Number of minority Iowa lawmakers double but still scarce

Those who make state laws skew older, more male than population

The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (The Gazette)
The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — So you say you’re an Iowa lawmaker. OK, Boomer.

Baby Boomers comprise more than half of the Iowa Legislature and far outnumber members of any other generation, according to state lawmakers’ demographic information and generational breakdowns as defined by the Pew Research Center.

While Boomers dominate the makeup of the Iowa Legislature — which begins its 2021 session Monday — minorities remain far underrepresented in the Iowa Capitol — even after their numbers doubled this year.

Elections of this past November brought some new blood to the Legislature — 21 new members, including 13 in the House and eight in the Senate.

The following figures are based on demographic information for all 149 members of Iowa’s 89th General Assembly, which will serve for the next two years.

The 150th and final member will be elected later this month to fill a seat in the Senate vacated by former Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who in November was elected to Congress.


Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 — or ages 56 to 74 — continue to outnumber any other generation among Iowa state lawmakers: They comprise more than half of legislators overall, including 53 percent in the House and 47 percent in the Senate. In comparison, about 20 percent of the state’s population overall is of Baby Boomer age.

Generation X is the closest to challenging the Boomers’ majority: those born between 1965 and 1980 make up 29 percent of the House and 43 percent of the Senate.

Bookending the generational spectrum, Iowa has three members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) and two members of the youngest generation, Gen Z (born after 1996).

The oldest state lawmaker is 80-year-old Sen. Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola.

The youngest is 22-year-old Rep. Carter Nordman, a Republican from Adel.


The average age of Iowa’s state lawmakers is just shy of 55, and more than a quarter are grandparents.


The Iowa Legislature will be twice as racially and ethnically diverse as it was during the previous two years, although it did not take much to raise that bar.

The number of minority state lawmakers doubled from just four to eight serving in the current Iowa Legislature — all in the Iowa House.

The Iowa Senate remains 100 percent white.

That leaves Iowa minorities far underrepresented in the Capitol: just 5 percent of the state lawmakers are non-white, while three times that — roughly 15 percent —-- of Iowa’s population is non-white, according to U.S. Census data.

In the Iowa House there are six Black members and one Asian American member, plus the Legislature’s first-ever Latino member, Mark Cisneros, a Republican from Muscatine.

Of those minority members, five are Democrats and three are Republicans.

While the legislative minorities are few in number, all have some degree of standing: All three minority House Republicans are committee vice chairs, and all five minority House Democrats are ranking members of committees.

While Iowa has seen a boom of female candidates elected to statewide and federal offices over the past few election cycles, the progress toward gender balance in the Iowa Legislature has been much slower.

Since 2014, Iowa has elected its first female U.S. senator, U.S. representatives and governor. And after the 2020 elections, Iowa’s Congressional delegation is majority female, with four women and two men.

But women comprise just 29 percent of the Iowa Legislature, including 31 percent in the House and 24 percent in the Senate.


While Republicans were the first to elect Iowa women as a U.S. senator and a governor, Democrats have fared far better in progressing toward gender balance at the Statehouse. Women make up 47 percent of Democratic lawmakers and just 17 percent of Republican lawmakers.

For the second consecutive two-year cycle, House Democrats start with a majority female caucus, with 21 women and 20 men.


In perhaps the most on-brand and least-surprising count, 1 in 5 Iowa lawmakers is a farmer, the most common profession among them.

There are 13 farmers in the Senate, and 12 of them are Republicans.

Close behind are businesspeople and other professionals, who comprise 17 percent of state lawmakers. Another 11 percent are business owners.

The next-most populous groups of lawmakers include 20 retirees, 15 who work in education, and 10 lawyers.


A vast majority — more than 85 percent — of state lawmakers has at least some education from a four-year college, and another 7 percent have a community college degree or trade school certificate.

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