On July 13, 2019, the Millennial Action Project, in partnership with the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and the Iowa Future Caucus, hosted ‘Iowa in Action’ at the Iowa State Historical Society. The half day event brought together undergraduate students with members of the Iowa legislature, journalists, organizers, and other thought leaders to learn more about politics and government in Iowa, and to connect these lessons with their own local and national contexts.
Chicago Institute of Politics Fellows, Matt Strawn and Sue Dvorsky, kicked off programming by discussing the importance of practicing collaboration and building a network—skills vital to the students’ internships in different facets of the political process across Iowa this summer.
Co-Chairs of the Iowa Future Caucus, Senator Zach Wahls and Representative Joe Mitchell, then took over with a discussion about young people in public service. They discussed their work in the legislature and the formation of the Iowa Future Caucus, and Representative Mitchell reflected on its value and impact: “Everything is based on relationships, relationships with both your leadership and relationships across the aisle, and the ability to say let’s work together. Though the Future Caucus, Zach and I have been able to build a relationship where we talk on the phone every couple of weeks about different ideas we have, and hope to get some of those things done.”
Senator Wahls elaborated on the Future Caucus members’ ability to find common ground on specific issues: “Being able to say we disagree on this, but we can agree that we should have a different approach to how we regulate mobile homes, or we agree that we should not have more taxes on solar panels, issues where its not necessarily a super partisan issue, or even if it is partisan, there is some room in the middle.”
Attendees then heard about Iowa’s unique process of redistricting from experts Ed Cook, Senior Legal Counsel at the Iowa Legislative Services Agency, and Emily Schettler, Communications Strategist at the Harkin Institute for Public Policy at Drake University.
In the afternoon, students participated in programming centered on either the legislature and campaigns, or journalism. On the political track, participants heard from lobbyists and legislators about the role of lobbying in the legislative process, and discussed best practices for citizens to influence their representatives. Following that discussion, students heard from Democratic and Republican campaign staff who talked on the challenges and importance of fieldwork while discussing some of Iowa’s particularities.
The journalism track kicked off with a panel discussion on the ways reporters, journalists, and bloggers cover Iowa’s statehouse and caucuses. Panelists included influential local journalists, such as David Yepsen, Host of ‘Iowa Press,’ Patrick Rynard, Founder of Iowa Starting Line, Adam Sullivan of The Gazette, and Brianne Pfannenstiel, Chief Politics Reporter at the Des Moines Register, who exchanged perspectives amongst themselves and with Senator Zach Wahls.
As the afternoon progressed, participants learned about crafting a distinct message from a panel featuring 2020 campaign communications staff, Jason Noble, Communications Director for Elizabeth Warren and Tess Seger, Deputy Communications Director for Cory Booker.
Finally, attendees wrapped up the day with a community reception on the rooftop terrace of the Iowa Historical Society Building, where students were able to reflect on some of the day’s lessons and network with speakers and Des Moines locals alike.