August 14, 2017 – Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service (IA)
|As a Fairfield school board member, Phil Miller voted to allow transgender students to use restrooms based on their gender identity. (martyspittle/Pixabay)|
FAIRFIELD, Iowa – In the wake of a special election punctuated by attack ads about transgender bathroom access, the winner is reflecting on what voters really seemed to care about.
Fairfield veterinarian Phil Miller, a Democrat, faced criticism in the election from Republican Travis Harris for being part of a school board that affirmed the civil rights of a transgender student to use the boys’ restroom.
Miller says a breakdown of the votes shows he carried Jefferson County, where the issue made headlines, with more than 65 percent of the vote. That, he says, tells him one thing.
“They trust my judgment, and they trusted the school board’s judgment that we did things properly,” he states.
An attack ad on Miller aired within weeks of the suicide of a transgender Fairfield teen.
Miller says one-on-one conversations with district residents showed him they primarily cared about schools, clean water, workers’ rights and a host of other issues ahead of the transgender bathroom topic.
The 10-point victory for Miller stands in contrast to how District 82 voted in the presidential election, where Republican Donald Trump was the preferred candidate by a 21 percent margin.
Miller says the voters he spoke with were primarily focused on local issues, but not entirely.
“I did hear a little bit about the national stuff,” he relates. “Occasionally, somebody would talk about Trump, and I would just remind them that this is a state office. It’s not a national office.”
The special election in District 82 was called after long-time legislator Curt Hanson died in June at age 73.
Despite Miller’s victory, Republicans hold majorities in the Iowa Senate and House, and hold the governor’s office, as well.