Republicans put transphobia on the ballot in Iowa on Tuesday. Iowa voters resoundingly took it down.
The three-county House district had been veering away from Democrats in recent years. After going for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, voters handed the district to President Donald Trump with a 21.3 percent margin over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. Trump took Iowa with 51.1 percent of the vote.
But on Tuesday, the race went handily toward Democrat Phil Miller, who won it by a full 10 points in a special election.
The race took an ugly turn in July when the Republican Party of Iowa targeted Miller with attack ads on transgender bathrooms. As school board president of Iowa’s Fairfield Community School District, Miller voted last year to keep in place a policy regarding transgender students’ use of bathrooms, which was, at the time, mandated by both state and federal law. The Iowa Civil Rights Act has protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity since 2007.
The ad was first aired last month, just weeks after a 14-year-old transgender Fairfield teen, Finn Bousquet, killed himself on June 19. It reignited a controversy surrounding transgender bathrooms that divided the Fairfield community last year, according to Iowa Starting Line, an Iowa political news blog. The dispute started in May 2016, when the Obama administration rolled out guidelines calling on K-12 public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identities. The issue hit close to home when a transgender student, Draven Spicer, roomed with male students during a band and choir trip to a Six Flags amusement park. He returned from the trip to find his car vandalized with transphobic slurs, according to the Des Moines Register.
Students at the school took sides on the issue, wearing black and red armbands to signify their support for and opposition to the new federal guidelines, the Des Moines Register reported last year. The school board held a series of hearings, ultimately writing and passing the anti-discrimination guidelines that Miller voted for, drawing the ire of conservative groups, including the Family Leader, a Christian organization.
The policy “endangers the safety and privacy of schoolchildren,” the Family Leader wrote last summer.
Miller defended his vote on the policy last year.
“As an elected official you have to understand and study and follow the law,” he said, according to Iowa Starting Line. “And that’s what we did: We followed Iowa civil-rights law. Iowa civil-rights law that says you cannot discriminate against a person’s gender identity. Period. School boards cannot write law. We obey the law. And that’s what we did.”
Miller, a large-animal veterinarian, got 4,020 votes to Republican candidate Travis Harris’s 3,324, according to unofficial results from the Iowa secretary of state’s office. Libertarian candidate Joshua N. Miller received 71 votes, while Edward T. Hee III of the Constitution Party received 58 votes.
Harris took two of the three counties represented in the district — Davis and Van Buren counties — but Miller stole the race in his home county of Jefferson with 2,792 votes to Harris’s 1,200.
As of August 1, there were 6,257 active Democrats; 6,611 active Republicans; and 5,738 active voters with no party affiliation in the district, according to the Iowa secretary of state.
The special election for House District 82 was called in June, following the death of Rep. Curt Hanson, a Democrat who had held the seat since 2009. The Democrat’s victory does not change the Iowa House’s party alignment of 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. The Iowa election marks Democrats’ 14th special election victory since Trump’s election, according to Daily Kos.