One hundred years after the 19th Amendment brought women the right to vote, Iowa has made great strides in getting more women into elected office. But like the old adage says, “A woman’s work is never done.”
Up until six years ago, Iowa had never sent a woman to Washington nor to the governor’s mansion. In 2014, Joni Ernst shattered that ceiling to become Iowa’s first female representative in D.C. when she won her seat in the U.S. Senate. Three years later, Kim Reynolds stepped into the role of governor when Gov. Terry Branstad became ambassador to China. In 2018, Reynolds won election to the gubernatorial seat outright. That same year, Dubuque’s own Abby Finkenauer, as well as Cindy Axne, became Iowa’s first female U.S. representatives.
Following this fall’s election, Iowa’s federal delegation could be a majority of women — just six years after no Iowa woman had served at that level.
Ernst’s opponent for the Senate race is Democrat Theresa Greenfield, and even the “no party” candidate in that race is a woman.
Finkenauer will defend her seat against state Rep. Ashley Hinson, while Axne faces a challenge by David Young. In Iowa’s Third Congressional District, the match-up is Democrat Rita Hart and Republican Iowa Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
That means come January, the Iowa delegation in Washington could be four women and two men — and at the very least, there will be a 50-50 split on gender. That’s a lot of ground gained in a short period of time.
It’s no coincidence that an Iowa group was working to get more women to run for public office during that time. It was 2009 when two Iowa state senators, one from each party, formed an organization to work on getting women elected. Maggie Tinsman, R-Davenport, and Jean Lloyd-Jones, D-Iowa City, formed 50-50 in 2020 — a movement with sights set on bringing gender balance to the Iowa Statehouse and to Iowa’s other elected offices.
Designated as a 10-year initiative, the group now has dissolved, though those involved say the work continues through other organizations. But the strides made in the last decade should be recognized.
A decade ago, 50-50 in 2020 sounded like a long shot for either the federal delegation or the Statehouse. Yet on the federal side, the goal is achieved.
However, 2020 will not bring a 50-50 split in the Iowa Legislature. Today, the Iowa Senate has 11 women while the House has 33 — still 25% more than a decade ago. Iowa is right at the national average with 29% female membership in the Legislature, according to National Conference of State Legislatures.
Still, leaders of 50-50 in 2020 said one of their aims was to get more women “in the pipeline.” Women always had been activists, always had shown up caring about issues. They just weren’t always stepping up to run for office.
A decade ago, that began to change. In 2016, Iowa had more women running for state and federal offices than ever before in the state’s history. In 2018, more women across the country won elected office than ever before.
While a voter should not vote for — or against — any candidate based on gender, the presence of so many women on the ballot is a fantastic milestone. It is a marker that can serve as a guidepost for young women interested in public service.
Iowa has work to do to get to 50-50. But it’s great to see progress toward a worthy goal.