Iowa City Democrats back pledge to partisan loyalty in non-partisan city council race


Candidates for the Iowa City Council participate in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 (Izabela Zaluska / The Gazette)

The supposedly non-partisan Iowa City council race looks pretty partisan this year.

Three of the four contestants – Bruce Teague and Megan Alter for the ensemble and Shawn Harmsen for District B – support each other in one way or another.

The other candidate in general, Jason Glass, is the odd one out. He does not support any other candidate and he did not ask for their support. It is no coincidence that Glass is a former Republican while the other three are active Democrats.

It’s a bit of a throwback to 2015, when the progressive “Core Four” swept the Iowa City election against moderate opponents. The candidates said they were not a list, but supporters and the media saw them that way. Left-wing alternative magazine Little Village captured the mood well – its post-election coverage portrayed the four candidates as some sort of medieval warrior.

I think having candidates on the same ballot who support each other is unhealthy for our form of local government.

This year’s welcoming group of nominees don’t coordinate to the same extent as the Core Four, but they appeared differently at events together, hoisted signs and exchanged approvals. Alter’s website lists Harmsen as an endorser and also lists Teague until its recent update.

The backdrop to all of this is that local elections are increasingly divided along national partisan lines. Local parties got involved in non-partisan races.

They are just friends supporting friends. But maybe city government shouldn’t be made up of a group of friends coming in and out of various community and party positions.

More than two dozen Johnson County Democrats, including Harmsen, recently signed a pledge of party loyalty endorsing Alter and Teague, “Democrats in good standing who have spent years supporting Democratic candidates at the local, state and national levels. “.

I explained the gist of this column to Harmsen and Alter and they each explained their reasoning in support of the other candidates.

“If I wasn’t running, I would be here saying the same things. These are two people [Alter and Teague] I’ve known for a long time who I trust, ”said Harmsen.

He also said: “We are our own individual people. There is no quid pro quo. It is a question of values.

“People are looking for shortcuts for values. People are looking at who is supporting whom and so that’s just one more thing voters have to decide on, ”Alter said.

She also said: “There is suddenly an artificiality, in a community that already knows my point of view, to say that I will not support anyone or support anyone since it already exists and is known. It seems fallacious. “

Teague, on the other hand, didn’t want to talk about it. He told me in the middle of our conversation that he didn’t think it was recorded, even though I told him ahead of time that it was an interview for my column. I told him he could think about it and send me a comment instead, but he ignored me.

Alter and Harmsen both mentioned values, but it’s hard to see what form this takes in municipal government. The four candidates are more alike on the big issues than they are different. Glass supports the same progressive political agenda as his opponents – restructuring the police department, expanding affordable housing, funding excluded workers, mandating the masks by local order, the city’s climate action plan.

Local elected officials are already sensitive to group thinking – they receive the same presentations from city staff and are overwhelmingly inclined to agree with them. I fear it will get worse in a partisan environment.

By exchanging political support, politicians join forces. They may be reluctant to denounce their friends or agree with their campaign opponents. Supporters are known to protect their own.

I recognize, as Alter and Harmsen have pointed out, that the candidates’ personal and political connections predate their recent candidacies. They are just friends supporting friends. But maybe city government shouldn’t be made up of a group of friends coming in and out of various community and party positions.

I have known Glass for several years through politics. We have a similar background in the Libertarian-Republican movement, but we’ve both been disappointed with partisan politics. He eventually quit the party and registered as a non-party last year.

The candidate did not shrink from his partisan history. He researched the Democrats’ opposition for them, posting a lengthy blog post about his political past and developments.

Glass told me that leaving the party was “difficult and liberating.” He is happy to be out of the GOP but also sees how our political system makes it much more comfortable to align with a party.

“Partisan offices are easier because, whatever you do, you always have about 30% of the electorate who will like you because you are part of their team. If you’re a school board member, everyone can hate you, ”Glass said.

Glass promises that he will not accept endorsements from current board members or nominees while serving on the board. He also said he would not support or donate to candidates at any level or join a party.

The recent collective endorsement of local Democrats calls Glass “problematic.” He lists his past associations with Republican Party and GOP candidates, but does not mention any of Glass’s political positions on the city. To do this, they should recognize that they agree with him on a large part. They would be guilty of associating with the evil-thinker.

The majorities in the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the Iowa City Council have exactly the same position as Glass. Faithful Democrats were in no rush to criticize them for it.

The only issue I’ve seen critics hitting Glass on is the local law enforcement’s use of an armored vehicle – he wants to keep the surplus military vehicle or replace it with a civilian model. I disagree with him on this point, but the majority of the Johnson County Board of Directors and Iowa City Council have exactly the same position as Glass. Faithful Democrats were in no rush to criticize them for it. Some values.

No matter how independent the candidates think they will be on the board, a commitment of loyalty is certainly bad for local politics.

“I have had prominent Democrats, including elected officials, who have told me privately that they support what I am doing but cannot do it publicly for fear of reprisal,” Glass told me.

(319) 339-3156; [email protected]

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