By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
JOHNSON COUNTY– Dave Fesler doesn’t present himself as a belonging to any politician’s club.
He doesn’t offer pat answers, doesn’t ask to go off record– at least, not during the interview for this newspaper– and he doesn’t have a campaign manager. He expects to get elected not with the backing of an established party and its accompanying resources, but through good, old-fashioned neighborhood canvassing.
His reasons for running for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors against incumbents Pat Harney, Terrence Neuzil and Rod Sullivan– whose terms expire this year– as well as Independent challenger John Etheredge of Kalona, aren’t laid out with the typical rhetoric, but with stories about the way the county used to function; more efficiently, in his opinion.
While Fesler is a registered Democrat, he is running on the Nov. 6 ballot as nominated by petition, a document he filed on Aug. 28 with 277 signatures he garnered on his own. It seems destined; he is disillusioned with today’s political machines anyway.
Instead, Fesler votes the candidate, not the party. And that’s the way he thinks voting should go.
Fesler, proprietor of Fesler & Son, Inc., located in North Liberty since 1981, was born and raised in Coralville, where he and his wife Karen reside today. He was in West High’s first class graduating class in 1969, and much of what happened in those formative years and the subsequent early 1970s shaped his political beliefs. His elementary school held a mock election, and he voted for John F. Kennedy. Though his father was a WWII veteran and a staunch Republican supporter of Eisenhower, Fesler said his father rallied around President Kennedy after Kennedy beat Ike in 1960.
“The president is, of course, the commander in chief, and with a military background, that’s what you do,” said Fesler.
Later, Iowa City was in the midst of anti-war demonstrations, and in 1967, Fesler learned his cousin had died in Vietnam.
“We didn’t have the problem, in 1969, about whether you were a Democrat or a Republican, whether you were a liberal or a conservative,” he said. “It wasn’t, ‘We support the troops but we don’t support the war.’ That wasn’t the game back then.”
For Fesler, politics wasn’t a game at all. He admired elected officials for their behaviors, not their rhetoric. And regardless of the box checked on his voter registration form, he still does.
“When Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed, Bobby Kennedy went out amongst everyone. He put out his hand, he looked them square in the eye, and he talked to them. It didn’t matter who they were. He was out there,” said Fesler. “It’s the same thing I saw in (former Republican presidential candidate) Rick Santorum years later, and I was bound and determined I was going to complete those days.”
Those were the days of speaking your true mind, doing the right thing for the greater good and honoring the democratic process, Fesler believes. Though Democrats John and Robert Kennedy were his early political icons, Fesler got to know former U.S. senator Santorum when Karen became a regional coordinator for Santorum’s campaign.
Fesler said he was encouraged to put his name on the Nov. 6 ballot by Johnson County Republican Central Committee members who tried to talk him into running for Johnson County Sheriff. With a degree in law enforcement from Parsons College in Fairfield (which closed in 1973, the same year Fesler graduated), after nearly four years as a Williamsburg police officer, and running his family business of selling equipment and uniforms to safety and law enforcement officials all over the country, he knew he had the background to serve as sheriff. However, he felt he could have more of an impact on behalf of Johnson County taxpayers by serving on the board of supervisors.
His intent is to bring cooperation to the board, to revive a way of working together with other local government entities to get things accomplished with less spending.
“Not only do you have a more efficient government when you have cooperation and communication back and forth, but you also energize the average citizen,” said Fesler. “When you have a more efficient government, you end up either leveling property taxes or lowering them. As I reviewed all this, that’s why I decided to run for the board of supervisors.”
The lack of cooperation is the first issue Fesler wants to address if elected.
“Why all the sudden is there such extreme anger and hatred toward each party?” he asked. “This is going beyond reason.”
Fesler actually declines support from party affiliates.
“Endorsements? I don’t want any endorsements. This is going to take a lot of hard work, but if I am going to do anything at all, I’m just going to go after the citizens’ vote.”
However, Iowa County supervisor Ray Garringer did offer some words of support for Fesler’s bid. Garringer has known Fesler for about 30 years, first as a citizen of Williamsburg during the years Fesler served as police chief there.
“Dave is very honest,” said Garringer. He is knowledgeable about a lot of things, but he is also big into researching things if he doesn’t know the answers.
Later, Garringer became a police officer himself– he is now Williamsburg’s assistant police chief– and was a customer of Fesler & Son, Inc.
“Dave can put his business experience to work for county residents, and that’s what it takes to run a county,” said Garringer. “It takes common sense, which I know he possesses, and it takes knowledge of money and how to deal with budgets. Dave would be good at all those things after running a business all those years.”
The county’s budget has, in fact, fallen under Fesler’s scrutiny of late, particularly the numbers surrounding the proposed new justice center, which also appears on the ballot for Johnson County voters Nov. 6.
“This thing was $30 million two years ago, and now all the sudden it’s $48.6 million,” said Fesler. “I never expected it to be this price. It has become entirely questionable.”
He is also questioning the effectiveness of the Joint Emergency Communications Center, built in 2010 for $16.4 million and funded through a county property tax levy.
Fesler said he was an early advocate of the joint communications center, but changes occurred during the planning process that resulted in something different than what he envisioned, including its price tag and how the communications center functions.
“It got to be over the top,” he said. Fesler feels with his background and experience, he understands ways it can be more efficient and effective.
Until the election, Fesler intends to find out what the rest of Johnson County thinks about such issues as he goes door-to-door to meet constituents and hear their concerns. He won’t, however, be making a lot of fancy promises.
“There is only one campaign promise I will make,” Fesler concluded. “If the voters decide to put me in the position, I intend to start the very next day. I’ll be going out on the streets, and talking to people.”