50-50 in 2020 History in a Nutshell

The Dream:  Maggie Tinsman, former Republican State Senator from Davenport, had long dreamed of having an Iowa Campaign School for women.  In 2009, she asked Jean Lloyd-Jones, former Democratic State Senator from Iowa City, to join her in that effort.  At the time, there were 32 women in the Iowa Legislature, and Iowa was one of two states that had never had a woman governor nor sent a woman to the U.S. Congress.  Jean suggested a 10-year campaign with the goal of electing women to fill half the seats in the Iowa Legislature and half of Iowa’s Congressional delegation, and a woman Governor by 2020–the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in this country.

The Shock:  We were surprised to learn that in every sector of American society, women were making progress at entry and mid-level positions, but in the last decade progress into upper-level positions had stalled and in some areas, women had actually lost ground.  Studies reported by The White House Project and the Center for American Women in Politics documented this trend.

The Launch: We assembled a 14-member Board of Directors, seven from each political party, with age, ethnic and geographic diversity.  We partnered with the Iowa Women’s Foundation, which served as our fiscal agent and provided tax-deductible status.  We sketched out a ten-year plan, established a website, printed a brochure, and made display boards.  We launched our initiative with press conferences in seven cities on September 22, 2010.

Spreading the Word:  We welcomed more partner groups, including AAUW, BPW, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center, Central IA Girl Scouts, IA Chapter of Women Business Owners, IA-N.E.W. Leadership, IA Organization of Women Attorneys, Junior League of the Quad Cities, UNI Political Science Dept., Women, Food & Agriculture Network, IA Women’s Foundation, Friends of the Commission on the Status of Women, and Center for American Women and Politics. These organizations became a loose network, to which we refer as the “Coalition for Equity.”

Board members made presentations, held NUDGE (No Use Delaying Gender Equity) parties, and hosted films and discussions for “Iron-Jawed Angels and “Miss Representation.”   We raised a total of $14,111 from 60 donors and received a grant of $2,500 from the Iowa Women’s Foundation.

First Election Cycle—2012: The first campaign school, “Blueprint for Winning Academy,” was held in January of 2012.  Four of the participants were elected to the Legislature, bringing the total number of women to 35—25 in the House and 10 in the Senate.  We held two post-election sessions: one for the new women legislators to help them start off on the right foot, and one for the women who did not win, to help then recognize the benefits gained, even from a losing campaign, and analyze their options for the future.

Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin hosted a fundraiser, which has become our annual “Equity for Women” event.  Former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Linda K. Neuman, was the first recipient of the Equity for Women Award, designed by Dubuque artist, Gail Chavenelle.

Strategic Planning and Fiscal Stability—2013:  In May we held a strategic planning session with Dr. Troyce Fisher as facilitator.  We contracted with Ellen Nelson, a financial consultant, who conducted board training and guided the fundraising effort. Total contributions for 2013 were $75,217, plus a $5,000 grant from the Iowa Women’s Foundation to support the 2014 BWA.  The second Equity for Women Award was presented to the Right Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Second Election Cycle—2014:  The second Blueprint for Winning Academy was held in January with a disappointingly small number of women candidates.  Two women Senators retired (Boettger and Greiner), and one ran for the U.S. Senate (Ernst) plus one House member was defeated in her primary for the First Congressional District (Kajtazovic).   We needed to elect 14 new women and only 16 new women ran.  Of those, six attended the BWA, and two of those, plus one who had not attended, were elected.    The result was a net loss of one: 27 House members and seven Senators, for a total of 34.  Others who participated in the BWA were candidates for State Auditor, the 2nd Congressional District, and five others who were running for county office or plan to run in the future.  State Auditor Mary Mosiman, who had been appointed State Auditor in 2013, won her election.  Joni Ernst achieved one of the 50-50 in 2020 milestones by becoming the first Iowa female elected to Congress.

Move to Independence:   Our contract with IWF expired in April of 2014, and we took this opportunity to hire a part-time executive director and move the office to Des Moines.  Board member Mary Ellen Miller took the position of executive director, and signed an agreement with Chrysalis Foundation in Des Moines for a mailing address, meeting place, and fiscal management.  Advisory Council member Chuck Coulter, attorney and counselor with the Stanley, Lande and Hunter Law Firm, guided us through the process of applying for IRS non-profit status, preparation of By-Laws and Articles of Incorporation.

The League of Women Voters of Iowa joined the Coalition for Equity.  The University of Iowa Tippie College of Business Marketing Institute selected 50-50 in 2020 as their non-profit field project and developed a marketing plan for our organization, which was completed in May 2015.  Total fundraising for fiscal year 2014 was $71,798.

In April of 2014 we initiated “See Yourself Here,” a two-day seminar at the State Capitol to demystify the legislative process for women who might some day run for the general assembly.  Twenty attendees enjoyed this behind-the-scenes interaction with legislative leaders in both parties, the non-partisan staff, press corps, lobbyists, and women legislators.  The third annual Equity for Women Award went to Dr. Christine H.B. Grant, former Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Iowa and Title IX champion.

Growing Up – 2015: After receiving our 501c.3 non-profit status, we dissolved our fiscal management relationship with Chrysalis Foundation.  We signed contracts with a part-time Financial Accounts Manager and with an experienced communications professional to expand our marketing efforts into social media.  Total fundraising for 2015 was $43,974.  “See Yourself Here” attracted 18 women, and received rave reviews.  The fourth Equity for Women Award went to Bonnie Campbell, the first, and only, woman elected Iowa Attorney General.  This event was combined with a “Milestone” tribute to newly elected U.S. Senator Joni Ernst.  We acquired another partner group:  The 19th Amendment Society, based in Charles City IA, the girlhood home of Carrie Chapman Catt.

Third Election Cycle—2016:  The third Blueprint for Winning Academy was held in January in Des Moines.  Eleven women participated, six went on to file papers to be on the June primary ballot, and five won their primaries.  After the primaries, several women were nominated by petition, and a record number—65 including incumbents—were on the ballot for state and federal offices.  

Our third “See Yourself Here” demystification tour of the State Legislature and Capitol in April attracted 23 women, several of whom were just then considering running in November. In May the Board held an all-day Visioning & Strategic Planning workshop to develop our next five-year plan.  Particular emphasis was paid to the rapid use of social media as a primary promotion tool and the need to broaden our communications and marketing plan.  Another outcome was to reinvigorate our relationship with the Advisory Council and Coalition for Equity to make better use of their talents and expertise.  We also contracted with a professional web designer to upgrade and manage our five-year-old website.

The fifth Equity for Women Award went to Sister Catherine Dunn, president emerita of Clarke College in Dubuque and the first woman to chair the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission.  The event was held in Dubuque and was very successful in attendance and profitability.   The UNI Political Science Department provided assistance and oversight for the formation of a student Chapter of 50-50 in 2020 on the UNI Campus.  The students developed a new brochure and Power Point presentation.

The outcome of the election was disappointing.  Four incumbent women legislators had decided not to seek reelection and two incumbents were defeated.  Only five new women were elected, resulting in a net loss of one.   A special election brought the total number of women back to 34. With so many women making the decision too late to be successful, we asked ourselves how we might help them get an earlier start.   We decided to focus on women who had already been elected at the local level: city council, school board or county office.  The outcome was the “Step Up!” program, a four-hour workshop, which was held in 2017 in four cities around the state.  It was developed in partnership with the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State University, and funded by a $25,000 private grant secured by our executive director.

2017 – Riding the Wave   The 2016 election generated significant numbers of women candidates.  Our new “Step Up!” program was held in Charles City, Muscatine and Red Oak; Sioux City elected to hold their workshop in March of 2018.  Three major organizations: Iowa State Association of Counties, Iowa League of Cities, and Iowa Association of School Boards, provided us with lists of women who are currently holding local elected office.  A total of 42 women attended and five women ran in the 2018 election.

We presented the second Milestone Award to Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s first woman governor, added a second student chapter at the University of Iowa, hosted more than 75 women at NUDGE parties, and held the “See Yourself Here” capitol seminar with 26 participants in March.  The sixth annual Equity for Women Award went to Judy Bradshaw, the first woman chief of police in Des Moines and is currently serving as head of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

2018 –Getting Women Elected The fourth Blueprint for Winning Academy was held in Des Moines January 18-20 with 16 participants, including one Congressional and one statewide candidate.  “See Yourself Here” had 12 participants, eight of whom were running for office.

We held two special board meetings to address the question, “What happens in 2020?”  We agreed to change the name, find partners to carry on with the programs we had established, and focus our attention on college and university women.

In the 2018 election, a record 98 women were on the ballot.  One was elected Governor, two were elected to the U.S. Congress and 11 were elected to the Iowa Legislature, bringing the total to 45.