By Elizabeth Meyer The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Founded in 2010 by former state Sens. Jean Lloyd-Jones, D-Iowa City, and Maggie Tinsman, R-Davenport, "50-50 in 2020" wants to help elect women to the Iowa Legislature and beyond.
Less than half of lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature are women, a statistic a statewide non-profit organization is working to change in 2020.
Melissa Gesing, executive director of 50-50 in 2020, hosted a NUDGE (No Use Delaying Gender Equity) Party Tuesday evening to encourage local women to run for elected office.
Based in Des Moines, Gesing and her organization are hosting a series of NUDGE parties across the state to gear up for the November 2020 election cycle, where they hope to check off their final goal of equal representation in the Iowa House and Senate.
"We understand that voters are going to vote on issues first and not gender, and that's OK," said Gesing, at Southeastern Community College in Keokuk. "In fact, that's the way it should be. But we need more women throwing their hat into the ring."
Founded in 2010 by former state Sens. Jean Lloyd-Jones, D-Iowa City, and Maggie Tinsman, R-Davenport, 50-50 in 2020 wants to help elect women to the Iowa Legislature and beyond. Now that the organization has achieved its goal of seeing Iowa elect a female governor (Kim Reynolds), a woman to the U.S. Senate (Joni Ernst) and two women to the U.S. House (Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne), they now want at least 50 women in the 100-member House and 25 females in the 50-member Senate.
The 2019 legislative session, which began in January following the November 2018 election, is comprised of 11 women in the Senate and 34 in the House. Of the 150 legislators in the 88th General Assembly, 30 percent are women.
"Realize that you are qualified and your experiences are unique," said Gesing, to more than 20 women and men gathered Tuesday at the event. "We want more women to run because when women run, women win in just as high a percentage as men."
In addition to NUDGE parties, the organization also hosts See Yourself Here, a two-day, behind-the-scenes look at the Iowa Capitol; Step Up seminars, a half-day course with tips on running for office; and the Blueprint for Winning Academy, a three-day course for women considering a campaign, featuring help from a speech coach and advice from current and former legislators.
Abby Finkenauer, elected to the U.S. House last year, participated in a 50-50 in 2020 program when she ran for the state Legislature.
"We decided that after the 2020 election, even if we make a huge jump with the state Legislature and check those last two off our list, there's still work to be done," Gesing said. "The reason we stagnated for so many years is because a lot of women would retire in the Legislature and won't be replaced by another woman running, so we're really trying to work to get that pipeline filled."
At the event, organized in coordination with the Keokuk chapter of the American Association of University Women, Nancy Amos of Mount Pleasant said she was running for Senate District 42, which includes all of Henry and Lee counties and portions of Washington and Jefferson counties. Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, currently holds the seat.
As a former educator, Amos said helping return curriculum and classroom control to teachers would be an important piece of her platform in the 2020 election.
Janet Fife-LaFrenz, a former longtime member of the Lee County Board of Supervisors and current member of the Southeastern Community College Board of Trustees, has gained ample knowledge on campaigning during her decades in local politics.
Being "prepared for anything" and having a "thick skin" were necessary evils in politics, she said.
"I think we just have to get more women out there and realize that we, too, have a brain, and we, too, know how to think and we can get things done," said Fife-LaFrenz.
Alka Khanolkar, formerly on the Keokuk School Board and currently the district governor of Rotary District 6000, noted the importance of embracing a passion, but also being willing to find common ground to achieve goals.
"You have to realize that it's not my way or the highway," said Khanolkar, of Keokuk. "You have to see what is best for the overall goal that you are striving for, for the community or whatever the issues are."