I hadn’t heard of Royceann Porter until she was considered to be the Democratic nominee to fill the seat on the Johnson County Board of supervisors left by the death of Kurt Friese.
Through hard work and effective organizing she won yesterday’s special election by an honest margin of 56 percent of 9,658 votes cast, beating another Iowa City resident, Phil Hemingway, decidedly.
In case you missed it, I included a photo. Royceann Porter is black, and a woman, the first black woman to be elected to the Johnson County board of supervisors.
During the campaign I found racism was still alive in the county. Those of us who talk to voters and have over the last couple of decades are well aware of Johnson County’s endemic racism. Porter herself has been working for racial justice in the county. Voters I meet don’t look at themselves as racist, although Royceann’s candidacy scratched it like a rash. It showed itself in characteristic fashion in unexpected, unwelcome places among people in my circle of acquaintances. The euphemisms were several: “Hemingway is better qualified.” “Did you see her at the forum?” “We need rural representation.” These were Democratic voters I spoke to and the attempts to distract from their racism wore thin and saddened me.
I contributed to Royceann Porter’s campaign. As a Democrat, what else was I going to do? With other area friends we organized a meet and greet in our nearby city and advertised it in the local newspaper. I contacted everyone I know and urged them to vote for Porter in the special election. I posted this photo on social media with an endorsement. I don’t know what impact these things had, but Johnson County Democrats may have learned the lesson of the 2013 special election when their chosen candidate, Terry Dahms, lost to Republican John Etheredge with 6,113 total votes cast in that election. Yesterday turnout across the county improved over 2013 by 58 percent.
Was this election about race? Only partly. With a focus on running a viable campaign in a short period of time, Porter overcame every obstacle she faced and won. Racism is still there in Johnson County, the same racism I recognized when our family moved to Big Grove in 1993.
This election and Royceann Porter’s win provides another opportunity to address problems in the county. Racism is only one of a long list of things the board of supervisors must tackle. There’s plenty to do and the board voters chose is reflective of who I am and the direction I’d like to see county government go. That’s what elections are supposed to be about, isn’t it?
Good luck to Royceann Porter on the board. She has the potential to accomplish a lot in 2019 and beyond. Many of us will be pulling for her.