The year of the woman
Iowa sees dramatic increases in the number of women seeking state, national office
Women across the state of Iowa are seeking public office at the state and national level, many for the first time. The recent state deadlines for candidates to file to run for state and federal offices in Iowa has confirmed 98 candidates will compete in primary elections this year.
"The 2016 presidential election cycle raised expectations high with the first woman on the ballot for president," said Mary Ellen Miller, executive director of 50-50 in 2020, an Iowa organization seeking gender parity in representation at all levels of government. "Women need role models to see that running and winning is possible.
"Many women were disappointed that the winner in 2016 was not the female candidate which I suspect motivated more women to consider running. Without a doubt, the winner in the 2016 presidential election greatly disappointed many women who view him as misogynistic and sexist. Then the #MeToo movement arrived, impelling even more women to become politically engaged; if not by becoming a candidate, by supporting other women to run."
Iowa has seen historic achievements with Gov. Kim Reynolds becoming the first female governor in state history in 2017, Linda Upmeyer becoming the first female Iowa House speaker in 2016 and Joni Ernst becoming the first female U.S. senator from the state of Iowa in 2014.
Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, is the first woman to represent Clay County in the State House and Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Spencer City Councilwoman Leann Jacobsen, hopes to become the first woman to represent Iowa in the U.S. House from the 4th District.
"It seems like the parties have put an increased emphasis on recruiting women to public office," Jones said. "Additionally, we have great female leaders at the state level like Gov. Kim Reynolds, Speaker Linda Upmeyer and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. When women are able to look up to others in leadership roles, there's a better chance that they can see themselves doing something like that. Republican women have really led the way in Iowa."
"I don't think there are obstacles anymore," Jacobsen said. "Actually, when women run, they win as often as men. There just has not been a whole lot of women to run until now. Whether its a woman or a man who runs. They need to have community support behind them."
While the number of women running for office has surged this year, that has yet to translate into female representation in equal levels to their male counterparts.
"Yes, this is indeed a banner year for getting female candidates on the ballot," Miller said. "We certainly don''t take full credit for that dramatic increase in numbers, but we feel that we have very much raised the public awareness of how few women run and how few women currently serve in state level offices. Our Legislature remains at just under 23 percent female; that has not changed since the 2012 elections."
While Jones said she favored candidates who are competent no matter their gender, she did point out women offer a different perspective to public office than men.
"Every voice is an asset," Jones said. "Every voice provides a new viewpoint. Women see things differently than men. We have funeral directors, a pharmacist, farmers, lawyers, law enforcement officers, nurses and a railroad worker all serving in the House. Each of those voices lends insight, experience and knowledge to issues."
Jacobsen has actively been encouraging women to become involved in politics since the early 2000's when she started Women in Public Policy, an organization she said has helped build momentum for women in the state.
"It has become more obvious that women need to be at the table and have their interests represented," Jacobsen said. "Women need to be involved with policy decisions. You can think about the 13 senators, who were men, that were deciding women's health care last fall without a single women at the table. That should not be the norm.
"Furthermore, since the 2016 cycle, I believe we've seen an attack on women's issues. especially health care and the gender wage gap. Women feel they can't sit back anymore and they have something to add to the process."
Jones, Miller and Jacobsen agreed the trend of women becoming more engaged in public life will continue with time.
"Many influences account for this upsurge in women running," Miller said. "Has it peaked? I doubt it. In 2020 it will be another presidential election year and I suspect another banner year for women running. Many of this year's first-time candidates will not win, but I am pretty confident that they are looking long term and will be back in 2020 and maybe even again in 2022."