State Sen. Rob Hogg announced on Monday he will not seek reelection in 2022. Following Hogg’s announcement, two Cedar Rapids residents — teacher Breanna Oxley and community organizer/activist Sami Scheetz — declared their candidacies for Hogg’s seat in Senate District 33.
Hogg, who was born in Iowa City and lives in Cedar Rapids, has served in the State Legislature for nearly 20 years. He served two terms in the Iowa House from 2003 to 2007 before being elected to the Iowa Senate. The Democratic state senator is currently serving his fourth term, which ends in January 2023.
Hogg is also an attorney and author of the book America’s Climate Century: What Climate Change Means for America in the 21st Century and What Americans Can Do About It, which was published in 2013.
His focus on environmental issues is well known in Cedar Rapids and around Iowa, and has even attracted national attention.
During the 2000 presidential election, Hogg published an open letter asking how the candidates will address climate change. The letter was signed by at least 80 supporters and published in four Iowa newspapers in October 1999.
Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, nearly 20 Democratic candidates visited Cedar Rapids to have a “climate conversation” with Hogg.
In a news release, Hogg said he was proud of his accomplishments while in the State Legislature. Among the accomplishments he listed were: flood recovery, flood mitigation, expansion of solar power and other renewable energy, raising the minimum wage and prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ Iowans.
Hogg said he has “not finalized his plans for the future.”
“This has certainly been a time for reflection about what’s important in life. But I do know I will not be running for re-election in my current senate district so I am making this announcement today,” Hogg said.
“I also know there are other highly qualified people who are interested in running, and I believe it is important to allow candidates to get started. I look forward to seeing what new Democratic candidates can do to compete and win across Iowa.”
Breanna Oxley: ‘I just can’t sit back anymore’
On Tuesday, a day after Hogg’s announcement, Breanna Oxley became the first candidate to announce her campaign for District 33.
Oxley has been a public school teacher for close to a decade in the Cedar Rapids and Dubuque school districts. She is currently a social studies and government teacher at Roosevelt Middle School.
Oxley is also a board member of the Linn County League of Women Voters and the Cedar Rapids Education Association.
“Many things over the last two years have changed in our country, our state, even right here in our county,” Oxley told Little Village. “Obviously, the pandemic, derecho, things that hit really close to home here gave us an even more unique perspective. … I just can’t sit back anymore. I’m ready to jump into this political arena and start getting some real change for the things I see every single day in my classroom.”
Public service and being involved in government “is in my blood, it’s in my history,” Oxley said.
Oxley’s grandmother, Jean Oxley, was the first woman elected to the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Jean Oxley served on the board for 24 years from 1972 to 1996, becoming the longest-serving supervisor in the county. Linn County’s administrative building was named in her honor — the Jean Oxley Public Service Center — in 2010.
Oxley’s grandfather, Myron Oxley, served six terms in the Iowa House, from 1965 to 1987.
“I’d just always grown up hearing about the work they did and why it was important to help different communities, communities that don’t always get a voice like they should,” Oxley said about her grandparents, Jean and Myron. “That’s a huge thing that I definitely wanted to get involved with as a teacher, and just in our area, too. A lot of events and groups Jean was a part of she would take me to when I was younger, and so it’s been a real treat to be able to join these groups as an adult and get to hear stories about her and continue her work.”
According to Oxley, a big part of education is looking at innovative ways to use funding in Iowa’s schools to make sure the next generation of Iowans feels prepared. For housing, Oxley wants to focus on accessible and affordable housing for both families and young professionals.
“We want to have housing that makes them want to stay here because it’s accessible and affordable, or to have Iowans come back and move back into the state,” Oxley said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important it is to have access to broadband, Oxley said, pointing out on her website that Iowa ranks 45th in the nation in broadband access.
Oxley said she has concerns regarding the “divisive concepts” bill passed by the Legislature this session and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The law, which goes into effect on July 1, restricts racism and sexism discussions in public schools, university classrooms or during mandatory diversity training by any state or local government agency.
“It really makes me nervous,” Oxley said. “I don’t know what I’m teaching next year. What can I say and not say? And what are going to be consequences of that? And I know people feel that all over the state, too.”
Two things Oxley said she’ll take from the classroom to the Legislature if elected are patience and communication skills.
“When I get to the statehouse that’s a big resource I’m going to rely on is being able to take some of these complex ideas and bills that we talk about [and] bring that back to my district, back to my community, to get some real input on that in a way that makes people want to be involved and feel that they can be, too,” Oxley said.
“I’m just super excited to be getting into this and announcing my candidacy for this. I think it has been a hard last year and a half or two. I’m ready to talk with a variety of groups and community members to really help move Iowa forward.”
Sami Scheetz: ‘We really need to have a candidate and a leader that will present that new, progressive vision for the Democratic Party’
Community organizer and Democratic activist Sami Scheetz announced his candidacy for District 33 on Thursday morning. If elected, Scheetz would be one of the youngest members in the Iowa Senate and the first Arab American in the Iowa Legislature, according to his campaign.
“When I found out that opportunity was presenting itself and that one of the most progressive districts in the state was going to have an open race, I thought that we really need to have a candidate and a leader that will present that new progressive vision for the Democratic Party,” Scheetz told Little Village, adding that he wants to continue the work started by Hogg.
Scheetz was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, and credits his own success to the work ethic he learned by watching his parents, Raphael and Hala. His father grew up in a blue-collar household and is an immigration and criminal defense attorney. Scheetz’s mother immigrated from Damascus, Syria, about 36 years ago and teaches English as a second language at Kirkwood Community College.
After graduating from Washington High School, Scheetz attended Georgetown University. He graduated as a double major in government and history, with a focus in international relations. Scheetz is multilingual, speaking Spanish and Arabic, in addition to English.
Scheetz has been involved in a number of campaigns on the local and national level. He was part of Hogg’s campaign when Hogg ran for U.S. Senate in 2016. Scheetz described it as an “invaluable experience” and that Hogg has been a “huge influence” on his life and interest in politics.
After graduating from college, Scheetz moved back to Iowa to work for Fred Hubbell’s 2018 campaign for governor. More recently, Scheetz served as the Iowa Constituency Outreach Director for the Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign and then as the Iowa Deputy Coalitions Director for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign during the general election.
Scheetz is also an advisor for Amara Andrews’ campaign for Cedar Rapids mayor.
“I got involved in politics to help working people, to improve people’s lives,” Scheetz said, adding that he’s had an interest in politics since he was 14. “… I got involved in politics just because I thought … we just needed a new vision, and there was so much work to be done.”
Scheetz has three main issues he would focus on if elected: education, health care and workers’ rights.
He stressed the importance of reinvesting in the state’s education system because Iowa Republicans are “underinvesting in our schools.” Scheetz said he’s seen the effects in Cedar Rapids.
“Fundamentally, I also think over time we need to move away from the system of funding our schools through property taxes, because, frankly, if you’re in a poorer neighborhood and your school is fed through property taxes, you’re going to have a worse education system and worse schooling than somebody who lives in a richer neighborhood,” Scheetz said. “That’s fundamentally wrong because our education system is the vehicle for social mobility for people like my dad, who were able to make it out of the working class because of our good schools.”
“It’s really hard for families to do that now because of the underinvestment — frankly, the defunding of our education system — that we’ve seen over the past decade.”
Health care and its costs are “extremely personal” issues for Scheetz, he explained. Reversing Medicaid privatization is “step number one,” he said, adding the first-hand challenges he’s seen as his grandmother has tried to navigate the state’s privatized Medicaid system.
Scheetz added that workers’ rights need to be strengthened at the state level and that he supports labor unions to give workers the opportunity to bargain for their wages and benefits.
Scheetz said the state government also has a role to play as Cedar Rapids, and other communities across the state, are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the derecho.
Focusing on these issues and connecting with working class people is how Scheetz believes Democrats can build back the majority in the state Senate.
“It’s not going to be something that happens overnight, but something that is going to be necessary, because, frankly, working people in this district in Cedar Rapids and across the state can’t afford to have Republican leadership in Des Moines for another day,” Scheetz said. “We just have to work as hard as we can to make sure that that’s not the case.”
The primary election for the open seat in Senate District 33 will take place on June 7, 2022. The general election will be on Nov. 8, 2022.