Polk County voters chose Kimberly Graham on Tuesday to serve as their next county attorney, putting the longtime juvenile court attorney in position to bring new perspective to the county’s top legal job for the first time in three decades.
Graham, a Democrat, led Republican defense attorney Allan Richards by nearly 14percentage points, 57% to 43%, in complete but unofficial returns. Both were contending for the position being vacated by Democrat John Sarcone, who is retiring after serving eight terms as county attorney. He was first elected in 1990.
Over 22 years as an attorney, Graham has worked primarily in juvenile justice cases, representing youths and parents in legal proceedings, and has served as attorney and guardian ad litem for children of participants in the Polk County Recovery Court program. In her campaign for county attorney, she promised improvements in the juvenile justice system and much broader changes, including ending low-level marijuana prosecutions, no longer requiring cash bail for many nonviolent offenders, and addressing racial and income disparities in criminal prosecutions and sentencings.
More:Get to know the candidates running for Polk County attorney in bid to replace John Sarcone
Graham told the Register after her win that she’ll be working hard to wrap up her current cases and prepare for a seamless transition as she takes office in January.
“I understand the people in Polk County have placed their trust in me to keep us as safe as I can and create an equitable justice system, and I will be working every day to be worthy of that trust,” she said.
In a speech to supporters Tuesday evening, Graham returned to themes of fairness and equity that she made central to her campaign.
“We started this campaign to end racial and income disparities in the justice system and create a healthy, safer, thriving Polk County, and so we will.,” she said.
Richards thanked his supporters.
“I appreciate all the votes that came through, and Polk County will go forward as they choose,” he told the Register.
Longtime incumbent’s retirement opens doors
Sarcone has been an institution in Polk County government for decades, repeatedly running unopposed to oversee an office that, as of 2021, had 56 full-time attorneys prosecuting criminal cases and representing the county in other legal matters. The Polk County supervisors last month voted to rename the downtown Des Moines justice center that houses the county attorney’s offices in his honor.
But some of Sarcone’s policies have drawn criticism, including filing hundreds of low-level charges against 2020 racial justice protesters that were later dismissed, and prosecuting Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri after she was arrested while covering a demonstration, despite telling police she was a journalist. In June 2021, Sarcone announced he did not intend to run for a ninth term in office, saying he wanted to spend more time with his children and grandchildren.
For subscribers:‘End of an era’: Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, who plans to retire after 32 years, leaves ‘a big job’ to fill
Four candidates ran to replace him: Richards as a Republican and Democrats Graham, longtime state and federal prosecutor Laura Roan and former Iowa House minority leader Kevin McCarthy. The Democrats squared off in the June 7 primary and Graham emerged victorious with 44% of the vote.
Campaigning on reform amid rising crime worries
In statements to the Register, Richards, a longtime private attorney in Tama County, indicated an interest in increasing deferred prosecution programs and spoke about the need for increased trust between law enforcement agencies and the community.
Graham joins the ranks of change-minded prosecutors recently elected in cities across the country. Chief prosecutors in Philadelphia, Boston and other cities in recent years have promised to veer away from decades of “tough on crime” policies.
Polk County, Iowa election results 2022 | The Des Moines Register
Other Polk County races won unopposed
County attorney was not the only Polk County position on the ballot this year, but it was the only one to be contested.
Three of the county’s five supervisors, Matt McCoy, Tom Hockensmith and Angela Connolly, each ran unopposed for new terms in districts 1, 4 and 5, respectively.
Also unopposed were county Treasurer Mary Wells, who defeated a primary challenger, and county Recorder Julie Haggerty.