EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: What If Iowa's First Spouse Were a Man?

A civil rights bellwether state in other respects, Iowa shares a disturbing distinction with Mississippi.

Why hasn’t Iowa sent a woman to Congress? Or to the governor’s mansion?

And why does normally progressive Iowa — slavery was outlawed here a quarter of a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, schools were integrated nearly a century before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools and, in 2009, Iowa became the third state to legalize same-sex marriage  — share that distinction with only one other state, Mississippi.


It’s time to change that.

Why do you think Iowans haven't elected a woman to Congress or to the governorship? Tell us in comments.

That’s the point of the Blueprint for Winning Academy, to be held Friday and Saturday at the West Des Moines Marriott. Its 50/50 in 2020’s first public event is aimed at charting a new course for women in Iowa politics.

Some of Iowa’s most politically accomplished women think so, too. They formed 50-50 in 2020, a bipartisan effort to recruit, train, mentor and help elect women with a goal of achieving gender parity in the state Legislature and Congress by 2020, as well as send a woman to the governor’s mansion.

The lack of gender parity among Iowa’s elected officials doesn’t reflect a lack of qualifications, says 50-50 board member Mary Kramer of Clive, a former president of the Iowa Senate and U.S. ambassador to Barbados. But women may need to be nudged into public service.

“The girls shouldn’t be afraid to be boys,” Kramer told dsm magazine last year. “Often when men run for office, it is for the acquisition of power and influence. With women, it’s to accomplish something.”

Women and men bring different perspectives to discussions. Equal representation of those viewpoints in policy debates would be “a good thing, a fair thing,” said Bonnie Campbell, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994.

“While men will come on board when you identify a problem like stalking, for example, men don’t have the same experiences in life that women have, and they don’t necessarily have the same concerns that women in this situation have,” Campbell, who wrote an anti-stalking law that became a national blueprint as head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Violence Against Women, said in the dsm magazine article.

The training itself consists of break-out sessions led by experienced office holders, campaign managers and other experts in areas such as forming campaign committees and kitchen cabinets, developing communications plans, fundraising and budgeting, giving a stump speech, holding town hall meetings and preparing for debates. Potential candidates will also be matched with a woman office-holder to shadow in Des Moines or Washington, D.C., and will be connected with a mentor.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, will be the keynote speaker on “Why Each Individual (Woman) Candidate is So Critical to Iowa.” at a 7 p.m. dinner Friday night. A cocktail reception begins at 6 p.m.


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