Government

Zach Wahls weighs entering race to replace Loebsack

'I don't have a decision,' state senator says at Davenport event

Newly seated state Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Responding to the Many Faces of Hate Symposium held at the Eastern Iowa Community College Urban Campus in Davenport. (John Schultz/Quad-City Times)
Newly seated state Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Responding to the Many Faces of Hate Symposium held at the Eastern Iowa Community College Urban Campus in Davenport. (John Schultz/Quad-City Times)

DAVENPORT — State Sen. Zach Wahls “hopes” he doesn’t spend the rest of his life in politics, but the newly minted freshman already is considering a possible next step for 2020: U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack’s seat.

“Yes, I am (thinking about running). But I want to stress, I don’t have a decision,” he said while at an event Saturday in Davenport, later adding that Loebsack has quite the legacy. “There are going to be other terrific candidates. That’s not me saying I’m going to run, but it does mean people are asking me about it.”

Loebsack, a Democrat from Iowa City, has represented Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District since 2007; he announced Friday that he will not seek re-election in 2020, when his seventh term is up.

Wahls, 27, a Coralville Democrat, gave the keynote address Saturday for the Responding to the Many Faces of Hate Symposium at the Eastern Iowa Community College Urban Campus in Davenport. While the event — hosted by the Quad Cities chapter of One Human Family — featured panels of experts discussing how to confront hate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, faith and immigration status, Wahls is best known for his activism on behalf of LGBT equality.

Joanie Demmer, the symposium’s chairwoman, said the panels preceding Wahls’ keynote focused on localizing a host of “phobias” based on identity.

“We can’t change the country, or the world — we can’t change Iowa,” she said. “But we can change our workplace. We can change our schools. We can have those difficult conversations with family. It’s the little nudges that make things better.”

Back in 2011, Wahls addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee during a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Iowa — the video went viral on YouTube, racking up more than 1.5 million views in two weeks.

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His mothers married in 2009, and Wahls said “marriage matters,” citing two instances when his mother, Terry Wahls, was hospitalized, and how his other mother, Jackie Reger, was treated by hospital staff, before and after their union was legal.

“When push came to shove, they lived in a state and in a society that did not recognize their relationship. They did not treat (Jackie) as they would have treated a male partner,” he said. “ … That’s why marriage matters.”

In addition to talking about his family — including his book, “My Two Moms,” and “The Woman Cards” project he started with his sister, illustrator Zeb Wahls — Wahls touched on his priorities in his first term in office, including a bill he’s put forward to end conversion therapy and the use of gay or trans panic as a legal defense.

Wahls also fielded questions about the caucuses, including his thoughts on Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., and one of the first openly gay candidates for president.

“I do think America is ready for a gay president — I don’t know if we’re ready for a mayor president. But also, Donald Trump is president, so I don’t know if I know anything,” he said. “ … Do we want to revert to normalcy, or is this the new normal? I don’t know if we have an answer yet.”

Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.

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