Were politics at hand in a key decision Tuesday in Woodbury County? County Sheriff Dave Drew thinks so.
There was big news out of the Tuesday meeting of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors, as a majority of the supervisors voted to rescind a ban on weapons on county property, including the county courthouse. The supervisors said that was necessary to comply with a new state law that expands gun rights in Iowa on July 1.
But the other key piece Tuesday was that Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew said, in spite of the supervisors' shift, he plans to keep enforcing the security program in the courthouse.
For the last few years that has included personnel staffing metal detectors to find weapons such as guns. Drew said the security steps are needed to ensure that people are safe, as he said Iowa sheriffs are required to help carry out rulings by courts.
Drew pointed to a June 19 Iowa Supreme Court supervisory order said that "all weapons are prohibited from courtrooms, court-controlled spaces and public areas of courthouses." The county supervisors, including Matthew Ung and Jeremy Taylor, said that was an "over-reach" by the court and conflicted with the new expansive gun rights law that kicks in July 1.
Drew went further than announcing his plans to keep screening for guns, expressing disappointment in the supervisors' action and asserting that it was politically motivated.
"I'm extremely disappointed that the Board of Supervisors has chosen to politicize this to protect their own political capital," Drew wrote in a letter, which was read at the end of the meeting, since he was not in attendance.
That assertion resulted in quick rebukes from Taylor and Ung, who cited a county by-law on record holding that county officials do not publicly criticize each other about the motives for positions taken.
"It is a violation of our by-laws, not that it seems to matter to the sheriff in this instance," Ung said.
Ung had framed the 90-minute conversation by saying the county officials certainly have personal opinions about the law, but the debate needed to center on how to enforce the law.
Drew didn't specify details that made him think politics were behind the supervisors' action Tuesday. Drew is a Republican, as are Taylor and Ung.
Two county officials spoke against the ban, and one supervisor voted against it. That group includes P.J. Jennings, Gill and Marty Pottebaum, who are all Democrats. No one who spoke at the meeting cited party politics as a determinant of their views.
Republicans tend to defend Second Amendment gun rights, while Democrats in the 2016 party platform cited the goal to "keep weapons of war—such as assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (LCAM's)—off our streets."
The new law was passed in the Iowa Legislature, with both chambers under control of Republicans. State Rep. Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley, said the changes are indicative of what Iowans “need, deserve and have not been acknowledged for many, many years" for gun rights.
The new law, among other things, broadens the state’s so-called stand-your-ground provision, so a law-abiding citizen does not have a duty to retreat in a public place before using deadly force when confronted with danger to life or property. People currently have that right to defend themselves with weapons in their own homes.
Slowly drawing out his words, then leaning back in his chair with a loud sigh, Ung said, "The political battle has already taken place, I would say to the sheriff. That's how the law was passed. Courts don't make law."
Pottebaum spoke after Ung, saying it is true that courts don't make laws.
"Courts interpret laws. They interpret laws and they order law enforcement agencies how to enforce them," Pottebaum said.
Pottebaum added that the supervisors had differing opinions of the expanded gun law, but he was gratified that the supervisors handled the Tuesday discussions professionally.
"We were able to not get down on each other," Pottebaum summarized.
The county supervisors have often said county decisions don't break down on political party lines. According to Iowa law, county offices are filled through partisan elections where candidates specify a political party.
Drew's vow moved Taylor to state that if some aggrieved resident brings legal action that gun rights under the new law aren't recognized in the courthouse, that lawsuit would be brought not against the county supervisors but the Sheriff's Office.