'Semi-closed' Primary Tuesday 2014: results and post-election thoughts

My thoughts regarding Tuesday’s primary marinated for a day. Most of the Republicrats ran uncontested or faced ineffectual challengers, so most of the primary races were foregone conclusions. Not so for a couple notable contests.

Entering the day, the big question was whether or not any of the Republican US Senate-hopefuls would garner 35 percent of the vote for the outright nomination. If not, the party would nominate a candidate at the state convention. It did not come to that.

Joni Ernst dominated the field, earning 56 percent of the vote. Surprisingly, Sam Clovis received more votes than Mark Jacobs, whose ad blitz rivaled Ernst’s. I do not recall seeing a single Clovis commercial, though I am sure he aired a few. Clovis’ appeal seemed only to reach as far as the signal for his Sioux City radio talk show; he dominated the “Siouxland” but had weak support elsewhere.

So Bruce Braley, Ernst, and hopefully one or two minor party candidates will vie to replace Tom Harkin in the Senate. My gut instinct right now is that, come November, Iowa will have two Republican senators. Ernst seems to have a lot of charisma and energy, and the fact she knows how to castrate pigs seems to have engendered her to many Iowans with rural roots. My mom, a newly converted Green who grew up on a farm in Franklin County, said she would even vote for Ernst. Ernst, it was recently revealed, has been known to pack heat in the State Capitol, a big no-no but an appealing habit for gun rights advocates. Can Bruce Braley compete with that? I’m not sure.

Incumbent Dave Loebsack won the uncontested Democratic primary and Mariannette Miller-Meeks beat out two others to earn the Republican nomination, making this the third time in the last six years that Loebsack and Miller-Meeks have faced each other for a seat in the US House.

John Archer did not fare well for the Republicans in the newly redrawn 2nd in 2012, so it seems only fitting that the GOP run Miller-Meeks again. Frankly, Bobblehead would know better how vulnerable Loebsack is, but I get the feeling I have seen this movie before and am not looking forward to seeing it a third time. I hope a third or fourth candidate (who lives in the district) joins this race so I will have someone to think about voting for.

Speaking of out-of-state candidates, this year I will check if there are any and will contest their candidacy.

Janet Lyness dominated John Zimmerman in the Democratic primary for Johnson County Attorney, 69 percent to 31 percent.

This was the most intriguing race of the night. Zimmerman, as the Little Village wrote in its election wrap-up, “drew an active following by focusing on hot-button criminal justice issues like marijuana criminalization and disproportionate minority incarceration.” Zimmerman, who recently earned his law degree and has no experience practicing law, vowed not to prosecute those charged with public intoxication and possession of marijuana for personal use, and dismiss cases tainted by racial bias. I was eager to see how the race would turn out, thinking that it could either be close or a landslide. Bobblehead said he thought it would be close, too. In the end the county’s voters decided to reject Zimmerman’s brand of prosecutorial discretion by a wide margin.

I am not sure what to think about prosecutorial discretion. We have laws that have been established through a democratic process. Sure, there are some laws that I do not agree with and think are outdated. But instead of allowing a single man or woman like a country attorney or state attorney general to decide which laws to acknowledge and ignore based on their personal beliefs and political leanings, I think it would be better to reform or repeal those laws at the legislative level. To me, prosecutorial discretion is autocratic. I do not want one person picking and choosing which laws they want to recognize.

For Johnson County Democrats, this was a sticky issue and I think they found themselves in a contradictory position. Lyness’ supporters denounced Zimmerman’s plan to use prosecutorial discretion, saying it set a dangerous and reckless precedence, opening the door for less agreeable forms of discretion. I agree. Yet, at the same time I am sure they cheer the use of prosecutorial discretion when states and the Obama administration have decided not to defend laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. I am not sure exactly how or even if they can reconcile their discretions regarding prosecutorial discretion.

Another sticky issue is the county and state’s disproportionate rate of minority incarceration. Zimmerman and his supporters blamed racism, but I think the causes are much more intricate and complex than that (at least I hope). Yes, Iowa has the highest rate of minority incarceration in the country, at least the most disproportionate rate of incarceration given the state’s minority population. But instead of being an issue of race, I think it is more of an issue of socioeconomics and an anti-social, self-destructive culture of substance abuse, sociopathic insubordination, and black marketeering.

I am the type of person who believes that laws apply equally to everyone, regardless of skin color, ethnic heritage, and socioeconomic status; the punishment for breaking those laws applies just as equally. Call me naïve, but if someone is sitting in court, in an orange jail or prison jumpsuit, I think there is probably a good reason why: they did something bad or have been accused of doing so. It should have nothing to do with race or ethnicity, only actions and deeds.

Ideally and technically.

Unfortunately, racism still exists in the United States. Does it still influence our law enforcement and criminal justice systems? There is the possibility. But I am not willing to accept that racism is the only reason why Iowa and the US have a disproportionately large number of minorities behind bars, or that all cops and judges are racists. Thinking that the problem can be solved by rooting out racial bias seems naïve and quixotic. It seems like an excuse to avoid the tough problems and affects that Americans do not want to talk about or attempt to solve.

However, I think it was important for Zimmerman to call attention to the problem. I have no clue if he would have been able to find racial bias (hopefully not), but his campaign at least highlighted the issue of disproportionate minority incarceration and got people thinking. Is it something we can address and solve at the county level? I don’t think so. I think it is far too big for just one county. That is something we need to tackle as a nation.

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