116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Republicans holding an outsized portion of Iowa’s top elected positions is nothing new: Even before last week’s elections, Republicans pulled all the levers in the state lawmaking process and occupied most of Iowa’s statewide offices and seats in Congress.
But in these elections, Iowa voters expanded Republicans’ authority to levels not seen in the state since the 1950s — when U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley was first elected to public office.
What does that mean for, at the very least, the next two years in Iowa?
The résumé of Iowa Republicans coming out of the elections is as impressive as it is rare:
- By an 18-point margin, Iowa reelected Gov. Kim Reynolds, sustaining Republicans’ occupation of the governor’s office since 2011.
- Including the governor’s office, Republicans won elections for five of six statewide elected offices. And the one they lost according to unofficial results is subject to a recount.
- Republicans’ majorities in both chambers of the Iowa Legislature, which were already strong, grew to margins not seen in Iowa for 50 years.
- And Republicans now sit in all six seats in Iowa’s congressional delegation for the first time since 1956.
The red wave — an anticipated flood of Republican victories — did not happen nationally, but it swept across Iowa.
“The message of the Republican ticket resonated with Iowans — we stand for freedom, putting parents first, unleashing the power of American energy, and fighting back against Joe Biden and the federal government’s overreach,” Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement after the election results were clear. “With this freedom-loving team of conservatives from the local, state, and federal levels, the best is yet to come.”
That expanded authority could impact how Iowa’s laws are written, how Iowans are appointed to state regulatory boards and more.
Iowa Republicans have had full control of the state lawmaking process since 2017, and that will continue for at least the next two years and likely at least four.
Pending recounts and final confirmation of results in a couple of close elections, Republicans are poised to go into next year’s legislative session with a 64-36 majority in the Iowa House and 34-16 majority in the Iowa Senate. If those numbers hold, they would be the largest Senate majority for either party since 1972, and largest in the House since 1970.
Now, with their expanded majorities in the Iowa Legislature, Republicans will have even more authority to pass conservative legislation. Even if there are, for example, a dozen Republicans who are opposed to any specific legislation, Republicans will still have enough votes to pass the bill despite the defections.
Kaufmann said statehouse Republicans feel emboldened by expanding their majorities in this election after passing several pieces of conservative legislation in recent years, including state tax cuts, limiting early voting in elections, banning transgender girls from playing girls sports in school and more.
“I really think the Republicans are interpreting this … as a mandate. I think what you’re going to see is more of the same, possibly more aggressive (conservative lawmaking),” Kaufmann said in an interview. “I think people are interpreting this, rank-and-file Republicans, state legislators, as the people of Iowa got to weigh in.”
One piece of legislation that could stand to benefit from Republicans’ expanded majorities is Reynolds’ so-called school choice bill. Her proposal to devote $55 million in taxpayer funding for public schools for private school tuition assistance grants has failed to pass the Republican-controlled Iowa House in two consecutive years. Whether the addition of four Republicans to the House gets that bill to Reynolds’ desk in 2023 remains to be seen.
As a practical matter, Senate Republicans’ expanded majority means they can now approve Reynolds’ appointments to state regulatory boards and commissions without needing at least some support from Democrats. Governor’s appointments require the support of two-thirds of the Iowa Senate, meaning Republicans previously needed at least some “yes” votes from Democrats. With 34, Republicans have enough senators to approve those appointments on their own.
“Iowans spoke clearly (in the elections). They want common-sense solutions to the problems we’re facing. They do not want more of the reckless policies from Washington, D.C. liberals,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said in a statement after the election. “Once again, they have validated our agenda and our message to focus on growth and prosperity for Iowa families. We will continue to be focused on tax relief, supporting law enforcement, fighting reckless spending, and empowering parents.”
Democrats said they are prepared to do what they can to oppose some of those very plans. However, they will have little legislative recourse because of their shrinking minorities.
“We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to fight because Iowans are with us on the issues that matter,” Jennifer Konfrst, the House Democrats’ leader from Windsor Heights, said on election night, citing public opinion on abortion access, legal marijuana and education funding. “We’re fighting tomorrow.”
Iowa Republicans also expanded their authority over state government by nearly sweeping all six statewide elected offices.
In addition to Reynolds’ return as governor, for the next four years Republicans will hold the state offices of Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Agriculture and Treasurer.
Only the State Auditor’s office remains in Democrats’ hands, and that close election outcome is headed for a recount.
In their near-sweep, Republicans defeated the longest-serving state attorney general (Democrat Tom Miller) and longest-serving state treasurer (Democrat Mike Fitzgerald) in U.S. history.
That means for the first time in decades a Republican will, from the Attorney General’s Office, oversee legal disputes involving the state and determine which legal actions to take or join with other states against the federal government.
And for the first time in decades a Republican will, from the treasurer’s office, manage the state’s investments and oversee programs designed to help Iowans who are saving for college.
“I think I think you’re going to see Iowa playing a larger role at the national level, in terms of trying to roll back some of the overreach of the Biden administration. I think you’re going to hear about those lawsuits a lot more,” Kaufmann said, referring to the Democratic president. “And I think you’re going to see more cooperation between the governor’s office and the Attorney General’s Office.”
Reynolds, on the campaign trail, frequently said she wanted “my own” attorney general. Because they are from different political parties, Reynolds and Miller often were on the opposite side of multistate lawsuits against the federal government, and sometimes in legal disputes against the state — the most prominent example of which being Miller’s decision to not lead the state’s defense of a Republican-passed law that would ban abortions once a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected. Miller declined to defend the case because of his personal views on abortion.
Iowa Republicans’ incumbent members of Congress won re-election this week, and Republicans also flipped Central and Southwest Iowa’s 3rd District seat when state legislator and Iowa National Guard officer Zach Nunn defeated two-term Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.
With those victories, Republicans now hold all six of the state’s seats in Congress: two in the U.S. Senate and four in the U.S. House. It’s the first time Iowa’s federal delegation has been all Republican since 1956, when the state had eight U.S. House seats.
Nunn’s victory over Axne figures in the national picture, where it appears Republicans may win enough races to regain a majority — a slim one — in the U.S. House. Not enough races across the country were called as of Friday to push either into the majority, but Republicans appeared to have enough pending victories.
“From Day 1, we’ve been a grassroots team of Iowans from all over the district ready to bring our Iowa values to D.C.,” Nunn said in a statement after his victory. “Next year in Congress, top priorities will be to fix our economy, end the record high inflation and massive government spending, and get our country back on track.”
For Iowa Democrats who are now shut out of direct input on congressional transactions for the next two years, Mike Franken, the party’s candidate who was beaten by Grassley, provided a message in his concession speech.
“For anyone who feels like their voice wasn’t heard, your story isn’t over. Not by a long shot,” Franken said. “Rest, regroup, keep building and live to raise your voice to win another day.”
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