Iowa legislature set to become more diverse in 2023

People of color and Iowans who identify as part of the LGBTQ community are on track to hold more seats in the state House and Senate next year, based on results from the June 7 primary elections.

The Democratic nominees include candidates who would add to the legislature’s diversity in other ways as well.


After winning the Democratic primary in Iowa Senate district 17, Izaah Knox is likely to become the second Black Iowan ever to serve in the state Senate and the first since Thomas Mann, Jr completed his second term in 1990. Senate district 17, covering part of Des Moines, is solidly Democratic. Libertarian ToyA Johnson, who is Black, and an independent are also running here.

A second Black senator could be elected too. Mary Kathleen Figaro was unopposed in the Democratic primary to represent Senate district 47, an open seat in the Quad Cities area that should be competitive.

Two Black Republicans filed in Iowa Senate districts. Edward Bernie Hayes was unopposed in Senate district 39, but he will be an extreme long-shot in November due to the political lean of this part of Cedar Rapids. Shad Clayton trails by 25 votes according to the unofficial results from the GOP primary in Senate district 16, covering some western suburbs in Polk County.

The Iowa House currently has six Black members, tying the record set in the 2009-2010 session. Five of those incumbents are seeking re-election:

  • Democrat Ruth Ann Gaines is unopposed in House district 33 (Des Moines).
  • Democrat Ako Abdul-Samad has no Republican challenger in House district 34 (Des Moines). RJ Miller, who is also Black, is running as an independent here.
  • Republican Eddie Andrews easily won the primary for House district 43 (Johnston and a small area in Des Moines).
  • Democrat Ross Wilburn is unopposed in House district 50 (Ames).
  • Democrat Phyllis Thede will be favored for re-election in House district 94 (Bettendorf).

Iowa House Democrat Ras Smith did not seek re-election in House district 62 (Waterloo). The only candidate on the ballot in that district is Jerome Amos Jr., who is also Black.

Six other Black candidates competed in primaries for Iowa House seats, but only one secured the nomination. Mary Madison will be favored against her Republican opponent in House district 31 (West Des Moines).


Republican State Representative Mark Cisneros became the first Latino to serve in the Iowa legislature after winning in 2020. He is seeking re-election in House district 96 (Muscatine area).

The two other Latinos competing in GOP primaries for Iowa House districts did not secure the nominations.

Democrats had two Latino candidates on the ballot in Iowa House districts. Adam Zabner is on track to be the first Latino in the party’s caucus after winning the nomination in House district 90 (Iowa City). However, Gabe De La Cerda did not prevail in House district 36 (Des Moines).

Iowans have never elected anyone of Latino ethnicity to the state Senate. Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz will appear on the general election ballot as an independent candidate in Senate district 17, but they will be a long-shot against Izaah Knox.


Iowans have only elected two Asian Americans to the state legislature. Democrat Swati Dandekar served from 2003 to 2011. Republican Henry Stone was first elected in 2020 and is favored for re-election in House district 9 (north central Iowa).

Two Democrats of Indian American descent won primaries in state House districts this week. Megan Srinivas is heavily favored to carry House district 30 (Des Moines) in November. Suresh Reddy will face GOP incumbent Eddie Andrews in a purple seat: House district 43 (Johnston).


Only one out LGBTQ person has ever served in the Iowa Senate: Democrat Matt McCoy, who retired in 2018. State Representative Liz Bennett won the Democratic primary in Senate district 39 (Cedar Rapids), a solid blue seat.

Austin Frerick lost a close race for the Democratic nomination in Senate district 37 (Cedar Rapids area).

Elinor Levin won the Democratic primary in House district 89 (Iowa City), which is the state’s bluest legislative district.

Elle Wyant was the only Democrat to file in House district 91 (rural Johnson County and Iowa County) and would be Iowa’s first transgender legislator if she defeats her Republican opponent.

Libertarian Jeni Kadel, who is running in House district 40 (eastern Polk County), is also transgender. Murguia-Ortiz, the independent candidate in Senate district 17, is nonbinary.

LATE UPDATE: In August, Democrats nominated Brian Bruening, a gay man, as their cadidate against a Republican incumbent in House district 64.


Since Democrat Anesa Kajtazovic retired from the Iowa House in 2014, Abdul-Samad has been the state’s only Muslim legislator as well as the only one who identifies with a religion other than Christianity.

The last Jewish person to serve in the Iowa legislature was Democrat Ralph Rosenberg, a member of the House during the 1980s and the Senate through 1994. The three Jewish candidates who ran for the legislature this year all won their Democratic primaries: Levin in House district 89, Zabner in House district 90, and Janice Weiner in Senate district 45 (Iowa City).

To my knowledge, the only other legislative candidate who is part of a non-Christian faith tradition is Srinivas (House district 30), who is Hindu.


The two Iowa legislative candidates who identify as part of the disability community were both unopposed in their Democratic primaries. Josh Turek is running in the open House district 20 (Council Bluffs). Michelle Servadio Elias is challenging a Republican incumbent in House district 96 (Muscatine area).

Bleeding Heartland published more background on those candidates here.

Final note: Democrat Sami Scheetz is the only candidate on the ballot in House district 78 (Cedar Rapids) and will be the first Arab American to serve in our state legislature. Scheetz recently spoke to The New Arab about why it’s important for the community to be better represented in political offices.

Top photos, from left: Izaah Knox, Liz Bennett, Adam Zabner. All images first published on the candidates’ Facebook pages.

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