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Iowa Democrats at state convention pin 2024 hopes on abortion, education issues


Iowa Democrats at state convention pin 2024 hopes on abortion, education issues

Jun 15, 2024 | 1:44 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
Iowa Democrats at state convention pin 2024 hopes on abortion, education issues
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart addressed the state convention held at the Prairie Meadows Events Center in Altoona June 15, 2024. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democratic elected officials at their party’s state convention emphasized Saturday that the issues of abortion and education could help the party regain ground from Republicans in the state.

Iowa Democrats are facing steep challenges in Iowa. Following the 2022 midterm elections, the state’s congressional delegation is made up entirely of Republicans, and all statewide elected officials except for Iowa Auditor Rob Sand are also members of the GOP. In the Statehouse, Republicans hold a majority in the House and supermajority in the Senate.

At Prairie Meadows Events Center in Altoona, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart called for Iowa Democrats to prepare for the 2024 general election, and to be ready for a potentially tough road ahead. She talked about her experience growing up on a farm in Iowa, having to pick rocks with her siblings on farmland.

“Sometimes, I think we’re in a rocky place right now, right?” Hart said. “And we’ve got to pick up that rock that makes the most sense for us. … Find the thing that you can do, that you can contribute to this effort, and do it in spades. That’s what we’ve got to do from now until November.”

But House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said she believed there was ample opportunity for the minority party to flip seats across the state this election. As Democrats prepare to volunteer, fundraise and knock doors in the lead-up to the Nov. 5 general election, Konfrst said that “message discipline” should be at the top of everyone’s minds.

“Iowans are voting on two issues this year,” Konfrst said. “What’s on their mind is public education and abortion — and reproductive freedom. And guess what? They’re with us.”

Democrats need to focus on access to abortion and public K-12 education, Konfrst said, in light of recent GOP measures on both. This year, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a measure making changes to Iowa’s Area Education Agencies that received significant backlash during the legislative session. The agencies provide special education and other support services to children with disabilities and their families.

The year before, Reynolds signed into law the state’s Education Savings Account program, allowing Iowa families to use public funds for private school tuition and associated costs. Democrats say both of these programs are unpopular with Iowans and harm the state’s public school system, especially rural school districts.

Additionally, the state is awaiting an Iowa Supreme Court decision on the six-week abortion ban signed into law during a special session in July 2023. The law was passed following a June 2023 split court decision that let an injunction on a similar so-called “fetal heartbeat” law from 2018 in place.

Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll results show that a majority of Iowans support abortion being legal in all or most cases, have a favorable view of AEAs and opposed private school scholarships.

Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum, who is not running for reelection, said that it was up to Iowa Democrats to focus on these issues as they hit the campaign trail. She said that as Republicans have focused on “culture war policies,” Democrats are committed to opposing GOP efforts on issues like abortion and taking books containing depictions of sex acts out of school libraries — another 2023 measure currently being challenged in court.

“Iowans want us to focus on issues that affect their everyday lives, like affordable childcare and health care and housing and collective bargaining rights and public education,” Jochum, of Dubuque, said. “They do not want us arguing over bathrooms and bedrooms and books.”

Speakers also called for Democrats to campaign and prepare to support President Joe Biden in the 2024 general election. The convention is where Iowa Democrats officially announced delegates to send to the Democratic National Convention. This year’s national convention is set for Chicago Aug. 19-22 to support Biden, the presumptive presidential nominee. Biden won the support of all 40 delegates in Iowa Democratic caucuses, conducted via a mail-in presidential preference ballot for the first time this nomination cycle.

At the convention, Iowans heard from Vice President Kamala Harris in a video message thanking Democrats for their support, and emphasizing the need for Biden to win against former President Donald Trump in the Nov. 5 presidential election.

“Ultimately, in this election, we each face a question: What kind of country do we want to live in?” Harris said in the video. “A country of compassion, freedom and rule of law? Or a country of chaos, fear and hate? We each have the power to answer that question with our voice, with our feet and with our hope. And together we will win.”

The Democratic congressional nominees, candidates Sarah Corkery, Lanon Baccam and Ryan Melton — the nominees taking on incumbent Republican Reps. Ashley Hinson, Zach Nunn and Randy Feenstra respectively — will also address the event. Democrat Christina Bohannan, running against U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, is not scheduled appear at the convention.

The Republican Party of Iowa held its state convention May 4.