Supervisor candidates in the hot seat during Tama Co. Farm Bureau event

Candidates Brodigan, Hilmer field questions

Tama County Farm Bureau president Cordt Holub (center) moderates a Q&A on Wednesday, August 3, in Dysart with Tama Co. District 1 Supervisor candidates Randie Brodigan (left) and Curt Hilmer (right). –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

Tama County Farm Bureau held a member appreciation event in Dysart on August 3 featuring updates on both state and federal Bureau-supported legislation, but the big draw of the evening was a Q&A with Tama County District 1 Supervisor candidates Randie Brodigan (D-Dysart) and Curt Hilmer (R-Dysart).

Brodigan, 66, and Hilmer, 57, are running in this November’s general election to replace retiring Tama County District 1 Supervisor Larry Vest. District 1 is comprised of most of the eastern half of the county – a broad rural swath – including the towns of Chelsea, Vining, Elberon, Clutier, Dysart, and Traer.

As Bureau members and their families – seated around tables spread out across the Dysart Community Building – enjoyed ice cream, brownies, and various refreshments, Tama County Farm Bureau president Cordt Holub and past-president Lisa Kubik provided opening remarks ahead of the supervisor forum.

After Kubik introduced members of the local board in attendance, Holub then provided context on the event’s purpose.

“Our organization is a nonpartisan group,” Holub said. “All candidates from both parties were invited to this event.”

Indeed, both political parties were well-represented in the room and included not only local candidates but also those running for state and federal office.

Candidates in attendance included Republican incumbent state Sen. Annette Sweeney of rural Buckeye who is running for the new Iowa Senate District 27 which includes Tama County. Her opponent, Democrat Sam Cox of Grinnell, was unable to attend, Holub said.

Iowa House candidates in attendance included District 53 candidates Dean Fisher (R-Montour) and Sarah Smith (D-Grinnell), and District 76 candidates Kate Wyatt (D-Hudson) and Derek Wulf (D-Hudson).

Representatives from the campaigns/offices of both U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) were also in attendance. Their Democratic challengers for office this year – Admiral Mike Franken and state Sen. Liz Mathis, respectively – were not in attendance nor were representatives from their campaigns.

At the local level, both candidates for Tama County Treasurer were present – Republican Amanda Kriegel and Independent Kathy Holtz.

While Hilmer queued in the back of the room waiting for his opponent to finish attending a meeting of Dysart Ambulance Service next door, Holub continued to address the room.

“We can all agree on one thing,” Holub said, “the viability, success, and continuation of a strong rural Iowa is important to all.”

According to Holub, the Tama County Farm Bureau chapter has 1,300 members currently, while the county itself boasts over 1,000 working farms which explains why so many candidates for public office running in Tama County and beyond felt it important to turn out for the event. In a rural state highly dependent on agriculture, Tama County is not flyover country.

District 1 Supervisor Q&A

During the Q&A, Holub acted as moderator from the community building’s stage with Brodigan and Hilmer flanking him on stools to his right and left.

Holub’s first question – which he characterized as one of his “hardest-hitting questions” – pertained to the county’s commercial wind energy conversion system (WECS) ordinance.

“Our board and its members would appreciate where our candidates stand on proposed commercial energy projects and what you can do as a potential new supervisor to help ease this process and help prepare and plan for future projects,” Holub said.

“I’m a definite no on the windmill deal,” Hilmer firmly stated. “I honestly believe that the windmill deal is kind of a myth. Big money grab. … As for new [wind energy] deals, I’d be against them, too. I just don’t want to take up the farmland. … We don’t need many, many acres in solar panels and we don’t need 70 windmills. We need to keep that farmland in use. These young farmers [are] having trouble now getting started.”

Brodigan stated that he, too, was “not a big supporter” of windmills and felt the county’s current WECS ordinance was not adequate to protect Tama County citizens.

He further stated that as an EMT, he is concerned about what wind turbines could do to the county’s new 911 radio system – a system that cost the county more than $6 million to construct.

One of Holub’s next questions pertained to a petition in circulation by the coalition Tama County Against Turbines (TCAT) to increase the number of county supervisors from three to five.

Both candidates stated they were not in favor of the idea, although Hilmer admitted he had initially signed the petition during Dysart’s July 4 parade.

“Since [July 4],” Hilmer explained, “I’ve talked to people and I don’t think that’s probably going to be the road to go … When you sit down and pencil this out, this county probably doesn’t have the money to have five sitting people. You just need three [supervisors] that realize they were elected by the public. Unfortunately, we’ve got some guys in there right now that have forgotten that – I won’t forget that part.”

Brodigan expressed a similar sentiment: “[Five supervisors] may cause the wheels of government to move that much slower because you have to convince two people instead of one.”

Brodigan added that while he understands the impetus behind the petition, if the three supervisors “did their job, [three] would be very adequate.”

The candidates were then asked what one of their main priorities would be if elected and what they believe to be the county’s most pressing issue. Brodigan took the mic first and stated that getting the secondary roads department “under control” in terms of waste was his main priority. Brodigan recently retired from the department after more than three decades.

“We have an engineer [County Engineer Lyle Brehm] that seems to forget that he has a job to do [in Tama County] because he’s being shared with Poweshiek County. … I don’t think he’s serving our citizens like he should be. We need to go back to our own engineer,” Brodigan answered.

Tama and Poweshiek counties currently share a county engineer – Lyle Brehm – through a biannual 28E sharing agreement that has been in place since 2002.

Hilmer – who also works for the county’s secondary roads department – echoed his former colleague’s thoughts on addressing issues within the secondary roads department.

“For the most part, yeah, what he said,” Hilmer responded, eliciting audience laughter. “You can tell we both were county workers for a long long time. … Honestly, I don’t want to repeat what Randie said but the engineer’s a big deal. … That needs to be fixed. I’m not out to get [Brehm]… I just want him to do his job. I want him back in Tama County. … We need a full-time engineer.”

A little later Holub invited the audience to ask questions of Brodigan and Hilmer.

Kathy Harkema of Poweshiek County and a leader with TCAT, asked the first question: “There appears to be a culture [in Tama County government] where the supervisors have forgotten that they serve and represent the public. … How would you change that culture … to be more taxpayer-oriented, more open, more transparent?”

Harkema also asked if the candidates would be in favor of live-streaming the supervisors’ public meetings.

Both Brodigan and Hilmer responded that they would be in favor of live-streaming meetings. For his part, Brodigan said he was “really shocked” by some of the supervisors’ reactions to members of the public during meetings he has attended — characterizing their responses to questions as if “everything is an attack” pertaining to wind farm development.

“Just be men and do the job you’ve been elected for,” Hilmer said of the current three supervisors. Hilmer added that his phone number would be publicly available immediately on the county’s website if elected.

“We are here to serve,” Hilmer continued. “Might not be what you want to hear all the time, but I’m going to be honest with you, good or bad. … The supervisors need to be more open. At this point in time I think it’s more a feelings-got-hurt deal. … That ‘no comment’ thing just makes my hair stand up on end. We just have to be more open to the people.”

At this point in the forum, both candidates appeared quite similar to one another in their planned approaches to the office of county supervisor — despite being of different political parties — a fact which was not lost on the audience, leading to one of the final questions of the evening.

“What sets you apart from your opponent and why should we vote for each one of you?” asked a female member of the audience.

“Well, that’s quite obvious – age. Randie’s going to be in a wheelchair probably soon,” Hilmer retorted in his typical humorous style, a response which garnered quite a bit of laughter from the audience. But then Hilmer turned serious.

“We’re friends. We worked together for 25 years. That’s probably why we have similar ideas.”

Hilmer then cited his strong leadership skills as both a high school wrestling and football coach as being something that sets him apart from his opponent, stating, “I’m not going to back down. … Stand up for the people who voted you in there and just not back down. Keep your head to the grind and get some things done.”

For his part, Brodigan responded that he thought his age was an asset to the office as “with age comes wisdom.” He also said his commitment to a cause sets him apart.

“I think that I have a lot to offer the county,” Brodigan said. “I would serve the people who elected me to the best of my ability … I’m very open to listening to people. A lot of farmers out here already do have my cell number.”

The 2022 general election will be held on Tuesday, November 8. Polls in Iowa will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Early in-person absentee voting at county auditors’ offices begins Wednesday, October 19, and ends on Monday, November 7. The first day to request absentee ballots is Tuesday, August 30.

Tama-Grundy Publishing will feature candidate profiles and questionnaires of both local and statehouse candidates in October.