There’s no off-season for Iowa legislators.
With three terms under her belt, Megan Jones, the second district’s representative in the Iowa House, knows this. The after-session hustle has kicked into high gear this year with an election coming in November.
“A lot of people ask me what you do in the summer, as if we have the summer off or something, and that’s not the case,” Jones said in an interview with the Signal. “Even as session was winding down, we were gearing up for next session because, as bills would die, we would still try to work with folks to better prepare for next year.”
In the summer months, Jones, of Sioux Rapids, spends most of her time speaking with constituents.
“I’d say most of my day goes into constituent communication,” Jones said. “Because even though the legislature isn’t in session, the government hasn’t stopped getting in people’s way and people haven’t stopped having questions about the government. That’s fine. I want people to contact me and ask questions.”
She takes meetings when she can. Her schedule starts out as flexible but can quickly become packed.
“It’s not uncommon for me to be in the line at the grocery store, responding to constituent emails,” Jones said. “I just kind of try to pick up the pieces where I can and try to fit everything in. But as we get closer to November, the campaign is going to get bigger and bigger.”
Jones is running against Ryan Odor, a Democrat from Spencer.
Jones will campaign in hopes of securing another two year’s in office. She just completed her third term and sixth legislative session. It was a memorable one for the 31-year-old incumbent
For starters, Jones, had a near-constant companion this session – her infant daughter, Alma.
Alma became something of an Iowa Statehouse celebrity. She and her mother were featured in the headlines. More than a few times, actually.
“While she was very little, I think she still very much took in a lot of that,” Jones said. “We always joked that she’s going to have a big vocabulary and that she’s going to use words like deappropriation as one of her first words.”
Jones’s husband, Will, farms and, at two weeks, Alma was too young for daycare. So, Jones decided to bring little Alma to Des Moines.
She expected some heat for bringing her daughter, but it never came.
“My colleagues in the legislature and the staff at the Capitol were so welcoming of her and accommodating,” Jones said. “We just had a Rock ‘n Play set up next to my desk and she would just kind of hang out in there.”
The experience led to bonding opportunities – and not only for mother and daughter.
“I think it was very good on the legislative body as a whole,” Jones said. “Every time she would cry or squeal, it helped remind us why we were there. A lot of the members came to me and said, ‘Hey, I have a grandson, or I have a granddaughter that’s about her age,’ or ‘My daughter’s expecting,’ and it just really reminded a lot of people of the future of Iowa. And that’s kind of why we’re all really there.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake was supportive, said Jones.
The bonding was bipartisan, too. Mary Mascher, a Democratic representative form Iowa City, spoke often with Jones this session.
“We don’t agree on policy, on difficult pieces of policy, often,” Jones said. “We don’t agree on the bigger issues quite often, but we really got to bond this session. She has some grandkids and we were able to share some experiences in raising children. I really value her experience and what she had to say.”
Legislatively, Jones and the Iowa GOP were able to check items off their to-do list this past session.
Jones listed water quality, tax reform, mental health reform, opioid addiction and education funding as being among some of this year’s legislative successes.
Some of the bills signed into law, such as a water quality bill that moves $282 million over 12 years to address the issue, are more of a start than a final solution, she said.
“We probably more than ever need to make sure we have good water quality, but then also that we’re implementing practices that protect our soils and that we can keep that good Iowa soil,” Jones said.
As for education, Jones pointed to laws aimed at making education funding more flexible and helping with transportation funding.
She noted Iowa is ranked fourth in the U.S. in K-12 funding increases. She’s aware some Iowans feel education spending isn’t growing fast enough.
“Is there ever going to be enough money? Probably not,” Jones said. “But I think to say here’s Iowa growing, we’re No. 4 in the nation, I think that says a lot comparing what we’re doing to the rest of the states.”
Republicans also successfully pushed tax reform to Gov. Kim Reynolds desk, where she signed the legislation into law. It’s the largest state tax cut in Iowa history.
Those in favor say the legislation keeps more money in Iowans’ pockets. Those opposed say the wealthiest Iowans benefit the most.
House Republicans initially proposed a tax reform bill that would cut individual income taxes by $1.3 billion over five years. The Senate’s first proposal, when fully implemented, would have put in place cuts of about $1 billion annually.
“Quite honestly, the number in that bill made me very uncomfortable,” Jones said of the Senate’s first bill. “The House came in with a lower number than the Senate. The Senate, they’re a new majority, and wanted to have a big, bold plan, which is great in some respects, but when we’re talking about budgeting, it really made me uncomfortable to push that number a little higher than what I was quite comfortable with.”
Jones said that, through compromise, Republicans in the Senate, House and governor’s office were able to adjust the number. A reworked bill from Senate Republicans, which eventually was sent to and signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, cut individual income and corporate taxes by $2 billion over six fiscal years.
Should Jones and her fellow Republicans have a strong showing this November, they’ll no doubt look to build upon their successes.
At this point, campaigning will soon become even more hectic for Jones. After six years serving District 2 constituents, and another two years ahead of her depending on election results, Jones said she’s not sure if politics could become a long-term career.
“It’s really going to depend on where my family takes me, where the farm takes our family,” she said. “When I first announced my candidacy, I was single, I was living with my parents and I just graduated law school. I got a job at a local law firm. I’ve since left that job.”
Now, Jones is a mother of two, Alma and her toddler son, Anchor. Jones said her husband was aware of the time commitment being a representative required, but added running for office is normally a decision spouses are able to make together when one decides to run for office.
“I’m just open to transitions,” she said. “My family’s number one. They are comfortable with what I’m doing.”
Jones passed on an opportunity to run for an Iowa Senate seat after current Sen. David Johnson, an Independent, revealed he wouldn’t be seeking reelection. Johnson in June 2016 renounced his Republican Party over then presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “racial remarks and judicial jihad.”
A move to the Senate would mean starting from scratch on the legislative ladder. She’d be giving up her title of House assistant majority leader.
Besides, she enjoys what she’s doing now.
Every day is an adventure, she said. Some days, meaningful bills are passed. Others, debate topics seem unnecessary. There’s also the criticism.
“You’ve got to take the good with the bad and remember the bigger picture and that you’re just trying to move Iowa forward,” Jones said.