Record number of women will serve in Iowa Senate; fewer elected to House

Second in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

The non-profit 50-50 in 2020 dissolved early this year after working for a decade to increase women’s representation in Iowa politics. Although our state has elected a woman governor, a woman to the U.S. Senate (twice), and will have women representing three of the the four Congressional districts for the next two years, we have a long way to go toward parity in the Iowa legislature.

When lawmakers convene in Des Moines in January, women will make up one-quarter of the Iowa Senate for the first time. However, the number of women serving in the House will drop below one-third of the chamber.


Iowa’s 50 state senators have included eleven women for the past two years, a record number. Seven were not up for re-election in 2020: Democrats Claire Celsi (Senate district 21), Amanda Ragan (Senate district 27), and Jackie Smith (Senate district 7), and Republicans Carrie Koelker (Senate district 29), Chris Cournoyer (Senate district 49), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Senate district 41), and Annette Sweeney (Senate district 25).

Democrats Janet Petersen (Senate district 18), Pam Jochum (Senate district 50), and Liz Mathis (Senate district 34), along with Republican Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14), all won re-election on November 3. Petersen, Mathis, and Sinclair were unopposed, while Jochum easily defeated GOP challenger Jennifer Smith.

Voters also chose women in two districts where Republican men retired. Democrat Sarah Trone Garriott prevailed in Senate district 22, and Republican Dawn Driscoll won Senate district 38 (her Democratic opponent, Ivy Schuster, was also a woman).

Democrats nominated women in four other state Senate districts: Pam Egli (Senate district 32), Rhonda Martin (Senate district 20), Cynthia Paschen (Senate district 24), and Deb Scharper (Senate district 26). Only Martin’s race was targeted; she fell just under 1,000 votes short against State Senator Brad Zaun.

ToyA Johnson was the Libertarian nominee in Senate district 16, where the GOP didn’t field a candidate and Democrat Nate Boulton was re-elected by a three to one margin.

To sum up, thirteen women (seven Democrats, six Republicans) and 37 men (eleven Democrats, 26 Republicans) will serve in the next Iowa Senate. UPDATE: If Miller-Meeks wins the second Congressional district race, which is now in the recount phase, she will resign from the state legislature. LATER UPDATE: Miller-Meeks resigned in late December, leaving twelve women serving at the start of the 2021 session.


After a decade of steps toward gender parity in the Iowa House, its 100 members will include fewer women next year.

Iowans elected 24 women to the state House in 2010 (sixteen Democrats and eight Republicans), 25 in 2012 (nineteen Democrats and six Republicans), 27 in 2014 (21 Democrats and six Republicans), and 28 in 2016 (nineteen Democrats and nine Republicans).

The last midterm election represented a leap forward; 34 women (24 Democrats and ten Republicans) have served as state representatives during the past two years. Democrat Lisa Heddens (House district 46) stepped down during the summer of 2019 to serve as Story County supervisor, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to replace her.

All of the remaining 23 Democratic women ran for re-election this year. Vicki Lensing lost the June primary in House district 85 to another woman, Christina Bohannan.

The following nineteen Democrats won re-election:

Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32)
Marti Anderson (House district 36)
Jo Oldson (House district 41)
Kristin Sunde (House district 42)
Jennifer Konfrst (House district 43)
Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (House district 45)
Sharon Steckman (House district 53)
Timi Brown-Powers (House district 61)
Liz Bennett (House district 65)
Molly Donahue (House district 68)
Kirsten Running-Marquardt (House district 69)
Tracy Ehlert (House district 70)
Amy Nielsen (House district 77)
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)
Lindsay James (House district 99)

Two new Democratic women were elected: Bohannan in House district 85 and Sue Cahill, who succeeds retiring Democrat Mark Smith in House district 71.

However, three women who were serving in the House lost their re-election bids. Republicans Garrett Gobble and Eddie Andrews defeated Heather Matson (House district 38) and Karin Derry (House district 39), while Cherielynn Westrich defeated Mary Gaskill (House district 81).

All told, the number of women in the Democratic caucus will fall from 23 to 21. That will still be more than half the 41 Democrats elected to the House this past week. Women also made up a majority of the caucus during the 2019 session, before Heddens retired.

On the Republican side, seven of the ten women who served for the last two years ran for re-election, and all won:

Megan Jones (House district 2)
Ann Meyer (House district 9)
Jane Bloomingdale (House district 51)
Anne Osmundson (House district 56)
Shannon Lundgren (House district 57)
Sandy Salmon (House district 63)
Holly Brink (House district 80)

Former Speaker Linda Upmeyer did not seek another term in House district 54 and will be succeeded by a Republican woman, Shannon Latham.

Mary Ann Hanusa and Ashley Hinson also did not run for re-election to the state House. A Republican man (Brent Siegrist) will succeed Hanusa in House district 16, while a Democratic man (Eric Gjerde) will succeed Hinson in House district 67. Incidentally, Hinson will spend the next two years representing the first Congressional district, having beaten her former Iowa House colleague Abby Finkenauer. A Bleeding Heartland post in progress will examine the IA-01 results in more detail.

Republican challenger Brooke Boden defeated Democratic incumbent Scott Ourth in House district 26, and as mentioned above, Westrich won in House district 81.

The upshot is that while the House GOP caucus will grow from 53 members to 59 in January, the number of women Republicans in the lower chamber will stay at ten.

All told, 31 women (21 Democrats, ten Republicans) and 69 men (20 Democrats, 49 Republicans) will serve as state representatives next year.

Final note: I want to acknowledge the other 30 women who competed unsuccessfully for Iowa House seats in 2020. Democrats nominated 24 of them: Debra Jensen (House district 7), Carmella Schultes (House district 10), Sara Huddleston (House district 11), Sam Muhr (House district 12), Jen Pellant (House district 16), Jan Creasman (House district 17), Shawna Anderson (House district 22), Chris Adcock (House district 24), Lori Slings (House district 30), Andrea Phillips (House district 37), Shelly Stotts (House district 47), Jane Podgorniak (House district 51), Karen Koenig (House district 54), Kayla Koether (House district 55), Angela Reed (House district 56), Carissa Froyum (House district 63), Jodi Grover (House district 64), Christina Blackcloud (House district 72), Ruby Bodeker (House district 75), Sarah Smith (House district 76), Kimberly Davis (House district 78), Sandy Dockendorff (House district 88), Jennifer Kakert (House district 92), and Marie Gleason (House district 94).

Republicans nominated five women who lost the general election: Sarah Abdouch (House district 15), Sonya Swan (House district 43), Sally Abbott (House district 67), Joma Short (House district 98), and Pauline Chilton (House district 99). Myra Matejka ran as a Libertarian in House district 70, where Republicans did not field a candidate.

Top: State Senators-elect Sarah Trone Garriott (D) on the left and Dawn Driscoll (R) on the right. Photos taken from the candidates’ Facebook pages.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin