Democrats have their nominee for the August 6 special election: Ross Wilburn. The former mayor of Iowa City, Wilburn was selected by Story County Democrats at a special nominating convention this morning to run in the Ames-based House District 46 seat that Lisa Heddens stepped down from earlier this month.
Wilburn would add to the Iowa House’s small group of African-American legislators, which only totals four members at the moment.
Two other Democrats were nominated: Jamet Colton and Amber Corrieri. Colton, who would have made history as the Iowa Legislature’s first Latinx member, was eliminated on the first ballot.
Wilburn moved to Ames after serving as mayor in Iowa City and works as a diversity outreach officer at Iowa State University. He ran for governor in the 2018 Democratic primary. He came in last in that contest, but most Democratic activists around the state appreciated Wilburn’s candidacy and his personality, and many encouraged him to run again.
“It’s important that we have a comprehensive mental health system … I began my career working with young men with intellectual challenges,” Wilburn said in his nomination speech. “We have to come together as Democrats. I did it, you did, we march in the parades, go to the soup suppers … Whoever wins, we need to work in droves to support them because this is the beginning of the battleground to take back the state legislature.”
After his success, Wilburn asked the crowd to come out to the first volunteer canvassing opportunity next Saturday. He also said he would aim to raise $20,000 for the special election.
Corrieri is a two-term member of the Ames City Council, and she works as the development director at Mainstream Living, which works with people with disabilities.
“I’ve seen the harm that Medicaid problems have caused for Iowa families,” Corrieri said on Saturday. “Basic needs like affordable housing and child care are out of reach for so many in Ames and around the state … We should be working with our local trust funds to move the needle on the most pressing housing needs in this state.”
Colton is a member of the Ames School Board and has worked as an education assistant in the district since 2012.
“I didn’t become a citizen with a vote until five years ago, but that never stopped me from making a difference. I’m a progressive because I know what it’s like to have your vote taken from you,” Colton told the group. “I bring new voices into our party now, not only for this election, but for following ones … Be bold. Be progressive.”
A group of 27 Latinx community leaders from across the state signed on to a letter urging the central committee members to make history by selecting and electing Colton.
“Although the Latinx community is Iowa’s largest racial or ethnic minority, we have never had a Latina or Latino elected to the Iowa Legislature,” their letter read. “There are more than 180,000 Latinos and Latinas in Iowa and the median age is thirteen years younger than the rest of the state. Our community is young and growing and prepared to be a larger part of the future of Iowa. But to make our voice heard we need representation and you can provide that.”
Heddens, the former state representative, resigned from the district she had long served earlier this month when she was selected to fill the open Story County supervisor seat.
The district is heavily Democratic, so even though Governor Kim Reynolds scheduled the special election before ISU students return to class, this should be a hold for the party. HD 46 went 57% to 33% in favor of Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. Fred Hubbell carried it by an even wider 65% to 32% margin over Kim Reynolds in 2018.
It will be the second special election of the year, coming after the March senate special in Cedar Falls. Democrats handily retained that seat thanks in part to significant help from presidential campaigns, an enthused base and a Democratic-trending area. Ames itself has gotten significantly more Democratic in recent years, even beyond the student electorate.
by Pat Rynard