The next primary for the state legislature is almost eight months away, and almost all the political attention in Iowa is still focused on presidential candidates. Nevertheless, the Game Room at Big Grove Brewery and Tap Room in Iowa City was full on Wednesday night as Christina Bohannan held the first event of her campaign for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives.
The first-time candidate, a University of Iowa Law School professor, is running for the seat in the 85th District, currently held by Vicki Lensing, co-owner of Lensing Funeral & Cremation Service. Lensing was first elected to represent the Iowa City area in the legislature the same year Bohannan moved to Iowa.
A native of Florida, Bohannan came to Iowa City in 2000 to take a position as a visiting professor at the law school. Two years later, she joined the faculty full-time, and is now Lauridsen Family Fellow in Law and director of the Master of Studies in Law program.
“I’m running for the Iowa House because I love this state,” Bohannan told the people gathered at Big Grove. “I moved here 20 years ago to take a faculty position at the University of Iowa in the law school, and I immediately came to admire a lot of things about Iowa.”
“Its long-standing support of public education was not only a priority, but a source of pride,” she said. “People really felt it, they talked about it, it was something that mattered to them. It’s been a pioneer state in civil rights. It was the home of many firsts for people of color, for women, for the LGBTQ community. It has valued hard work, and that has lead it to balance business interests with worker interests. And it’s really talked a lot about inviting immigrants here to work and to build lives.”
“I love Iowa because these values are my values.”
After briefly giving a sketch of her life growing up in a working class family, and becoming the first in her family to go to college — she received a degree in environmental engineering from the University of Florida and worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, before attending the UF College of Law — Bohannan said her attachment to those Iowa values motivated her to pursue public office.
“I’m running for the Iowa House because I’m afraid we are losing the values that make Iowa Iowa,” she said.
“We have been disinvesting in public education for a while now at all levels; K-12 teachers’ pay that is too low and college tuition that is too high,” Bohannan continued.
She called the state’s privatization of Medicaid “a disaster,” and said “we are one of the very worst states in the nation in terms of the number of psychiatric beds that we have available.” (In June, Politifact examined the number of staffed beds available for patients in need of psychiatric care in Iowa, and concluded “the number of beds per capita is still very low compared to other states.”)
“The legislators in charge will say, ‘we just don’t have money,’” Bohannan told the audience. “Don’t believe it. We do have money, we’re just not spending enough of it on education and health care.”
She cited Iowa’s refundable tax credits for corporations as an example the state’s misguided spending.
Iowa is one of only two states that offer corporations refundable tax credits. Not only do those credits allow major corporation to avoid paying any corporate income taxes to the state, but because the credits are refundable, the state ends up paying millions of dollars to those corporations.
In Fiscal Year 2019, Iowa spent approximately $211 million on corporations, including Dupont and John Deere, through refundable tax credits, Bohannan said. As she pointed out, that amount is “very close to the entire state general appropriation for the University of Iowa in that exact year.”
Bohannan also said that “despite mass shootings, high gun suicide rates, the legislature recently took the first step toward passing a constitutional amendment that the NRA describes as an ‘iron wall’ around gun rights.” She promised to work to break the grip of the NRA on the legislature. (Bohannan’s daughter Mira is one of the founders of Students Against School Shooting, and wrote about her experiences with the group for Little Village in February.)
And she called climate change “the most difficult” of the challenges facing the state.
“But here’s the thing: Iowa is ready to get to work” on climate change, Bohannan said.
“Iowa can lead the way in developing alternative energies and combating climate change. And there’s a lot more that we can do. Our farmers can store carbon, we can develop alternative transportation, there’s a lot that we can do. We just need our legislature to make it easier rather than harder.”
Bohannan said she hopes to be able to work with Republicans in a way that reflects the “common sense” and “fairness” she believes are essential to Iowa values.
“Any of you who really know me know that I look for every opportunity to work across the aisle with folks to come up with bipartisan legislation for the good of people in Iowa,” she said. “That will be an absolute priority for me.”
“At the same time, as a Democrat, I will tell you that we need to do everything we can to flip the Iowa House and Senate, and take back the majority. I will work tirelessly for candidates up and down the ticket, all over Iowa, to support them and to get us to take back the majority in the legislature.”
But District 85 is already a safe seat for Democrats. Incumbent Rep. Vicki Lensing, a Democrat, hasn’t faced an opponent in either a primary or general election since the district was created in 2012, after the redistricting that followed the 2010 census. (Lensing had represented the same general area when it was previously District 79 and District 78 in previous legislative maps.)
Bohannan didn’t mention she is challenging a fellow Democrat in her speech.
Speaking to Little Village after she concluded her remarks, Bohannan discussed running against a long-time Democratic incumbent.
“Maybe it’s because I’m a constitutional law person, but I really think that democracy means voter choice,” Bohannan said. “And that doesn’t mean a lot when there’s only one name on the ballot for that many years. I think the beauty of terms is that every two years people get to decide anew, who they want to represent them in the coming years. And sometimes, with no disrespect to anyone who’s gone before or the work that has been done before, people just decide that they want a change.”
“The truth is, I think that nationally and in the state that we are in a moment of questioning of the political status quo, and what we really need going forward. I think that I bring — with my background as lawyer, as an engineer –unique skills and perspectives on a lot of the issues that are confronting the legislature right now.”
The Democratic primary for state and federal offices, other than president, will be Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The general election — including the presidential candidates — is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Editor’s note: Theo Prineas is Bohannan’s campaign manager. Prineas works part-time at Little Village, distributing magazines and doing data entry for the online events calendar. He has no editorial role, and no input on political coverage.