Abdul-Samad retiring, Rob Johnson running in Iowa House district 34

Left: State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in February 2024. Right: Rob Johnson (photos cropped from their Facebook pages)

The longest-serving Black legislator in Iowa history will retire at the end of this year. State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad announced on February 15 that he will not seek another term in the Iowa House, Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register.

Abdul-Samad has represented part of the city of Des Moines since 2007. Speaking at a Black History Month event at the capitol, he explained his decision:

“I think a lot of times, some of us stay too long,” he said. “And we don’t make room or help prepare a path for those who come up after us. And I think that’s our obligation: to prepare that path and then step back, light the torches behind us and be there to help push them on.”

He plans to continue to serve as CEO of the nonprofit Creative Visions, which he founded in 1996 to serve low-income communities of color.

At the “I’ll Make Me a World In Iowa” event last week, Abdul-Samad posed for this photo with former State Representative Helen Miller, the second longest-serving out of the 21 Black Iowans who have ever served in the state House or Senate. Miller represented the Fort Dodge area from 2003 through 2018.

No one has publicly announced a campaign to succeed Abdul-Samad. But Rob Johnson filed a statement of organization with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on February 15, identifying the Rob Johnson for Iowa committee as a Democratic campaign in House district 34. Johnson is a community and business leader, faith leader, and mental health policy advocate.

Other Democrats may join the field, since this is one of the bluest districts in the state. The filing deadline for major-party primary candidates is March 15, and it’s easy to qualify for the ballot. Iowa House candidates need to collect only 50 signatures from eligible voters in the district.

House district 34 covers several Des Moines neighborhoods north of I-235.

Whoever wins the June primary is a lock to be elected in November. According to a map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, voters living here favored Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 75.1 percent to 22.4 percent in the 2020 presidential election, and backed Democrat Theresa Greenfield in that year’s U.S. Senate race with 74.6 percent of the vote to 21.9 percent for Joni Ernst.

A final bit of Iowa political trivia: when Abdul-Samad first ran for the legislature in 2006, the Des Moines-based House seat was open because the previous incumbent, Ed Fallon, was running for governor. Abdul-Samad easily won a four-way primary and took about 61 percent of the vote in a four-way field in November. The Republican nominee in that race was Jack Whitver. He later ran successfully for the Iowa Senate in Ankeny and is now the majority leader (the top Republican in the Senate caucus).

UPDATE: Johnson officially launched his campaign on February 19, Dana James reported for Black Iowa News.

Johnson, 36, was born in Chicago, Illinois, and moved to Des Moines in 2006. A resident of the Drake neighborhood, Johnson said he was licensed as a reverend in 2013, by the Rev. Henry I. Thomas of Union Missionary Baptist Church. The father of two-year old, Elias, Johnson graduated from Drake University in 2010, with a degree in political science. He has raised more than $50,000 for community giveaways, including the Rob Johnson Gas Giveaway, turkey giveaways and toy drives. He also works with students in local schools.

Johnson told James that Abdul-Samad will endorse his campaign. Asked why he is running, he said,

I talk to people every day who are really struggling to pay their bills, make ends meet and are living paycheck to paycheck. Not only that, we have a public school system that is severely underfunded and educators who are underappreciated. We also have mental health that is in desperate need of resources. And then our sacred rights to vote continues to come under attack almost every single year. So what I really want to do is I want to help turn out the vote and get people excited about participating in our democracy, participating in our civic duties of showing up.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin