The non-partisan organization 50/50 in 2020 has set a goal of electing 25 women to the Iowa Senate and 50 women to the Iowa House by 2020. Yesterday’s elections will bring a lot of new voices to the state capital. However, chambers that were already less diverse than most other state legislatures will become even less representative of the state’s population.
LATE UPDATE: The new Iowa House will in fact have one more female member than the chamber did in 2015 and 2016, following Monica Kurth’s victory in the special election to represent House district 89.
For the last two years, 43 men and seven women (six Democrats, one Republican) have served in the Iowa Senate, while 73 men and 27 women (21 Democrats, six Republicans) have served in the Iowa House.
Three Two current female senators were not up for re-election this year: Democrats Amanda Ragan and Rita Hart. CORRECTION: Janet Petersen was up for re-election, but no one ran against her.
GOP Senator Amy Sinclair drew no Democratic opponent this year and received nearly three-quarters of the vote against her independent challenger.
Two of the three Democrats up for re-election defeated GOP opponents: Senator Liz Mathis won by a 12-point margin, and Senate President Pam Jochum won by 27 points.
But Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm lost her bid for a third term to Republican Waylon Brown, who carried more than 60 percent of the vote.
Three Democratic women failed to unseat GOP incumbents, and one Republican woman lost her challenge to a Democratic senator.
That means six women will serve in the new Iowa Senate, down from the high water mark of ten in 2013 and 2014. (Note: Democrats have not yet chosen a nominee for the special election to replace the late Senator Joe Seng. State Representative Jim Lykam is favored for the nominating convention, to be held on November 10. The number of women in the upper chamber could get back to seven if State Representative Cindy Winckler wins the nomination and the December 27 special election. UPDATE: Winckler withdrew, allowing Lykam to become the Senate nominee.)
Also worth noting: Jochum was the second-ranking member of the Senate majority caucus, while two other women served as assistant majority leaders. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix has not had any women on his minority leadership team to date.
APRIL 2018 UPDATE: Following Annette Sweeney’s victory in a special election to replace former Senate Majority leader Bill Dix, the number of women in the upper chamber rose to seven, the same number who served in the Senate in 2015 and 2016.
Eleven of the 27 women who served in the outgoing Iowa House were unopposed for re-election in 2016:
Megan Hess Jones (R, House district 2)
Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R, House district 54)
Jo Oldson (D, House district 41); she previously survived a strong primary challenge
Lisa Heddens (D, House district 46)
Timi Brown-Powers (D, House district 61)
Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D, House district 69)
Mary Gaskill (D, House district 81); she also defeated a primary challenger
Vicki Lensing (D, House district 85)
Mary Mascher (D, House district 86)
Cindy Winckler (D, House district 90)
Abby Finkenauer (D, House district 99)
Two women who retired this year will be replaced by men:
Democrat Ras Smith won House district 62, where Deborah Berry did not seek re-election
Republican Gary Mohr was unopposed in House district 94, where Linda Miller retired
Two women who retired this year will be replaced by women:
Republican Shannon Lundgren won in House district 57, where Democrat Nancy Dunkel did not seek another term
Democrat Amy Nielsen held House district 77, vacated by Sally Stutsman
CORRECTION: Two men who retired this year will be replaced by women:
Republican Jane Bloomingdale held House district 51, where Republican Josh Byrnes retired
Republican Ashley Hinson held House district 67, where former House Speaker Kraig Paulsen retired
Eleven women won re-election to the Iowa House yesterday:
Mary Ann Hanusa (R, House district 16)
Sandy Salmon (R, House district 63)
Dawn Pettengill (R, House district 75)
Helen Miller (D, House district 9)
Ruth Ann Gaines (D, House district 32)
Marti Anderson (D, House district 36)
Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D, House district 45)
Sharon Steckman (D, House district 53)
Liz Bennett (D, House district 65)
Phyllis Thede (D, House district 93)–she came the closest to losing in this group
Mary Wolfe (D, House district 98)
Democrat Patti Ruff lost her bid for a third term in House district 56 to Kristi Hager, who happens to be married to the former lawmaker Ruff defeated in 2012.
All told, 27 women will serve in the new Iowa House: eighteen Democrats and nine Republicans.
Final note on the lack of diversity in the Iowa legislature:
The Iowa Senate will remain all-white, as no African-American or Latino candidates ran this year, and the only Asian-American candidate (Miyoko Hikiji) lost to Senator Brad Zaun.
The Iowa House will have 95 white members and five African-American members, as has been the case for the last several years. Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad (House district 35), Helen Miller (House district 9), Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32), and Phyllis Thede (House district 93) were re-elected yesterday, while Ras Smith won his first term, as described above.
Nearly 6 percent of Iowa residents are Hispanic or Latino, but voters have yet to elect any Latinos to our state legislature. The two latest Latina candidates to fall short are Perla Alarcon-Flory and Sara Huddleston, Democrats who ran in tough northwest Iowa districts.
No Asian-Americans have served in the Iowa legislature since Swati Dandekar stepped down from the Senate in 2011. She had served three terms in the House before winning a seat in the upper chamber in 2008.
LATE UPDATE: Monica Kurth won the January 31, 2017 special election to replace Jim Lykam in House district 89. Her victory brought the number of women in the lower chamber to 28: nineteen Democrats and nine Republicans.