DES MOINES — Alma Jones, who charmed Iowa lawmakers for the past two months, will be staying home in northwest Iowa this week.
The daughter of Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, was born Jan. 24 and has accompanied her mother to committee hearings, to the House floor during debates and into closed-door caucus meetings since she was 2 weeks old.
She is now headed to day care at home until her mom is finished with the legislative session.
“Thank you all for accommodating this mom, so that I could do this and I could still make sure that my constituents had a voice here at the Capitol,” Jones said on Thursday.
“It really does take a village,” Jones said as she handed a fussing Alma to Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, and joked that Alma had allowed lawmakers to see the Marine Corps veteran’s “softer side.”
Jones apologized to a pair of lawmakers who had to have their suits dry-cleaned because of Alma.
She joked that someday Alma will have an incredible vocabulary, “full of words like germane and de-appropriation.”
“She’ll probably play house with her peers, but her house will consist of a speaker, committee meetings and intense discussions on appropriations and tax policy,” Jones said.
Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor, said it’s rare he can speak for the 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats in the House, but he felt confident in telling the Joneses “the pleasure was all ours.”
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Jones said the when she and her husband Will, who farms corn, beans, cattle and pigs about 10 miles south of Spencer, knew she was pregnant, they did the math and realized the baby likely would arrive early in the 2018 legislative session.
Their other child, son Anchor, is old enough to attend day-care, but there was not a spot for Alma.
Jones asked Hagenow and Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer if she could bring Alma with her to work.
“They were so supportive,” Jones said. “We’re a big family here. So what’s one more person to the bunch?”
Alma has been a bipartisan hit. Legislators of all political stripes have fawned over her and have gone out of their way to make her mother comfortable.
“It’s been really fun having a baby in the House for a while,” Upmeyer said. “It might have been different if Alma wasn’t a really good baby. But she’s just a really good baby.”
Jones said other than missing roughly two weeks early in the session to give birth, she has not altered her legislative schedule. Alma accompanies her mother in an over-the-shoulder sling, and when she needs to be fed or be changed, Jones uses an office she shares with fellow Republican Rep. Mike Sexton.
“We have a prearranged agreement that if the door is shut, you don’t come in,” Jones said. “So far, it has worked out swimmingly.”
Jones said a Republican colleague joked that Alma could come in useful during key moments of legislative debate.
“(Democratic Rep.) Mary Mascher is a great debater, and it was a bill she wasn’t exactly fond of, and somebody said, ‘Give her the baby,’ ” Jones said.
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Indeed, everyone wanted to see or hold the baby. Jones said she tried to be judicious — “Baby passing is not good, especially during flu season” — and the hand sanitizer flowed freely.
“A lot of hand sanitizer,” Upmeyer said.
This will be a memorable session for Jones, and just as she started to explain why, Alma started to get a little fussy.
“A lot more calm ... a lot more bipartisan,” Jones said in describing the session. “Maybe that’s just what I’m feeling. ... Certainly, I think she helps defuse some of those negative feelings.
“And she really helps remind us all about why we’re here. We’re all fighting for the kids and fighting for the future of Iowa. We just may have a different opinion of how that works.”
People and groups who attempt to recruit women to run for political office talk about the challenge in convincing women who feel an obligation to their family.
Upmeyer and Jones said Jones’ experience shows that people who are motivated do not have to choose between their family and a political career.
But both said this story is somewhat unique.
“Families can make those decisions,” Upmeyer said. “It’s OK. It isn’t up to society to judge whether that’s the way the family should work or not. It does kind of liberate people to think outside the box.”
“You just make it work,” Jones said. “That’s really what this is about.”
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