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The Iowan Daily | Blue-Collar Conservatives: The Political Journey of Phil Hemingway

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Phil greets potential voters outside the Johnson County Republican seat before Clash in Kinnick on Friday, August 26, 2022. Hemingway knows the challenges a Republican candidate faces in a largely liberal Johnson County and said, “I hope the community will just look at me and look at not just my party affiliation but look at what i did when i had the public trust like serving on the school board. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Iowan Daily) (Ayrton Breckenridge)

The prospect of running his own business allowed Phil to help raise Monica and let her work in the shop. Eventually, Monica became his campaign manager when Phil ran for the school board.

Monica even designed the campaign sign he still uses today. Early in his political career, his campaign budget was low, so he took old political signs and painted them over to make them his own. Phil raised $790 in 2022 for the reporting period from January 1 to July 14, according to a report from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

During his campaign, Phil makes it a point to show the pay increases county supervisors have received from 2018 to 2023. A sign listing these dollar figures is prominently displayed wherever Phil campaigns.

When Phil first ran for the board of supervisors in 2018, the salary was $71,240. For fiscal year 2023, the salary is set at $92,558 without benefits.

Phil’s initial promise in 2018 when he was first offered for a supervisor position was not to ask for or accept a raise during his tenure. He still keeps that promise. With the $20,000 salary increase between 2018 and 2023, Phil plans to take that money each year and donate it to every school in Johnson County that has an agriculture or Future Farmers of America program in place ( FFA).

Infographic by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

After a day of work in the store, Phil cleans the grease from his hands before heading home. (Ayrton Breckenridge)

“Farming is the one thing that every person in the world is involved in every day,” Phil said.

While at the school board, Phil said he supports the integration of these programs into the school system, as they provide young people with access to different trades and open the door to new job opportunities.

Phil has also served as chairman of the board’s finance committee and links his work there to current salary increases with the oversight board.

“The Iowa City School District budget is greater than the county budget,” he said. “[The school district] also has more employees than the county has employees. I oversaw the largest bond issue at the time in the state of more than $193 million in spending to renovate our schools…and I did it all for free,” Phil said.

He was one of two board members at the time to vote against sending the bond to a full referendum and said there was not enough for special education, career and technical education – and that excluded Hills Elementary. Although the referendum passed, Phil considered it his responsibility as a political leader to oversee the obligation.

“Sometimes you’re on the winning side, and sometimes you’re not, but you still have to keep going and make sure everything you do is for the good of the community,” Phil said. “You can’t hold grudges and things like that, you just have to keep going and keep working…I’m showing up to be a voice for everyone in the community – and I mean everyone. Not just from one party, not just from one community, but from the whole county.

He compared his political approach to finances to the way he runs Phil’s Repair. It wasn’t until his third school board application that he thought it would go his way, he said. With his perseverance and current politics, Phil believes the siege could fall his way as more people watch where their money is going given high inflation and a looming recession.

Timeline by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

Looking back at his eight campaigns, Phil and Anita know the hardships that come with success, but they see their Republican Party affiliation as an additional hurdle in a largely Democratic county. Of the county’s 90,213 active voters, 46,645 are registered Democrats and 16,571 are registered Republicans. The rest are mostly registered as non-party voters.

“A lot of people in this city and this county just look at the consonant behind the name and are immediately turned off,” Anita said. “Some of them lump all Republicans into the same category without realizing that there are different shades of Republicans.”

Phil ran uncontested in the June Republican primary with Jammie Bradshaw. They will face Democratic candidates Jon Green and V Fixmer-Oraiz on Election Day.

After a day of work in the store, Phil cleans the grease from his hands before heading home. (Ayrton Breckenridge)

Both Phil and Anita mentioned the benefit of having people from different backgrounds represented on the board.

“When you have five politically-minded people making decisions for a very diverse community in their thinking,” Phil said. “I think the community would recognize the benefit of having a diverse group of leaders.”

Phil’s older brother, David, is a self-proclaimed “Liberal Democrat.” Although he doesn’t always align himself politically with his brother, David said they end up supporting the same goals.

Phil said he plans to treat a supervisor’s seat as a full-time job, referring to the amount of salary received, while some still view the role as a part-time endeavor.

“You don’t take that to fill out a resume,” Phil said of the job. “You take this to provide a service to the community.”