# Scott County



GOP auditor will manage Scott County elections through 2022

Scott County’s newly-appointed Republican Auditor Kerri Tompkins will serve through 2022 after county Democrats failed to force a special election for the office.

Scott County Democrats leader Elesha Gayman announced on June 8 that activists collected 6,211 signatures during the previous two weeks, about 3,000 short of the threshold for calling a special election to fill a vacancy at the county level. Unusually high turnout in 2020 raised the bar for collecting signatures equaling at least 10 percent of those who cast ballots in the previous presidential election. Adding to the organizing burden, a law Republicans enacted earlier this year shortened the time frame for such petition drives to only fourteen days.

Gayman said Democrats will not “lay down” in light of what she described as “voter suppression.” The next focus for volunteers in Iowa’s third-largest county will be contacting some 10,000 voters whose registrations were recently moved to inactive status, under the same law Governor Kim Reynolds signed in March.

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Scott County Democrats face huge organizing challenge

Scott County’s three Republican supervisors voted on May 25 to appoint Kerri Tompkins as the county’s new auditor, having considered no other candidates for the position, and giving members of the public no opportunity to comment.

The vacancy arose when Democratic Auditor Roxanna Moritz resigned just a few months into a four-year term. The three Republicans on the five-member board did not solicit applications for the vacancy or interview candidates. Rather, they decided to appoint Tompkins in a backroom deal, possibly violating Iowa’s open records law in the process.

The two Democrats on the Board of Supervisors wanted to hold a special election to determine Moritz’s replacement, but they didn’t have the votes to make it happen.

Local Democrats are trying to petition for a special election. But a law Republicans enacted earlier this year will make that task much more difficult.

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Scott County deserves honesty and transparency, not John Maxwell

Lorraine Meriner explains why Scott County Supervisor John Maxwell’s possible violation of Iowa’s open meeting law must be formally investigated. -promoted by Laura Belin

On the morning of May 25, the Scott County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting to appoint a new county auditor to succeed Roxanna Moritz, who stepped down last month. According to Iowa’s open meetings law, if a majority of a governmental body’s members meet, their meeting must be publicly announced at least 24 hours in advance and must be held in “open session,” accessible to the public. In addition, meeting minutes must be made publicly available.

The law allows for closed sessions in some extenuating circumstances. Although the five supervisors met in open session on Tuesday, board vice chair John Maxwell’s contradictory recent comments to local reporters suggest that the board’s three Republican members violated open meeting law just days prior.

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Proposed CAFO expansion threatens Scott County water, air quality

The Scott County Board of Supervisors will vote August 19 on a proposed major expansion of a Grandview Farms Inc., a confined animal feeding operation owned by Thomas Dittmer. The supervisors' public hearing on the matter drew large numbers of supporters and opponents earlier this month. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has authority to issue permits, but the county's recommendation may influence the DNR's decision on the expansion. If approved, the CAFO could nearly double its annual production of hogs from 80,000 to 150,000.  

Scott County officials who reported to the supervisors gave the CAFO expansion proposal 480 on the "master matrix" evaluation system, where 880 is the maximum number of points and 440 is needed to pass. However, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement disputes that score on several grounds:  

Factory farm operator Tom Dittmer discharged manure into a tile line that runs into a tributary of Hickory Creek, a state waterway, according to preliminary test results obtained by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during a site survey conducted last Friday [August 6].  

Iowa Legislative Code 459.311(1); 567 and Iowa Administrative Code 65.2(3) both state, "A confinement feeding operation shall not discharge manure directly into water of the state or into a tile line that discharges into a water of the state."  

"We have a documented discharge from the confinement to a tile line," Dennis Ostwinkle, Supervisor of the Iowa DNR's Field Office in Washington, said in an email correspondence with Iowa CCI Tuesday.  

The DNR field investigation was prompted in part by complaints filed by the Quad City Waterkeepers, Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Iowa CCI.  According to Ostwinkle, the field tests were submitted to the University of Iowa Hygenics Lab for further testing. If the preliminary field tests are confirmed, the violation could force a deduction of an additional 25 points from Dittmer's Master Matrix score. Scott County Iowa CCI members have already identified 160 points that should be deducted from the Master Matrix score.

 

While water pollution is a primary concern of those who oppose CAFO expansions, large hog lots can also compromise air quality. As Paul Deaton discussed at Blog for Iowa, CAFOs near industrial areas pose a particular risk:  

According to the 2010 State of the Environment report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, "In Iowa, most fine particle pollution forms in the atmosphere when ammonia (from animal feeding operations, fertilizer application and other natural sources) combines with sulfuric or nitric acid (from power plants, automobiles and other combustion sources) to create tiny particles."  

Expanding the amount of ammonia emitted in Scott County, which the additional capacity of Dittmer's hog lot would do, combined with the heavy industry already there would create additional fine particulate matter. It is a formula for trouble as it pertains to human health.  

It works like this: ammonia from livestock operations is emitted into the atmosphere where it combines with sulfuric or nitric acid emitted from burning coal and creates fine particulate matter which gets into the lungs of people and causes significant health problems in the form of increased incidence of asthma, cardio-respiratory problems and increase morbidity and mortality.

Let's not talk about the fact that Davenport and neighboring Muscatine and Rock Island Counties were identified by the United States Environmental Agency as being in non-attainment for fine particulate matter. During the phase in of testing for fine particulate matter, Scott and Muscatine Counties were identified as being in non-attainment according to newly promulgated standards.

 

Congressman Bruce Braley, who represents Scott County, is a friend of Dittmer and "submitted a letter in support of the expansion,&quot. State Senator Joe Seng of Davenport has not taken a position for or against the proposal.  

Seng said he was “sort of sitting on the fence” about the project. But as chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget subcommittee, he believes funding needs to be restored for odor quality research.

 

Wrong answer, Senator Seng. The “odor-study bill” approved by Iowa legislators in 2008 was a waste of time and money, because Iowa taxpayers already paid to study this issue, and research conducted in other states has identified “cost effective ways to mitigate odor” from hog lots.

If you live in Scott County and are concerned about the potential increase in air and water pollution, please consider contacting the five members of the Board of Supervisors before Thursday, August 19. Phone calls or old-fashioned letters are harder to ignore than e-mails.

LATE UPDATE: The Scott County board of supervisors approved the planned CAFO. Molly Regan, a former former Soil and Water Commissioner for the county, has more on this story at Blog for Iowa.

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Rematch coming in Iowa House district 84

Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times reports that Ross Paustian will again challenge State Representative Elesha Gayman in Iowa House district 84. In 2008, Gayman defeated Paustian by about 800 votes, 52.4 percent to 47.4 percent.

It was a dispiriting loss for Republicans on several levels. Paustian led election-night returns until the massive number of absentee and early votes were added to the tally. Gayman was considered vulnerable as a first-termer in a traditionally Republican county. Conservative groups had poured tons of money into negative ads against Gayman. An organization funded by Mid-American Energy, RJ Reynolds and other corporations began running commercials against Gayman and a few other Iowa House Democrats in early 2008. The Republican Party spent heavily in the district too. Shortly before election day, the American Future Fund ran new ads against a group of House Democrats including Gayman. Still, Paustian came up short.

House district 84 didn’t turn out to be one of the closest Iowa legislative races last year, but I expect a Gayman/Paustian rematch to be highly competitive. Democratic turnout tends to be lower in non-presidential years, and Republicans may benefit from an “enthusiasm gap” in 2010. The unemployment rate in Scott County was nearly 7 percent in August 2009 and could be higher next year. The Scott County GOP has an ambitious new chairman, Brian Kennedy. He is raising more money and trying to build a bigger grassroots organization. Gayman and State Representative Phyllis Thede (House district 81) are certain to be targeted.

On the plus side, Gayman was very involved in Barack Obama’s campaign before and after the Iowa caucuses, and since July of this year she’s been consulting for the Iowa Federation of Labor’s Working Iowa Neighbors program. In other words, she has plenty of friends in a position to help her get out the vote. Also, Paustian is a farmer, and as Bleeding Heartland user American007 has noted, Iowans seem to be electing more white-collar professionals and fewer farmers to the legislature these days.

There’s always a chance that the job market will improve significantly before next fall, although jobs tend to be a lagging indicator, and Iowa tends to be slow to come out of recessions.

Bleeding Heartland readers, how would you handicap a Gayman/Paustian rematch?

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Talk about missing the big picture

Craig Robinson has a post up at The Iowa Republican on efforts by the Scott County GOP to “turn the tide” for Republicans in eastern Iowa and statewide. The problem:

Just over a decade ago, Republicans held eight of the nine legislative seats in Scott County, today Republicans only control three of those seats. […] Currently, Republicans control only five senate seats and sixteen house seats east of Polk County. If you want to understand why Republicans have lost their majorities, one need[s] to look at what has happened to the state of the Republican Party in eastern Iowa.

In January of 2000, there were almost 5,000 more registered Republicans in Scott County than there were registered Democrats. Today, Democrats enjoy a registered voter advantage of 8,622 over Republicans. The 13,000 person swing in registered voters explains why Republicans have struggled to win elections in Scott County, the first congressional district, and statewide.

In the late 1990’s, Republican statewide candidates could win if they were able to perform reasonably well in Polk County. Many times, western Iowa counties as along with eastern Iowa Republican strongholds like Scott County could offset the margin that Democratic candidates could build in Polk and Johnson counties. Unfortunately, those were the glory days of Republican politics. In recent years, the only area of the state in which Republicans can build significant margins over Democrats is in northwest Iowa.

Here’s a name you won’t find in Robinson’s piece: Jim Leach. In the “glory days,” Jim Leach represented Scott County in Congress. But other Republicans attacked Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks last year because she praised Leach’s work (even though she disagreed with his pro-choice position).  Now Christian Fong, the only gubernatorial candidate from eastern Iowa, assures voters that he is a social conservative and ducked a question about whether he’d ever voted for Leach.

In the “glory days,” most of the statehouse Republicans representing eastern Iowa were moderates. But in the 2006 Republican primary in Iowa Senate district 41, right-wing interest groups helped David Hartsuch oust pro-choice incumbent Republican Maggie Tinsman. Legislators on both sides of the aisle respected Tinsman, which can’t be said of Hartsuch. Getting rid of Tinsman helped social conservatives gain more power in the Iowa GOP, but I doubt it helped the Republican brand in Scott County.

The Republican Party in Iowa and nationally has simply become too conservative to compete in much of eastern Iowa. The same process has turned many longtime Republican districts in Illinois and Wisconsin blue.

Robinson praises Brian Kennedy’s organizing and fundraising work as the finance chair of the Scott County GOP. He argues that rising unemployment in eastern Iowa has created an opening for Republicans in 2010. For that reason, Kennedy wants GOP candidates to focus on “job creation and the economy.” But clearly, there is no room in the GOP for candidates who don’t accept all of the religious right’s positions, whether or not they talk about jobs.

Until the Republican Party makes room in the tent for people who admire Jim Leach, they won’t regain a dominant position in places like Scott County. A weak economy can help the GOP make up some ground next year, and raising more money can improve their grassroots organizing, but that won’t solve their fundamental problem.

Eastern Iowa Bleeding Heartland readers, tell me if I’m right or wrong and why.

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