Dave Funk officially announced his candidacy for Polk County supervisor this week and rolled out a new campaign website, PolkNeedsFunk.com. Not quite the same ring as “Congress Needs Funk,” but still a good slogan. He’s a strong recruit, having carried several precincts in the third supervisor’s district in last month’s GOP primary to represent Iowa’s third Congressional district. (Click here for maps of the district and the Congressional primary results in Polk County.)
Funk promised supporters that this is a “winnable” race, which could give Republicans control of Polk County government for the first time in 62 years. As an energetic campaigner with a built-in supply of volunteers from the local tea party movement, Funk will test two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith. He starts the campaign with much higher name recognition than Wes Enos, whom Hockensmith defeated in 2006 by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.
However, Funk faces an uphill battle. Even after recent Republican gains in voter registration statewide, Democrats still have a large registration advantage in Polk County’s third supervisor’s district. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald provided the latest figures for active registered voters in the area Hockensmith represents: 22,301 Democrats, 15,753 Republicans, 15,569 no-party voters, and 52 others. Polk County Democrats have a strong GOTV operation, and organized labor will work hard for Hockensmith for reasons I described here.
Funk’s tea party rhetoric may not resonate in this campaign as well as it did with Republican primary voters last month. The issues page of Polk Needs Funk talks about limiting spending so that county government can “live within its means,” but people want their supervisors to deliver public services like the ones Hockensmith will talk about during the campaign.
Anyway, Polk County’s fiscal position is strong. Many residents questioned the money spent to expand the Iowa Events Center earlier this decade, but that facility just turned its largest-ever profit despite the tough economy. You can download recent county budgets and reports from bond rating agencies here. The last time Polk County issued general obligation bonds in 2007, all three major ratings agencies gave the county strong credit ratings. Fitch said its AA+ rating “reflects the county’s broad and diverse economic base, sound financial operations, and low direct debt burden.” Moody’s said Polk’s “high quality Aa1 rating reflects the county’s healthy and economically viable tax base realizing strong growth trends; stable financial operations supported by satisfactory reserve levels; and a manageable debt burden with future debt planned.” Standard & Poor’s raised Polk’s rating from AA+ to AAA, citing factors such as “low debt burden” and “stable financial position supported by a policy to pass balanced budgets.”
Funk will struggle to convince voters that “Polk County is among the most hostile business environments in Iowa.” Talk about “getting government out of the way and fostering a fair, business-friendly environment” appeals to Funk’s base but has little basis in reality. The business magazine Forbes just named the Des Moines metro area one of the top ten “recovery capitals” in the U.S., based on Moody’s Economy.com analysis of economic prospects for the period 2010-14. The Brookings Institute ranked the Des Moines area near the top in its June 2010 report on recession and economic recovery in the country’s 100 largest metro areas. In April, Des Moines topped the Forbes list of “best places for business and careers.” Many factors contribute to the Des Moines area’s relative economic health, and most of them have little to do with county governance. But if Polk County supervisors really were creating the “hostile” business environment of Funk’s imagination, Des Moines shouldn’t be doing so well compared to other U.S. cities.
Share any thoughts about county government or the Funk/Hockensmith race in this thread.