Where things stand in Iowa House district 89

Bleeding Heartland’s legislative campaign coverage has tended to focus on battleground districts. But next year, Democrats will have more open seats than usual in solid blue Iowa House or Senate districts.

Although those races won’t affect control of either legislative chamber, they could be important for the future of the Iowa Democratic Party. Lawmakers from safe seats may rise to leadership positions at the statehouse or run for higher office someday. So I intend to keep a close eye on contested primaries in some districts that won’t be competitive in November.

One such race is shaping up in Iowa House district 89, where long-serving State Representative Mary Mascher announced last month that she will not seek re-election. Three Democrats are actively campaigning here. The newest contender, Tony Currin, will take several advantages into the primary.

POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

The new House district 89 covers part of Iowa City and includes University Heights.

It doesn’t get much bluer than this part of the “People’s Republic of Johnson County.” According to a map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, Joe Biden received 79.1 percent of the vote last year in this area. Fred Hubbell gained 80.4 percent in the same precincts in the 2018 governor’s race.

In other words, whoever wins the June 2022 Democratic primary will succeed Mascher in the Iowa House. Over the last 20 years, Republicans have rarely fielded candidates in Iowa City’s legislative districts.

ELINOR A. LEVIN: “CONSIDER COMPASSION”

Elinor A. Levin was the first to announce her candidacy, just one day after Mascher confirmed in early November she won’t run again. Her website (levinforiowa.com) features a video, where she introduces herself as a “break it down, understand the options, investigate the details kind of person.” Her campaign logo highlights compassion.

The website also explains why Levin is running for the legislature.

I want to live in an Iowa that we can all talk about with pride, as I do when conversations come up of redistricting and gerrymandering, as I did when telling people that I was moving back here in 2016. I want to see Iowans take responsibility for the water and land that we send downstream and that we will leave behind when we are gone. I want to ensure that people in this state are safe, well, and supported throughout their lives.

I have to be an advocate for compassion and reason in the forward movement of my community. I am a communicator, and eager to consult with experts to make well-considered decisions that improve the lives of my fellow citizens. My fundamental belief in progress and community has been challenged and strengthened in the past years, and I firmly believe that I must employ my privilege and education to be a dynamic voice in the state’s decision making going forward.

Natalie Dunlap profiled the candidate for The Daily Iowan earlier this month.

Levin, 34, currently lives in the South District of Iowa City. She grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and she first came to Iowa to attend Cornell College in Mount Vernon. After graduating, she moved to Coralville in 2009 and then to Iowa City in 2010. She and her spouse, a Navy officer, left for five years for her spouse’s work, and then returned to Iowa City five years ago.

Levin has been involved in Iowa City community groups such as the Iowa City Community Theatre, League of Women Voters, and South District Neighborhood Association. […]

While Iowa City and Johnson County are heavily Democratic, Republicans hold power at the Statehouse. Levin said as a private reading tutor, she has honed communication skills, which she would use to navigate Iowa politics as a member of the minority party, if elected.

George Shillcock reported for the Iowa City Press-Citizen,

“Through the League of Women Voters I met Mary Mascher and I started to really pay attention to what was happening in our school boards, our local government, county government and state government,” she said. “I felt that the things I want to be talking about and the place I would do the most good is at the state level.”

Levin said she doesn’t think she is “an issues candidate” and is more concerned about getting to know her constituents to inform her votes. She said she thinks she is skilled at finding ways to communicate with people who disagree with her.

Levin says in her launch video that she “genuinely wants to hear your perspective and concerns, whether we agree or disagree.” On January 9, she will hold her first “weekly community check-in” where residents can meet with her virtually or in person, to share their views and priorities.

One other point worth noting: If elected, Levin would be the first Jewish person to serve in the Iowa legislature since Ralph Rosenberg, who represented Ames. His last year in office was 1994.

To follow Levin’s campaign: website, Facebook, Twitter

DYLAN HARVEY: “A FRESH VOICE FOR IOWA”

Dylan Harvey, a University of Iowa undergraduate on track to graduate in May, launched his campaign in early December. His campaign website (harveyforiowa.com) says he would be “a fresh voice for Iowa” and explains why he’s running this way:

Having lived in Iowa my whole life, I’ve seen this state at its highs and lows. I was raised on the ideals of speaking out and fighting the good fight. I love this community, and I want to fight the good fight representing it in Des Moines.

Dunlap was first to report on Harvey’s candidacy.

Harvey is currently 21, and will be 22 by election day. He says being part of Gen Z, he would bring fresh perspectives and be willing to focus on issues his generation sees as a threat to the way they are conducting their lives.  

One key issue of Harvey’s campaign will be childcare. He says Iowa has a lack of funding, facilities, and employees in childcare. Harvey also wants to expand access to mental health care.

Harvey is an openly gay man, so LGBTQ issues affect him personally, he said. Harvey critiqued the fact that conversion therapy is still legal in the state and legislation that would have banned transgender students from competing on the team of the gender they identify as. 

There is recent precedent for young candidates to win Iowa House races. State Representative Joe Mitchell was still enrolled at Drake University when he won the 2018 GOP primary for a House seat in southeast Iowa. In addition, Republican State Representative Carter Nordman was a senior at the University of Northern Iowa when he launched his successful House campaign in 2020.

Harvey’s challenge is that he is facing two contenders with much deeper ties in Iowa City area activist circles.

To follow Harvey’s campaign: website, Facebook, Twitter

UPDATE: Harvey dropped out of this race and disabled his website and social media feeds.

TONY CURRIN: “WE HAVE TO AGITATE IN ORDER TO LEGISLATE”

The latest candidate to enter the race is Tony Currin, who held his first large campaign event on December 21. (An earlier planned kickoff event was postponed due to severe weather.) From his official bio:

Currin moved to Iowa City in 1988 to attend the University of Iowa after spending years in foster care and graduating near the top of his high school class in Chicago. While still a student he began a lifetime of community service in Iowa City, volunteering with the UI Women’s Resource and Action Center and Domestic Violence Intervention Program. He went on to serve in the Army during the Bosnian War and became an active Teamster while employed at Lear/IAC. Since volunteering for the Obama campaign in 2008, Currin has volunteered in dozens of campaigns and served on numerous committees for the Johnson County Democrats.

A news release quoted the candidate as saying,

I’ve devoted my adult life to building the strong community ties that make Iowa City a wonderful and welcoming place to call home. Now I’m running for state office to challenge the damaging anti-worker, anti-education, anti-democracy agenda of Iowa Republicans, and I won’t be quiet about it. The drastic times we live in call for action. The Republican Party is out of control in this state, and Democrats need a voice in the statehouse that can cut through lies and hate with truth, pride, and common sense for Iowa’s future. In the current political environment, with our economy, our climate, and our democracy hanging in the balance, we have to agitate in order to legislate.

The video from the launch held on December 21 is available on Facebook. In his remarks (beginning around the 13:30 mark), Currin noted, “Every accomplishment begins by showing up.” His message to those who have warned him about the terrible political climate: “I’m all about overcoming obstacles and obstruction.”

A few minutes later, Currin said,

Republicans used to speak of a “silent majority.” Well, contemporary conservatives are trying to redefine the role of elected Democratic officials into that of a silent minority.

Well, we won’t be silent. Activist Fannie Lou Hamer said, “You’ve got a mouth—use it!”

And that’s exactly what I intend to do. Because if we’re going to go back into the next [legislative] session in the minority, then let’s be a damned loud minority.

Currin promised to wage “a robust and vigorous defense of democracy,” using “all the tools in my advocacy toolbox” to educate, agitate, and motivate voter turnout.

More candidates may join this race before the filing deadline in March, but Currin will be heavily favored to win the nomination.

Candidates backed by organized labor have a solid track record in Iowa Democratic primaries. While no labor unions have endorsed yet in this race, several area labor leaders are backing Currin, including Greg Hearns (Iowa City Federation of Labor president), Bill Gethard (Iowa Building and Construction Trade Council president), Jesse Case (Teamsters Local 238 & Local 238 Secretary/Treasurer), and Royce Peterson (eastern Iowa representative for the Carpenters Union).

Thanks to his extensive volunteering for other Democratic campaigns, Currin has a long list of other well-known supporters. They include the legendary former State Senator Jean Lloyd-Jones, Johnson County Supervisors Royceann Porter, Rod Sullivan, and Lisa Green-Douglass, Iowa City Council members Pauline Taylor, Mazahir Salih, and Shawn Harmsen, and Iowa City school board members Charles Eastham and Ruthenia Malone.

The Iowa House currently has six Black members (five Democrats and one Republican). If all are re-elected and Currin wins House district 89, it would represent a new high water mark for Black representation at the Iowa statehouse.

To follow Currin’s campaign: Facebook

Top image, from left: Campaign photos of Tony Currin, Elinor Levin, and Dylan Harvey.

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