More people of color running for Iowa legislature in 2020 (updated)

UPDATE: As of August, people of color who will appear on the general election ballot as candidates for the Iowa legislature include nine Democrats, seven Republicans, one Libertarian, and one independent. I’ve added details in the original post, which follows.

After a decade of little change in the racial breakdown of the Iowa House and Senate, more people of color are running for the state legislature this year.

Candidates appearing on today’s primary ballot include eight Democrats and seven eight Republicans, which to my knowledge is a record for the Iowa GOP.

In addition, three people of color representing minor parties have filed as general election candidates in state legislative districts.


The high water mark for African Americans serving in the Iowa legislature was six House members (all Democrats) in 2009 and 2010. The number dropped to five after Kerry Burt declined to seek re-election in 2010, where it stayed until Helen Miller–the longest-serving Black legislator in Iowa history–retired in 2018.

Only four African Americans served during the 2019 legislative session. Ross Wilburn joined their ranks after winning a special election last summer.

All five current Iowa House members who are Black are seeking re-election:

  • Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32, part of Des Moines)
  • Ako Abdul-Samad (House district 35, part of Des Moines)
  • Ross Wilburn (House district 46, part of Ames)
  • Ras Smith (House district 62, part of Waterloo)
  • Phyllis Thede (House district 93, parts of Davenport and Bettendorf)
  • Abdul-Samad has a Democratic primary challenger, Calvetta Williams, who is also African American. UPDATE: Abdul-Samad won this primary with about 80 percent of the vote, unofficial results show.

    Four Five Republican candidates for the lower chamber are Black, which is unprecedented for our state to my knowledge. Of the eighteen African Americans who have served in the Iowa legislature, only one was a Republican: Cecil Reed, elected to a House seat in Cedar Rapids in 1966. This year’s GOP slate includes:

  • Eddie Andrews (House district 39, northwest suburbs of Des Moines)
  • Aaron Sewell (one of two candidates seeking the GOP nomination in House district 42, parts of West Des Moines and Des Moines) UPDATE: Sewell won that primary with about 60 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
  • Joma Short (House district 98, Clinton)
  • Pauline Chilton (House district 99, part of Dubuque)
  • Chilton was the GOP nominee in the same district in 2018.

    UPDATE: Lou Rogers, Republican challenger in House district 68 (Cedar Rapids suburbs) is also Black.

    No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa legislature. This year three Latinx candidates have filed for House seats. Sara Huddleston is one of two Democrats seeking the nomination in House district 11 (Buena Vista and Sac counties). The winner will face Republican Gary Worthan. UPDATE: Huddleston won that primary.

    Mark Cisneros is the Republican candidate in House district 91 (Muscatine area). That’s an open seat due to a GOP lawmaker’s retirement.

    Joseph Howe is the Libertarian nominee in House district 36 (part of Des Moines). Since Republicans did not field a candidate there, he will be the only challenger to Democrat Marti Anderson. UPDATE: Howe withdrew his candidacy over the summer for personal reasons, he told Bleeding Heartland.

    Christina Blackcloud is one of two Democrats seeking the nomination in House district 72 (Tama County and part of Marshall County). A member of the Meskwaki Nation, she would be the only Native American serving in the Iowa legislature if elected. UPDATE: Blackcloud won the Democratic primary and will face GOP incumbent Dean Fisher in November.

    Finally, Kamal Hammouda has filed as an independent candidate in House district 76 (Poweshiek County and most of Iowa County). He immigrated to this country from Egypt and has lived in Iowa for nearly 30 years. Although the U.S. Census Bureau considers Arabs to be white, many activists have advocated for a separate racial category “for people of Middle Eastern or North African descent.”

    UPDATE/CORRECTION: I neglected to mention Henry Stone, Republican candidate for the open House district 7 (Emmet County, Winnebago County, and part of Kossuth County). Speaking by phone on June 2, Stone said he is “Amer-Asian,” meaning half Caucasian and half Asian. The last Asian American to serve in the Iowa House was Swati Dandekar, who represented part of the Cedar Rapids suburbs from 2003 through 2008, when she ran successfully for the state Senate.

    LATER UPDATE: Democrat Charles Clayton, who is Black, declared his candidacy in Iowa House district 9 on August 6. That district includes the Fort Dodge area in Webster County and elected Helen Miller to the legislature for eight terms.


    Since Dandekar retired from the legislature in 2011, all 50 members of the Iowa Senate have been white. During the 2016 and 2018 cycles, no person of color filed as a candidate for state Senate.

    Only one African American has ever served in the Senate. Democrat Tom Mann represented part of Polk County during the 1980s. The last Black person to campaign for the upper chamber was Isaiah McGee, who sought the GOP nomination for a 2012 special election in Iowa Senate district 22 (Windsor Heights, Clive, Waukee, and part of West Des Moines). That same Senate district is open this year due to a GOP retirement, and Porsha Hart, who is African American, is one of two Republicans on today’s primary ballot. UPDATE: Unofficial results show that Scott Cirksena won the GOP primary to represent Senate district 22.

    In addition, ToyA Johnson is the Libertarian candidate in Senate district 16 (Pleasant Hill and part of Des Moines), where Republicans did not field a challenger against Nate Boulton.

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