A Q&A with Zach Wahls
Iowa State Senator
Senate District 37
By Tim Nedoba
GG: Describe your senate district for our readers.
ZW: Senate District 37 spans three counties—Johnson, Cedar, and Muscatine—and includes about 60,000 people. I represent the west side Iowa City, Coralville, Solon, rural Johnson County, all of Cedar County, and the town of Wilton in Muscatine County.
GG: What message of hope can you offer the GoGuide Reader during the COVID-19 pandemic?
ZW: The single most important thing is for people who are in the at-risk category to take care of themselves, and for those of us who are not in the at-risk category to follow social distancing guidance and where possible work-from-home and stay-at-home. Everything we do to stay at home helps protect those who are older or have compromised immune systems.
This is, without a doubt, a difficult time for many of us, and this pandemic is taking a toll on people’s physical health, mental health, and financial well-being. Our state has a long history of mutual support and taking care of each other, and we have to keep that spirit with us today. Even though the government response has been slower than some of us would have liked to see, there is no doubt that we are taking this challenge seriously, especially here at the local level.
GG: What are the most important issues for your constituents?
ZW: As I write this, COVID-19 is right there at the top of the list. Other issues for GG Readers, aside from LGBTQ+ specific topics, include affordable housing, health care, education, water quality, and a rising cost of living with stagnant wages. And then on top of these issues, there are dozens of “constituent service” emails I receive with specific questions about their interaction with the state government in some way. Helping constituents fix whatever problems they may have is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.
GG: You are a well-known name in Iowa and respected LGBTQ+ ally. Describe this “celebrity” and how does it help you serve as a senator?
ZW: Being well-known has some upside and some downside. On the upside, it has helped me build statewide and national contacts who can provide some extra “firepower” on legislative matters and personal mentorship and guidance, which I appreciate. On the downside, there is undoubtedly a target on my back. I think I have to work a little harder to get things done with the significant Republican majorities we have — but I don’t mind the challenge. On balance, I think it’s a net-positive.
GG: This session began with an unusual amount of anti-LGBTQ+ issues being proposed by the majority party. Fortunately, these proposals did not make it out of committee, but the sentiment remains. What is your take on this development? Should the LGBTQ+ community be concerned?
ZW: I would certainly have been much more concerned if those bills had moved forward through the first funnel deadline. Still, through a lot of work by our advocates at the Capitol, we were able to stop them. This is a reminder that we have to remain vigilant, and we can’t take our progress for granted. I’d also say we have been especially concerned about legislation targeting trans folks — there have been several anti-trans laws enacted in other states, and last year the GOP took aim at trans folks on Medicaid here in Iowa.
GG: What do you see as the most important items for this session of the Iowa legislature once reconvened?
ZW: Frankly, I think it’s too soon to say. The most important thing we’ll have to do is pass a budget to keep the state government operating. Beyond that, it’s not clear how long we’ll be in session and what the policy agenda will be. There are lots of bills that I would like to see enacted, but until we have more information about where things are going with COVID-19, it’s hard to project too far into the future.
GG: Elections have consequences. What can the LGBTQ+ community do to organize and elect more LGBTQ+ candidates and LGBTQ+ friendly candidates?
ZW: I know a lot of us are frustrated with politics at a national level — but there is a huge impact on peoples’ day-to-day lives at the state government level, too. And the biggest thing we can to protect LGBTQ+ people in Iowa is to end the complete control Republicans have on our state government by flipping the Iowa House and Iowa Senate. If you already have a Democratic state legislator, check out https://www.flipitiowa.net/ to learn how you can get involved with statewide efforts.
GG: How can we get our state govt. to ban conversion therapy?
ZW: Well, to my point above, the top priority has to be ending the GOP trifecta.
ZW continued: We made some great progress this year, getting the entire Senate Democratic caucus to co-sponsor legislation I filed to ban conversion therapy. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans refused to even schedule it for a subcommittee, let alone a full committee meeting. I think there was some bipartisan support in the House, but without support from House Leadership, the bill didn’t advance. GG
Editors note: These additional items were offered by Senator Wahls as well to be shared with his constituents:
Take Our Survey: Legislative Priorities Survey<https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1ntVvXbJsOdkhs1XHDnzA6nwCQ3CLEObRtIqG5OVcPvk/>
Newsletter Signup: www.zachwahls.com<http://www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/wahls/newsletter/>