Merits of a Mirror Image

Publication Date: 01/14/2011

Submitted by: Anessa Kajtazovich, State Representative, Waterloo

What would the Iowa Legislature look like if it reflected the state's population? A lot of facets make up that mirror image.

Take Census counts, for example, which would argue our Senate should include at least one African-American and one Asian-American senator, two Latino senators and 25 women. Those numbers would double in the House.

Of course, a box checked on a Census form doesn't guarantee the kind of diversity — in background, experience, worldview and philosophy — that would signify a truly representative legislature. But it's a good place to start.

And those numbers show the recently convened 84th General Assembly is actually less diverse than the previous session.

Women hold just 21 percent of state legislative seats. Five African-American representatives serve in the house — none in the Senate. Once again, there are no state legislators who identify as Latino — the state's largest and fastest-growing minority population.

A gives legislative bodies valuable perspective

The good news is that we're poised for change, as redistricting creates critical open races that give new candidates an even shot at winning election. Party leaders should seize the opportunity.

Research and election results show voters will consider any qualified candidate. The problem, according to Dianne Bystrom, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, is at the level of candidate recruitment.

Political scientists call it the "mirror effect" — the not necessarily purposeful tendency of party leaders to recruit candidates who look a lot like they do.

Representatives of both parties assure us they're willing to look outside those small circles in recruiting candidates for the next election.

And both have successes to point to. Take recently elected Democrat Anesa Kajtazovic, of Waterloo — the first Bosnian-American representative in the Iowa House. Assistant majority leader Rep. Renee Schulte, R-Cedar Rapids, pointed to the leadership of House Republican Whip Linda Upmeyer, of Garner, and party members like new Iowa Department of Human Rights Director Isaiah McGee and one-time gubernatorial hopeful Christian Fong.

"They're the party of the future," she said.

It's time for Iowa's political organizers to bring about that future sooner than later.

Anessa Kajtazovich

State Representative, Waterloo

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