See the end of this story for a post-election update.
By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Nov. 8, 2016 — One problem with small towns and small counties in rural Iowa, I’ve often observed, is that life can be so good out here that it’s too easy to start thinking small.
That hasn’t been a problem the last half-dozen years in Greene County, where we’ve had a veritable bonanza of economic growth, especially for a county with only about 9,300 residents.
We’ve seen agricultural expansion and diversification. Our six home-grown manufacturers have all been in major growth modes, straining at times for enough property and workers. In 2014, we wooed the new Wild Rose Casino & Resort, and it is transforming life here. (Chew on this one fact: In the past year, 36,000 people have come to Jefferson just to go to concerts at Wild Rose!) The Greene County Medical Center has undergone a total renovation and expansion, and we now have two competing medical clinics here. We also landed a new Hy-Vee Food Store, and that prompted many improvements at the Fareway Store.
In fact, in the last four years, there has been well over $100 million in investment and building by businesses in this county. Our tourist attractions and lifestyle amenities all over the county have been enhanced and are now consistently drawing visitors from all over the Midwest. Greene County has been the talk of economic development officials across the state and beyond.
The progress has actually given us a good chance to grow our population for the first time in a century.
And how’s this for unusual, especially in rural Iowa: Our county government has been actively involved in almost all of the above.
My pal Guy Richardson has been a key figure in that. He is a 67-year-old, four-term incumbent member of the Greene County Board of Supervisors. In my opinion, he not only has the most experience on the five-member board, but he also still has the broadest vision, strongest voice for growth & development, and the best connections around the state of anybody in county government.
Peter Bardole and Guy Richardson during a “Meet the Candidates” event at the public library in Churdan.
After all the good that’s happened here, I was startled that Richardson had a challenger come forward in the Republican Party primary this past June, 50-year-old Peter Bardole. Two other members of the board of supervisors, John Muir and Mick Burkett, both Republicans, also have opponents in the general election today, Nov. 8, but both of them got a pass through the primary. (The other two members of the board who are not up for election this year, Tom Contner and Dawn Rudolph, are also Republicans.)
“I got caught with my pants down in the primary,” Richardson has said publicly, speaking figuratively, thank goodness. “I really expected there was going to be a big voter turnout because we had a hotly contested Republican primary race for sheriff. We had three candidates, and they had signs up all over the county. I thought there’d be a good turnout by Republicans and it would sweep me in, too. I didn’t do much campaigning at all – big mistake. We had a lousy turnout and Peter had a good campaign.”
Just more than 1,000 voted in that Republican Party, and Bardole won by 66 votes.
Contrast that turnout to what’s been normal in contested supervisor races during general elections in presidential years. There were more than 4,500 votes in each of two contested supervisor races in 2012. In the third race, Richardson was running uncontested and received 3,368 votes.
So, the morning after the 2016 primary, I sat in the rotunda of the courthouse telling Richardson that he simply had to give up his life-long allegiance to the Republican Party, change his registration to “No Party” and finally start-up a real re-election campaign. I wasn’t the only person he heard from. A dozen people from all over the county told him the same thing, and within 24 hours, attorney Michael Mumma had filed the paperwork establishing “Bipartisans for Guy Richardson.”
I’ve been busy as a volunteer with the Richardson campaign ever since, and I’ve had a ball. I’ve been doing a lot of the writing on the “Guy for Greene County” Facebook page and, probably more important, I pointed the way as Richardson campaigned with coffee groups, morning card players, church dinners and other gatherings in all the Greene County towns. Carla Offenburger and I, you might remember, also hosted the “PIE for GUY!” fundraiser at our Simple Serenity Farm on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 2, serving up pie from many of the county’s best bakers for donations to the campaign.
Peter Bardole (center) acting in an outdoor theatrical production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the summer of 2015. That’s Josh Tuel on the left and John Schoening on the right.
I’ve done this with no ill will at all for Peter Bardole. He comes from great stock. The Bardoles have farmed for more than 100 years in the Rippey area in the southeast part of the county. They’re active in the Rippey United Methodist Church and just as active in Farm Bureau. Peter has served as county Farm Bureau president and still serves on the organization’s county board of directors. He’s a Briar Cliff College graduate, and he’s the rare farmer and local Farm Bureau member who not only speaks out for the arts but also takes part. He met his wife Yvette Bardole when both were involved in the Greene County Community Players theatrical group. Both have acted in plays and have encouraged their three cool young sons – high school and younger – in the arts, too.
His family and theater activities have helped Bardole gain support among younger voters in the county. He has wisely played on that in the campaign. Sometimes overplayed it. In a Q&A that he and Richardson did with the Jefferson Herald last week, Bardole started a comment with, “As a younger resident of Greene County…”
“He’s 50!” Richardson snarked to me after we read that. “If Peter’s a ‘younger person,’ then I guess that makes me just middle-aged!”
Bardole said in a candidate forum in Churdan that he “first thught about running for supervisor” four years ago, but decided his kids were a little young and he needed to protect more time with them. Before the primary last June, he said that several people around the county asked him to re-consider and run now.
—Farm Bureau members, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re one of the most well-organized and effective advocacy groups in Greene County, just like everywhere else in Iowa. They work hard from the Iowa Farm Bureau playbook, as well they should. They’ve hinted at an argument that Richardson hasn’t been supportive enough of ag interests – primarily hog confinement approvals and expansions. But we see that as a hollow argument since Richardson has voted in favor of more hog confinements than any other supervisor past or present. He’s not opposed to them and doesn’t think the county has yet reached a saturation point with the 90 or so that have been developed in recent years. He would like to see more local control over the siting and operation of them, a position that is probably supported by 90 percent of the county’s residents. And Richardson has been a leading advocate and supporter for development of bio-fuels plants in and near the county and other ag diversification.
—The “Wade Weiss Must Be Fired” caucus. Weiss is the veteran Greene County Engineer. When you’re in charge of infrastructure in a county – like road building and maintenance, big equipment, maintenance of county buildings, and more – you naturally make a whole lot of people happy and a few people mad. That’s happened around Weiss, who, frankly, is a little bull-headed. So am I, and the two of us have had a couple of heated arguments over the years, and others have experienced that with Weiss, too. But Richardson will tell you that Weiss is “one of the best county engineers in the state,” and I am quick to second that assessment of him. He is the rare engineer who has an eye, appreciation and heart for the arts and historic preservation, while at the same time he has improved and maintained our infrastructure in a first-rate and efficient way. He’s an MVP in Greene County, and if he were fired because he’s angered a few people over the years, there’d be some serious public discussion.
—The “We’ve Gone Far Enough” caucus. You do get the sense from a few people that here in Greene County, “we’ve gone about as fer as we can go,” to paraphrase the song in “Oklahoma!” They think it’s a time to cut taxes, reduce spending, forget about government incenting housing projects, and make-do with what we’ve got. A contentious school bond initiative in the Greene County Community School District is reflecting – and maybe stirring – that sentiment. That works against somebody like Richardson, who has been out front as an advocate for development and growth.
—Republicans. Those who’ve been around Greene County for any length of time know that for the last 15 or 20 years, Guy Richardson has been the face of the GOP here. He was usually the party’s top vote-getter in county elections. Until this year, when they attempted to throw him under the bus, so to speak. You’d think that longtime Greene County Republican chairman Roger Olhausen would have swatted away Peter Bardole’s idea to challenge Richardson in the primary. And then a couple weeks ago, Richardson’s high school classmate and longtime Republican friend Jim Andrew wrote letters-to-the-editors endorsing Bardole, advocating for term limits and getting younger people involved – you know, like 50-year-olds. This is the same Jim Andrew who I’m betting has Terry Branstad, Chuck Grassley and Steve King signs tattooed on his chest. Talk about officer holders who won’t leave the stage! No, I don’t think the county GOP’s decision to abandon Richardson had anything to do with term limits or bringing along younger people. I think it had to do with Olhausen and Andrew being two of the county’s loudest opponents of the Wild Rose Casino & Resort development happening here during the campaign for it back in 2013 and ’14, and Richardson being the development’s strongest champion in county government. (You probably remember that Greene County voters gave 75 percent approval to that project. Olhausen and Andrew certainly remember that; they can’t get over it.)
This photo is a classic portrayal of life in small town Iowa. On the same day when Jim Andrew (left) had a letter appearing in local news media endorsing Peter Bardole, the opponent of Andrew’s high school classmate and lifelong friend Guy Richardson, there Jim and Guy are posing in a photo together! Katie Richardson and Guy were representing her extended family in presenting a $1,000 check to the Greene County Freedom Rock project, in memory of their father, the late General Arnie Harjehausen, a top-ranking officer in the U.S. Army and Iowa National Guard. Andrew and Guy Richardson have both advocated for the Freedom Rock project, which has this huge boulder handsomely painted by artist Bubba Sorensen with scenes telling the stories of Greene County military history. The buffer there between Andrew and the Richardsons is Don Ihnken, a leader of the VFW post and veterans programs in Jefferson.
All of that really aroused Guy Richardson, as you might expect.
For this general election, he has campaigned harder than he ever has. He picked up campaign contributions from at least one executive of Wild Rose and from supporters all over the county from both parties and no party. Our group Bipartisans for Guy Richardson hired Jamie Buelt, a PR genius from Ankeny who weaved together the successful campaign for Wild Rose coming to Greene County, to consult on the Richardson campaign. She did some work for pay and donated more of her efforts, even baking pies for “PIE for GUY!”
Richardson campaigned all over the county, re-introducing himself to voters. He pointed out his family has roots as farmers in the northern part of the county. He’s a Jefferson High School and University of Iowa graduate and a U.S. Army veteran. He has worked hard for economic development projects in Paton, Churdan, Scranton, Grand Junction, Rippey and Jefferson. He has helped find funding for all our towns’ public libraries. He’s supported enhancements to the Raccoon River Valley Trail, the Greene County Fairgrounds, Spring Lake and the rest of the county parks,
In the last 10 days, Richardson zeroed in on Jefferson, the town where his family has been in business for four generations. He pointed out that he and his wife Katie operate two businesses on the courthouse square – Greene County Abstract Co. Inc. and Fudge’s Flower Shop & Gifts.
Our campaign reminded people that while Peter and Yvette Bardole and their boys live in Jefferson, Peter’s heritage, career and economic interests are on the farm in Rippey. And we’ve pointed out that if he would be elected over Richardson – and if the other supervisor races go the way we think they will today – that there would be four supervisors whose economic stakes would all be in the southeast quarter of the county, and one whose home and business are in Scranton. The county seat town of Jefferson would be woefully under-represented.
Again, no knock on Peter Bardole for waging a stiff challenge to our Guy Richardson. He kept saying he had new ideas for Greene County, and we were surprised – and glad – that he never really detailed them.
But he sure made Richardson a better candidate, and we flooded media and social media with Richardson ideas – ones that he’s helped make happen and new ones he wants to pursue. Bardole also woke up a bunch of us who are friends and supporters of Richardson, making us realize that much is on the line in this race, especially for those who are advocates for more growth and development here.
Being a county supervisor is a very challenging part-time job, probably moreso than the public realizes. A new supervisor will spend most of a first term learning the ropes. We think Greene County is better served by sticking with Richardson’s experience, vision, leadership abilities and connections for four more years. Then I’d like to see Bardole run again – maybe for county supervisor, maybe for the state legislature.
Now, let’s pull together and grow Greene County.
POST-ELECTION UPDATE, Nov. 9, 2016
So, what do I know, anyway?
In the general election on Tuesday, challenger Peter Bardole beat incumbent Guy Richardson 2,654 to 1,719. It was a convincing victory for Bardole, who won all seven voting precincts. He’ll take a seat with the Board of Supervisors in early January, and Richardson will leave after 16 years of distinguished service to the county.
I wish Bardole and county government the best.
You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.