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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Republican policies fuel Iowa's workforce crisis, rural decline

Senator Joe Bolkcom represents Iowa City and is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee.

Iowa’s workforce crisis and rural decline can be traced to irresponsible Republican tax and economic policies year after year.  

Their actions bring to life the words of their puppet master Grover Norquist, who famously said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

As Governor Kim Reynolds and legislative Republicans return to the statehouse, their workforce crisis and abandonment of rural Iowa will only grow worse with more tax cuts for Des Moines millionaires. The Republican strategy is to stay the course by continuing to starve rural Iowa’s struggling public schools, exhausted health care providers, declining state parks, dangerous prisons, and neglected state resource centers. 

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New blood from Iowa City coming soon to legislature

Voters in Iowa’s bluest city will elect at least two new state lawmakers next year. State Senator Joe Bolkcom announced on November 4 that he will not seek another term in 2022. First elected in 1998, Bolkcom said in a message to constituents and supporters that it’s “time to rotate the crops” and “bring new ideas and new energy to solving problems facing working people and our communities.”

His decision creates an open seat in Iowa Senate district 45, covering Iowa City and University Heights. One of the House districts contained in Bolkcom’s district will also be open, since State Representative Christina Bohannan is running for Congress rather than for re-election.

The other half of Bolkcom’s district is represented by Mary Mascher, a Democrat first elected to the Iowa House in 1994. Asked whether she plans to run for the Senate, seek re-election, or retire in 2022, Mascher told Bleeding Heartland on November 4, “I am still weighing my options.” UPDATE: Mascher announced on November 8 that she won’t run for the House again.

I expect crowded Democratic primaries next June for every open legislative district in the Iowa City area. The primary is the deciding election here, as Republicans have no chance and rarely even field candidates in this part of Johnson County. If Mascher runs for Senate, she would be the front-runner in a primary but probably would not clear the field. Bohannan’s victory over long-serving State Representative Vicki Lensing in the 2020 primary showed that many Democrats in the area are willing to support new legislators.

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Why did so many Democrats vote for Iowa's COVID-19 vaccine law?

Governor Kim Reynolds was “proud” to sign a bill designed to make it easier for Iowans to get around COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the workplace. State Representative Henry Stone, who floor managed the bill in the House, said Republicans worked on this legislation for months, seeking ways to lessen the impact of the Biden administration’s expected rules requiring large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or frequent testing of employees.

Democrats had no input on the proposal and did not see the bill text until hours before lawmakers debated House File 902 on October 28. Nevertheless, both chambers approved the bill by surprisingly large margins: 68 votes to 27 in the House and 45 votes to 4 in the Senate.

Why did so many Democrats vote for a bill that one supporter described as “a joke” during debate?

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First look at Iowa's new House, Senate maps in cities, suburbs

Now that Iowa’s political maps for the next decade have been finalized, it’s time to look more closely at the district lines in and near larger metro areas. Although most districts anchored in cities are safe for Democrats, these metros will include quite a few battleground Iowa House and Senate races over the next two election cycles. Several “micropolitan” districts containing mid-sized cities remain competitive as well, and a forthcoming post will cover those maps.

I’ll write more about the political landscape of individual House or Senate districts once lawmakers and other contenders have confirmed their plans for next year. Several incumbent match-ups have already been worked out, and I’m continuing to update this post. (Please send tips on candidate announcements.)

I’ve grouped each Iowa Senate district with the two state House districts it wholly contains.

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Iowa Republicans have abandoned executive branch oversight

Governor Kim Reynolds has been lucky at key points in her political career. Terry Branstad passed over more experienced contenders to select her as his 2010 running mate, allowing a little-known first-term state senator to become a statewide elected official. Six years later, Donald Trump won the presidency and named Branstad as an ambassador, setting Reynolds up to become governor without having to win a GOP primary first.

Most important, Reynolds has enjoyed a Republican trifecta her entire four years as governor. Not only has she been able to sign much of her wish list into law, she has not needed to worry that state lawmakers would closely scrutinize her administration’s work or handling of public funds.

During the legislative session that wrapped up last month, the GOP-controlled House and Senate rejected every attempt to make the governor’s spending decisions more transparent. They declined to hold even one hearing about questionable uses of federal COVID-19 relief funds or practices at state agencies that disadvantaged thousands of Iowans.

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