Mark Smith to retire, setting up battle for Iowa House district 71

Democratic State Representative Mark Smith will not seek re-election in 2020, Lana Bradstream was first to report for the Marshalltown Times-Republican on September 22. Smith broke the news the previous day during an event featuring presidential candidate Cory Booker in Marshalltown. He elaborated on his reasoning in a column for the Times-Republican.


For twenty years, it has been my honor to serve as State Representative for the good, hard-working people of Marshalltown and the surrounding area. […]

And now, I am announcing that I am retiring from public life.

After months of reviewing options, I have decided that it is time for me to pursue other avenues. As was reported by the Times-Repubican, I considered seeking other public offices. However, there are several aspects of my life that have been on hold during the twenty years that I have served as State Representative.

My mother is 92 and while she is in relatively good health and living in her own home, I need to devote more time and energy to her care. My wife, Karen, has been a wonderful companion during these twenty years. Both of us want to travel and spend more time doing the things we enjoy doing together. Our daughter, Allison, was 11 when I first elected and now holds her masters in library science and serves the good people of Washington, Iowa. Reading all the books she recommends will fill a good deal of my time!

For my swearing in as your representative in January, 2001 during a cold and snowy time, I kept a campaign promise and rode my 1985 bicycle from Marshalltown to the Statehouse. I plan to ride that same bicycle from Marshalltown to Des Moines for my last session this coming January.

This is to signify that I am still in good health. I might not bicycle as fast as I once could, but it is still a method of transportation that I use regularly. I began my political career promoting health and wellness and want to end it doing the same.

Smith served as House minority leader from 2013 until last November. He stepped down from that position after Democrats failed to regain the majority in the 2018 elections, despite high turnout and a wave of Republican retirements.

He probably would not have faced a tough re-election campaign in 2020. Smith defeated his GOP opponent last year by 58.4 percent to 41.5 percent, and neither party spent significant funds on the race.

But as an open seat, House district 71 instantly moves onto the list of competitive 2020 legislative elections. Marshalltown is among the mid-sized Iowa cities where residents used to provide larger vote margins for Democratic candidates than they have done lately. President Barack Obama carried the district with 56.6 percent of the vote in 2012, but Hillary Clinton barely edged out Donald Trump, 48.0 percent to 46.6 percent.

The seat leans Democratic: Fred Hubbell outpolled Governor Kim Reynolds here last November by 52.6 percent to 45.4 percent. As is often the case for long-serving legislators, Smith outperformed Hubbell substantially. Candidate recruitment will be important for this race. I welcome tips on potential Democratic or Republican contenders.

Final note: House district 71 is the more Democratic half of Senate district 36, where challenger Dave Degner should give Republican State Senator Jeff Edler a competitive race. Bleeding Heartland previewed that match-up here.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin