UI Law Professor serves first term in Iowa House amid pandemic

University of Iowa Professor Christina Bohannan served her first day in the Iowa House on Monday after she unseated long-time representative Vicki Lensing. The UI law professor, a Democrat, will continue to teach, using her legal expertise in the Statehouse and the classroom.


Ryan Adams

Rep. Christina Bohannan poses for a portrait outside the Iowa State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Des Moines. Bohannan represents the 85th district in Johnson county.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

DES MOINES — Newly elected state representative and University of Iowa Law Professor Christina Bohannan said her background in the judicial system will complement her work and legislative priorities in the Iowa House of Representatives.

“I can use my legal skills to not only analyze law and interpret law but when actually making law. I can see problems with the laws before they are created and I have the ability to see both sides of an argument,” said Bohannan, a Democrat from Iowa City.

Bohannan unseated 20-year incumbent Vicki Lensing as she won the Democratic nomination for the House District 85 seat. Bohannan commends Lensing for serving Iowa honorably, but said that this is a time for new energy and ideas to thrive in Iowa government.

Prior to launching her campaign in October of 2019, Bohannan had thought about running for a government position for several years after being encouraged by friends and family.

One of Bohannan’s priorities for the 2021 session is to strengthen broadband for rural Iowans and show them that Democrats represent their values. She grew up in a town of 700 people in rural Florida and said this helps her to connect to rural Iowans.

President Trump won Iowa by more than 7 percentage points on Nov. 3, and other Republican candidates largely swept the western part of the state.

“I have some appreciation for small towns, and rural parts of Iowa,” Bohannan said. “I feel like a lot of times those areas are associated more with the Republican party, and that people in those areas don’t tend to vote Democrat. And I really believe that our policies are so much better for people in small towns and rural areas, and that is something I really want to work on.”

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said the Republican Party’s economic policies are superior to that of the Democratic Party, because lowering taxes and limiting government regulations fosters economic growth, both key issues to the Republican Party’s platform.

Kaufmann, Johnson County’s sole Republican state lawmaker, said it’s more important now than ever, for small, local businesses to receive a lowered tax burden. Bohannan said that improving the economy is more than just tax policy.

“Families and small businesses spend money much better than the government does and it needs to be left up to them,” Kaufmann said.

Bohannan is in support of the UI Undergraduate Student Government landlord checklist proposal, which would require landlords to do a checklist in the condition of an apartment before someone rents it, so that they can compare it at the end of the lease. There has been a problem with landlords keeping rent deposits and saying the renter damaged property when that damage was already there, she said.

She also said she wants to introduce a compassionate release bill, which would allow terminal illness, debilitation, or extreme family circumstances to outweigh continued imprisonment for inmates, something lacking in Iowa law.

Bohannan said she hopes to bring more attention to students of all ages across the state. In June of 2019, the state cut the Board of Regents budget by $8 million for the following fiscal year, and Bohannan said that the state needs to start thinking about what young people want and need.

“I see tuition is increasing and increasing and I think our universities have had no choice. I don’t think it’s their fault, they just aren’t being given the funding that they ask for while being asked to do more and more,” Bohannan said.

In Gov. Kim Reynolds’ budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, she wants to allocate $15 million in new funding for the state Board of Regents, a net $7 million increase since fiscal 2020 after state lawmakers wielded a $8 million budget cut for fiscal 2021.

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Bohannan called him as soon as she was elected to ask for advice and insight about future bill proposals. These issues include cracking down on wage theft, payday loan reform and increased funding for public universities, Bolkcom said.

Bolkcom said that Bohannan’s history in law will make her a great lawmaker, because she can already do things that many other freshman lawmakers can’t do right away.

“She is a really fast learner — with being a law faculty member she knows the Iowa Code and has the capacity to do her own drafting. We have people that usually do drafting for us, and she doesn’t even need them,” Bolkcom said.

Rep. Christina Bohannan poses for a portrait inside the Iowa State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Des Moines. Bohannan represents the 85th district in Johnson county.

As the Legislature opened this week, COVID-19 recovery was an issue highlighted in remarks given by leadership and Reynolds. Bohannan said a mask mandate is necessary in COVID-19 recovery, and that there can be focus on the economy while also working on other goals of the state.

Reynolds has been hesitant to issue a statewide mask mandate, but did issue a partial mask mandate in a November proclamation. The order states that masks are required to be worn indoors if people cannot social distance for longer than 15 minutes, but those rules do not apply to the Capitol building.

“We don’t see masks versus the economy, but masks for the economy,” Bohannan said.

Bohannan will dedicate five months out of the year to serving in the Iowa House and continue to teach law courses in the UI College of Law. She said that she will be teaching a reduced course load and salary but only reduced by one course.

“I just think that we are at a moment where, you know, we need all hands on deck. I mean we need people giving it everything they’ve got,” Bohannan said. “I think I have valuable skills, energy, and new ideas that I can bring to this, so I am excited to get started.”