Johnson County's first African American sworn in as supervisor

Royceann Porter finishes her oath, officially taking over late-supervisor Kurt Friese's...
Royceann Porter finishes her oath, officially taking over late-supervisor Kurt Friese's position. (Courtesy: Lisa Green-Douglass)(KCRG)
Published: Dec. 26, 2018 at 6:50 PM CST
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The first African American to become a Johnson County supervisor took her oath of office, Wednesday.

Democrat Royceann Porter defeated Republican Phil Hemingway 56 to 43 percent, in this month's special election.

Porter took the oath at the supervisors' meeting room at about 4:00 p.m. She's not only the first African-American supervisor but the first to hold any county-wide office in Johnson.

Following his recent defeat, Hemingway is analyzing what went wrong during that special election. At least playing a factor, he says, electing supervisors to county-wide positions. It could be benefiting Democrats as the large metro population tends to vote left, overshadowing right-leaning rural votes.

"I think can't look at the results of this past special election and draw any other conclusion but that."

Republicans like Hemingway feel electing supervisors to districts might break up the vote in a more equitable way. They hope it would ensure rural voters have representation and GOP candidates have a better chance at getting on a board dominated by Democrats-- that's despite Johnson County having the eighth highest concentration of active GOP voters in Iowa, 18,500.

"We have a large urban population," said Hemingway. "But, Johnson County is bigger than Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty."

Making the switch to districts has been tried in years past, by the Republicans. Cathy Grawe says they pushed for a vote, but couldn't get the thousands of signatures needed on a petition.

"I think that people were pretty much behind it," said Grawe. "But, it was pretty much just getting names and getting the petition."

Rod Sullivan, Democrat, and longtime supervisor felt the switch to districts wouldn't really change much. He explained the law requires equally proportion populations in each of what would be five divisions of about 31,000 people. Metro zones, he said, would still likely be a big influence on each of them.

"Now you've got a North Liberty district, a Coralville district," said Sullivan. "There would be two district's completely contained in Iowa City. Plus another 15/20,000 Iowa City residents who would be combined with rural residents. There is just no way you can divide it up and get a district that is all rural."

Sullivan recommended those that feel underrepresented call his or the other supervisors' office to talk about their concerns, saying he receives fewer calls than people would expect.