Board of Supervisors candidates Royceann Porter and Phil Hemingway will discuss the issues in a forum on Wednesday night

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League of Women Voters Candidate Forum

Iowa City Hall — Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

Phil Hemingway and Royceann Porter

Royceann Porter and Phil Hemingway, the two candidates in the Dec. 18 special election to fill the vacancy on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, will answer questions during a forum on Wednesday night. The 90-minute event, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at Iowa City Hall.

Porter would seem to have an advantage in the race, because she is a Democrat, and Hemingway, a Republican, lost his run for the Board of Supervisors in the November general election. Johnson County has a well-earned reputation as a Democratic stronghold — it has a higher percentage of voters registered as Democrats (47 percent) than any other county in the state, and was the only county that Republican incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad didn’t carry in 2014.

But as John Deeth, probably the most well-informed observer of Johnson County politics, recently explained on his blog, the “Farm Vote” is important in the county, and it’s made up of people who “WILL vote and they will NOT vote for Royceann Porter.”

“Not all rural voters are part of it, and it includes some old timers in town, but ‘Farm Vote’ is the best shorthand label I have,” Deeth wrote. “These voters will not support a progressive candidate for supervisor — that office in particular more than others.”

It’s made up of Democrats who will back a Tom Harkin or a Tom Miller, but maybe not a Hillary Clinton or a Bruce Braley. It’s made up of sophisticated local Republicans more motivated by business than ideology. It’s made up of independents who care more about who is in the courthouse than in the White House.

Porter is an unabashed progressive. A union organizer and community activist, Porter would also be the first black person elected to a county-wide office in Johnson County history.

Hemingway is a fourth-generation Johnson County resident, who was born and raised on his family’s farm between Morse and Oasis. A small business owner and member of the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors, Hemingway says that one of his main reasons for running is to make sure that rural Johnson County is represented on the board.

According to Deeth,

The Farm Vote has a sense that the Board of Supervisors should “belong” to them and people like them, because for more than a century it did, in the same way that the Iowa City council “belonged” to the Chamber of Commerce for decades until the Core Four win in 2015. There wasn’t a single urban progressive supervisor until Joe Bolkcom in 1992, and the Board didn’t get a solid liberal majority until after the 2014 election.

Although no Republican has won a seat on the Board of Supervisors in a general election since Eisenhower was president, the Republican candidate did win in the 2013 special election. Deeth points out that this special election also offers Republicans an excellent chance to win a seat.

“The Farm Vote is well organized year round, election season or not, through a natural social network of churches and clubs and coffee drinking sessions,” Deeth said. He calculates that the Farm Vote has been steady for the past 25 years, accounting for between 3,000 and 4,000 votes in board elections.

Although the county had a record turnout for the November election — 72.4 percent of registered voters cast a ballot — it’s unlikely the turnout in the special election will come anywhere near that. The special election in October to fill the vacancy on the Iowa City Council only had a turnout of 9 percent.

The Wednesday forum is the only currently scheduled event in which both Porter and Hemingway will jointly appear to answer questions.

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