CORALVILLE, Iowa—About a hundred people jammed into a ballroom Monday night at the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center here to honor John Etheredge, the newly sworn in Republican on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.
“Without you, I wouldn’t be here,” Etheredge told the energized crowd. “This is an exciting time in Johnson County. I will do my best to represent the interests and the people of Johnson County—no matter their political party.”
“We ran a campaign of ideas that appealed to people more than parties,” he said. “I’m now focused on listening and working towards common-sense ideas on issues in Johnson County.”
Democrats mocked Etheredge as unprepared for the position, which pays about $52,000 annually. Nonetheless, he brushes of the criticism as sour grapes and acknowledges that he’s an average citizen who will work tirelessly to represent his constituents.”
“I’m still learning to breathe as I’m giving my speeches—pretty soon I’ll learn how to get a glass of water,” he joked. “I learn quickly.”
Etheredge, a rural Kalona resident, replaces state Rep. Sally Stutsman, D-Riverside, who gave up her seat after she won election to the statehouse last year. At a ceremony Monday morning, a county official swore in Etheredge, who brought his personal bible for the occasion.
“Freedoms, without a sense of morality, can’t exist,” he said, drawing strength from his Christian faith.
David Yanksy, the Johnson County Republicans co-chair, spoke about how county Republicans banded together to fund Etheredge’s campaign to the tune of about $4,000—a huge investment for a county-level race in the People’s Republic of Johnson County. With in-kind support from the Republican Party of Iowa, a major snowstorm and a lack of energy on the Democratic side, the stars aligned for Etheredge.
The 28-year-old won by 193 out of 6,113 votes (51-48 percent). His victory became official Monday with a countywide canvas. Some Democrats blamed the 4-5 inches of snow for their poor performance, although Iowa City-based writer John Deeth acknowledged that Democrats muffed their early voting efforts and were caught “asleep at the switch.”
Etheredge, a blue-collar worker at Lowes, overcame a 2-to-1 Democratic voter registration advantage in the county to become the first elected Republican supervisor in the People’s Republic since 1962. Less than 7 percent of voters turned out. Democrats, accustomed to one-party rule, seemed shocked at the outcome.
“I don’t know what state I’m in,” Democratic candidate Terry Dahms told the Cedar Rapids Gazette the day after the election. “I’m still confused. I’m disappointed. And I really don’t have any bottom-line explanation.”
Etheredge will attend the first public meeting of the supervisors today—yesterday’s meeting was cancelled because of a shooting in North Liberty. He left his celebration to head home and pore over briefing materials for the Tuesday meeting. Two issues he will immediately tackle: a contentious development plan involving Newport Rd. and a potential new county jail.
Etheredge opposed constructing a new jail during his campaign.
“I’m for not raising people’s property taxes; I’m for saving the county $43 million,” he said at an interview with TheIowaRepublican.com at his reception. “Do we have an issue that needs to be addressed with the jail? Absolutely. But it shouldn’t cost $43 million. It can be addressed with spaces we already have or a lower-cost solution, something we don’t have to bond for 20 years over. By the time it’s paid for, it might not even meet the county’s needs at that time.”
The day after the election, Etheredge quickly learned a lesson in the way Democrats play politics in Iowa. Supervisor Janelle Rettig, a Democrat, called Etheredge the day after the election and invited him for a tour of the county administration building. Etheredge brought his wife and asked a few innocuous questions about the transition to near full-time government work. Rettig then publicly mocked Etheredge on her Facebook page, distorting the conversation.
“I’ve had a terrible day and it is going to be a hell of a long 22 months until the next swearing in of Supervisors,” she wrote on Facebook before deleting the messages after public objections to her lack of civility and deception.
Etheredge took the kerfuffle in stride, noting that other supervisors have graciously welcomed him and that he looks forward to finding common ground with Rettig on local issues.
“I’m a very easy-going guy,” he said. “Your job becomes difficult if you put a chip on your shoulder. I will let other people worry about that. I have county business. I have work to do—not to be partisan but to represent everyone. I hold no ill will toward her. I hope we can work together.”
Nonetheless, Etheredge, who plans to run for reelection in 2014, realizes that Democrats have the knives out for him.
“There’s an old saying, and George W. Bush does the best job of misquoting it,” he said. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Etheredge, an unassuming, soft-spoken guy, plans to take his lead from another former Republican president—Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal.”
“He was a quiet guy,” Etheredge said. “But he got a lot of stuff done. You don’t have to bark.”
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