One of MacKenzie Bills’ core childhood memories is of her family surviving on canned beans for about a year.
Her father, Kenny, was a tire layer at the Firestone plant in Des Moines and a United Steelworkers Local 310 member. That local was part of a nationwide strike that lasted from June 1994 until May 1995, which union members referred to as “the war.”
“We were only eating beans—like that’s all we were eating—and my mom would be like ‘Kenny, you need to cross the line; we need money or go get another job.’
“And my dad—come to find out I’m a lot like my dad—would say ‘I can’t cross the line. I’m loyal to my people and I’m loyal to what we’re fighting for.”
Those lessons from her dad are why MacKenzie Bills wants to represent her hometown of Altoona and fight for worker’s rights, public education, a woman’s right to choose, and more in the Iowa Legislature.
The 28-year-old Democrat is one of three contestants running for the Iowa House District 40 seat, which includes Altoona, parts of Des Moines and Ankeny, and other nearby areas of Polk County. Her opponents include Libertarian Jeni Kadel and Republican Bill Gustoff.
Bills, a product of Southeast Polk High School in Altoona and Simpson College in Indianola, moved back to Iowa in 2020 after time aboard and in Washington, DC, where she worked as an anti-human trafficking consultant for the federal government.
Her work went remote during the pandemic so Bills used that as a reason to get out of DC and come home.
“I didn’t really like DC; I’m a Midwest gal and I really like Iowa and I missed the people,” Bills said.
However, as she’s been back, she’s seen some negative changes and wants to work to fix that.
“The Iowa that I know and love is not the same anymore; it’s not the Iowa that I see,” she said. “I grew up in an Iowa that prioritized public education, its communities, its people, and I don’t see that anymore.”
Bills said her support of public education is what separates her most from her opponents, Gustoff in particular. The 54-year-old Gustoff worked as a statehouse lobbyist for Homeschool Iowa during the last two legislative sessions.
“I believe in a strong public education system and investing in our public schools,” Bills said. “I want to see Southeast Polk and Saydel thrive while he would rather have the children of our state being homeschooled or taking public money and putting it towards private schools.”
Gustoff has endorsed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan to divert $55 million in public school funding for a voucher program that would allow people to pay for private school, and supports restricting abortion.
Her anti-human advocate trafficking work is one of the reasons Bills is pro-choice.
“I have met many victims and survivors who have been impregnated by their trafficker and I can never tell them—if elected into government—I could never look them in their eye and tell them what to do with their bodies,” said Bills, who’s been to and/or worked in 35 countries.
“And beyond that, there’s just so many situations in which—there’s miscarriages, there’s things that go wrong with the body and women have no choice … I could never get in between that conversation with the doctor, their partner, their family, and their faith.”
Bills, a Fulbright scholar and former Iowa Senate page, thinks her combination of youth, global experience, and deep connections and affection for House District 40 makes her the ideal candidate to represent the area.
“My family’s still here and we’re very embedded in the community and I think the district needs one of them,” she said. “Not only that, but someone who understands the values of the community, and I think it’s time for new leadership.
“It’s time for new young blood, fresh energy up there and I have been around the world. I have different perspective and I can bring that perspective back to the Iowa Statehouse. … I just want to do good. I want to advocate for us. I want to see my community and the state and my people thriving in the next 10 to 20 years.”
AT A GLANCE:
Name: MacKenzie Bills
Position: Democratic Candidate for Iowa House District 40
Education: Graduated from Southeast Polk High School in 2012; earned a bachelor’s degree from Simpson College in Indianola in 2016.
Experience: Works as an international anti-human trafficking consultant for the US State Department; sits on the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery Board of Directors; a director for the John C. Culver Public Policy Center Alumni Advisory board at Simpson College; Iowa Senate page while in high school; worked for the campaign of former Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa).
Family: Single; two cats, Sunny and Coco.
Interests: Dancing, puzzles, reading, nature photography.
by Ty Rushing
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