Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

Iowa Senate

The number of women serving in the upper chamber appears more likely to fall than to rise or remain steady after this year’s election.

Five female incumbents are guaranteed to return to the Iowa Senate, as they are not up for re-election this year: Republican Amy Sinclair and Democrats Mary Jo Wilhelm, Janet Petersen, Liz Mathis, and Pam Jochum.

Republican Joni Ernst is also not up for re-election until 2016, so she will return if she loses the U.S. Senate race to Bruce Braley. She will resign from the Iowa Senate if she wins the statewide election.

Two women state senators are retiring and will be replaced by men. Jason Schultz was the only candidate in Senate district 9, now represented by Republican Nancy Boettger. Both parties nominated men in Senate district 39, where Republican Sandy Greiner is not seeking re-election.

Democratic incumbents Amanda Ragan and Rita Hart face male challengers in their re-election bids. Although I expect both to be re-elected, there’s a chance one or both could lose, as Republicans may target their races.

Crystal Bruntz won a two-way Republican primary in the open Senate district 15, and Democrats nominated two female challengers to GOP incumbents: Maria Bribriesco in Senate district 47 and Pam Deichmann in Senate district 13. None of those candidates are favored to win their races, but  they are running in districts that could be competitive.

No major-party candidates for the Iowa Senate are African-American or Asian-American.

To my knowledge, Bribriesco in Senate district 47 is the only remaining Latino candidate for the upper chamber. CORRECTION: Karyn Finn, the Democratic challenger in House district 60, is also Latina. Maria Rundquist lost the Democratic primary to take on GOP incumbent Rick Bertrand in Senate district 7. Nathan Blake fell just short in the three-way Democratic primary Senate district 17, which would have been a sure thing as there is no Republican candidate running.

Iowa House

The 25 women who have served in the Iowa House for the past two years include 19 Democrats and six Republicans. All House seats are on the ballot every two years, but the following sixteen female Democratic incumbents are running unopposed:

Marti Anderson

Ruth Ann Gaines

Helen Miller

Jo Oldson

Beth Wessel-Kroeschell

Lisa Heddens

Sharon Steckman

Deborah Berry

Kirsten Running-Marquardt

Sally Stutsman

Mary Gaskill

Vicki Lensing

Mary Mascher

Cindy Winckler

Mary Wolfe

Patti Ruff (though I would not be surprised to see a Republican candidate nominated late here in House district 56)

Two Democratic women incumbents have male challengers: Nancy Dunkel in House district 57 and Phyllis Thede in House district 93. Both seats could become targeted races.

State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic ran for Congress rather than seeking re-election to Iowa House district 61. She didn’t win the Democratic primary in IA-01, but her successor in the legislature is likely to be a woman. Timi Brown-Powers defeated two men in the three-way Democratic primary for House district 61. Republicans have a candidate here, but it’s not a promising race for them.

Two women will replace Democratic men who are leaving the Iowa House. Abby Finkenauer won the two-way primary in House district 99, which Pat Murphy vacated to run for Congress. Liz Bennett won the two-way primary in House district 65, held up to now by Tyler Olson. Republicans do not have a candidate in either of those districts.

Three of the six female Republican incumbents are guaranteed to return, lacking a general election opponent:

Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the Iowa House)

Megan Hess

Linda Miller

GOP State Representatives Mary Ann Hanusa, Sandy Salmon, and Dawn Pettengill all have challengers. Democrats nominated women to run against Hanusa (House district 16) and Salmon (House district 63) and a man against Pettengill (House district 73).

Two Republican women are challenging Democratic incumbents. Jane Jech has lost three previous state legislative races in the Marshalltown area, so I consider her a long-shot in her latest attempt to beat Mark Smith in House district 71. Ronda Bern’s campaign against John Forbes in House district 40 will likely be a targeted race.

Democrats nominated eight women challengers in Iowa House districts:

Nancy Huisinga (House district 8)

Marti Nerenson (House district 16)

Megan Day Suhr (House district 28)

Laura Hubka (House district 51)

Doris Fritz (House district 50)

Karyn Finn (House district 60)

Teresa Meyer (House district 63)

Kristin Keast (House district 95)

Several of those races could become highly competitive.

Note: Democratic challengers Kim Robinson (House district 43) and Kim Huckstadt (House district 58) are both men.

With Bennett and Finkenauer running unopposed, Brown-Powers favored, and a relatively large group of women challengers, I would guess that the next Iowa House Democratic caucus will include more women than ever before.  

Five African-Americans, all Democrats, now serve in the Iowa House. Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Deborah Berry, and Helen Miller are running unopposed. Phyllis Thede is seeking a fourth term in what could be a competitive race.

Neither major party nominated any African-American challengers or candidates for open seats.

To my knowledge, no Asian-Americans are running for the Iowa House from either party.

No Latinos have ever been elected to the Iowa House. Last year Joe Henry declared his candidacy but later dropped out of the special election in House district 33, a safe district for Democrats.

Karyn Finn is the only Latino Democrat running for the Iowa House this year. She faces GOP incumbent Walt Rogers in House district 60.

Mark Cisneros lost the Republican primary to represent House district 91, which Mark Lofgren vacated to run for Congress. To my knowledge, no other Latino candidates ran on the GOP ticket this year.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Final note on other aspects of ethnic diversity: Kajtazovic’s departure means the Iowa legislature loses its only Bosnian-American. There will still be one Muslim member of the Iowa House: Ako Abdul-Samad. The Democratic nominee in House district 91, John Dabeet, is a Palestinian-American Christian. No Jews currently serve in or are running for the Iowa House or Senate.

  • Cisneros/Salmon

    I expected Cisneros to do better in HD 91.  I think the Republicans missed a real opportunity there.  

    I do wonder with the right amount of door knocking whether Sandy Salmon can be defeated.  I know the numbers don’t appear to be be there, but I suspect if Meyer speaks on the key issues then it should be a competitive race.  

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