Prospects for electing more women to the Iowa legislature

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, let’s revisit the field of women candidates in the 100 Iowa House districts and 25 Iowa Senate districts that are up for grabs this year. Since Bleeding Heartland last surveyed the scene, a few more women candidates have emerged, while others are no longer in the running.

Following the 2014 election, the number of women in the Iowa House rose from 25 to 27 (six Republicans and 21 Democrats). The number of women in the Iowa Senate dropped from ten to seven (one Republican and six Democrats) because men replaced three retiring female Republican senators.

Iowa’s general assembly has fewer women as a percentage of lawmakers than do 29 other state legislatures. Despite efforts by the bipartisan group 50/50 in 2020 to promote political equity in Iowa and to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of government, next year’s legislature may have even fewer female state representatives and senators.

Speaking of Women’s Equality Day, did you know Iowa women came close to gaining the right to vote during the 1870s, and again in 1916? Neither did I before I researched this Throwback Thursday post last year.

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Iowa Senate district 28 preview: Mike Breitbach vs. Jan Heikes

Hours after Democrats across the country had begun to celebrate President Barack Obama’s re-election on the night of November 7, 2012, Iowa’s political junkies were still on the edge of our seats, waiting for votes to be reported in the last few state Senate races. Sometime after 1 am, results from Senate district 42 in Iowa’s southeast corner confirmed that Democrats would control at least 26 seats in the upper chamber. For at least two more years, that firewall would stop Republicans from implementing some of the disastrous policies seen in places like Wisconsin, Kansas, or Ohio.

Democrats are still clinging to the ledge with a one-seat Iowa Senate majority. While Republicans have several districts to target in their quest for 26, Democrats have only one obvious pickup opportunity: Senate district 28 in the northeast corner of the state. This race was the "one that got away" four years ago, as former State Representative John Beard fell an agonizing 17 votes short against Republican Mike Breitbach in the battle for an open seat. Now Breitbach has the advantages of incumbency as he seeks re-election against Jan Heikes.

Follow me after the jump for more on this district’s political make-up and voting history, along with background on both candidates and Breitbach’s first television commercial.

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Iowa Senate district 8 preview: Mike Gronstal vs. Dan Dawson

No Iowa Democrat has frustrated Republicans more over the last six years than Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. The 26 to 24 Democratic majority in the state Senate has kept dozens of bills on the conservative wish list from reaching Governor Terry Branstad’s desk. After a net gain of six Iowa Senate seats in the 2010 wave election, many Republicans were confident that gaining control of the upper chamber was only a matter of time. However, Democrats managed to keep that one-seat majority despite a new map of political boundaries that gave Republicans lots of opportunities in 2012. Another GOP landslide in 2014 failed to deliver any net gain for the party in the Iowa Senate.

I’ve long believed Gronstal was well-positioned to win re-election again. Earlier this year, the Iowa Firearms Coalition PAC made the same calculation, leaving Gronstal’s district off its list of targeted Iowa Senate races.

But even if Senate district 8 isn’t among the most promising GOP pickup opportunities, Republican leaders will invest resources in this race, especially since their preferred challenger, Dan Dawson, won a three-way GOP primary. A television commercial introducing Dawson to voters is already in the can.

Follow me after the jump for a closer look at Senate district 8, its recent voting history, the two candidates, and likely themes of the general election.

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Dan Kelley files as third-party candidate in Iowa House district 29

A surprise popped up on the Secretary of State’s general election candidate list today. Dan Kelley, a three-term state representative from Newton, has filed to run as a third-party candidate in Iowa House district 29. He lost the June Democratic primary to Wes Breckenridge by nearly a two to one margin. That campaign turned nasty and personal, with supporters on both sides calling each other "bullies." In what has no recent precedent in Iowa politics, two major labor unions endorsed a challenger to a Democratic incumbent. Kelley was the only state legislative incumbent in either party to lose his party’s nomination this year.

At this writing, Kelley has not responded to my inquiries, nor has he posted anything on Twitter or Facebook to explain why he decided to run as a third-party candidate. The candidate list provides a big clue: Kelley is named as the candidate for the "Stand Up To Bullies" party. UPDATE: Added comments from Kelley below.

House district 29 covers most of Jasper County in central Iowa (scroll down for a map). The seat leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly so. President Barack Obama won 56 percent of the vote here in 2012. Kelley defeated his Republican opponent that year with more than 62 percent of the vote. The district contains 7,645 active registered Democrats, 5,608 Republicans, and 6,864 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office.

Kelley wasn’t the most popular member of his caucus, and House Democratic leaders will surely back Breckenridge in the general election. But no one in the party will relish the thought of spending money on this district when there are so many competitive House races around the state. Moreover, even if the party establishment goes all in for Breckenridge, a split in the Democratic vote could give Republican Patrick Payton the opening he needs to take this seat for the GOP. (Republicans haven’t represented the Newton area for decades.) Democrats need a net gain of eight House seats to win control of the lower chamber.

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Iowa House district 51 preview: Tim Hejhal vs. Jane Bloomingdale

Among the dozens of potentially competitive Iowa House and Senate races (a collateral benefit of our state’s non-partisan redistricting process), the contest in House district 51 will be one of the most closely watched. GOP State Representative Josh Byrnes immediately put this northeast Iowa seat on the top tier of Democratic pickup opportunities when he decided not to run for re-election. The district covers Worth, Mitchell, and Howard counties, plus a small area in Winneshiek County, not including Decorah. Scroll down to view a map.

Democrat Tim Hejhal, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Air National Guard and principal of Osage High School (Mitchell County), is running against Republican Jane Bloomingdale, an accountant and tax preparer who is mayor of Northwood (Worth County), where she previously served 17 years on the city council. Hejhal and Bloomingdale were unopposed in their respective party primaries. A former Iowa GOP State Central Committee member who had declared plans to run in district 51 did not file for the seat. I enclose more background on Hejhal below; I was unable to find an official campaign biography for Bloomingdale.

House district 51 is a must-win seat for Democrats hoping to gain control of the state House, where the party currently holds 43 of the 100 seats. Though the GOP has a registration advantage, the plurality of voters are affiliated with neither party. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 51 contains 5,139 active registered Democrats, 6,418 Republicans, and 7,811 no-party voters. President Barack Obama received 55.19 percent of the vote among the district’s residents in 2012. Only two Iowa House districts currently held by Republicans voted to re-elect the president by a larger margin. One of them was House district 58, another open seat in eastern Iowa likely to be targeted by both parties.

Whether either party’s presidential candidate will have coat-tails here is hard to guess. In the February 1 caucuses, Donald Trump narrowly won Mitchell and Howard counties, nearly tying Ted Cruz in Worth. Hillary Clinton carried Mitchell County, while Bernie Sanders won Howard and Worth.

Intensifying the focus on this part of the state, House district 51 makes up half of Senate district 26, where Republican Waylon Brown is challenging State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm. Both parties and a number of interest groups are heavily involved in that Senate race, which could determine control of the upper chamber. Democrats have had a campaign office up and running in Osage since early May. Iowa House districts are small enough for candidates to reach a significant percentage of voters in person, and Hejhal has been working the doors here, as have volunteers on his behalf. Bloomingdale has done some canvassing too and has had a campaign presence at various summer parades and festivals.

Neither candidate has raised much money for this race. Hejhal reported $2,650.00 in contributions through early May, and Bloomingdale took in $3,700 during the same period, loaning her campaign $500 as well. Through early July, Hejhal brought in another $5,020.00 and Bloomingdale raised another $5,825. (All contributions to both candidates came from individuals rather than political action committees.) The bulk of the money spent on this race will come from Democratic and Republican leadership committees.

Any comments on this or other state legislative campaigns are welcome in this thread.

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Legislative Attacks on Women’s Health Threaten Women’s Lives

Maridith Morris is a registered nurse and the Democratic challenger to State Representative Jake Highfill in Iowa House district 39. -promoted by desmoinesdem

A recent American College of Gynecology study uncovered concerning data about maternal mortality from Texas. Since 2011 the number of women dying during the time of pregnancy and childbirth doubled in only two years, from 18.8 to nearly 40 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The study’s authors found the data “puzzling,”-stating that-, “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a 2-year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely.” However, when we compare the shift in data to Texas’ legislative attacks on women’s healthcare, the trend makes sense.

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