Living in Society

Framing House District 91

Voting by mail.

On June 8, Cleo Krejci of the Iowa City Press Citizen wrote the following headline for an article about an election for state representative, “In Iowa’s new House District 91, voters to choose between conservative pastor and LGBTQ activist.”

While the headline may be true, to frame the race like this is awful and wrong. Krejci wrote:

Come Nov. 8, voters in Iowa’s new House District 91 will have the choice of two starkly opposing candidates: Republican Brad Sherman, a conservative Christian pastor who opposes same-sex marriage, and Democrat Elle Wyant, a transgender woman and LGBTQ activist.

Iowa City Press Citizen, June 8, 2022.

The contrast in this framing is easy for a journalist, misses a lot of what each candidate is about, and does a disservice to voters in the district.

The candidates are different. Sherman is from the party where controversial issues at the heart of his campaign are reduced to talking points, the meaning of which can be understood only if one knows how to interpret dog-whistle. According to a June 2 newspaper advertisement, Sherman stands for life, the second amendment, traditional family, state rights and energy independence, among others. Allow me to interpret: extremist anti-abortion, pro-gun ownership with minimal restrictions, anti LGBTQ+, especially anti-trans gender, don’t be making any federal laws with which he disagrees, and pro-fossil fuels extraction and exploitation over other forms of energy. Sherman is in the mainstream of the evangelical movement that brought us the 45th president. The best evidence of this is the endorsement he received from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a prominent Southern Baptist turned evangelical politician.

The mission of the church where Sherman is pastor “is to make preparations for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.” Sherman believes the purpose of government is to protect God-given rights. His non-denominational church is tucked away between a couple of Coralville restaurants. Being a pastor there is much different from being a pastor at a United Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian or other mainstream Protestant church, not to mention how different it is from Catholics, Jews and Muslims. From the git-go, Sherman is on the fringe.

Elle Wyant has a more specific agenda designed to serve the needs of everyone in the district. Wyant’s “Three Es” agenda doesn’t require any interpretation: education, economic development, and equity. These are topics the Iowa government addresses during each General Assembly and she’s ready to serve the needs of all constituents. In addition, Wyant has actually done things besides politics in broader society: 19 years working as a sales executive for a Fortune 50 company and five years as a row-crop farmer. Wyant seeks to fight for her community and be a voice for those left behind at the statehouse. As an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, she knows what that means.

By now, voters in House District 91 may have forgotten sensationalized framing of the contest by the Iowa City Press Citizen. According to Pew Research, the economy was the top issue for voters during the 2020 general election. Wyant is positioned to address economic development while avoiding the noise of culture wars propagated by her opponent. Framing isn’t everything. It is a construct lying outside a campaign.

When we contrast what the candidates stand for, Sherman stands for the worst aspects of Iowa Republican policies. Elle Wyant stands for all of us. The choice is clear.