By Jacob Hall
UPDATE (11:45, 12/20) — Eric Rankin of Hull, one of the precinct leaders who took part in last week’s nomination convention, commented on the situation. He said:
“I agree that the process does not seem very democratic, nor does it allow for an in-depth vetting process, however, it is the process we have. I would suggest that people who are unhappy with the results could run a primary campaign starting in about 18 months. I wish the people involved in the write-in campaign had been more active in the process leading up to the special nomination.”
* * *
Republicans in Iowa House District 4 who were unhappy with both the nomination process and the result of last week’s nominating convention to fill the seat previously held by the late-Rep. Dwayne Alons (R-Hull) have launched an anonymous write-in campaign for a third candidate in the Tuesday, Jan. 6, special election.
The group, which began circulating a flyer throughout the district, which comprises most of Sioux County in northwestern Iowa, is pushing for voters to write in the name of county supervisor Denny Wright at the polls. In an exclusive interview Saturday with The Iowa Statesman, the Hull Republican said he isn’t behind the campaign, and that he was surprised to learn about the flyers, which were sent to businesses and registered Republicans in Sioux County.
“I was shocked,” Wright said. “Another county supervisor got a letter to write my name in. If they want to write me in, I can’t stop people from writing my name in, but I’m not campaigning for the job.
“I do not know where it came from; I didn’t start it,” he added. “On the other hand, I guess, if there’s that strong of a feeling, then I’m really in a pickle here. Do I accept this or not? I just found out about it [Friday]. I’m still mulling things around here.”
Boyden retiree John Kooiker won the nomination Tuesday, Dec. 16, on the third ballot at the nominating convention. Although five other candidates took part in the convention, some Republicans are displeased with Kooiker’s nomination.
The flyer, which can be seen in its entirety at left, states, “The State of Iowa decided that only 23 Sioux County Residence (sic) get to pick the Republican nominee; this is wrong and does not give the rest of us a voice!” It goes on to list Wright’s credentials, including:
- 30 years’ teaching experience in the Boyden-Hull school district,
- he’s president of the Hull Kiwanis Club, and
- he is a former elder and deacon at his church.
Wright said he didn’t disagree with the group’s assessment.
“The gentleman who was selected, a lot of people have trouble with,” he said. “He’s an interesting man, and that’s a big part of it. I don’t want to be critical here at all, but there were (six) candidates and he was the worst. That’s where people are coming from.
“People ask, ‘Who won? Who won?’ They don’t keep track of this stuff. I say, ‘John Kooiker,’ and the answer I get every time is, ‘Oh no!’ There are probably people who like him too, but that’s the answer I’ve gotten from probably 20 people who have asked me since Tuesday.”
As for any potential Wright campaign, he said he doesn’t have a strong desire to serve in the General Assembly. He said if he did, he would’ve put his name up for nomination prior to last week’s convention.
Iowa law allows for independent candidates in special elections, if one is able to collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot. But Wright said that won’t happen in this case.
“I don’t want the job that bad,” he said. “I’m not considering getting my name on the ballot. If these people want to do something here, that’s their business. I don’t want to campaign. I don’t want to be Johnny-Come-Lately here. I don’t intend to do anything to try to get (the seat).”
The author of the flyer, who has not been identified, has asked voters in the special election to write in Wright’s name, which is also allowed in the special election. Wright said he believes his past interest in running for the Iowa Statehouse may have prompted the current write-in campaign.
“Through the years I’ve expressed interest in running, but I’m a little older and I have a good job as supervisor,” he said. “It probably is coming from back in the past when I said I was thinking about it. I had a lot of people encourage me to run this time and I said I was not going to do that. It’d be nice if whoever is doing this would contact me and tell me who they are.”
Last week, Democrats in the district nominated John Buntsma of Orange City. It is likely any write-in effort could “split the vote,” and helping Buntsma’s candidacy. Wright said he would like to have a conversation with the flyer’s source.
“It opens the door,” he said. “I don’t know how to stop it or whoever is doing it. I need to talk to these people and see, but I don’t know who to talk to. I guess we’ll have to see how it plays out these next couple of days.”
Until approached by The Statesman, Kooiker said had believed the “rumor” of a write-in campaign to be false. He said he was told by state Sen. Randy Feenstra that Wright had told Feenstra he was not interested in running for the House seat.
Kooiker did acknowledge that some voters were unhappy with the nomination process. But he also pointed out the process was the same that has been historically used for special elections, and that anyone who was interested in running could have participated in the nomination process.
“They very easily could have been a part of the process,” he said. “If [Wright] was serious about wanting to have the position, then he would have been with the six of us who were there and would have had to give a speech and answer the questions right along with the rest of us.”
One of the criticisms lobbed at Kooiker is his lack of legislative experience.
“As far as comparing expertise when it comes to being a legislator, that’s kind of impossible to judge at this point because none of the candidates had any type of record to run on or run against,” Kooiker said. “I would say that is a very subjective assessment of the various candidates.”