Another Democrat retiring in deep blue Iowa House district

State Representative Jo Oldson will not seek re-election in 2022, she informed constituents in an email newsletter on December 9. “With re-apportionment now settled,” she wrote, “I believe it’s the right time for me to step aside and provide an opportunity for new leaders to step forward. While this decision wasn’t easy for me, it’s time to retire and enjoy more time with my husband Brice and our family.”

First elected to the Iowa House in 2002, Oldson served as minority whip in 2019 and 2020 and was the ranking member of the Commerce Committee during this year’s legislative session.

Her decision opens up a third strongly Democratic Iowa House district in Des Moines.

The new House district 36 covers parts of the south side and several west-side neighborhoods, including Waterbury, “North of Grand,” and “South of Grand.”

These precincts tend to have high turnout and consistently deliver large margins for Democratic candidates. According to a map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, voters in the new House district 36 favored Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 75.0 percent to 22.8 percent, and Theresa Greenfield over Joni Ernst by 73.5 percent to 24.0 percent. Results in the 2018 governor’s race were even more lopsided: Democrat Fred Hubbell (who lives in this area) gained 76.1 percent, compared to 22.0 percent for Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds.

I’m not aware of any Democratic candidates actively campaigning here, which isn’t surprising, since Oldson only just confirmed she won’t be on the 2022 ballot. I sought comment from attorney Shannon Henson, who told me, “I haven’t made a final decision, but I am considering running for this seat.” UPDATE: Henson said on December 13 that she will be a candidate.

I also reached out to Kirsten Anderson. She became a Democrat in 2017 after winning a sexual harassment lawsuit relating to her treatment (and dismissal) as communications director for Iowa Senate Republicans. She told me,

I have seriously considered a run for office and decided that now is not the time for me to seek elected office.

There were several factors involved in my decision but primarily: I have a book coming out in April that I’m focusing on and hope it helps others who have been through situations similar to mine. More Than Words: Turn #MeToo into #ISaidSomething has been a labor of love and as you can imagine, I’m just pretty excited about it coming out and connecting with people through shared experience.

Please let me know if you are aware of other Democrats thinking about running in House district 36. I expect a competitive primary here.

Republicans haven’t fielded a challenger against Oldson since 2012. Her toughest re-election contest was the 2016 primary, when she faced challenger Eddie Mauro. Whether or not any GOP candidate files in House district 36 next year, the winner of the June Democratic primary will succeed Oldson in the legislature in 2023.

Of the 40 Democrats now serving in the Iowa House, Oldson is the seventh to confirm publicly that she won’t seek another term next year. Marti Anderson, Bruce Hunter, and Mary Mascher are retiring, while Christina Bohannan is running for Congress and Liz Bennett, Molly Donahue, and Cindy Winckler are running for Iowa Senate seats.

I expect more Democrats to announce retirement plans in the coming months, as the party is not well positioned to win back the House majority anytime soon.

UPDATE: Jaylen Cavil, chair of the advocacy department of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, lives in this district and put up a Twitter post on December 13 asking locals whether he should run. I am seeking clarification on whether he might be a Democratic candidate or an independent.

SECOND UPDATE: Chris Disbro announced on December 13 that he will seek the Democratic nomination. From his news release:

I am excited to officially announce my candidacy as a Democrat for the newly-redrawn House District 36 in Des Moines. My wife, Meghan, and I grew up in the Metro, and we are proud to be raising our family in the heart of Des Moines.

In the last several years, the population of Des Moines has become younger and more diverse, including in House District 36. As a young professional with three school-aged children and a medical background, education and health care are significant priorities for me and my family. I’m running for the Iowa House because I want to work toward policies to make Iowa number one in the country for public school education again and increase the affordability and support we provide for our health care system.

These priorities are attainable. Iowa ended its most recent fiscal year with a $1.24 billion surplus, the largest in state history. Reinvestment into our community and into our residents strengthens Des Moines and enriches the lives of everyone here. I don’t see enough of this kind of community reinvestment or consideration for what our constituents need to be healthy and successful. It’s time to start focusing on the families who live and contribute to our city and investing in them and their futures.

House District 36 is diverse, robust, and full of potential. I’m well-prepared to represent the interests of all of our residents and make these goals a reality at the Iowa State Capitol. I hope to count on your support in 2022 and I’m ready to get to work for you!

I’m seeking comment from other Democrats who may also be considering this race and will update the post as needed.

THIRD UPDATE: Dr. Austin Baeth, an internist in Des Moines, confirmed to me that he is thinking about running here. Baeth has periodically criticized Governor Kim Reynolds’ COVID-19 response, including lifting social distancing rules and banning mask mandates in schools.

FOURTH UPDATE: James Simmons reached out on December 14 to say he will also seek the Democratic nomination here. He’s organized or fundraised for several Democratic candidates, was a clerk for State Representative Ruth Ann Gaines during the 2019 legislative session, and served as the State Communications Director for March for Our Lives Iowa. LATER UPDATE: Simmons decided against running, he told Bleeding Heartland on January 10.

FIFTH UPDATE: Cavil launched his campaign on January 5. He is running as a Democrat, and his platform highlights the following issues:

  • Racial and economic justice (divest from prison and state patrols, end the state’s contract with the prison industry, legalize cannabis and decriminalize drug use, protect the rights of immigrants and trans people, repeal police officers’ bill of rights, pass workers’ bill of rights)
  • Health care (end privatized Medicaid, expand Medicaid to cover all)
  • Education (tuition-free colleges and universities, keep public funds supporting public K-12 schools, “decolonize state education curriculum and support teachers teaching the truth of our history”

SIXTH UPDATE: Baeth launched his campaign on January 18, saying in a news release he will focus on “fully funding education, addressing inadequate healthcare access in the state, and bringing an Iowan approach to combating the climate crisis.”

If no candidate receives 35 percent of the vote in the June 7 primary, a special district convention will select the nominee.

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