Johnson County Democrats vouch for public education funding, reproductive rights

Roughly 200 Johnson County voters gathered to hear Democratic candidates share their support for public education and reproductive rights to help amp up their campaign — and flip seats in the statehouse.


Matt Sindt

Iowa State representative Christina Bohannan speaks to attendees while eating at the Johnson County Democrats Barbecue Oct. 9, 2022.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

Iowa Democrats focused on education and abortion access at the annual Johnson County Democrats barbecue. The fundraiser is meant to rally the blue party as they attempt to unseat Republicans at the state and national levels.

About 200 Johnson County voters gathered on Sunday night to hear Democratic candidates share their support for public education and reproductive rights to amp up their campaign — and flip seats in the statehouse and Congress.

Eric Van Lancker, Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, working alongside gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear, said public education is one of the most important issues their campaign is focusing on.

“Iowa slipped from number one to the middle of the pack, and there’s no sign of that stopping. Well, there’s one sign of that stopping, when you all help us elect Deidre DeJear,” Van Lancker said.

Last legislative session, Gov. Kim Reynolds passed her student voucher plan in the Senate, which would allocate $55.2 million for students who transfer to private schools. The bill, S.F. 2369, did not pass the House and become law. This bill is the source of criticism from Iowa legislators and has increased candidates’ focus on Iowa public schools. There was not enough support among Iowa House Republicans to make the bill official.

Van Lancker said if DeJear wins the election, the two want to use the money that would have been used for the voucher plan to reinvest in the public school system.

Another education plan DeJear and Van Lancker have is to put one mental health expert into every Iowa public school to combat the ongoing mental health crisis, Van Lancker said.

State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, was also in attendance at the barbecue. She is running against incumbent Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, in the state’s  1st Congressional District.

Some candidates are also passionate about abortion rights as a campaign issue as election day approaches.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Bohannan said reproductive health care is an issue many of her constituents are concerned about.

Bohannan said she wants to restore Roe v. Wade as it had existed for 50 years before it was overturned.

“I think we need to return to that because the proposals that we are hearing from people, like my opponent Mariannette Miller-Meeks, are pretty extreme,” Bohannan said. “They are talking about a nationwide abortion ban that is unprecedented in this country.”

In September, Miller-Meeks co-sponsored a bill in September that would ban abortions at 15 weeks, with few exceptions. These exceptions can only be granted if the diagnosis does not include psychological or emotional conditions.

If she wins the congressional seat, Bohannan said she wants to end the culture war in Congress to pass laws that will benefit the lives of Iowans. She said health care costs are too high and job benefits are too low for Iowans.

“I’ve seen democracy under attack, the right to vote, the rule of law, our Constitution, under attack, from people who spread more lies and misinformation than we can count … People who are using culture wars to divide and distract us from the fact that they’re not making any one’s everyday lives better,” Bohannan said.

In 2020, Miller-Meeks won her seat by six votes in the previously drawn 2nd District. In 2021, Iowa’s redistricting process brought a change in the constituency to each of the four Iowa districts.

As of Oct. 2022, there are 161,018 active Democrats, 158,501 active Republicans, and 150,570 active no-party voters registered to vote. Those independents are crucial to the victory, Bohannan said.

Bohannan said Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District is a close swing county, but this upcoming election should be close enough to swing back to a blue district, as long as supporters work on knocking on doors and making calls for the Democratic party.

“You know, when you’re calling up names, if they want to say something about Johnson County, let’s give them something to talk about,” Bohannan said. “Let’s be the Johnson County that took away this seat from Mariannette Miller-Meeks.”

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, is up for re-election this year. He said he used the event as an opportunity to share his goal of gaining the majority in the Iowa Senate to undo policies that Republicans have created.

“Too many people have lost sight of the better future and they can no longer see more opportunity for their children or their grandchildren,” Wahls said.

Wahls said Iowans, no matter their party, want their families to be safe, happy, and nearby. To keep young people in Iowa, Democrats have to fight for policies that will make Iowa a place to stay, he added.

“We need more Iowans, younger Iowans, and better-paid Iowans,” Wahls said. “That’s how we end the Reynolds workforce crisis that is devastating our economy and get it back on track.”