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Freedmen voting in New Orleans, 1867

There was a call a couple of nights ago from the District 21 leadership hereabouts, wondering if either of us would like to throw our hat in the ring for election to public office. When I stopped laughing and politely begged off, we thought a bit more about the nature of elective office: how one attains it, how one keeps it, and why anyone would put themselves through that wringer.¹

Thus far, I’ve sketched the lives of two public servants in Agincourt — Sheriff Joe Pyne (the anti-Arpaio), a character from the Depression era and the sort of person who made a distinction betwixt justice and the law, and somewhat earlier, Hizzoner, half-term major in the 1890s Edmund FitzGerald Flynn. It’s not accidental that Flynn is named for a sunken ore boat at the bottom of Lake Superior.

From the time of its incorporation in 1857 to the present, Agincourt may have gone through several different forms of municipal government, depending on the provisions of the Iowa constitution. I spent much of my youth in Illinois, living in a village (an acceptable form in that state), which has a president, rather than a mayor, and six village trustees. Cities have mayors and city councils and there are various ways those councils can be structured and their members elected. Does anyone take “Civics” in high school anymore? Or am I wasting my breath? Not having checked Iowa’s enabling legislation, we’ve assumed a form of city government with mayor and council.

Suffrage is, of course, an interesting topic throughout the 19th century: the gradual attainment of voting rights for Blacks and eventually for women are two of the watershed moments in our country’s history. But those dates in Agincourt’s chronology will be easy to pinpoint. The other messier aspect of candidacy and electioneering are another matter. For the time being, check out the stories of Mayor Flynn and Sheriff Pyne as representations of political polarities.

¹ According to Roy, my dad, there were only two types of politicians: 1) those entering the arena, who are bound to become corrupt, and 2) those already in the arena and corrupted beyond redemption. Dad had a pretty negative view of politics. Each time the voting cycle rolled around, he’d say, “Well, time to get out the ‘Vote No’ pencil.”

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