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UPDATED: She beat a 20-year incumbent in 2020, now this Iowa lawmaker has her sights on Congress
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UPDATED: She beat a 20-year incumbent in 2020, now this Iowa lawmaker has her sights on Congress

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A recently elected state representative and Iowa City Democrat, who unseated a 20-year incumbent in last year's primary, now has her sights on Congress.

University of Iowa law professor and state Rep. Christina Bohannan announced Tuesday she will run for southeast Iowa's 2nd congressional district seat held by freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Miller-Meeks, of Ottumwa, won last year's election for Iowa's open 2nd district U.S. House seat by a mere six votes, the narrowest victory margin in a House race in almost 40 years, after Wheatland Democrat Rita Hart ended her 2020 election challenge before the U.S. House in March.

"I really believe we need a government that works for the people," and not special interests, Bohannan told the Quad-City Times in an exclusive interview ahead of her official campaign announcement.

Bohannan said she knows firsthand the struggles many Iowa families have faced during the pandemic, recounting her family's own struggles growing up in a rural, small town trailer park. She said her father, who did not graduate high school, struggled to provide for the family as a construction worker.

As a teenager, she said her father fell ill from emphysema and had his health insurance canceled, forcing the family to choose between paying for his medicine and paying the family's bills.

"But my teachers and my community never gave up on me, and I got a fair shot," Bohannan said in her campaign announcement video.

The first in her family to go to college, Bohannan paid for her degree in environmental engineering from the University of Florida by also working for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, before attending law school.

In Congress, Bohannan said she will fight to ensure hard-working Iowa families and small businesses receive "a fair shot" to get ahead.

"I don't think hardworking people should lose everything when they have one bad break," Bohannan said. "If people are working hard, they deserve a fair shot. And that's why I'm running. ... I just want to work to find real solutions to real problems."

She used the bipartisan Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and $1.9 trillion COVID-19-stimulus package as examples.

"Christina will work for more technical and vocational training for high-skill, high-wage jobs right here in Iowa, greater investment in our kids and schools, real steps to make Iowa a clean energy leader, strong protections for voting rights, and better access to quality, affordable health care and broadband all across Iowa," according to a campaign news release.

Bohannan unseated 20-year incumbent Vicki Lensing in the June 2020 primary and was unopposed in November’s general election for the Iowa House District 85 seat.

Bohannan, who took office in January, noted her work on bipartisan legislation to crack down on human trafficking and address elder abuse. Bohannan, too, was among Iowa House Democrats who led a push against GOP-backed bills adding an anti-abortion amendment to the Iowa Constitution and rewriting the state's gun laws to allow individuals to buy and carry a handgun without a permit.

The 24-county district contains nine of Iowa's 31 "pivot" counties clustered along the Mississippi River that voted twice for Democratic former President Barack Obama before swinging in favor of Republican Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Asked how Democrats win back a competitive district in a state where they’ve seen the party recede, particularly from industrial river towns in southeastern Iowa with a once-robust Democratic union base, Bohannan said "I think we start by listening."

Bohannan pledged to be accessible to every Iowan in the district, regardless of party affiliation, and to put people above partisan politics.

"I plan to get out to every county to meet people all over, because I believe that my background, my experience, my family is really the experience of this district," she said.

No other Democratic challenger has officially announced plans to run for the seat.

Hart did not return a message seeking comment; however, a former campaign staffer said Hart had no intentions of seeking a rematch against Miller-Meeks in 2022.

Bohannan said she consulted Hart prior to announcing her candidacy.

Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist, U.S. Army veteran, former state lawmaker and former state public health director, raised nearly $600,000 in individual contributions from Jan. 1 to the end of June, and had more than $1.1 million in the bank for her re-election, according to the latest federal campaign filings.

Miller-Meeks, in a statement Tuesday, welcomed Bohannan to the race.

"However, our approaches to the challenges facing working families, our communities, state and nation are vastly different – and I look forward to voters choosing between those two approaches," Miller-Meeks said.

She noted Bohannan voted against a new law banning local mask mandates and "Back the Blue" legislation. The wide-ranging bill would give police officers stronger immunity from lawsuits and increase penalties for some protest-related offenses, such as rioting, blocking a roadway and damaging public property.

Bohannan and other Democrats argue the bill, targeted at protests in Iowa City and Des Moines after the murder of George Floyd last summer, goes too far to punish protesters exercising their First Amendment rights and strips law enforcement and local government of any discretion to respond to protests.

Miller-Meeks, in her statement, said she "has proven her commitment to building a better future for working families, Iowa and the nation," by supporting law enforcement and "personal freedom for those of us who play by the rules."

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