Government

Wahls claims Senate District 37 primary victory

Coralville Democrat has virtual lock on November general election in Dem-heavy district with no GOP candidate so far

IOWA CITY — Iowa City native, advocate and author Zach Wahls won the Democratic nomination for Iowa Senate District 37, gaining a virtual lock on the November election in the heavily-Democratic district.

Wahls, 26, of Coralville, had 3,901 votes, or 59.6 percent of the vote at 11:15 p.m., compared to 2,279 votes, or 34.8 percent, for his nearest competitor, Janice Weiner, 60, of Coralville.

Eric Dirth, 27, and Imad Youssif, 53, were a distant third and fourth, respectively.

If elected in November, Wahls would be one of the youngest — if not the youngest — to serve in the Iowa Senate. Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, now is the youngest at 33, according to reporting by Lee Enterprises reporter Erin Murphy. Wahls will be 27 by the time of the general election in the fall.

“I think it’s a sign people here are hungry for new blood in the Iowa Legislature and are ready for the next generation of leadership,” Wahls said Tuesday night. “It means a lot to me the community is trusting me with that leadership role.”

The District 37 seat, open for the first time in three decades because of Sen. Bob Dvorsky’s retirement, was the more contested primaries in the state with four Democrats vying for the bid, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office confirmed in April.

Wahls will face Carl Krambeck, a Libertarian, in the November election. No Republicans have filed to run for this seat, but can do so by a special nominating convention by Aug. 25.

The four-year Senate term begins in January. Rank-and-file state senators are paid $25,000 a year, plus per-diem payments during the Legislative session.

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District 37, which includes Cedar County, northeastern Johnson County, part of Iowa City and a sliver of Muscatine County, has more than 15,000 active Democratic voters, compared to 10,000 Republicans.

Wahls overwhelmingly won Johnson County, while Weiner had a narrow victory — 468 votes over Wahls’s 403 — in more-conservative Cedar County.

The District 37 candidates, who spoke at several forums before the primary election, had common views on many issues, including the desire to restore collective bargaining rights, reversing Medicaid privatization and protecting reproductive rights.

But Wahls had the name recognition and the money — raising more than $120,000 in total campaign contributions as of last week. In comparison, Weiner had raised about $23,000, Dirth $2,000 and Yousif had not filed a fundraising report, Gazette columnist Adam Sullivan reported Saturday.

Wahls first gained national attention when his 2011 testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee about growing up with gay parents went viral and became YouTube’s most-watched political video of 2011.

Wahls is co-founder of Scouts for Equality, which led a national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on LGBT people.

He also wrote the book, “My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family.”

Wahls, who graduated from Iowa City West High School and the University of Iowa, recently completed his master’s degree in public policy at Princeton.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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