Women in politics reflect on running for office, representation, and sexual-assault prevention

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The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, left, listens to a speaker next to Iowa acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg during a Johnson County Republicans event in Coralville at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center on Thursday, July 6, 2017. Iowa Gov. Reynolds spoke to Republican constituents who had a minimum donation of $25 per individual to attend, $125 to host, and $500 to sponsor. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Madeleine Neal and Sarah Watson, [email protected]

This year, Iowa residents have seen the number of first-time women candidates more than double. This is due in part to the nationwide movement combating sexual assault. Some 98 women, including incumbents, will appear on the primary ballot this June. Many of them, both new and old, have spoken out against sexual assault and for allowing women fair representation.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she’s excited about the number of women running for office, and a priority of hers has been to encourage women to run for office and take on leadership roles in business. She believes it’s very important that people have that diversity of thought.

“By seeing more women in office, I think it encourages more women to run,” she said. “It’s very humbling to live out history and be a part of it and so honored, but I hope when history is written, there are many more things that have been said about the the things we were able to accomplish under my leadership.”

Mary Ellen Miller, the executive director of 50-50 in 20/20, a nonpartisan, issue-neutral nonprofit organization that works to elect more women to state-government positions, said she thinks factors encouraging more female candidates are the gender rhetoric in the 2016 election and seeing an increased number of elected role models.

“Layered on all of that more recently is the [#MeToo] movement, and that’s really rallied women to be engaged as candidates,” she said. “They say, ‘I’ll help you get elected, even if I’m not going to run,’ so that women are being encouraged by other women to run.”

This session, around 23 percent of the Iowa Legislature seats are held by women, and Miller said she hopes that although she doesn’t think women will reach the goal of filling half the legislative seats by 2020, even hitting just over one-third will usher in growth.

“If you get a previously male-dominated group to be even 35 percent of women, you start to see results of effective change,” she said. “I’ve always said that if we hit 35 percent, then we are going to change the culture.”

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But while the movement against sexual assault may serve as a catalyst for a series of new female candidates, it also continues to be a point of concern for incumbents.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2015, pointed to work she and her colleagues have implemented to combat sexual assault in the U.S. Senate.

“We have different pieces of legislation — one that I’ve worked on, [Sen.] Chuck Grassley [R-Iowa] has worked on as well, is making sure that everyone, staff as well as senators, are trained in what is appropriate behavior and what is not appropriate behavior,” she said. “And how sad is it that we actually have to put senators and others through that type of training? But we think it’s really important that if we require our staff to get training, we need to get that training, too.”

Ernst was referring to a November 2017 resolution put forth by her, Grassley, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

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