When someone is being considered for a position in government, how much attention should be paid to what happened to them years ago? That's the question being asked in Congress now. It also might be a question for voters in a Winneshiek County Board election November 6th.
Winneshiek County Supervisor candidate Melissa O'Rourke's experience includes four years as County Attorney in Sioux County, Iowa—something not mentioned on her Facebook page or any other campaign literature. But a background check by decorahnews.com has revealed the details of those four years.
O'Rourke ran in the Republican Party primary election in 2002, defeating her opponent 53 percent to 47 percent (4,193 votes to 3,759 votes), according to minutes of the Sioux County Board of Supervisors. Sioux County is perhaps the most Republican of any county in Iowa, so by winning the Republican Party primary in June, she easily won election in November.
When she took office, she inherited an Assistant County Attorney, Coleman McAlister, who had worked for the previous County Attorney. Not quite four years later, before the next election, the Sioux City Journal headlined a January 6th, 2006, article "Sioux County attorney fires assistant after he announces his candidacy." The firing came when McAlister told O'Rourke he would oppose her on the ballot in the Republican primary. O'Rourke told the Sioux City Journal that Iowa is an "employment at will" state and that the Assistant District Attorney served at the pleasure of the elected County Attorney.
McAllister told the newspaper O'Rourke's relationship with the local law enforcement "had broken down," adding local lawyers and law enforcement members "think I am the man for that job (County Attorney)." A subsequent story by the newspaper two months later quoted McAllister as saying the County Attorney job "required someone who can build bridges, not burn them."
In an interview with decorahnews.com, O'Rourke says she felt some county sheriff's deputies were hassling local immigrants and she refused to prosecute tickets for minor offenses. She also says a legal case she argued involving the Sioux Center Community Hospital & Health Center—which the county won—upset powerful people in the county. The hospital claimed it should be exempt from paying $55,000 in property taxes on two senior living facilities, but the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Sioux County.
In the 2006 Republican Party primary in Sioux County, McAllister received 86 percent of the vote, with O'Rourke getting 13 percent of the vote. (3,860 votes to 576 votes, with 31other votes). O'Rourke says she lost because she upset powerful people by doing her job.
McAllister was re-elected in 2010 (he was unopposed) and was hired to work for the Iowa Attorney General's Office in 2014.
Since moving to Decorah, O'Rourke has been active in immigration issues and will speak on a panel discussion next week in Decorah on that topic in her role as "attorney/immigration advocate." She has changed her political party affiliation since working in Sioux County, now running as a Democrat. She will face Republican Floyd Ashbacher in the November 6th election in Winneshiek County.