This Time as a Democrat, Lauris Olson Announces 3rd Bid for County Supervisor

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Lauris Olson files paperwork with county Auditor Lucy Martin to run for Story County supervisor. Photo: Courtesy of Lauris Olson

Ames resident Lauris Olson, a small businesswoman and former local government reporter, announced Wednesday that she will run for the Story County Board of Supervisors for a third time, as a Democrat now instead of an independent. She is seeking the seat of retiring Supervisor Wayne Clinton, a longtime Ames Democrat who has served on the board since 2001.

Olson is the second of two Democrats to declare following Reno Berg, the former CEO of Mainstream Living, an Ames service provider for people with disabilities. Berg announced his intentions to run in mid-January, shortly before the Informer‘s launch. The two will square off in their party’s primary June 7.

On the Republican side, the only declared candidate so far is Ames resident Scott Schaben, a former car salesman and relative political novice who previously finished last in the five-way GOP Senate primary won by Joni Ernst in 2014.

Olson previously ran for the Board of Supervisors as an independent in 2012, when she challenged Clinton, losing with about 27 percent of the vote. When she ran again in 2014 in an effort to unseat either Republican Rick Sanders or Democrat Paul Toot, she reflected on the earlier loss, describing Clinton as a tough-to-beat “community icon” who’d coached Fred Hoiberg’s high school basketball team.

Because she again ran as an independent in 2014 and because voters that year could choose up to two candidates for the two seats up for grabs, Olson’s chances at winning were hurt by the emergence of William Klees, a senior at Iowa State University who was recruited by then-Story County GOP Chairman Dane Nealson. Klees knew virtually nothing about local government and ran on a vague platform of ending “apathy and ignorance” among young voters, but he may have cost Olson some Republican support from county residents who voted straight-ticket instead of choosing between Toot and Olson for their second choice because of the two GOP candidates on the ballot. Despite $11,000 in loans (PDF) from her husband, ISU physics professor Kerry Whisnant, that Olson used to blanket the county with a final get-out-the-vote mailer, she finished in fourth place behind Sanders, Toot, and Klees with just over 9 percent of the vote.

This year, Olson potentially has a clearer path forward. She is running on a platform of fostering public/private partnerships to improve transportation options throughout the county, tackling the county’s affordable housing problems, protecting its natural resources, and improving county technology to help residents have more of an idea about local government affairs.

Because of Clinton’s impending retirement, Olson is also running for an open seat for the first time, which could make for a less contentious race. In 2014, Olson filed (later-dismissed) transparency complaints against the board with the Iowa Public Information Board and frequently butted heads with Toot and especially Sanders, both of whom Olson claims she is now on better terms with.

As Olson said Wednesday in a press release announcing her latest bid, regardless of the race’s eventual outcome, “Change is going to happen.”

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.