Will Jake Chapman's big swing at teachers play in a swing district?

Opening day speeches at the Iowa legislature are often filled with boring platitudes. But Senate President Jake Chapman dispensed with cliches about bipartisan work for the common good in his welcoming remarks on January 10.

Instead, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican called on colleagues to “take a stand” against what he described as a “sinister agenda” by the media and teachers, “who wish to normalize sexually deviant behavior against our children.”

Chapman’s broadside made headlines across the state and quickly inspired a new RAYGUN t-shirt: “Just another SINISTER TEACHER who’s passionate about education.”

Many conservatives have applauded Chapman for his crusade to remove books he considers “obscene” from public schools and create a felony offense for teachers and librarians who disseminate such material. But Iowa’s new political map put the Senate president in a swing district for the first time. He hinted last month that he will seek re-election there, rather than moving to a solid Republican district nearby.

Conspiracy theories that play well in some GOP circles could drive suburban moderates toward Democratic State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, who is already running in Senate district 14.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2022

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2022 session on January 10 with 32 Republicans and eighteen Democrats. Twelve senators are women (seven Democrats and five Republicans), up from eleven women in the chamber prior to the 2020 election and double the six women senators who served prior to the 2018 election.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. The biggest change: Republican Dave Rowley was elected in December to succeed Republican Zach Whiting, who resigned to take a job in Texas.

All current state senators are white. The only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the chamber, and Iowa’s only Asian-American senator was Swati Dandekar, who resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths, a Democrat and a Republican, and two Taylors, a Democrat and a Republican. As for first names, there are three Jeffs and two men each named Zach, Craig, Mark, Dan, Jim, and Tim.

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Iowa Senate kicks reporters out of chamber: Why it matters

During the five years of their trifecta, Republican lawmakers shredded a 43-year-old collective bargaining law and overhauled a judicial selection process that had been in place for nearly six decades.

Now Iowa Senate Republicans are tossing out more than a century of precedent by refusing to seat any journalists on the chamber’s press bench. For the session that begins on January 10, they are relegating reporters to public galleries far removed from the action.

Why should anyone care where reporters sit at the Iowa capitol? Take it from someone who has never been allowed to work on the press bench: losing access to the chamber will greatly hinder news gathering in the Senate.

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It's time to worry about democracy

Julie Ann Neely: Our democracy is in danger; the basic tenets of our constitution are under attack by the GOP’s authoritarian ideology.

Remember 1984, George Orwell’s dystopian novel about Oceania, where media and educational content were government controlled, and history was rewritten to match the prevailing political climate? 

It was easy to point a finger at the Soviet Union and feel secure and smug, because we had no reason to worry about such things. After all, it couldn’t happen here – we’re a democracy – we are a free country – we have the First Amendment and the Declaration of Independence.

Well – Guess What? It’s Time To Worry.

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The obscene attacks on Iowa's public schools

Bruce Lear reviews how Republican-backed laws have adversely affected Iowa schools.

There’s some real obscenity in Iowa public schools, but it’s not the kind Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman has been ranting about.

Speaking in November at a packed school district meeting in Johnston, Chapman complained about two books and said he is drafting a bill to create a felony offense for distributing what he considers to be obscene material. Never mind that Iowa already has a number of laws about the distribution of real pornography. Chapman sees a need to single out teachers and librarians for making books he doesn’t like available to high school students. 

Like most wannabe book banners, Chapman probably hasn’t read the supposedly offensive books. He is also using public schools (which should unite communities) to further divide us.  

No, the obscenity is not in these books that Chapman doesn’t like. The real obscenity is what Republican legislators have done to Iowa schools. Here are some examples of the attacks on public schools, which are emptying classrooms of dedicated, teachers. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter famously said when deciding a pornography case, “I know it when I see it.” Let’s review the GOP’s record toward public schools and teachers.

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Iowa Senate district 14 preview: Sarah Trone Garriott vs. Jake Chapman

Democratic State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott confirmed on December 1 that she will move to Dallas County and seek re-election in the new Iowa Senate district 14. Her decision sets up a potential 2022 race against Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman, the second-ranking Republican.

Chapman has not confirmed his plans. But in a December 2 Facebook post, he hinted that he will stay in the suburban swing district where he now lives. (I expected him to move to a nearby district that is safe for the GOP, as Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver is doing.)

A race between Chapman and Trone Garriott would likely be one of next year’s most expensive Iowa legislative campaigns, and would be closely watched for signs of political change in the suburbs.

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