting demographic has been pleasantly diverse, ranging from college students to the elderly, with both a strong rural and urban turnout.

Dahms, a five-year member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said the seemingly back-to-back local and presidential elections may be frustrating area residents. From Jan. 4 until March 4, his campaign has spent more than $7,000 in $4 lawn signs and last-minute phone calling.

“I think they may be tired of showing up at the polls,” he said. “You have to remember that November wasn’t long ago, and it was an enormous election. I think people are just burnt out.”

If elected, Dahms said, he will aim to restore county to council relationships, seek to expand mental-health care, see that county infrastructure remains on pace with development, and tackle the current 20-year period for tax increment financing use at the Statehouse. He pointed out that a new Johnson County Justice Center and updated Courthouse complex will also improve community-wide safety.

“I think there’s some bridges that need to be built between the supervisors and other elected bodies, especially city councils,” he said. “When you talk about building bridges, it’s also about building to Des Moines.”

Etheredge, a resident of rural Johnson County, said his campaign has centered on a number of radio advertising initiatives, recorded phone calls, and yard signs costing upwards of $1,200. Although he couldn’t disclose a definitive budget, he did say the campaign is currently at a few thousand dollars.

“I would be a voice to hold the line on raising taxes,” he said. “People right now with the economy the way it is, we don’t need to be hurting their pocketbook anymore than it already is by raising taxes. We should be encouraging growth because we need more jobs.”

Etheredge previously ran for the Board of Supervisors in the general election as a candidate nominated by petition. Incumbent Supervisors Pat Harney, Terrence Neuzil, and Rod Sullivan defeated him in November.

Etheredge said being involved in the rural part of the county has afforded him the opportunity to drive county awareness.

“Right now, we have a partisan office, and we have people running on partisan politics,” he said. “It shouldn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican. It should matter what your vision is for the county.”

Rettig said the re-implementation of a fifth supervisor will be welcome, but she emphasized the long hours that will need to be dedicated.

“We need a supervisor to hit the ground running,” she said. “We have a lot of budgetary things to get done soon. Whichever wins, I hope they’re ready to get to work. I like it when people run for public office; I just wish they’d do their homework first.”

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