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‘It’s time to rotate the crops’: Sen. Joe Bolkcom says he won’t seek reelection


Joe Bolkcom, who has represented Iowa City in the state Senate since 1999, announced on Thursday morning he will not run for reelection next year.

“It’s time to rotate the crops,” he said in a video posted online.

That was a phrase used by Tom Vilsack during the 1998 election that sent Bolkcom to the Senate and Vilsack to the governor’s mansion.

As they do today, Republicans then controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, but “Iowa voters agreed [with Vilsack], and put Iowa on a new, more progressive course.”

Bolkcom, who served as Johnson County Supervisor for five years before joining the state Senate, has been a leader on progressive causes during his 22 years in the Iowa Legislature. In a written statement on Thursday he listed some of his legislative accomplishments.

The list includes moving “tens of thousands of working Iowa families out of poverty thanks to the largest expansion ever of Iowa’s Earned Income” and expanding Medicaid; making it easier for Iowans to vote by introducing same-day registration and expanding voting by mail; work to help Iowa address climate change, including writing the bill that created Iowa’s solar tax credit incentives; as well as his work with our Democratic lawmakers to protect the rights of LGBTQ Iowans.

In recent years, Bolkcom has probably become best-known outside of Johnson County for his work issues related to the medical and recreational use of marijuana. Bolkcom was one of the leaders of the effort to create Iowa’s limited medical cannabis program, and has consistently pushed for the very limited program to be expanded to better serve the needs of patients. He has also been a leader in the so far unsuccessful effort to legalize recreational use of marijuana in the state.

In a 2019 letter to the editor published by Little Village, the senator called for Iowa to follow the example of a growing number of states and treat marijuana like alcohol, a legal product the state carefully regulates.

“Marijuana prohibition hasn’t worked and has hurt taxpayers and everyday Iowans,” Bolkcom wrote.

Although legalization of recreational marijuana is not making noticeable progress in the state legislature, there has been a major shift in Iowans’ attitudes on the issue over the last decade. In 2013, the Iowa Poll found only a third of respondents were in favor of legalization, but that number had jumped to 54 percent when the Iowa Poll asked again this year. That poll also found 78 percent of Iowans were in favor of expanding the state’s medical cannabis program.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom speaking at the rally against voter suppression on the Pentacrest, Aug. 28, 2021. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

“I’m proud to have been part of the progressive legislative Democratic majority from 2007 to 2010 and the one vote Iowa Senate Democratic majority from 2011 to 2016,” Bolkcom said in his written statement on Thursday. “For six years, we blocked today’s ferocious, ongoing Republican attacks on Iowa workers, reproductive rights, health care, environment, and public education.”

But, the senator said, “it’s time to rotate the crops.”

“During the 2022 election cycle, I will encourage and support Iowans who step forward to again bring new ideas and new energy to solving problems facing working people and our communities,” Bolkcom said. “I look forward to continuing to work hard in the year ahead to represent my constituents. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your ideas and concerns.”

Letter from Joe Bolkcom: I will not seek reelection to Iowa Senate

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