The job’s not done, but a group of women who set a 10-year goal of equal representation in Iowa’s state and federal elected representatives is dissolving.
Two Iowa state senators formed 50-50 in 2020 in 2009. Since then, a woman has been elected Iowa governor, another to the U.S. Senate, and two Iowa woman have been elected to the U.S. House.
50-50 in 2020, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit, hasn’t achieved its goal of women filling half the seats in the Iowa Legislature — 50 representatives and 25 senators — by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. The effort to achieve that parity will continue through other channels, according to Executive Director Melissa Gesing.
“This was a 10-year project, and we’ve achieved success at the top levels,” governor and Congress, “but obviously there is more work to be done,” Gesing said, describing the change as “evolution.”
The organization is working with people at the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, the League of Women Voters and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics at ISU to carry on its work, Gesing said. It’s too soon to know what that will look like, but she said 50-50’s goals overlap with those of the LWV and Catt Center.
“We made great strides in 2018,” she said, “but when those women officeholders retire or move on, we want to make sure that the pipeline is full.”
Former state Sen. Maggie Tinsman, a Davenport Republican, was one of the founders of 50-50. She is proud of the progress, but pointed out that there are only 11 women in the Iowa Senate and 33 in the Iowa House today.
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That 29 percent female membership in the Iowa Legislature matches the national average, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About 2,145 women serve in the 50 state legislatures in 2020, up from 25 percent in 2018. The results of the 2018 election represent the most women elected at one time.
There were 32 women in the Legislature in 2009 when Tinsman and a fellow senator, Jean Lloyd-Jones, an Iowa City Democrat, formed 50-50.
Tinman said the idea to do something to encourage female participation in elected office came to her at a women’s luncheon in 2008.
“I looked all around and there were like 600 women there, and I said, ‘Yeah, all of these women should be involved in politics right now,’ ” Tinsman said in a recent KCRG-TV 9 interview.
The goal was never to replace men in politics, but to bring balance to the issues discussed and inclusiveness to the process, Gesing said.
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