© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
IPR News

Woodbury County Board Of Supervisors Entirely Republican For The First Time In 40 Years

Wikimedia Commons
Republicans have held a majority on the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors since 2016. But the last time they held all five seats was after the 1980 election. Democrats then held onto the majority for more than 30 years.

Woodbury County supervisors elected in November were sworn into office Thursday for four-year terms. It’s the first time in about 40 years that the county legislative body of five is entirely Republican.

The most populous county in conservative western Iowa has moved back and forth between red and blue over the years. Today, there are about 4,000 more active registered Republican voters than registered Democratic voters.

Republicans have held a majority on the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors since 2016. But the last time they held all five seats was after the 1980 election, according to Woodbury County Auditor and Elections Commissioner Pat Gill. In 1982, three Democrats won seats and the party held onto the majority for more than 30 years.

Gill said Democratic candidates for local office have typically performed well in a presidential election year, “but slowly that support has been eroding over a period of time.” Local Republican candidates rode the coattails of President Donald Trump in November, Gill said. Trump beat Democratic President-elect Joe Biden in Woodbury County by 15 percentage points.

“It was mostly the rural precincts that really settled the races in Woodbury county, county-wide,” Gill said, adding that this trend occurred statewide and nationwide too.

Those rural Woodbury County precincts include the small communities of Climbing Hills, Cushing and Lawton.

Suzan Stewart, the chairwoman of the Woodbury County Republican Party, said she doesn’t expect much to change with the board of supervisors and the potential initiatives they’ll take because Republicans held the majority on the board for the last few years. Stewart said she expects to continue to see the county board focus on “fiscal responsibility.”

“I think they've made the government much more sound in terms of looking at capital expenditures and a lot of looking long term,” Stewart said. “I expect them to continue to do those same kind of things.”

Stewart said Republicans have taken some “bold initiatives” while they’ve held the majority on the board, including how they changed the way the county delivers mental health services by moving to a new mental health region on July 1, 2019.

The board of supervisors has also placed a large focus on building a law enforcement center, which houses the county jail. Woodbury County voters approved a $50.3 million bond issue in March to build a new jail because the current facility is at capacity and has aging infrastructure. The new facility is expected to be finished in 2022.

Matthew Ung, currently the longest-serving member on the county board, said “it's a big deal” to have an all Republican board of supervisors. When he was elected in 2014 to fill the remainder of a term, he was the only Republican on the board. Ung is in his second term and was not up for reelection in November.

Ung said county politics don’t always break down along partisan lines on a lot of issues.

“There have been issues that one or two of us dissent on for reasons other than Republican or Democrat,” Ung said, “but I do think it’s more what the voters felt [between 2015 and 2016], there was a change and a lot of things done with a minority of Republicans and they decided to put three more on.”

Two supervisors sworn in Thursday – Keith Radig and Rocky De Witt – were Republican incumbents. The third Republican, Jeremy Taylor, beat the board’s lone Democrat, Marty Pottebaum, who was running for reelection. Taylor, who was previously on the board, resigned on Jan. 31 over a residency issue, but now represents a different part of the county.