Heather Matson challenging Kevin Koester in Iowa House district 38

Heather Matson announced today that she will run for Iowa House district 38 in 2016. To my knowledge, she is the first Democratic challenger to declare against an Iowa House incumbent.

The district should be competitive, and Matson and four-term State Representative Kevin Koester each bring strengths to the campaign. After the jump I’ve enclosed a district map, recent election results and voter registration data, and background on both candidates.

Iowa House district 38 covers part of Ankeny, some neighborhoods on the north side of Des Moines, Saylorville, and the Crocker, Saylor, and Delaware townships in Polk County:

iowa house district 38 photo: Iowa House district 38 IowaHD38.jpg

On paper, this is one of the most evenly-divided Iowa House seats. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that House district 38 contains 6,324 active registered Democrats, 6,776 Republicans, and 6,562 no-party voters.

Voters in House district 38 split right down the middle in the 2012 presidential election, with Barack Obama gaining 8,231 votes (49.33 percent) to 8,212 votes (49.21 percent) for Mitt Romney. In last year’s top of the ticket race for U.S. Senate, Joni Ernst bested Bruce Braley among House district 38 residents by 6,492 votes (53.45 percent) to 5,142 votes (42.34 percent).

Fortunately for Matson, presidential election-year turnout should be closer to 2012 levels, with many more Democrats voting than in a typical midterm election. The partisan breakdown of registered voters here hasn’t changed significantly from where it was in November 2012. I would guess that Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket could be a better draw than Barack Obama was in 2012, both in the working-class north-side Des Moines neighborhoods and in the suburban Ankeny precincts.

Matson has never run for office before, but she has more campaign experience than many state legislative candidates. Her official announcement laid out the case for her candidacy:

“I’m running for the Iowa House because it’s time for a new generation of leadership,” said Matson, a 38-year-old mother of twins. “I have spent my career advocating for issues and candidates as well as raising money for causes I hold dear. There are too many elected officials who care only for the status quo. With all the challenges we face as a state, the status quo isn’t good enough.”

Elections should be about forward-thinking ideas and Matson is starting her campaign early in order to be able to take the time to have a serious, and honest, dialogue with voters about the challenges and opportunities we face as a state. As a mom with two children about to enter public school, she is passionate about ensuring all Iowa children have access to the best education and that teachers have the resources and respect they deserve.

“I am running because too many citizens feel shut out of the process and turned off by the petty fighting in our politics,” said Matson. “We can solve this problem by electing candidates who believe in good government and want to see it work better.”

Matson has spent the last 16 years working and volunteering in public policy, advocacy and development. Raised in Rhode Island by politically independent parents, Heather has always approached problem-solving by seeking to find common ground while holding true to her progressive principles, understanding that good ideas can come from anywhere if you are willing to listen and learn.

Matson and her husband, Chris, moved from Washington, DC to Iowa in 2003 for Chris to attend medical school at Des Moines University. It didn’t take them long to fall in love with Iowa and decide to stay. They chose to build a home in the Prairie Trail neighborhood of Ankeny as a place to raise their children, Emma and Henry. Chris is a family practice physician at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines. Heather has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Western New England College in Springfield, MA and a Master of Arts in Legislative Affairs from The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Speaking to Pat Rynard, Matson also expressed frustration with the lack of progress in the state legislature on issues from education funding to school start dates, water quality, and infrastructure. Her campaign is on Facebook here and on the web at MatsonforIowa.com, where the candidate’s official bio contains more details about her political experience.

Heather’s passion for advocacy and dedication to improving public policy has led to a unique career in government affairs and politics. She has worked in several roles on presidential, congressional, and statewide campaigns, including those of then-Senator John Kerry, Congressman Leonard Boswell, Secretary of Agriculture candidate Dusky Terry, and former-Governor Tom Vilsack. Her issue advocacy has ranged from organizations as varied as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to Planned Parenthood, demonstrating the importance of being committed to understanding our role in the global economy as well as access to quality health care services for our citizens.

For the last five years, Heather has had been able to be at home with her children, which has provided many other career and volunteer opportunities. She has operated her own business as an independent consultant with The Pampered Chef for four years and has contracted as a legislative bill tracker for Campbell/Patterson Consulting during the last three sessions of the Iowa General Assembly. Heather’s volunteer leadership includes serving a term as Vice Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, where she focused on bringing a new generation of supporters into the Party structure, and as Chair of Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa where she served as a passionate advocate for women’s health policy.

It’s encouraging to see a capable Democrat stepping up in a battleground district so early. Democrats need strong challengers, because there won’t be enough open seats in the next cycle to retake the Iowa House, where Republicans have a 57 to 43 majority. I agree with Rynard that Matson “knows better than most first-time candidates what it takes to win” and is well-positioned with “networks throughout the state she can call on for donations and volunteer support.” She’ll need them, because beating an Iowa legislative incumbent is rarely easy.

First elected to the Iowa House in 2008, Koester has outperformed the top of the ticket in both of the last two general elections. He defeated Democrat John Phoenix by nearly 1,500 votes in 2012, even as Romney fell a bit short among Koester’s constituents. He defeated Christine Sherrod by a little more than 2,200 votes last November, which was significantly larger than Ernst’s margin over Braley in the district. It’s worth noting that House Democrats did not target this district in either of the last two elections, whereas Matson will likely raise enough money to become a top-tier challenger receiving party support.

Compared to some Iowa House Republicans, Koester keeps a low profile. He rarely seeks the spotlight when lawmakers are debating controversial matters, although he was the floor manager for a 2014 bill that would have banned Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine system for providing medical abortions. Koester hasn’t gained a spot in the House GOP leadership team, nor is his name mentioned when speculation turns to future candidates for higher office. He currently chairs the Local Government Committee and serves on the Natural Resources, State Government, and Education committees. In previous legislative sessions, he has chaired the Ethics Committee and the Government Oversight Committee.

Koester’s official bio highlights his work in the education field:

Kevin served thirty years as a school administrator in Ankeny.  He is Executive Director of Neveln Center in Ankeny and a part time Consultant with Koester Construction. […]

Kevin served as President of the National Community Education in 2004.  His local leadership record demonstrates diverse and meaningful commitments to his community.  He has been selected a board officer of numerous agencies including Iowa Dollars for Scholars, Ankeny School District Foundation, Ankeny Substance Abuse Project, EFR, United Way and Ankeny Chamber of Commerce which selected Kevin as 2003 Citizen of the Year.

Legislator of the year awards:  2013 Iowa After School Alliance; 2013 Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa; 2012 Iowa Physician Assistant Society; 2010 Iowa Library Association; 2009 Iowa Fraternal Insurance Congress.

Kevin is a lifelong Iowan and an alumnus of the University of Iowa.  His wife, Linda, teaches Psychology at DMACC.  Kevin and Linda have three grown children who were students of Ankeny High School and DMACC.  Two are graduates of Iowa State University.

Kevin serves on these Boards / Commissions:

Iowa Early Access Board

State Child Care Advisory Committee

Central Iowa Area Health Education Center

Iowa After School Alliance

Iowa Network for Community and School Partners

Polk County Health Services Board

House district 38 should be a race to watch in 2016.  

About the Author(s)


  • difficult

    As winnable as this looks by the numbers, in reality it will be a very tough race for HM. Kevin K knows everybody in his district and those he does not know, his wife knows. He may keep a low profile in the House, but he is EVERYWHERE in his district. He has even shown up at an Ankeny Democrats event. Kevin is an affable fellow as well. Tough to see voters there wanting to make a change. Phoenix and Sherrod got blown away. I don’t know that Heather will fare much better, but kudos to her for getting in early and giving it a try. You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

    Dems have no shot taking back the House in 2016. Too many seats to make up in one election.  They blew their chance in 2012. 2014 was a lost cause from the git go. They had some good candidates on paper in swing districts who turned out not to want to work very hard. And then the tide came in.  

    • we're on the same page

      A race against the incumbent is usually an uphill battle,and Koester outperforms the top of the ticket. Still no downside to a solid Democratic candidate working the district hard. Surprise retirements can happen too.

  • No chance

    Although Heather seems very qualified and she will benefit from campaigning early, I don’t think she has a chance. HD 38 is far too entrenched. As mentioned by a previous poster, Koester literally knows everyone in the district. He has been involved in more things going on in Ankeny than just about anyone. Because of this he gets strong support from Republicans and even some Democrats.  

    • stranger things have happened

      in Iowa legislative races.

      Also, every election year there are a couple of surprise retirements right before the March filing deadline.