Meet the Candidates: Clayton County Board of Supervisors

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Ray Peterson (R)

Lester Simons (D)

In the Nov. 3 general election, Republican incumbent Ray Peterson and Democratic challenger Lester Simons will battle to fill one open seat on the Clayton County Board of Supervisors. The winner will serve a four-year term. Times-Register reporter Willis Patenaude recently contacted the candidates to gauge their thoughts on key county issues.

Ray Peterson

Ray Peterson was first elected to the Clayton County Board of Supervisors in 2016, and currently serves as the board’s chairperson. 

Despite numerous requests for an interview or written comments over the past month, Peterson provided no responses to questions posed by the Times-Register.

An ad promoting the Clayton County’s Republican candidates stated Peterson has worked to spend the county’s money wisely and take care of the county’s needs. It also noted that his knowledge of road building has saved money and improved roads.

Lester Simons

“It’s the best place to be. There’s no place better,” Les Simons said in an interview about running for Clayton County Supervisor. The Colesburg native was effusive in praising northeast Iowa, and even joked that he’s never been out of the area, having spent all his life working the family farm, serving as fire chief for 17 years, and even spending a brief time as a member of the city council.

Originally, the supervisor position was going to go uncontested, but at the urging of officials and residents confident in Simons’ ability to represent the county faithfully, he entered the race to challenge Ray Peterson. He was also spurred on by the belief that he could “do a better job” than the incumbent, as well as ongoing disagreements with the county engineer. The latter element also prompted individuals to seek out Simons, pushing him to run. 

“I’m running because I want to. I’m not in it for myself,” Simons said. 

His approach is a county first one, focused on keeping businesses and people here, improving road maintenance and pushing for higher pay. 

“I spent 46 years at John Deere, and I made improvements there. I want to bring that to the board of supervisors…[we] need to listen to the people,” Simons said.   

Another part of this vision is getting people involved in the decision-making process or, at the very least, getting them to present ideas worthy of consideration. The theory is the more people you get involved in the process, the better and more plentiful the ideas you can achieve from it. This involvement approach, accompanied by listening to the needs of the people, would be an improvement over the current state of affairs, according to Simons.

“I have been to meetings, and if they don’t like what you’re saying, they don’t listen,” he said.

Simons was unsure on how to actually get people involved. “Come talk to me, [or] maybe on committees,” he said.  

When it comes to a vision for Clayton County, specifically in terms of economic development, Simons wants to keep businesses here and see them improved. He also wants to find funds for those businesses and support people who are here. As for attracting new businesses and promoting that development, Simons said, “We got to see if there are businesses out there you can attract…see if there is anything we can get to move here.” 

On the issue of creating economic opportunities within Clayton County, again Simons promoted a county first approach, but was limited in specifics. 

“People are moving away and we got to find a way to keep them here, but they are going to bigger towns with bigger money, and I don’t know really what a guy could bring into Clayton County that would create opportunity,” he said. Additionally, Simons doesn’t believe there are enough “people in these small towns that can support businesses.” 

Some attractions, of Clayton County, according to Simons, are the outdoor activities, such as hunting, fishing, camping and four wheeling. Getting people involved in them is a way to promote the area, drive economic opportunity and preserve natural resources, which are vital to the existence of northeast Iowa. 

When it comes to the issue of preservation, Simons simply said, “Other than the farmers themselves, looking out for their own land, that’s about the only thing we can go with natural resources.” 

As for getting people involved, the idea behind emphasizing hunting and fishing is the belief that people will travel to Clayton County to participate in those activities and, once they are done, they will then visit the local towns and spend money in local businesses. 

“We got to get people involved in things like that…you got to give people a reason to come,” he said.

When it comes to election day, Simons believes people should vote for him because he is a “person who listens and helps people…I want to support people so they stay here. I’m here to support the people and do the best I can to solve their problems.”

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