There was a happy, upbeat atmosphere at state Rep. Christina Bohannan’s combination 50th birthday party and campaign fundraiser at The Celebration Farm on Friday night. But that didn’t stop the evening’s honoree from acknowledging an unhappy fact at the beginning of her speech welcoming party-goers.
“This has been a tough year for Iowa Democrats,” Bohannan said.
This was also Bohannan’s first year in the Iowa Legislature. She won a surprising victory over 20-year Democratic incumbent Vicki Lensing in the 2020 primary, receiving 66 percent of the vote, and then faced no opponent in November’s general election for the seat in Iowa City’s District 85.
As a freshman legislator, Bohannan helped lead her fellow Iowa House Democrats as they pushed back against Republican bills stripping away gun control laws, restricting free speech and eroding local control in education and public health, as well as Gov. Reynolds’ goal of adding an anti-abortion amendment to the Iowa Constitution.
Bohannan, the Lauridsen Family Fellow in Law and director of the Master of Studies in Law program at the University of Iowa Law School, exhibited her legal acumen and knowledge of both the Iowa and U.S. constitutions during floor debates this year.
Rep. Jennifer Konfrst of Windsor Heights, who was elected as the new minority leader last month by Iowa House Democrats, said Bohannan “stands tall among real great legislators in the caucus” when she took the microphone at Friday’s event.
“We’re going to fight to get Christina back to the Iowa House, we going to fight to get everyone back and 10 more members,” Konfrst told the crowd. She pointed out that the largest number of House seats to flip in a single year was 14, adding “Ten is nothing.”
Konfrst spoke about Democrats regaining control of the House in the same way prior to the 2020 election. At that time, Democrats only needed to win four seats to take control. Instead, they lost seats to Republicans.
Democrats also lost the Congressional seats in Iowa’s 1st and 2nd Districts in 2020, and one of the most talked-about potential Democratic candidates for the 1st District, state Sen. Liz Mathis, was a guest speaker at Bohannan’s party.
“A lot of people have been asking me about the 1st District,” Mathis said. “According to FEC rules, I cannot say certain things. All I can say is seriously considering a run for the 1st District, for Congress.”
The crowd reacted with an enthusiastic round of applause.
Mathis, a former TV news anchor at KWWL and KCRG, has represented Linn County in the Iowa Senate since 2011. If she runs, she will face incumbent Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson, also a former KCRG-TV news anchor.
After saying federal campaign finance regulations prevent her from speaking plainly, Mathis turned to a metaphor to talk about her potential run for Congress.
“And if the campaign for that were a train, my train has left the depot and I am fueling that engine with coal,” she said. “So I am well on my way on the tracks.”
Abby Finkenauer, the Democrat who held the 1st District seat from 2017 to 2021, also spoke at the party, and seemed to rule out the possibility of challenging Hinson in 2022.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have Liz Mathis in Congress?” Finkenauer said at the beginning of her remarks.
Following her defeat by Hinson, there had been speculation among Iowa political reporters that Finkenauer would try to regain the 1st District Seat, but more recently news reports have claimed she is likely to run for the U.S. Senate next year instead.
While not commenting on the possibility of a run for the Senate seat Chuck Grassley has held since 1981, even metaphorically, Finkenauer did sound like a candidate for some office as she spoke.
“It has lit a fire in me to know that I am not done,” she said. “I have work to do, Iowa has work to do.”
After telling attendees she wants to “bring decency and integrity and the truth back to our politics,” Finkenauer finished by saying, “So I’m not here to announce anything yet, but I promise you, I will do everything in my power in the next year and a half to make sure that Iowa comes back and our country is strong, and that we have a heck of a lot to be proud of here in Iowa.”
Unlike Mathis and Finkenauer, the final guest speaker at the birthday party/fundraiser was a declared candidate for a higher office, state Rep. Ras Smith.
Smith, who has represented Waterloo in the Iowa House for three terms, launched a campaign for governor on June 15. Smith repeated his campaign theme of bringing Iowans together during his brief remarks, which he began by referencing his campaign slogan, “Come as you are.”
“Bring all your talents,” he said. “Bring your differences. Bring all the things that make Iowa great.”
Iowa has a “long history of standing tall,” Smith said, citing the fact the state had desegregated its schools decades before the rest of the country, and recognized same-sex marriage years before the U.S. Supreme Court did.
Even with the success Iowa Republicans have had in enacting extreme policies since 2017, “this moment is our greatest opportunity for change,” Smith told the crowd.
“Let’s do the work to return power to the people,” he concluded.
After the political speeches concluded, Mira Bohannan Kumar, a rising sophomore at Wellesley College, led everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” to her mother. Attendees then turned their attention to cupcakes, dancing, and talking politics and other subjects with their fellow Democrats.