A Conversation with Senator Liz Mathis
State Senator Liz Mathis of the 34th Senate District of Iowa is arguably one of the most well-known elected officials in Iowa. Student staffers Avery Van Den Berg and Tanner Halleran recently had the opportunity to interview Senator Mathis and get her perspective on the evolution of media in correspondence with the ever-changing political landscape. Sen. Mathis has been in journalism since the late 70s after graduating from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Journalism/Broadcasting/Film and a minor in Political Science. Throughout her broadcast career, she has occupied many spaces: beat reporter, the first female news anchor on KWWL, and supervisor at KCRG. Eventually, she left journalism to work for the non-profit Four Oaks, where her work focuses on policy. Senator Mathis was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2011 from Senate District 34 in a special election.
It is impossible to analyze politics without acknowledging the ways in which voters consume news. Until the start of this century, most Americans received their news mainly from television and the newspaper. The invention of the internet completely redirected the way people understand the world. Senator Mathis, however, believes that “local news looks about the same, from where I’m sitting.” She believes local television stations are still covering the hometown politics of re-election announcements but are also reporting on more issue-based pieces as well–healthcare and education primarily. For TV stations, they are doing some of the same things as print sources, including issues and re-election announcements. One thing that sets TV stations apart is that they cover stories on a much broader scale. For example, KCRG and KWWL, where Senator Mathis previously worked, covers twenty-two counties in their dominant market area (DMA).
Covering politics for over twenty years, Senator Mathis shared how she has seen parties change. No matter the party, she has seen both sides be drawn in different directions because of actions from another group. In her view, the Republican party changed when Pat Buchanan was running for President because of groups such as Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans. For the Democratic party, she mentions seeing many weak candidates but also candidates “who shot off like a rocket” such as then-Senator Barack Obama. Speaking about Obama, she says, “I covered a story for him and there were 14 people in the room.” She later adds that she remembers going to a rally for him later in his presidency and the crowd was enormous. She notes, “To watch that type of transition is pretty cool.”
The last part of our conversation focused on the Iowa caucus which will take place on February 3, 2020. With twenty Democratic candidates currently, the results of the Iowa Caucus could be quite interesting and unusual. As an elected official and journalist, Mathis is able to see trends and patterns that others are potentially missing so we asked her about it. In her belief, Democrats will have a winner no matter what happens in the Iowa caucus. While there are so many candidates, she also notes the excitement around Democrats and mentioned Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts drawing a sizable crowd of people in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District which leans heavily Republican.