Pushing for equal representation

50-50 in 2020 brings together a diverse group of female political leaders in Iowa with the goal of helping more women ru
50-50 in 2020 brings together a diverse group of female political leaders in Iowa with the goal of helping more women run for office. Pictured at a 2016 post-election session held in Cedar Falls for winning candidates are (from left) Melissa Gesing, 50-50 in 2020 executive director; state Sen. Rita Hart; Doris Kelley, 50-50 in 2020 board member; state Sen.-elect Jane Bloomingdale; state Sen.-elect Amy Nielsen; state Rep.-elect Ashley Hinson; Maggie Tinsman, 50- 50 in 2020 co-founder; Gary Grant, lobbyist; and Jean Lloyd-Jones, 50-50 in 2020 co-founder. (Photo courtesy 50-50 in 2020)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds made history in 2018 as the state’s first elected female governor. Her victory came on the same night Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer were elected to represent Iowa in the U.S. House and 11 women won seats in the Iowa Legislature.

What happened in Iowa was mirrored throughout the country. A record number of female candidates ran for governor and for Congress. When the midterm elections were over, 102 women were elected to the U.S. House, 14 were elected to the U.S. Senate, and nine women won gubernatorial races.

“There’s no doubt national politics played a role in more women running for office,” said Melissa Gesing, executive director of 50-50 in 2020.

Iowa, however, was ahead of the pack. Before “I’m With Her” and the Women’s March, there was 50-50 in 2020. The non-partisan and issue-neutral organization — dedicated to achieving political equity for women in Iowa — was launched in 2010.

It started with Maggie Tinsman, the former Republican state senator from Davenport. She dreamed of having an Iowa campaign school for women. Tinsman asked Jean Lloyd-Jones, the former Democratic state senator from Iowa City, to join her. At that time, Iowa had yet to elect a female governor or send a woman to Congress.

The pair assembled a 14-member board of directors, seven from each political party. They partnered with the Iowa Women’s Foundation and created a 10-year plan, tying five goals to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020:

• 25 women in the Iowa Senate

• 50 women in the Iowa House

• 1 woman governor

• 1 woman in the U.S. Senate

• 2 women in the U.S. House

As of today, three of the five goals have been achieved. The group fell short of its equality goal in the Iowa Legislature, with only 30 percent of the seats occupied by women. While that’s more than in 2010 — when only 32 of the 150 seats were held by women — it’s not 50-50. Yet.


“The work will continue beyond 2020,” Gesing said. “We made a huge gain in 2018 and expect that trend to continue. Studies have shown that women win elections just as much as men. The challenge is getting more women to run.”

50-50 in 2020 addresses that through several programs that inform and educate potential politicians in addition to offering them training and mentorships.


NUDGE parties, which stands for No Use Delaying Gender Equity, were launched first.

A NUDGE party is an informal, bipartisan gathering of women and men to raise awareness of the importance of politics in their lives. It encourages them to support female candidates, work on a woman’s campaign or run for office themselves.

“It’s the beginning of what could be possible — a low-key way to ignite a person’s interest and show potential candidates that they’ll have support,” Gesing said.


50-50 in 2020 held its first campaign school, the Blueprint for Winning Academy, in 2012.

The academy is a three-day program held in January of even-numbered years for women running for the Iowa Legislature, Congress or other statewide offices.

In addition to pairing attendees with mentors and offering sessions that address everything from fundraising to social media, the academy also includes two postelection sessions: one for newly elected women to help them begin their political career on and a second for those who didn’t win.

For the women who win, Gesing said, the postelection session provides a rundown of what to expect now that they’re in office, as well as a reminder of the bipartisan efforts of 50-50 in 2020 with the hope that women who learned from each other in the academy will continue to work across the aisle in the Legislature.

At the same time, the candidates who were not successful in their run for office analyze what went well and what didn’t, with the hope of improving if they run again.


“Even if they don’t, the women are reminded that they’re now leaders in their community,” Gesing said. “They may come in a little discouraged, but most leave with a positive attitude once they realize what they accomplished.”


See Yourself Here, a two-day seminar at the State Capitol, was introduced in 2014.

The program is held every spring for women who are thinking about running for office. Participants observe the Legislature in session, sit in on a committee meeting and meet with lawmakers.

“This program was created to demystify the State Capitol and legislative process,” Gesing said. “Women can walk away at the end of two days knowing this is something they can do.”


The first round of Step Up! seminars were held in 2017. Step Up! focuses on women elected at the local level — be it city council, school board or a county office — and offering them training that helps lay the groundwork for a campaign for the Legislature.

The seminars include presentations by experienced political candidates and campaign staff who share their advice and best practices. Held in the fall of odd-numbered years, Step Up! is offered at four cities throughout the state.


In addition to these programs, 50-50 in 2020 also celebrates women across the state who paved the way with the Equity for Women Award.

Given annually since 2012, past recipients include Linda K. Neuman, the first woman to be appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court; Christine Grant, the University of Iowa’s first women’s athletic director; and attorney Bonnie Campbell, the only woman to be elected Iowa’s attorney general.

The 2019 Equity for Women Award honorees — the 50-50 in 2020 co-founders Lloyd-Jones and Tinsman — were honored at the annual reception Sept. 18.

With student chapters at the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa, 50-50 in 2020s future plans include focusing on college and university women, particularly those already involved in student government, and finding partners to carry on its established programs.

A name change is on the horizon, too.

As always, Gesing said, 50-50 in 2020s goal isn’t to replace men in politics, but to bring balance to the issues discussed and inclusiveness to the process.


“Representation is a good thing,” she said. “It produces better legislation and better policies.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.