IOWA CITY — Iowa City native, advocate and author Zach Wahls announced Thursday he will run for the Iowa Senate seat held by Bob Dvorsky, who does not plan to seek re-election in 2018.
“I’m running for the Iowa Senate for one simple reason,” Wahls, a Democrat, told more than 100 people crammed into the Old Town Hall on Thursday afternoon for the announcement. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment that will determine the future of our state for generations to come, and I feel responsible.”
Wahls, 26, gained national attention when his 2011 testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee about growing up with gay parents went viral and became YouTube’s most-watched political video of 2011.
On Thursday, Wahls celebrated his parents, Jackie Reger and Terry Wahls, on the 21st anniversary of their commitment ceremony, during which they walked down the aisle to the theme song from “Star Trek Voyager.”
He is co-founder of Scouts for Equality, which led a national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on LGBT people. Wahls is author of the book, “My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family.”
Wahls, who graduated from Iowa City West High School and the University of Iowa, is now pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, in Princeton, New Jersey. The Ivy League school has agreed to let Wahls finish his degree from Iowa, where he will be campaigning, he said in a phone interview Thursday morning.
“The primary election is actually the same day as commencement,” he said. “So I won’t be able to walk, but I’ll be able to run.”
Mitch Gross, a Coralville City Council member and Iowa City West teacher, told the crowd Thursday that when he decided not to run for Dvorsky’s seat, he looked for a candidate who would fight to restore collective bargaining rights stripped from unions in the Republican-controlled Statehouse, fully fund schools and end privatization of Medicaid.
“The people of District 37 need a champion. Someone with a proven record of not just fighting, but winning,” Gross said. He didn’t have to look far to find Wahls, a former pupil. “We’ll be counting on you.”
Former foreign service officer Janice Weiner of Coralville announced earlier this week she, too, will seek the Democratic nomination for Dvorsky’s seat in the Iowa Senate.
Weiner, 60, a Princeton and Stanford law graduate, served for 26 years in the U.S. State Department, with diplomatic posts in East Berlin, Belgium, Turkey, Poland, Canada, Mexico City and Düsseldorf, Germany, as consul general. Her final posting was in the bureau of legislative affairs at the State Department, coordinating with Capitol Hill.
Wahls said he’s talked with Weiner by phone and they expect to have a cordial competition.
“All Iowans need a seat at the table,” he said. “That means more women, more young people, more people of color. If you’re a Democrat, it’s time to get into the fight.”
The 37th District of the Iowa Senate covers northern and eastern Johnson County, all of Cedar County and part of Muscatine County.
The primary election is June 5. The four-year Senate term begins in January 2019.