Scott County’s next auditor likely will have one advantage Roxanna Moritz says she lacked in her final term following 20 years of elected service.
The support of her own county board.
Moritz retired Friday. A string of well-wishers stopped by her fifth floor county building office to share cake and memories from four elected terms as Davenport first-ward alderman, one as county supervisor, and four as elected auditor.
She launched her elected service in 1997, but narrowly lost her first Davenport council election. She capped her career with two unopposed elections where Republicans declined to field any auditor candidates.
Moritz on Friday says she truly wishes her successor luck, because he or she will need it.
Moritz intended this to be her final term, but retired a year early after heat from county board Republicans, and a new state election law subjecting auditors to criminal penalties and fines, “for errors, not crimes.”
She shares the concern of the Iowa Association of County Auditors, composed of far more elected Republicans than Democrats. The association warned the new penalties, including up to $10,000 fine and felony convictions for not following Secretary of State directives.
“An inadvertent omission could create severe consequences in the lives of not only county auditors, but precinct election officials as well. This would be a strong deterrent to qualified people interested in this area of public service,” the auditor’s association wrote of the bill.
Moritz believes bill sponsor Sen. Roby Smith, R-Bettendorf, targeted her and other Democrat auditors with legislation that reflects President Trump’s discredited accusations of voter fraud, not the needs, customs and practices of Iowa voters.
She regards it as symptom of a change in Republican election tactics that she says are bolstering partisan divisions she never encountered as a Davenport alderman, or in her first three terms as auditor.
Moritz heralded former GOP county chairman Judy Davidson as a model party leader. “She asked questions, raised money, and advocated for her candidates. She recruited good people. She strived to understand election law, and our office, and the results showed.”
Moritz also praised current GOP chair Jeanita McNulty, who has worked elections for the county for more than a decade. “Jeanita will work hard, and I know that because she’s been in my office 12 years for elections.”
When asked, she offered no reflections on their Democrat counterparts.
“I don’t participate with the Democratic party,” she said. “To me, party meetings should have purposes, goals and agendas. I’d like to see a general running the party, tenacious about the values important to the party’s existence. I’ve not seen that kind of passion or work put forth. Party is ideology and organization. You can’t have one without the other.”
Moritz said her public service was influenced by collaboration with Republicans on the 10-member Davenport city council. Chief among them, the late Davenport mayor Charlie Brooke. “He told me the only secret to success on the council was learning to count to six.”
Davenport, like most Iowa cities, has nonpartisan elections. But party politics drive campaigns and fundraising.
Moritz represented the predominantly Democrat west side First Ward.
She said Brooke, and former council members Bob McGivern and Denise Hollenbeck, are among Republicans able to keep their well-known political affiliations out of council chambers.
She recalled their help working with Davenport schools to sell the vacant Roosevelt school for $1 to be a first ward community center.
She credited bipartisan work for creating Sunderbruch Park, and especially for building the city’s first branch library in the west side at 3000 N. Fairmount. The council was split between east and west side locations. “McGivern said, ‘Let’s build two,’” she recalled.
Her council service was rife with issues that could have drawn partisan flack. Filters on library computers; adding sexual orientation to the city’s civil rights ordinance; demolishing the old Sugar Shack on Harrison Street for new tennis courts.
“I’ve gotten plenty of heat. I’ve had bags of poop tossed on my porch and lit on fire,” she said.
Last year’s partisan voting attacks, “sent me over.” Iowa’s new election code was a final straw.
“We’re in a war about who gets to participate in a democracy,” she said.
Moritz said Iowa’s Second Congressional District race shows why participation is so important.
She said she remains mystified why Rita Hart abandoned her congressional recount. “Rita won that election. I don’t know why she gave up,” Moritz said.
She said Hart would have overcome Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ six-vote win if the congressional recount had gone forward and included Johnson County ballots Moritz believes were wrongfully rejected.
Moritz said she had already alerted the Secretary of State and county board to her retirement when she was impaneled to rule on a petition challenging John Maxwell’s supervisor and North Scott school board elected service.
Moritz said she still regards Maxwell as a “hard working, honest public servant.” She said her vote upholding the challenge was influenced mainly by her reading of the law. “I was looking proactively at the law, and how it relates to service, not John’s character.”
She says partisan and personal attacks by Maxwell’s attorney inflamed an already tough decision.
Her vote against Maxwell was her “second hardest decision,” as an elected official.
The hardest? Joining a Davenport council majority to approve the first Walmart on Elmore Street in the 1990s. The incentives for the store were adamantly opposed by most union leaders, including her late husband, Tom Moritz, business agent for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 431. She said his boss, UFCW local president Jerry Messer, “didn’t speak to me for two years after that.”
“I still have never shopped at Walmart. But that’s what my constituents wanted at the time,” she said.
Tom Moritz was 55 when he died of cancer in 2015.
On Friday, her fiancée, Dan Dalziel, joined her for the staff sendoff.
Thanks to deputies, colleges, pollworkers
She offered thanks to her election crew that swelled to 450 this year to accommodate the unprecedented flood of early votes, and pandemic precautions at polling places.
She especially thanked St. Ambrose University, Scott Community College and local school districts for their support of registration efforts. “I spent a lot of time at high school lunchroom signups.”
She also thanked the Scott County Sheriff’s reserves, who carry precinct results back to the auditor’s office each election night; as well as Roederer Transfer, of Davenport, the county’s contractor for delivering equipment to precincts.
She regrets being unable to convince supervisors to transform the county warehouse at 4715 Tremont into a voting services center, where workers could be trained, and ballots counted on equipment already stored there.
She hopes Iowa one day resumes an emphasis on early voting she said remains secure, despite partisan challenges to the contrary.
And she wishes her GOP successor luck.
He or she will be starting from scratch, operating under Iowa’s new law that reduces the time to apply and return early ballots, and severely restricts satellite early voting sites. All of that will put more pressure on Election Day staffing, which has been tough to recruit and manage, Moritz said.
The county board’s three-man Republican majority will choose an interim successor, who will serve through November 2022, unless supervisors call for an earlier election.
Board chairman Ken Beck said the board will begin screening candidates. He said Thursday that he’s looking for someone able to serve and run in the next election.
Beck noted the office is staffed with experienced professionals, including deputy auditor Roland Caldwell, who will remain.
Chief election officer Richard Bauer also retires this month after 30 years at the county.
Moritz said the job already comes with a steep learning curve. “Who would want this job with all of those changes to the law?”
Veteran election worker Jeanita McNulty, who also is Scott County Republican party chairman, is among the 450 Moritz and staff recruited and trained for poll work. McNulty commended the training she got over the past 12 years. “We always had excellent and ample training, and additional updates as things changed,” including the conversion to scanners. “But I never viewed my service as partisan. It’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of different people throughout the county, just as passionate,” McNulty said.