The Mitchell County Farm Bureau candidate forum last week seemed a bit like the Republican National Convention that was airing on television that same night.
That’s because while all the local Republican candidates showed up to answer questions from Farm Bureau members and to introduce themselves to the public, there were no local Democratic candidates at the event, even though all were invited several weeks prior to the event.
While there was no response from Democrat Eric Hungerford of Manly, who is challenging District 14 State Rep. Josh Byrnes of Osage, the remaining Democrats, did respond to the Farm Bureau’s invitation to attend the forum, some stating that they had prior commitments.
Democratic candidate for supervisor in Mitchell County’s District #2, Janeal Dunn’s response to the Farm Bureau forum invitation, however, was a flat-out “no,” according to the Mitchell County Farm Bureau office. She is challenge four-term incumbent Stan Walk for the seat in this fall’s election.
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When contacted by the Press-News, Dunn said she appreciated Farm Bureau’s invitation but referred to a confrontation with Walk at a recent supervisors meeting that was recorded and posted on YouTube. She said it was one of the main reasons she chose not to attend. The confrontation involved a discussion on allowing golf carts to be driven to and from Acorn Park near St. Ansgar.
“Like the Farm Bureau, I too have a passion for this county and its character rooted in respect, faith, and family. After you watch the Youtube video I hope you understand why I have graciously declined the invitation to participate in the forum,” said Dunn. “Even though the Farm Bureau’s intentions are pure, I choose to promote myself as a candidate to my fellow Mitchell County residents in a different format.”
Walk, also utilizing the Internet, took a photo of he and an empty chair behind Dunn’s nameplate during the candidate forum and later posted it on facebook.
Republican candidate for State Senate Merlin Bartz of Grafton took it one step further at last week’s Mitchell County Farm Bureau forum, bringing with him a life-size cardboard cutout of his opponent Democrat Mary Jo Wilhelm of Cresco who also declined to attend.
“This is the fourth time by opponent has chosen not to show up at a local event,” said Bartz. “How can you represent the people without being engaged?”
Wilhelm was also contacted by the Press-News and confirmed that a scheduling conflict was to blame for here absence at the Osage forum.
“I am committed to attending many forums, debates and other public events during this campaign. I enjoy the opportunity to listen to voters, to talk about my record, and to outline my agenda to make Iowa an even better place to live, work and raise a family,” said Wilhelm. “Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict kept me from the Osage candidate forum.
“As far as Senator Bartz’s little stunt, I will leave it to the voters to decide if that kind of behavior is appropriate,” she added.
Kurt Meyer, chair of the Mitchell County Democrats after hearing about the forum last week, weighed in with his thoughts as well, noting that he was out of town himself during the event.
“It’s important to note, this was the ‘Farm Bureau Forum.’ The sponsoring organization has a long record of supporting political candidates of the opposite party,” said Meyer. “This is certainly their prerogative... but if their political support had been a bit more evenhanded over the years, they might have more Democratic candidates engaging in their particular format.”
“Mr. Walk and Mr. Bartz can allocate their time, energy, and resources to cutouts and indulging their rather peculiar humor if they wish. Perhaps the people there that evening were amused,” Meyer said. “If I were a candidate, I think I’d chose one-on-one voter interaction. I know that’s what Senator Wilhelm and Janeal Dunn are emphasizing.”
Those Republicans attending the forum included Walk, Byrnes, Bartz as well as Mitchell County Auditor Lowell Tesch, who is running unopposed for relection.
Also on hand was Republican for Sheriff Greg Beaver.
His Democratic opponent Larry Mork was on vacation and unable to attend.
Independent candidate for Sheriff Mick Comisky, who joined the race the same day as the forum, was also absent.