116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - Thursday was an emotional day for Clear Lake Republican Linda Upmeyer, who choked back tears in telling reporters what an honor it was to follow in her father's footsteps as speaker of the Iowa House.
'It's a huge honor. The confidence they placed in me is very special. It's really an exciting day for me on many levels,” said Upmeyer, 63, who became the first woman named as House speaker in Iowa history - joining an elite group of leaders that included her late father, Delwyn Stromer, who served as speaker in the 69th Iowa General Assembly in 1981-82.
'My dad was an amazing man, so it's something to live up to knowing what a good job he did as speaker; watching that and being able to follow in his footsteps. I think there are many things I learned from him that will hold me in good stead as I do this work. So, it's a very special moment for my family,” she noted.
Upmeyer said her mother gave her a 'gavel” lapel pin similar to one she had given Stromer when he was first elected speaker. The speaker-select said she would put it on once she formally assumes her new position as the House's presiding officer and most-powerful leader on the first day of the 2016 legislative session next January.
A District 54 representative who held the post of House majority leader since 2011, Upmeyer outpolled Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, in a secret ballot to win the support of her 57-member caucus to succeed Kraig Paulsen when he steps down from the post in January. Paulsen, 50, a Hiawatha Republican, announced earlier this month that he would step down from the leadership post he has held since 2011 at the start of the 2016 legislative session in January and will not seek re-election in his Linn County district in 2016.
Rep. Chris Hagenow, 43, of Windsor Heights, currently the House majority whip, was selected by his fellow House Republicans to serve as majority leader to run the day-to-day operation of the House and schedule what bills will see floor debate. The District 43 representative is currently serving in his fourth House term.
House Republicans also named Reps. Joel Fry of Osceola as House majority whip, Zach Nunn of Bondurant as assistant majority leader and Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley to remain as speaker pro tempore. Also, Reps. Lee Hein of Monticello, Jarad Klein of Keota and Walt Rogers of Cedar Falls will continue their current roles as assistant House leaders.
Thursday's election of Upmeyer, a cardiology nurse practitioner in her seventh House term, marked the first time that both chambers of the Iowa Legislature will have women in top positions in both chambers. When Upmeyer takes over as House speaker, she will join Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, as the first female presiding-officer duo in the Iowa General Assembly's history.
Upmeyer said her father instilled in her an interest in public service and she expected one day she would run for office. She said being elected speaker is 'very exciting” regardless of whether you're male or female but she hoped her advancement would inspire young girls and women to consider public office.
'I never felt there was a glass ceiling I needed to break,” said Upmeyer. 'There's a young lady out there somewhere that is going to say I can do this, too, that perhaps had never thought about it before. So that's exciting. It's another opportunity for women around this state that they maybe hadn't considered.”
Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, said Upmeyer won the job because she has proved herself to be a leader.
'I don't think that gender had anything to do with our vote,” said Heaton. 'It was purely on qualifications and her experience. If she happens to be a woman, so be it; if she happens to be the first woman so be it, but I don't think gender was on the minds of our caucus today when they voted.”
Byrnes said he sought the job because he thinks competition is good and causes people to consider new ideas and different ways of doing things. However, he conceded that his role as point man in getting a controversial 10-cent gas tax increase passed last session likely 'doomed” his chances to be chosen as speaker.
'I feel like in that movie 'Groundhog Day” - same leadership in the House, same leadership in the Senate, same governor and the parameters just feel like they're set and you can't move from them.
We need new ideas, we need new energy,” he said.
Byrnes said Iowans also notice that the Legislature has 'drifted” toward partisanship over statesmanship and can't get its work done by its adjournment target or set the level of state aid for schools in a timely manner.
'We're not lighting the world on fire with Iowans right now and we need to do better,” he said. 'Sometimes you think everything is so scripted.”
Thursday's news drew congratulatory remarks from Republicans Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, but a less-than-enthusiastic response from House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown.
'The new Republican leaders bring more bad news to Iowa public school kids,” Smith said in a statement. 'At Rep. Upmeyer's direction, House Republicans broke state law and ignored funding for public schools leaving kids in crowded classrooms with outdated textbooks and old technology this fall.
'Rep. Hagenow's record on public education is terrible. Instead of listening to his own constituents, he stood by Gov. Branstad's reckless education vetoes and even sponsored a plan to take $200 million away from public schools to give to private schools and home-schools instead,” Smith added. 'Iowa kids deserve better.”