Lessons of 2018: Both parties elected more women lawmakers than ever

Fourth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

The largest group of women ever to run for the Iowa legislature has produced the largest contingent of women lawmakers in state history.

For the first time, women will make up more than a third of Iowa House members and a majority of the lower chamber’s Democratic caucus.

The number of women serving in the Iowa Senate will exceed the previous record set in 2013 and 2014. In a major shift from the recent past, the women senators will include almost as many Republicans as Democrats.


Among the 100 state representatives in the lower chamber, the number of women inched up from 24 after the 2010 election to 25 after the 2012 election (nineteen Democrats and six Republicans), 27 after the last midterm (21 Democrats and six Republicans), and 28 for the past two years (nineteen Democrats and nine Republicans).

Two Democratic incumbents did not seek re-election. Helen Miller (House district 9) retired, and Abby Finkenauer (House district 99) ran successfully for the first Congressional district. The other seventeen all won another term on November 6:

Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32)
Marti Anderson (House district 36)
Jo Oldson (House district 41)
Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (House district 45)
Lisa Heddens (House district 46)
Sharon Steckman (House district 53)
Timi Brown-Powers (House district 61)
Liz Bennett (House district 65)
Kirsten Running-Marquardt (House district 69)
Amy Nielsen (House district 77)
Mary Gaskill (House district 81)
Vicki Lensing (House district 85)
Mary Mascher (House district 86)
Monica Kurth (House district 89)
Cindy Winckler (House district 90)
Phyllis Thede (House district 93)
Mary Wolfe (House district 98)

At least seven Democratic women won seats in the Iowa House for the first time last Tuesday:

Heather Matson (House district 38) *defeated male incumbent
Karin Derry (House district 39) *defeated male incumbent
Kristin Sunde (House district 42) *defeated male incumbent
Jennifer Konfrst (House district 43) *won open seat previously held by a man
Molly Donahue (House district 68) *won open seat previously held by a man
Tracy Ehlert (House district 70) *won open seat previously held by a man
Lindsay James (House district 99) *won open seat previously held by a woman

At minimum, 24 members of the House Democratic caucus will be women. That number could rise to 25: in House district 55, Democratic challenger Kayla Koether trailed GOP Representative Michael Bergan by less than ten votes according to unofficial results.

The final number of House Democrats will probably be 46 or 47, assuming the Republican candidate’s narrow lead holds in House district 82. Either way, women will outnumber men in the caucus.

The House GOP caucus will also include more women than ever before. Only six Republican women served in the chamber during the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 sessions. After the last general election, that number rose to nine. In January, ten Republican women will be sworn in as state representatives.

Of the nine who have served in the state House during the past two years, two retired in 2018: Dawn Pettengill (House district 75) and Kristi Hager (House district 56). The other seven all were re-elected:

Megan Jones (House district 2)
Mary Ann Hanusa (House district 16)
Jane Bloomingdale (House district 51)
Linda Upmeyer (House district 54)
Shannon Lundgren (House district 57)
Sandy Salmon (House district 63)
Ashley Hinson (House district 67)

Three Republican women won their first elections to the legislature on November 6:

Ann Meyer (House district 9) *won open seat previously held by a woman
Anne Osmundson (House district 56) *won open seat previously held by a woman
Holly Brink (House district 80) *won open seat previously held by a man

To sum up, 34 or 35 women will be sworn in when the Iowa House reconvenes in January. A net gain of six or seven seats in one year is remarkable, given that female representation increased by only four seats over the four previous election cycles.


Eleven women will be among the 50 Iowa state senators in 2019. The previous record was ten (six Democrats and four Republicans) in 2013 and 2014. The number of women in the upper chamber dropped to seven (six Democrats and one Republican) in 2015-2016 and dropped again to six (five Democrats and one Republican) after the last general election. This spring, Republican Annette Sweeney won the special election to replace former GOP Majority Leader Bill Dix, bringing the total back up to seven.

Only the odd-numbered Iowa Senate seats were on the ballot this year. Three of the five women Democrats in the upper chamber will be up for re-election in 2020:

Janet Petersen (Senate district 18)
Liz Mathis (Senate district 34)
Pam Jochum (Senate district 50)

Of the other two Democratic incumbents, Amanda Ragan ran for re-election and narrowly won a fifth term in Senate district 27. Rita Hart left Senate district 49 open in order to run for lieutenant governor.

Two new women will join the Democratic caucus:

Jackie Smith (Senate district 7) *defeated male incumbent
Claire Celsi (Senate district 21) *won open seat previously held by a man

Although the Democratic caucus will shrink from 20 members to 18, the number of women moves up from five to six–a third of all Democratic senators.

Turning to the Republican side, Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14) was not up for re-election this year. Sweeney won a full term in Senate district 25.

Three new women will join the Senate GOP caucus in January:

Carrie Koelker (Senate district 29) *defeated male incumbent
Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Senate district 41) *won open seat previously held by a man
Chris Cournoyer (Senate district 49) *won open seat previously held by a woman

Five women out of 32 Republicans may not sound like a lot, but remember: after the last election, Sinclair was the only woman in a 29-member caucus.

Eleven out of 50 senators is a long way from gender parity, but the numbers are moving in the right direction.

Final note: In other respects, the newly-elected Iowa legislature becomes slightly less diverse. The Senate remains all-white and lost its only LGBTQ member when Democrat Matt McCoy opted to run for Polk County supervisor instead of for re-election in 2018.

Only four African Americans will serve in the lower chamber (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, and Phyllis Thede), down from five during the past eight years. In 2009 and 2010, six of the 100 representatives were African Americans.

Liz Bennett remains the only out LGBTQ member of the House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber identifying with a religion other than Christianity.

Iowans have never elected a Latino to the state legislature, and the last Asian American to serve was Swati Dandekar, who left the Senate in 2011.

UPDATE: Adding maps that show where the various state House and Senate districts are located.

About the Author(s)


  • district numbers little help

    I’ll never know where the districts are by their numbers. I’d like it if a major city or county could be named instead of the number, e.g., Ann Myer(Ft Dodge).

    • point taken

      I do post maps or at least descriptions of the areas covered in posts that are focused on certain legislative districts. It gets cumbersome to list all the counties/cities for every district when I’m covering so many at one time. But I will keep that in mind for the future.

    • I've updated the post

      with maps showing where the various districts are located.

      • compromise

        Thanks, That’s a fair compromise considering the work it would take for you to look up cities or counties when you don’t already know the district’s geography. I just assumed you already would know that

  • A little off-topic...

    …I would greatly appreciate a brief explanation of how and why comments get closed on this blog. I’m sure there is a very good reason why comments get closed, and would just appreciate knowing what it is.

  • Thanks for answering

    I keep seeing big black letters under the last (or only) comment on certain threads, saying “Comments are Closed.” Maybe it’s still possible to post a comment on a thread when that phrase appears, but I haven’t tried. The most recent example is under the one comment on the newest post by BronxinIowa.

    • Comments closed

      I was going to post a comment under the “county maps” post, but that post says comments are closed. As someone who can barely manage email, I sympathize with anyone who may have to wrestle with a recalcitrant blogging program.

      • I'm looking into why this is happening

        on posts authored by other people. The writers did not intentionally shut off comments, and neither did I.