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Murphy column: All (partisan) politics is local

Murphy column: All (partisan) politics is local

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The partisan temperature on Iowa’s local government races seems to be climbing rapidly.

That temperature spiked recently with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds endorsing a suburban Des Moines school board candidate and encouraging those gathered at her fundraiser to evaluate and vote for like-minded local government candidates.

Erin Murphy

Erin Murphy

It looks like all partisan politics is local.

We can be honest here. This is a safe space. Local government elections — for mayor or city council, county supervisors, or school board — have never been as purely nonpartisan as they’re often billed.

Sure, local candidates are not listed as Democrats, Republicans or otherwise on the ballot as are the ones for the statehouse, Congress or governor. But these days, most voters know full well each local candidate’s political leaning. Democrats and Republicans alike for years have been working to elect ideologically approved candidates in local elections.

But the veil on allegedly nonpartisan local elections is being pulled back even more — maybe even removed altogether.

Reynolds recently appeared at a fundraising event for Sarah Barthole, a school board candidate in Ankeny who was one of the parents who encouraged Reynolds and statehouse Republicans to pass the new state law that required all school districts to offer full-time in-person instruction to all students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A governor not only endorsing but appearing at a fundraiser for a school board candidate is covering rare ground.

Then, during her annual fall fundraiser while speaking to a room full of roughly 1,000 donors — $50 per ticket at a minimum — Reynolds encouraged all in attendance to vote in their local elections for candidates whose viewpoints align with theirs.

“Please, please, please don’t forget about the elections this November for school boards and city councils,” Reynolds said. “Let’s all come together and treat this November (election) like its next November (and the 2022 midterm elections). Find out where your school board and city council candidates stand on the issues that you care about, and then go vote.

“Again, it’s all about turnout. When we show up, we win.”

Iowa Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, leader of the minority House Democrats, said she found Reynolds’ involvement in a school board race “quite concerning.” Konfrst made the comments during her appearance on this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.

It was pointed out to Konfrst that political parties have long helped local candidates and used those races and locally elected officials as recruiting grounds for future candidates for the statehouse, statewide or federal races.

“I would argue that not endorsing and not focusing on it are different things,” Konfrst said. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate as a leader to go in and put my thumb on the scale in a non-partisan race in that fashion.”

It would appear that cat is out of the bag, most likely for good. Perhaps it’s time to take our heads out of the sand and acknowledge local races are no less partisan than any others. Perhaps it’s time to slap those Ds and Rs after local candidates’ names.

After all, one must essentially ignore reality to believe most voters don’t already see those political labels in their minds anyway.

— Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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