In 176 years, there had never been an Arab American serving in the Iowa Legislature until this week when Sami Scheetz was sworn in.
The 26-year-old Cedar Rapids Democrat represents House District 78, which covers the southeast portion of his hometown and boasts a rich history with Arab culture. The oldest mosque in North America is situated there as well as a more than 100-year-old Arab Christian church. It’s also the area where the city’s first Syrian and Lebanese immigrants migrated to and still maintain a presence.
While he is not the youngest official in the Iowa House, Scheetz will be one of the younger representatives. His mother, Hala, immigrated from Syria to Iowa more than 35 years ago to attend Coe College in Cedar Rapids and was present to witness her son make history.
This morning, I was sworn in as the Representative for Iowa House District 78.
It was an honor to have family and friends in attendance, especially my mom, dad and brother.
Time to get to work! pic.twitter.com/DvKO6q0Jd0
— Sami Scheetz (@SamiScheetz) January 9, 2023
“The community is just incredible and they have been supporting me since I was a kid,” Scheetz said. “They continued supporting me, obviously, when I decided to run for office and to be the first person in Iowa’s history to represent our community here in the state legislature, it’s incredibly meaningful and I know that’s made a lot of people in our community proud.”
Although he is new to holding office, Scheetz is no stranger to Iowa politics. He got his start as a teenager working for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
The experience led to more campaign work and community organizing over the years, a degree in international politics from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and has culminated, so far, with his own electoral victory last November.
So why did Scheetz decide to go from being the guy who tries to get candidates elected to a candidate himself?
“I wanted to have my own voice,” he said. “We’ve seen where the party’s been going over the last decade—it’s been getting worse and worse for Democrats here—and so when a seat opened up in Cedar Rapids, I thought it would give me the opportunity to have my own voice and be part of the change that we need in the party to grow our support in the state of Iowa.”
Part of the change Scheetz wants to be part of is recruiting, engaging, and retaining younger voters.
“This is the future of our state,” he said. “The people that are going to be here for generations with me. This is personal for me. Most of my friends from high school, they left Iowa, and, unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t coming back and that’s because of a lot of the policies and rhetoric the Republicans have had over the past decade.”
Scheetz’s list of Republican criticisms includes defunding public schools, attacks on educators, the ongoing child-care crisis, and homophobic attacks on members of the LGBTQ community just to name a few issues.
“The image of Iowa is that it’s not welcoming because of our Republican leadership and their rhetoric and policies,” he said.
“So I’m gonna work as hard as I can to make sure that young people have voice in the process and encourage young people to run for different offices … there should be a lot more people in my age group here making laws and representing the voices of the people.”
At A Glance:
Name: Sami Scheetz
Position: Iowa Representative for District 78
Committee Assignments: Agriculture and Natural Resources (subcommittee, ranking member), appropriations, judiciary, and public safety
Residence: Cedar Rapids
Education: Graduated from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids in 2014; graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with a bachelor’s degree in international politics and history in 2018.
Experience: Worked for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, Rob Hogg for US Senate in 2016, Hubbell for Governor in 2018, Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election campaign, and Mike Franken’s US Senate campaign in 2022.
Family: Single. Parents, Ray Scheetz and Hala Abumaizer-Scheetz
Interests: Swimming, playing tennis, reading, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.
by Ty Rushing
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