Chloe Hennesy is a flower farmer on Rocket Rabbit Farm and member of the Jefferson County Democrats’ Central Committee, elected to this position by her neighbors in her precinct after this year’s caucus.
A former newspaper reporter in Fairfield, Hennesy is a well-respected and informed community member. The Informer reached out to learn more about some of the races in Jefferson County and Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, including Phil Miller’s rematch against Jeff Shipley for the Iowa House, her assessment of the county supervisor candidates, and a detailed look at the crucial race for sheriff between Tracy Vance and Bart Richmond.
Phil Miller is running against the very embarrassing Jeff Shipley, who somehow doesn’t believe in the existence of the government he is a part of. He’s gotta go. What do local voters need to know about this race?
Though this is arguably one of the most important and compelling of the four races directly affecting Fairfield and Jefferson County, local voters need to keep their attention, efforts, and donations focused on re-electing Dr. Phil Miller while remaining vigilant for any Shipley shenanigans.
I suspect we lost our seat to a Republican due to an overconfidence in voter turnout, a crazy assumption that you can only suffer a fool once by looking at him, combined with a little sleepy midterm apathy because it was 2018, and let’s face it, everyone thought they were sick of everything by then.
Jefferson County does have the largest population of the three counties within House District 82’s borders with 18,295 people. And even with only two-thirds of the county included within the district’s borders, Fairfield’s population alone of 10,425 is still greater than the entirety of Davis County with a population of 9,017 and Van Buren County with 7,044 people, according to US Census estimates from 2018 and 2019.
But while Fairfield may be unique, the town’s eccentricities might also be one possible risk factor I see in what makes the district vulnerable to another loss.
Fairfield’s tricky mix of alt-health, meditating, and vegetarian pacifists produced a district where an anti-vaxxer type might share their worries about smart meters and the effects of 5G with a wide-eyed pickler while in line at the farmer’s market or coffee shop. Wide-eye to wide-eye they might’ve been willing to believe such an earnest-seeming candidate, who lo and behold, upon becoming a seated representative, does indeed put a bill up about the dangers of smart meters!
Does that make it law? No! But it sure looks good on paper!
So while a favored liberal-leaning candidate would clearly have an advantage with Fairfield’s voters, a Republican candidate with supposed libertarian sympathies might woo and split votes out. Sure, it’s small percentage, but combined with the solidly red majority of the surrounding counties within the district — I’m talking Davis and Van Buren Counties — Phil Miller lost the district by a mere 37 votes in 2018.
Let’s zoom out and compare numbers as reported by the three county auditors from 2018:
Look at the differences in turnout by county for each candidate: In Jefferson County, 1,586 more voters chose Miller over Shipley. In Davis County, 927 more voters chose Shipley over Miller. And in Van Buren County, 696 more voters chose Shipley over Miller.
What this means is that we cannot afford to assume voting in Fairfield alone will win this district. The 1,623 voters who came out against the Democratic candidate in that sleepy little 2018 midterm election just proved how risky it would be to underestimate the voters of Van Buren and Davis counties.
And sure, Shipley sucks, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment because I’ve talked with a lot of smart and motivated people around the area, but it’s going to take a lot more than just social media posts to our like-minded friends and talking among ourselves to get him out of office.
I highly recommend getting involved now. Get to know Dr. Phil Miller in a virtual meet-and-greet, sign up to volunteer, or just donate to his campaign.
Hell, make a game out of how much you hate Shipley and for every time you find yourself muttering his name out loud or shaking the thought of him from your conscious thinking, donate a buck to Miller’s campaign or tell a stranger on the street what you really think of Shipley.
Just don’t keep your opinions to yourself with this race. It’s time to take action.
You’re also focused on the Jefferson County Sheriff race between Democrat Tracy Vance and Republican Bart Richmond. Policing is a major focus for many voters this year. Can you break down some of the differences between these sheriff candidates?
Yes, to me the differences between these two candidates are clear.
In one corner, you have Chief Deputy Sheriff Bart Richmond, a 25-plus-year veteran of local law enforcement and the supposed heir apparent, assumedly due to his time served and his elevated status as next-in-command. Besides a lot of photographic endorsements of supporters next to a VW Bug insisting others, “Vote Bart!” on Richmond’s Facebook page, his only source for campaign information, it shows little else to indicate what kind of sheriff he wants to be, any experiences in being a deputy or chief deputy that might’ve prepared him for the role, or even if or why he wants to be the sheriff.
Tracy Vance, by comparison, has only been with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for eight years — two in reserves, six serving as a deputy — but has had a career spanning a variety of civil service sectors. Starting with the Burlington Fire Department just after high school, during which time he also became a Fort Madison School Board member, until 1993 when he was appointed the youngest sitting supervisor in Iowa to the Lee County Board of Supervisors. Vance was re-elected for two terms and served 10 years on the board, after which he was Fort Madison’s Chamber of Commerce executive director and later became the executive director of the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce as well as the Fairfield Economic Development Association in 2011.
Vance uses both his Facebook page and website to amplify the basic tenets of his platform — accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility — and outlines what he’d like to see for the future of the sheriff’s office, like training programs to refresh previously learned skills as well as enhance the knowledge base of deputies and staff, interrupting local drug activity and providing alternatives for those dealing with addiction, and instituting fiscal responsibility within the sheriff’s office as a commitment to best utilizing the community’s tax dollars.
Now, while most of these things can be gleaned by anyone looking superficially online into the two candidates, a deeper dive reveals other differences.
While Vance has no record of misconduct of any kind anywhere, Vance is currently accusing Richmond, among others in the office, of regularly scheduling overtime in an attempt to pad salaries.
An Iowa Courts Online search shows Richmond to have a fifth degree criminal mischief charge, this stems from Richmond beating on and damaging the hood of his ex-wife’s car, and was dismissed because he offered to pay for damages. I know this because I worked with his ex-wife at the time at our local newspaper, where we were both reporters.
Richmond’s campaign practices — such as parking a campaign vehicle on city and county property for the purpose of advertising his candidacy, listing the law center’s address as his campaign headquarters, and using officers in uniform on campaign posters — by themselves, may seem like small oversights. But combined with the other issues mentioned they would seem to indicate Richmond has a history of blurring the lines of the law.
Most concerning, though, is that twice during the forum October 6 sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and economic development association, Richmond said he’d be a “constitutional sheriff,” a notion his campaign manager reinforced saying, “He is a strong supporter,” when asked what Richmond thought of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. This bit is most troubling in that Richmond is aligning himself with an extremist movement that believes sheriffs should be the ultimate local authority and not have to submit to any federal laws or agencies. The group has crossover appeal with militia types and has roots in racism and anti-Semitism, and was founded with the help of the serial racial profiler and former [Maricopa County], Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
[Describing the video embedded above, Hennesy said: “To be noted, because it is not captured on the recording but we were there, that when Tracy gestures to Bart at the end of the first part of the George Floyd question, Bart not only doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t look at, turn to or even vaguely acknowledge what Tracy is saying. He only stared straight ahead stiffly.”]
The position of sheriff is an elected role because the office is accountable to the community it serves. It is not an inherited position, nor a high school popularity contest. A candidate may be a good friend, a good customer, a good neighbor, a good co-worker, someone who did you a favor once, or someone you think has your back, but the position of sheriff bears the responsibility to serve the entire community regardless of any personal connection, bias, or affiliation.
And because a sheriff in a small rural community will no doubt be ethically challenged, it is extraordinarily imperative that the person elected, at the very least, have a solid history of being able to separate the differences between personal and professional practice.
[In response to a request for comment from Richmond’s campaign, Jeff Vivacqua, his treasurer, said he was “aware of her [Hennesy’s] false or misleading allegations through Facebook on social media” and also “those made by Tracy Vance.” Vivacqua did not directly address any of Hennesy’s specific claims but provided us “valuable information” in the form of the text of two lengthy endorsements, one from Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Angie Pohren and the other from Sheriff Gregg Morton.]
Rita Hart is running for the 2nd congressional district seat that’s been held by Dave Loebsack for years, during which time he’s been one of Iowa’s only Democrats in Washington. It’s looking like a close race. Can you share some information about Hart and why holding this seat is so important?
It’s important Rita Hart wins this seat because currently Democrats have the majority in the House and we want it to stay that way.
Opponent Mariannette Miller-Meeks is trying for a fourth time to win this seat. She previously went after it in 2008, 2010, and 2014. Denied purchase in this Congressional race, Miller-Meeks swooped in as the Republican nominee for state Senate District 41, replacing Mark Chelgren — aka Chickenman — who had decided not to run for re-election in 2018.
Now Miller-Meeks is after this 2nd Congressional District seat again.
Hart was a public school teacher for 20 years, grew up with parents who had openly differing politics, and besides being a two-term state senator before becoming the running mate of 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell, she’s a lifelong farmer and a good listener, which has earned her a lot of support across the aisle.
What can you tell me about the county supervisor race?
For our county, we have a three-member board and currently have two seats to fill during this election cycle. One of the two available seats has been held by Dee Sandquist, a Republican who’s seeking re-election while the other is open because Lee Dimmit, another Republican, is stepping down.
Besides Sandquist, other candidates for supervisor include Democrat Susie Drish, Republican Nick Adam, and independent Keith Vlademar.
A supervisor’s role is probably the most overlooked of the elected officials discussed here. Though their work, managing county money and infrastructure, is transparent enough, a lot of their influence seems invisible until problems arise, like with roads, property taxes, or nuisance properties. The board is really a stewardship of the county and services throughout, including roads and bridges and taxes but also public health and human services, agriculture and conservation, county planning and zoning, and public safety.
Which is why I believe the best candidates should possess a good working knowledge of the county’s land, history, and needs, as well as a willingness to look around and ahead when considering the future of Jefferson County, because ultimately they have the power to affect the fabric of our everyday lives.
My votes are with Drish and Sandquist because I believe they have the background and proven record to be good supervisors.
Susie Drish, the lone Democrat of the four candidates, is a lifelong county resident raised in Pleasant Plain and who graduated from Fairfield High School. She received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Iowa State University. Her first job out of college was working with the Ottumwa Community School District helping disadvantaged and at-risk youth learn about their skills through participating in a variety of park projects. Soon after, she became a training specialist with Indian Hills Community College, working to locally administer and implement a program for the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act throughout half of a 10-county area by helping unemployed youth, mothers, and dislocated workers find training and employment. This work put her in direct contact with five county-area economic development directors, county supervisors, school administrators, and employers. She retired in 2018, due to layoffs, after working 39 years.
And while Dee Sanquist is the Republican incumbent, her first term in office has shown her to be fair and listen to resident’s concerns and to work well with the other county employees. She is also a lifelong resident of Jefferson County, graduating from FHS and ISU with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in management. She worked in Washington state in healthcare management, overseeing an outpatient specialty clinic and in-patient dietitian and diabetes services in a 400-bed medical center before returning to the area to care for the family farm and her mother following the death of her brother and father. She was employed by Hy-Vee as a registered dietician for 10 years before retiring and becoming a supervisor. She and her husband are especially interested in the conservation and future health of local lands and water.
Nick Adam, Republican farmer and businessman, moved to Batavia in 1957, owns the one local gas station there, and runs two 5,000-hog CAFOs in the county with a third on the way nearby, but just beyond county borders. This has been a major issue of concern for local county residents.
Keith Vlademar is the lone independent. He is not from Jefferson County but began working here for an engineering firm in 1997 doing boundary and property work for the Highway 34 project. He moved to the Fairfield area after being laid off and worked with the Iowa Department of Transportation for 17 years. He is now retired. Even after attending both forums, Vlademar didn’t convey whether he had enough experience or knowledge of the county, how it works, or its history to be the best candidate.