Let’s start with the good news: Democrat Royceann Porter made history by winning the December 18 special election for Johnson County supervisor. The longtime community activist and labor organizer gained 5,444 votes (56 percent) to 4,167 votes (43 percent) for Republican Phil Hemingway, a member of the Iowa City school board. Porter is the first African American to win a county-wide office in Johnson County and will be one of four women on a five-member board that never had more than two women serving at the same time before this November’s election.
John Deeth took a granular look at the county’s urban and rural voting patterns in his preview of this election and his analysis of the unofficial results. He sees signs of a possible “watershed moment in county politics.”
While a Democrat winning in “the People’s Republic of Johnson County” might not seem newsworthy, Porter’s victory was not a foregone conclusion. A Republican won a low-turnout special election for a county supervisor seat in 2013. The compressed time frame for the special election gave Porter only four weeks to build up her name recognition. Her opponent was better-known, having already won local office. The Farm Bureau chapter drummed up support for Hemingway with a mass mailing, which was unprecedented for a county race, according to longtime area politics-watchers.
Porter also had to contend with a tremendous amount of implicit bias among voters who probably would not consider themselves racist.