Elections

Republicans win area Senate seats

Liz Mathis sole Democrat to retain her spot

The Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

State Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, was elected to another term on Tuesday after a tough campaign in a key district against Linn-Mar School Board member Rene Gadelha. However, she was the only Democrat in the area to hold on or win a Senate seat.

“This was a hard-fought battle,” she said. “Gadelha was a great opponent and she worked really hard. I’m saddened that (the Senate Democrats) were not able to retain the majority and we will certainly be reaching out to our friends across the aisle for good, bipartisan legislation.”

Mathis pulled in almost 56 percent of the vote, or 19,792 votes, while Gadelha only secured 44 percent, with 15,613 votes.

Senate 34 — which encompasses Hiawatha, Robins, Marion, Betram and areas of east-central Linn County — was a hotly contested, costly race. In the final campaign filing period, Mathis spent more than $154,000 on advertising and campaign mailers while the Republican Party of Iowa gave Gadelha more than $242,000 in in-kind contributions in the form of mailers and TV ads.

Mathis, 58, has been a staunch, vocal opponent of Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to move the state’s nearly $5 billion Medicaid program over to three private insurers earlier this year. Chairwoman of the Senate Human Resources committee, Mathis led multiple hearings on the transition — calling Department of Human Services officials and the heads of the insurance companies to testify.

That certainly is something she is going to continue to work on, she said, along with children’s mental health.

Mathis was confident both Democrats and Republicans would work to ensure the kinks are ironed out of the Medicaid managed-care transition so that taxpayer dollars are well spent and Medicaid enrollees receives necessary services.

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Meanwhile, Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, held onto his seat in District 48 — northern Linn County, northwest Jones County, southeast Buchanan County and Delaware County — securing 63 percent of the vote, or 20,037 votes, against Democratic challenger Scott Peterson, who brought in 33 percent of the vote of 10,543 votes.

The Ryan-area farmer was elected to his second term. Zumbach, 55, has served on the West Delaware school board, Delaware County Fair Board and several terms on the church council.

As for his first day back in the Senate, Zumbach said the responsible thing for him to do would be to balance a fair budget, which he hopes to distribute first and foremost to education.

“My area of expertise tends to learn more toward agriculture, natural resources, transportation, and things of that nature,” Zumbach said. “I’m hoping I can be an asset to those areas and can guide those policies. We’ll get education taken care of first, then we can work toward getting the things accomplished that matter to people in my district.”

In other area senate races:

Republican challenger Craig Johnson beat out Democratic incumbent Brian Schoenjahn in Senate 32, which is comprised of the southern half of Fayette County, most of Buchanan County, northern sections of Black Hawk County, Bremer County. Johnson secured 59 percent of the vote at press time with 42 of the 49 precincts reporting, while Schoenjahn only brought in about 41 percent.

Republican incumbent Tim Kapucian edged out Democrat Dennis Mathahs and Libertarian John George for the Senate District 38 seat, which is made up of Benton, Poweshiek and Iowa counties.

The grain and livestock farmer had secured nearly 60 percent of the vote — or 15,272 votes — at press time with 39 of the 43 precincts reporting. Mathahs nabbed 34 percent while George only pulled in 6.2 percent.

Republican incumbent Michael Breitbach beat out Democratic Jan Heikes in Senate District 28 — Allamakee and Clayton counties, northern half of Fayette County, most of Winneshiek County — with more than 57 percent of the vote at press time with 46 of the 51 precincts reporting.

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And Republican challenger Jeff Edler beat our Democratic incumbent Steven Sodders in Senate District 36 — Marshall and Tama counties and a portion of southern Black Hawk County. Edler won 56 percent of the vote, or 9,648 votes, while Sodders brought in 43 percent of the vote, or 7,536 votes, with 35 of 40 precincts reporting.

Gazette reporter Michaela Ramm contributed to this story.

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