A 29-year-old Libertarian candidate for the Iowa House — who just last year faced a harassment charge for his talk of killing a deputy sheriff — is running against law enforcement as much as he is the other two candidates on the ballot.
Blake Johannes of rural Audubon is seeking the Iowa House District 12 seat now held by State Rep. Brian Best, R-Glidden, who has filed for reelection. Exira Democrat Sam Muhr also is in the race to represent Audubon and Carroll County counties as well as the eastern part of Crawford County.
In an interview, Johannes said his own experiences with law enforcement are heavily informing his campaign for office.
“Things I want to focus on, you know, is like police targeting and things like that,” Johannes said. “I think things like being pulled over with no lights on and being undercover is kind of unconstitutional. I think there’s a lot of people that are feeling like there is a disconnect in the communities between the police and the citizens, I guess.”
Johannes, a native of Exira and a 2009 graduate of the high school there, occasionally has had contentious interactions with law enforcement officers, court records show.
In 2015, he was arrested for being drunk in the Exira City Park and “yelled and screamed” at officers, according to a criminal complaint.
In 2019, he was arrested for harassment for an alleged threat to harm a deputy sheriff who stopped him in his vehicle twice in two days and who asked Johannes how he could afford his new car.
“I swear I’m gonna have to kill this cop,” Johannes posted on a social media site along with a photo of his speeding ticket. “Pulls me over nearly daily. Says he clocked me at 70, then 64, then 78… with his rear facing radar, 2 miles away, on the other side of a (expletive) hill… bs.”
An acquaintance of Johannes took a screenshot of the post and gave it to her police officer husband, who shared it with the deputy.
A judge later acquitted Johannes of the harassment charge — which is punishable by up to two years in prison — because Johannes did not expect the deputy to see the online post and had no intention of actually harming the deputy.
Johannes testified that “he was merely venting his frustration with what he felt was harassment,” court records show.
In an interview with this newspaper, Johannes said he does not regret making the comment about the sheriff’s deputy. Further, Johannes said the episode is not disqualifying for a bid for public office.
“You know, if you ever got upset with a little kid or something, and you said, ‘I’m going to knock your block off,’ or something like that,” Johannes said. “It was not a legitimate threat. It was clearly conditional, and it had zero intent to ever get to whoever they were accusing me of threatening. There was no name mentioned.”
He stressed the comment was made on the online messaging platform Snapchat — which is designed so photos and text disappear after being viewed — and intended for a select group of people he knows.
“I didn’t put it on like public social media or anything like that, like Facebook,” Johannes said.
He said law enforcement officials “blew it up way more than it needed to be.” Johannes also said he was using the language to get his friends to “think more” about how law enforcement conducts itself.
“The thing is, I want a better-quality police officer,” Johannes said.
Johannes’ attorney asked to expunge the court records associated with the case but was denied.
Johannes “was convicted in the court of public opinion as soon as he was charged,” the attorney wrote. “He has suffered emotionally, socially and professionally as a result.”
On the issues, Johannes supports legalizing marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
“All of the above,” he said. “I believe in decriminalization.”
Johannes said there is no situation in which the government should prohibit a woman from obtaining an abortion. He supports legalized abortion from conception to just before birth.
“I don’t believe that it should be an issue for the courts or the government to get involved or our tax dollars,” he said. “I think that should be between you and your physician.”
Johannes said he’s had a lot of outreach from people in the district who want a Libertarian candidate.
“My campaign slogan is ‘Keep It Simple Stupid,’ which is a common phrase in the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) community,” Johannes said. “I’m nearly four years sober from alcohol, so it feels fitting for here as well.”
He said he will donate his legislative salary first to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and later to towns in his district.
Johannes is working on plans for the privatization of gravel roads in the state, and a “big push” for cutting red tape for Iowa’s emerging hemp industry.
“I’m pro-competition, hence the helping of a future opponent,” he said. “The Libertarian Party is the free-speech party, and we actively work to better each other with opposing ideals and presenting the best argument. I love this party.”
Johannes filed in person March 13 with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office in Des Moines, traveling there from Audubon County with the Democratic candidate Sam Muhr. Both Muhr and Johannes said he persuaded her to run for office as a Democrat.
“I just thought there should be more choice on the ballot, so I decided to help her run,” Johannes said.
There are strict rules on coordination, particularly financial, between candidates for office in Iowa. Officials at the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board are working remotely because of the coronavirus outbreak and could not be reached for comment as of press time.