As Clinton Rethinks Retirement, Story Dems Endorse Olson for County Supervisor [Updated]

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Story County Supervisor Wayne Clinton. Photo: Story County

Update, 7/2: On Friday, Story County Supervisor Wayne Clinton, a Democrat, officially announced that he will run for re-election this November as a no-party candidate instead of resigning at the end of his current term. He made the announcement at a press conference with Supervisor Rick Sanders, a Republican, by his side.

Original post: In concert with its move into its election season headquarters at 104 Kellogg Ave. in downtown Ames, the Story County Democratic Party announced in a press release Thursday that it was endorsing “all duly nominated” candidates in its party for the November general election.

Typically, this wouldn’t really be newsworthy — of course the local party is going to endorse its own candidates. But a report Tuesday from the Ames Tribune (that also ran in yesterday’s paper) could throw a curve into one of the races this year, in light of today’s endorsements: Longtime Democratic Supervisor Wayne Clinton, whose retirement announcement led to a two-candidate primary bid for the party’s nomination for his county seat earlier this year, said he was rethinking his decision.

There are two reasons for this, Clinton told the Trib. One, fellow Democratic Supervisor Paul Toot died unexpectedly in early May, shaking up the dynamics of the already soon-to-change three-member board. Because of the timing relatively close to the November election, the county chose to appoint a temporary replacement rather than hold a special election. It went with moderate Republican Martin Chitty, a Fed Ex delivery driver and Nevada school board president, who will be up for election in November if he wishes to stay on as a supervisor.

“Currently, we are preparing to reconvene the Story County Democrats’ convention next weekend for the purpose of nominating a Democratic Party candidate to finish the term of county supervisor, Paul Toot, who died in May,” said Jan Bauer, who chairs the county Democratic Party, in a statement in the press release. (That convention will take place not this coming weekend but on the morning of Saturday, July 9, at the Collegiate United Methodist Church in Ames.)

But the second reason for why Clinton is reconsidering retiring at the end of the year is where things could get more interesting: Former Ames journalist Lauris Olson, who is running for supervisor for the third time but the first time as a Democrat this year, beat her opponent, former Mainstream Living CEO Reno Berg, in the primary earlier this month.

Olson has been a thorn in the side of the board for the past several years. In 2012, she ran an aggressive longshot campaign against Clinton as an independent, at one point filing a complaint against him for having a campaign sign too close to a polling site. Two years later, she finished last in a four-way race for two seats up for re-election, those of Toot and Republican Rick Sanders. During that campaign, Olson “job shadowed” the board at its meetings, often probing its members with questions. She also criticized the board’s commitment to transparency and filed open meetings complaints with Iowa Public Information Board (the complaints were later dismissed).

As a Democratic candidate now, though, Olson has a much better chance of being elected to the board. She is currently facing Republican Scott Schaben, a relative political novice who finished in last place in the GOP Senate primary won by Joni Ernst in 2014.

“I’m concerned about who’s going to follow me, who’s going to sit in my seat and I guess the results of the primary wasn’t the way I had hoped it would turn out,” Clinton told the Tribune this week.

If Clinton chooses to run, he’s got two options. He could either be nominated at the July convention to run as a Democrat against Chitty — something he told the Tribune he wasn’t interested in doing — or qualify for ballot access through a petition drive to run as a no-party candidate. Olson told the paper that would risk splitting votes between the two candidates, which could throw the race to Schaben.

Clinton said he plans to make an official announcement on Friday. According to the Tribune, he told Sanders “that there is a 75 percent chance that he will run as a no-party candidate” despite the vote-splitting concerns.

Here’s the full list of Dems endorsed in the press release. House District 48 includes all of Hamilton County and parts of Webster, Boone, and Story counties (PDF); and Senate District 24 comprises all of Hamilton, Greene, and Boone counties as well as parts of Webster and Story counties (PDF):

Lauris Olson, Story County Board of Supervisors
Lucy Martin, Story County Auditor
Paul Fitzgerald, Story County Sheriff
Keith Puntenney, state Senate District 24
Beth Wessel-Kroschell, state House District 45
Lisa Heddens, state House District 46
Sherrie Taha, state House District 48

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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.