Iowa hasn’t been the most friendly state for women in politics, to put it mildly. We didn’t elect a woman to Congress until 2014. We have not elected a woman governor. Just 22.7 percent of our state lawmakers are women, below the pitiful national average of 25.3 percent. Only two women have ever been Iowa Supreme Court justices, and we are currently the only state in the country to have no women serving on our highest court.
But Iowa has not escaped the national trend of more women becoming politically involved in the wake of the 2016 election. Not only will a record number of female candidates appear on Iowa ballots in 2018, more women than ever before are leading campaigns for high-level offices.
Michael Tackett got me thinking along these lines with his April 3 New York Times story about the “new legion of young women” running Congressional campaigns.
This year, 40 percent of the campaign managers for Democratic congressional candidates are women, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In contrast, Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, recalled excising data on female campaign consultants from a book she wrote in 2010 because the numbers were too small to be statistically reliable.
“For years, women were the fund-raisers and the communications people,” said Anita Dunn, a Democratic consultant and former communications director for President Barack Obama. “But when it was the big-boy decisions, there weren’t women in the room.”
Female staffers running campaigns are not a new phenomenon for Iowa, especially on the Democratic side. I’m seeking to confirm who was our state’s first woman to hold that position. It may have been Karen Kapler, who managed Democrat Lynn Cutler’s Congressional race in 1982. Minnette Doderer ran her own operation when she campaigned for lieutenant governor during the 1970s, according to Doderer’s former Iowa Senate colleague Johnie Hammond.
UPDATE: Pat Miller may be the first; Darrell Hanson informed me that she managed Tom Riley’s Republican campaign for Congress in 1976. SECOND UPDATE/CORRECTION: Linda Weeks managed Jim Leach’s first Congressional campaign in 1974 (hat tip to Mike Owen). Leach lost that race to Ed Mezvinsky. Weeks was his top staffer for the rematch two years later, which Leach won. Cindy Thomas managed Mezvinsky’s 1976 campaign.
Other women who have managed statewide or Congressional campaigns in Iowa include (not an exhaustive list):
• Teresa Vilmain (presidential candidates Michael Dukakis–D, 1988 caucuses, Bill Clinton/Al Gore, 1996 general election, Hillary Clinton, 2008 caucuses)
• Susan Neely (Governor Terry Branstad–R, 1986 re-election)
• Jean Hessburg (U.S. Representative Dave Nagle–D, 1988 re-election)
• Betsy Brandsgard (Gubernatorial challenger Don Avenson–D, 1990)
• Joanie Kiernan (Attorney general candidate Kasey Kincaid–D, 1990)
• Ellen Huntoon (U.S. Senate challenger Jean Lloyd-Jones–D, 1992)
• JoDee Winterhof (Congressional candidate Sheila McGuire–D, 1994, Hillary Clinton, 2008 caucuses)
• Phyllis Peters (Congressional candidate Charlie Krogmeier–D, 1996)
• Melissa Watson (Secretary of agriculture candidate Patty Judge–D, 1998)
• Jeani Murray (U.S. Representative Leonard Boswell–D, 1998 re-election, Congressional challenger John Norris, 2002)
• Jessica Vanden Berg (Boswell, 2000, Congressional challenger Christie Vilsack, 2012)
• Julie Stauch (Boswell, 2002)
• Claire Celsi (Congressional challenger Mike Huston–D, 2000)
• Holly Armstrong (Congressional challenger Julie Thomas–D, 2002)
• Joni Klaassen (Secretary of State Chet Culver–D, 2002 re-election)
• Jennifer Tuttle (Congressional challenger Dave Loebsack–D, 2006)
• Heather Matson (Secretary of agriculture candidate Dusky Terry–D, 2006)
• Jackie Norris (presidential candidate Barack Obama–D, 2008 general election)
• Sara Craig (presidential candidate Mitt Romney–R, 2012 caucuses)
• Jill Neunaber (Romney, 2012 general election)
• Annie Kelly (U.S. Representative Tom Latham–R, 2012 re-election, presidential candidate Jeb Bush, 2016 caucuses)
• Sarah Benzing (Congressional candidate Bruce Braley–D, 2006, Braley’s U.S. Senate race in 2014)
• Lara Henderson (Secretary of state candidate Brad Anderson–D, 2014)
Although this glass ceiling was shattered decades ago, 2018 is a breakthrough year for women having authority to make “big-boy decisions” affecting Iowa candidates. The following women have been managing Congressional campaigns this cycle.
• Margaret Jarosz (Pete D’Alessandro–D, IA-03)
• Toby Cain (Austin Frerick–D, IA-03)
• Ruth Lapointe (John Paschen–D, IA-04)
• Shawn Zierke (Ginny Caligiuri–R, IA-02)
Note: Frerick left the race on March 16. Courtney Rowe (D, IA-01) is technically her own campaign manager and is running an all-volunteer effort. However, her top unpaid staffer is Sarah Hinds.
Also unprecedented: women are running the campaigns of
five six Iowa candidates for governor.
• Michelle Gajewski (Fred Hubbell, D)
• Monica Biddix (Andy McGuire, D)
• Nora Walsh-DeVries (John Norris, D)
• Kelli Jackson Amato (Ross Wilburn, D)
• Misty Rebik (Cathy Glasson, D) *Rebik was recently promoted from deputy campaign manager
• Marrianna Collins (Marco Battaglia, Libertarian)
Collins is also the Libertarian candidate in Iowa House district 34.
In addition, Cynthia Sebian-Lander is managing Deidre DeJear’s campaign for secretary of state.
I am not aware of any other women leading statewide campaigns in Iowa this year, but I will be happy to update this post as needed.
UPDATE: I should also mention that Haley Hager is the Iowa director for NextGen, the national progressive organization founded by Tom Steyer.