It's day one of the Iowa legislative session. Plus, a deeper look at women in Iowa politics
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Good morning. You’re likely reading this on Monday morning, but as I’m assembling this edition on Thursday afternoon, the world feels like it’s on fire. I am at a loss for words about how to address the events that occurred in our nation’s capital on Jan. 6. I’ve included several links and resources in the "worth consuming" section below, but what I’m mostly thinking about is how we move forward. What is Fearless’ responsibility in shaping a civil future following an attempt to dismantle democracy? That’s a question that we at the Business Record are still trying to find answers to. If you have any thoughts, please feel free to send me a note at

For now, let’s dive into this week’s newsletter. Today is the first day of the 2021 Iowa legislative session. Our lead story is a conversation with longtime political reporter Kathie Obradovich about key issues affecting women that are on the docket. You may remember that in the last edition, we looked at the representation of women in Iowa politics. We’re continuing that examination, this time at the hyperlocal level. Are you interested in running for political office? A guest opinion piece by Blake Hanson introduces a program that helps you get started. Lastly, be sure to read all the way to the bottom of the newsletter to find a respite from the news. Have a safe and peaceful week.

YOU'RE INVITED: Join us to kick off your day on the final Friday of each month in our Fearless Friday series, focusing on the monthly topic we're talking about here. Our first event, being held virtually, is from 8 to 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 29, focused on the power of people and public office. You can sign up for the entire series or just the January event. REGISTER NOW

A preview of women's issues on the docket of the Iowa Legislature this session
The chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives in 2019. Photo by Emily Blobaum.
To preface, it’s worth mentioning that every issue is a women’s issue. Women are not monoliths, and interests and what’s at stake differ for everyone. But for these purposes, I’ve selected a few key issues that are considered by many to be issues that women in particular care about.

I’m turning to Kathie Obradovich, who is the editor of the Iowa Capital Dispatch and has covered Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, to walk through some of the biggest women’s issues on the docket. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Let’s start with COVID-19. In 2020 Iowa had one of the worst rates of COVID-19 infection in the country, and the pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said that it’s their No. 1 priority. What are lawmakers likely to address in terms of COVID relief?

Background: A lot of what Iowa has done in terms of COVID relief has come from federal aid. There’s been criticism from Democrats that Republicans haven’t dipped into Iowa’s "rainy day fund" or budget surplus for pandemic-related relief.

Obradovich: "Even in the budgeting process, I really don’t see lawmakers jumping in with aid for unemployment or business relief. What I do potentially see is a line coming out the Statehouse door of businesses asking for some sort of regulatory benefit that might be couched in pandemic relief. A good example of that would be the grocers with the bottle bill, [which gave Iowa grocers a reprieve from accepting empty beverage cans and bottles from customers that they hope to make permanent]. They couched that as a pandemic relief issue, but really they’ve wanted it for decades. We might see more of that kind of thing as opposed to big budget initiatives, at least at the beginning of the year. If we get to March and federal money has run out and there are big needs, it is possible that they’ll dip into reserves and do something, but I don’t think it’s obvious what that might be."

Staying on the topic of health care, Gov. Reynolds is a big proponent of mental health. Iowa consistently ranks as one of the worst states for mental health care. What’s the status of where the Legislature is on that issue?

Background: In her Condition of the State address in 2020, Reynolds unveiled her Invest in Iowa Act, which would increase the sales tax by 1%, with $80 million earmarked to help fund mental health care. The proposal faced bipartisan opposition, although Republicans did like the idea of substituting state funding for some of the property tax dollars going to mental health. Reynolds told reporters on Jan. 7 that she won't reintroduce the Invest in Iowa Act in this session.

Obradovich: "One of the big unfinished agenda items from 2020 was mental health funding. Mental health remains a priority of the governor and it was a bipartisan priority in 2020, pre-pandemic. In 2018 and 2019 they created expanded frameworks for adult and children’s mental health systems and put a little bit of money into the system for 2020, but other than the Invest In Iowa Act, they have not identified any alternative, sustainable sources of money for either system. So they need to start over. With the new Legislature, there’s going to be a lot of new legislators who need to be taken through the process of where they are from here. It may take a while. Clearly the pandemic has exacerbated the need for an adequate mental health system. But it hasn’t made any more money available. So we’ll have to see where they go with that."

Child care is a massive issue in Iowa. Where did the Legislature leave off in 2020? What are they expected to address in this session?

Background: Before the session was paused in March, the House passed five bills in one day that dealt with child care availability and affordability. Only one of them made it through the Senate and was signed into law. Business groups, such as the Iowa Business Council, have made it one of their highest legislative priorities.

Obradovich: "Child care is something that the business community is very interested in. They’re identifying it as a workforce issue. It’s also a COVID issue because people recognized that if kids are learning from home, parents can’t go to work. Whether lawmakers think they have money to put into the system, that’s the question. Are you going to be able to actually put money into making sure that the child care system is affordable and child care providers can make an adequate living? I don't know what the feeling is about setting priorities beyond getting a status quo budget done and out of Dodge. There was legislation introduced about the child care cliff. They wanted to ramp down the assistance so as you earn more money, your child care assistance would ramp down but not drop off the cliff. It’s possible that they just ran out of time to work through that. I think that will probably be back this year and part of the overall child care discussion."

Republican lawmakers have made anti-abortion legislation a priority in recent years. To catch people up, what did the Legislature and Gov. Reynolds accomplish last year, and what do they hope to accomplish in 2021?

Background: In an overnight debate in June 2020, the Legislature passed a bill approving a 24-hour waiting period to get an abortion. Immediately after, a judge temporarily blocked the enforcement of the law.

Obradovich: "The big prize for Republicans is advancing a proposed constitutional amendment that says there’s no right to abortion in the state constitution. They have been unable to advance that, but I have no doubt they will try again. One of the most successful ways that they have tried to restrict abortions is by targeting Planned Parenthood directly, shutting off money for abortion providers and women’s health care. Some of the news has shown that it has coincided with an actual increase in abortions because it shuts off access to birth control. So one of the other initiatives that the governor announced was an effort to allow birth control pills to be purchased over the counter. That did not make it through the Legislature last year. She may come back and try that again."

Are there any other issues that aren’t necessarily considered priorities but are still being looked at?

Obradovich: "I would definitely expect further discussion of social justice issues. The governor’s criminal justice task force came up with a set of recommendations addressing racial profiling and pretextual traffic stops. Some of those issues were definitely priorities for those at the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer but ones the Legislature did not address in June. Because this was a high-profile task force and the recommendations are coming forward from a group that included law enforcement, the NAACP, the prison system and other activists, this will have a significant amount of the governor’s juice behind it. I can’t predict how lawmakers will receive it, but I do think that will be something that we see as a priority coming out of the governor’s office this year.

"In terms of an LGBTQ-related bill, the one that has had the most traction over the past few years is billed as a religious freedom bill, where you have concern about some business owners who end up getting sued because they don’t want to bake wedding cakes for gay couples, or things like that. That bill comes up pretty often in the Senate. National employers including Principal, Amazon and Google show up and say, ‘Don’t do this, this will affect our workforce,’ and so far the Senate has listened to them and so the bills basically die in committee. I think the business community tends to rally in favor of the LGBTQ constituency because they view that having a state that doesn’t put restrictions on those folks is a workforce issue. Lawmakers are predisposed to listen to the business community, but they especially are now, coming out of the pandemic."

All civic boards and commissions in Iowa must be gender-balanced. Are they?
Iowa is one of eight states that have gender balance laws for civic boards and commissions, but is the only state where the requirement additionally penetrates down to the city and county levels.

The law reads that all appointive boards, commissions, committees and councils of the state should have an equal number of women and men.

It states that no person shall be appointed or reappointed to any board or commission if it would mean that the number of members of one gender was greater than the other. But in reality, there are no consequences if they aren’t balanced.

"The downside of the law is that there’s no punishment and there’s no monitoring. So the Catt Center stepped in to shine a light on how well local governments are doing and to keep the gender balance law front of mind, so we can remind local officials that this is important," said Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.

Since the law went into effect in 2012, the Catt Center has examined membership of county and municipal boards and commissions five times. In its most recent data collection that ended in spring 2020, it found that women hold a third of county board and commission seats while 67% of county boards and commissions are gender-balanced. Of the 83 counties that chose to participate, 14 have achieved gender balance.

Fourteen counties in Iowa have achieved gender balance on the seven county-level boards and commissions examined, which are planning and development, adjustment, compensation, review, conservation, health, and veteran’s affairs. The 14 counties are Allamakee, Clayton, Dallas, Floyd, Guthrie, Hardin, Harrison, Lee, Madison, Ringgold, Story, Van Buren, Wapello and Winneshiek. Graphic by Lauren Burt.
Of the 186 cities that chose to participate in the Catt Center’s data collection, 33 have achieved gender balance on all nine boards and commissions examined. Sixty-nine percent of the city boards and commissions are gender-balanced while women hold 41% of seats.

Barriers to entry specifically for women include imposter syndrome, caregiving responsibilities and the laborious process of successfully applying to serve on boards and commissions.

"Any way we can make it easy for women to enter into the political process is going to help improve representation."

The Catt Center worked with the Iowa Department of Human Rights to help create a database of state board and commission positions, which launched in December 2019.

The database, called the Iowa Talent Bank, began as a spreadsheet back when Sen. Mitt Romney was running for president in 2012. One of the questions Romney addressed during a debate was how he finds enough women to fill cabinet positions. In a response that quickly went viral, he said that he had "binders full of women."

Back then, the spreadsheet existed only as a place to house information about people who were qualified to serve. Now the Iowa Talent Bank is set up to be a matchmaking and mentoring service that works like this:

  • People who have an interest in serving on state boards and commissions create a profile with information about basic demographics, party affiliation, education and work background, and which positions they’re interested in.
  • They can then browse and apply directly for different positions, regardless if they’re open or not.
  • Appointing authorities are able to look at profiles and reach out to you about serving.
  • There’s also a section that pairs mentors who have experience with serving on boards or commissions with mentees who are interested in becoming a board or commission member.
It’s time we see more female leadership in halls of power
Editor's note: Part of our goal with Fearless is to bring all people to the table as we discuss women’s issues. From time to time we include men’s perspectives about empowering women through allyship.

In nine days, America will see its first female vice president take the oath of office. It is
about time.

Though women have voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1980, the gender gap of elective office remains wide: Only nine of the nation's 50 governors are women; one is Hispanic, the sole woman governor of color. In the U.S. Congress, 126 (105 D, 21 R) women hold seats, making up 23.6% of the 535 members. In the Iowa Legislature, 13 women (seven D, six R) will serve in the next Iowa Senate and 31 women (21 D, 10 R) will serve as state representatives next session.

Since 2007, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics has sponsored Ready to Run Iowa, a nonpartisan campaign training program to encourage women to run for elective office, position themselves for appointive office, work on a campaign or become involved in public life as leaders in their communities. Registration for the Feb. 26 workshops will open Jan. 26. See the full Ready to Run Iowa schedule here.

I am proud to be one of two men serving on the nine-member advisory board of Ready to Run Iowa. Every one of us can point to a woman in his or her life who made a tangible, positive difference. For me, it is my mother’s examples of empathy that have motivated me to work on projects like Ready to Run Iowa.

My mother began her career as a Title I reading teacher. Early in her career, before internet and email were the means of communication, she had sent numerous progress notes home with her students for them to give to their parents. Throughout the year, she received replies from all parents except for one. This particular child’s father was overseas in the military while her mother, a custodian, was her primary care provider.

At parent-teacher conferences that year, my mom asked the mother of this child whether she had been receiving her notes. The mother nodded her head and looked at my mom. My mom calmly asked her, "Can you read?" The mother broke down in tears.

My mom replied, "Do you want to learn how to read? I can teach you." The child’s mother nodded her head yes with tears streaming down her face. My mom then stayed after school for weeks teaching her student’s mother how to read. They even held a little celebration when she reached the fourth grade reading level.

This story is an important reminder of female empowerment and compassion. Innumerable studies paint a picture of women being generally more competent, commanding and calm under pressure than men. That's nothing new for women — some see it in the classroom or at the dinner table or in the boardroom. It is high time we saw more female leadership in the halls of power.

Blake Hanson is an attorney at Bradshaw Law. He is in his fourth year as a Ready to Run advisory board member and is chairman of the city of Des Moines Transportation Safety Committee.

Left: Boston Red Sox coach Bianca Smith. Center: Christine Her, executive director of ArtForce Iowa. Photo by Kelsey Kremer/Des Moines Register. Right: "The View" host Meghan McCain.
In the headlines
  • President-elect Joe Biden picked Merrick Garland and three women to lead the Justice Department. In the wake of a mob storming the Capitol, Americans will look to the next Justice Department to investigate and possibly level charges against the insurrectionists.
  • In the final days of the Trump administration, the Justice Department is attempting to undo some civil rights protections for minority groups, which could affect women, people with disabilities and LGBTQ folks in particular by changing the interpretation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by recipients of federal funding.
  • After San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Papovich was ejected during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, assistant coach Becky Hammon made history by becoming the first woman to act as head coach during an NBA regular season game when she filled in.
  • In other sports news, the Boston Red Sox hired Bianca Smith as a minor league coach, making her the first Black woman to coach in the history of professional baseball.
  • Meet the last of the women featured in the Des Moines Register’s People to Watch in 2021 series: Christine Her, executive director of ArtForce Iowa; and Susan Johnston, founder of Central Furniture Rescue.
  • Meghan McCain, who took three months off from "The View" following the birth of her daughter, returned to the show on Jan. 4, advocating for mandatory paid maternity leave.
  • Five NY1 anchorwomen are leaving the local news channel after settling an age and gender discrimination lawsuit. The announcement ended a legal saga that began in June 2019 when the women, who were between 40 and 61, alleged that they had been forced off the air and rebuffed by managers who favored younger and less experienced hosts.
Worth consuming
How to work through a coup (Culture Study). A conversation on civility with the Ray Center executive director (Business Record). Resources for teachers on the days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol (Beyond the Spotlight). What happened at the Capitol was "pure white male privilege" (The Lily). A list of reporters covering the events at the Capitol to follow on Twitter. Joy Reid on the difference between treatment of the pro-Trump mob and Black Lives Matter protesters (MSNBC). Meet the "freshwomen" of Congress (Politico). How SoulCycle lost its soul (Vox). Six ways your office will be different in 2021, assuming you ever go back to it (Washington Post). Men named Jo(h)n have written as many of 2020’s top business books as all women combined (Fortune). After a sexual assault, where can you get a medical and forensic exam? (NBC News). The theory that men hunted and women gathered in ancient society may be crumbling (New York Times). Should I disclose my depression to my employer? (The Cut). Why self care isn’t selfish (New York Times). How to thrive in winter 2021 (Outside In podcast). Iowans reflect on insurrection in the U.S. Capitol (River to River podcast).
‘The world deserves us to notice it’
A snowy walk in the woods back in December. Photo by Emily Blobaum.
At the beginning of 2020, I made a resolution to photograph a moment or scene of my everyday life, every day after seeing an Instagram caption that read, "The world deserves us to notice it."

With each passing year, I’ve found that life moves faster and faster. The more meetings and responsibilities we agree to take on, the less time we have to slow down and just be.

I particularly felt this in college, when I was taking a full load of classes while also working upwards of 60 hours a week as the managing editor of the student newspaper. I was frustrated that I didn’t have the time or energy to appreciate the world around me. So I made a resolution to watch more sunrises and sunsets.

Since then, I’ve been known to slam on the brakes if I see something that catches my eye. I sometimes lie on the ground in order to get a closer look at something. I have a vast collection of seashells, pine cones and leaves that I think are interesting. The camera roll on my iPhone is filled with thousands of photos of shadows, clouds and reflections.

At my core, I am a visual journalist. I feel that taking photos of how the world looks at a given moment is the best way I can contribute to society. Photos help me process and reflect on what I’m thinking and feeling.

Like it did with everyone else, 2020 for me felt like living inside a hurricane. My everyday every day project helped me maintain a sense of purpose and admire the smallest of details that are always present, but not always seen. I hope it can help you too, in some way.

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