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By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES - After a whirlwind two years with nearly two dozen presidential hopefuls traipsing through the state, 2017 proved Iowa politics are intriguing even when the caucuses are not front and center.
The previous year's momentous elections brought sweeping change to the political landscape in 2017, both in Iowa and nationally.
That led to a year of significant political interest and consequence.
As is the easy way out - I mean, tradition - at this time of year, let's take a look back at the biggest stories in Iowa politics in 2017 and a look ahead to what may come in the next year.
For the first time in three decades, Iowa Republicans had complete lawmaking control at the state Capitol.
They did not squander the opportunity.
With majorities in the Iowa House and Senate and a Republican in the governor's office, the GOP enacted several pieces of conservative reforms. Republicans overhauled the state's collective bargaining system for public employees, dramatically reducing the benefits for which public worker unions can negotiate. They restricted abortion access by making them illegal after 20 weeks and halting state family planning funding to providers that perform abortions. They loosened gun regulations by, among other provisions, creating a 'stand your ground” law, allowing children to use guns when observed by a parent and strengthening the state law that allows guns in public buildings.
The one big-ticket item remaining on Statehouse Republicans' legislative to-do list is state tax reform. Now that the federal GOP has passed its tax rewrite, expect Iowa Republicans to do the same during the upcoming legislative session.
Naturally, not everyone was thrilled with the new political power structure in Congress or at the Iowa Capitol. Many made sure their displeasure was known.
In January, more than 20,000 people marched on the state Capitol as part of a nationwide series of events called the 'Women's March,” which was organized to protest myriad policies under consideration by Republican federal and state lawmakers. Thousands more flooded the Statehouse during the legislative session to protest many of the same proposals. And residents flooded forums that featured state and federal elected officials.
The events showed that people were not only upset by the various new policies being proposed and implemented, they were willing to mobilize.
That's what excites Democrats, whose goal is to harness that passion for the 2018 elections.
Transition of power
For all the significant implications of the 2016 elections, perhaps most significant in Iowa was that the election of Republican President Donald Trump led to the appointment of Terry Branstad as U.S. ambassador to China. That move did what no Democrat could in six elections: move him out of Terrace Hill.
Branstad left office as the longest-serving governor in the nation's history, totaling nearly 23 years over two tenures.
Kim Reynolds, who had served as Branstad's lieutenant since his return to the governor's office in 2011, became governor and will be on the ballot in 2018, assuming she survives a primary challenge. Reynolds is popular among the Republican base, but is a somewhat unknown quantity among the larger electorate. That, along with the previously mentioned reaction to some of the GOP policies, has emboldened Democrats in their hopes of retaking the governor's mansion.
And there has been no shortage of candidates seeking to lead Democrats to that gubernatorial prize; a field of seven candidates emerged to seek the Democratic nomination for governor.
Most who follow Iowa politics closely agree the early stages of the race have developed a pair of front-runners: businessman Fred Hubbell and state Sen. Nate Boulton, both from Des Moines.
Former state party Chairwoman and retired physician Andy McGuire, nurse and union leader Cathy Glasson, and former Tom Vilsack and Barack Obama aide John Norris are in the next tier, still with a chance to challenge for the nomination. Former Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn and party activist Jon Neiderbach round out the field.
The gubernatorial election presents Iowa Democrats with their best opportunity to regain one of the three legs of power at the Capitol. If they are to defeat Reynolds, assuming she survives her primary, they will require the right candidate from this field.
Happy New Year
The legislative session starts Jan. 8.
The primary elections are in June.
The general election is in November.
Happy New Year, readers. Here we go again.
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.