Iowa GOP in Cleveland dreams of a Senate grab

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CLEVELAND — Talk to Iowa’s Republican convention delegation about their presidential nominee, and you might get a smattering of applause. But mention bright prospects for the Iowa GOP taking over the state Senate, and you might get a standing ovation.

Republicans in Iowa control the governor’s office and the Iowa House. The Senate, however, has been in split or full Democratic control for more than a decade. Democrats currently hold a 26-23-1 majority after Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan left the GOP in protest rather than jump board the Trump train.

In event after event this week there was talk of taking the Legislature and removing Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal from his post at the Senate gate.

“What we found in Wisconsin is that if you’ve got a Republican governor, a Republican House and a Republican Senate there’s no end to the good that you can do,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told Iowa delegates He’ll return to Iowa in August to raise bucks for Iowa Senate candidates.

That’s got to send a chill up the spines of Iowa Democrats, considering the “good” Walker did when he and Wisconsin Republicans took over the Statehouse in 2010.

He swiftly waged a high-stakes war on public sector unions, a key Democratic constituency, gaining passage of legislation severely limiting the right of public employees to bargain and crippling their bargaining units. That effort and others filled the Capitol in Madison with angry protesters and elevated Walker to hero status among Republicans.

So Walker is coming to Iowa. But will his agenda also arrive if voters elect a GOP General Assembly?

Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, a GOP delegate, insists Iowa isn’t Wisconsin.

“I think in Iowa we’re pretty common sense people,” Upmeyer said. “And we recognize that we want to do things that the majority of Iowans think are good for Iowa. I don’t think you’ll see us doing things that are outrageous,” she said.

Among the items on that agenda, she said, are “labor issues.” I asked for specifics.

“Honestly, it’s hard to know off the top of my head without being thoughtful about it. I wouldn’t want to just toss something out,” she said. “Iowa’s a right to work state. I think that works pretty well for us. And so we’d probably look at how we could be more effective with perhaps the public sector collective bargaining. Make it more efficient.”

“I don’t think we’re interested in doing extreme things,” Upmeyer said.

Upmeyer certainly isn’t the first legislative leader to play it vague in an election year.The wiggle room is vast. Tweaks? Reforms? Yanking stuff out by the roots?

And this is the nagging problem with state-level campaigns in Iowa. The big stuff sits in the shadows while races are fought over hollow platitudes and mindless minutia, an out-of-context vote here, a gotcha amendment there. Gov. Terry Branstad ran in 2014 on an agenda of largely meaningless bipartisan trinkets, not on privatizing Medicaid, raising the gas tax or closing mental health institutions.

I don’t think there’s any doubt a GOP legislature will seek to alter union rights, among other contentious initiatives. To what degree is the big question. They’ll give us an explanation, if they truly don’t want to be just like Wisconsin.

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