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Guest Commentary

30 years ago: Sex and booze rocked the Iowa House



The country learned that we in Iowa can indeed have a good time

Thirty years ago last week, thousands of Iowans retrieved their Des Moines Sunday Register, “The Paper That All Iowa Depends On.” Most were shocked to learn from the front-page story that 24 Democratic members of the Iowa House of Representatives, including speaker Don Avenson of Olwein, and one lone Republican, Assistant Minority Leader Roger Halvorson of Monona, had too much fun at the Back Forty Tavern in Mingo the previous Thursday. At what has become known as the Mingo Bachelor Party, they were celebrating the upcoming May 10 wedding of House member Edward Parker of Mingo. Besides legislators, lobbyists and friends of the groom, there were also two news reporters present. It didn’t take long for reports of the party to appear in the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and in the Associated Press.

According to the Chicago Tribune, two legislative lobbyists paid for the party and even chartered a bus for the participants from the Statehouse to the Back Forty Bar in Mingo. One lobbyist for the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, Jim Pribyl, was later charged with violating Iowa’s gift laws according to the New York Times. Another lobbyist who still is active at the Statehouse, F. Richard Thornton, was also present as documented in The Des Moines Register’s story.

A good time was certainly had by all in attendance. The party hosts had obtained the services of two exotic dancers. One of them, Dawn Wilson of Des Moines, was later charged and given a deferred sentence for “…the exposure of female breast or genitalia.” One Sioux City legislator, Al Sturgeon, reportedly went further than just having a look. He later apologized for his conduct but didn’t say what he was apologizing for. He later refused to answer a grand jury’s questions. Many legislators said they were not present during the dance presentation. “I was in the kitchen” was the most frequent explanation given by public servants present including the honoree Edward Parker. However, the other dancer, Karee Anderson of Fort Dodge, was quoted by the AP as saying “…the room was full when she performed. She said guests stood on chairs and applauded…”.

The Des Moines Register published the names of all of the participants, which even included the Chief Clerk of the House Joseph O’Hern of Des Moines. Several attendees later ran for Governor including Jack Hatch of Des Moines and William Gannon of Mingo. The Back Forty tavern owner, Chuck Maher, was indicted for mingling sex with a liquor license.

One group of legislators was excluded from the party. Iowa Bar Association lobbyist Jim Carney held a dinner that night for members of the House Judiciary Committee. They fortunately could not attend the Mingo bachelor party and were forever grateful that they didn’t.

The Back Forty Tavern is no longer standing. Edward Parker got married on May 10, 1986, and is still happily married to his wife today after 30 years. The scandal appears not to have done any permanent damage to any politician who attended. Who among us is not a little jealous of such a good time? It was an omen of a later award given to the University of Iowa as biggest party school in the nation. The country learned that we in Iowa can indeed have a good time! CV


Gary Thelen is a native Iowan who taught high school French and Spanish in the Des Moines Public Schools, served in the U.S. gary thelenArmy during the Vietnam War era and worked as a clerk in the Iowa House, as a cruise ship speaker and as a political activist.


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