Government

Mixed bag as GOP keep control of Iowa state house and Dems make gains in congressional delegation

Supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Abby Finkenauer react at her midterm election night party in Dubuque, Iowa, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/KC McGinnis
Supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Abby Finkenauer react at her midterm election night party in Dubuque, Iowa, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/KC McGinnis

Iowa GOP are positioned to continue to set the tone in Des Moines after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds was elected to her first full term and Republicans held control of the Senate, which was expected, and the House, which was in the sights of Democrats.

Republicans had the trifecta of the two chambers and the governorship since 2016 and will continue for at least another two years.

“What it tells me is people are happy with what we are doing in Iowa at the state level,” said State Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines. “They like taxes going down, wages going up, and lots of jobs to be found. And, they want to see us do more of that.”

While the balance of power remains status quo at the state level, Democrats gained a stronger foothold among Iowa’s congressional delegation and chipped away at the GOP advantage in the Iowa House.

Reynolds narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell, a Des Moines businessman, to earn her place as governor in her own right after being appointed in 2017 to fill the term of Terry Branstad, who resigned to become ambassador to China.

Republicans were expected to gained three seats in the Iowa Senate and would have a 32-18 advantage should unofficial vote counts hold. Democrats meanwhile gained seats in the Iowa House, but if unofficial counts hold Republicans would still control the chamber by a 54-46 margin when the legislative session begins in January.

Political insiders say it’s too early to tell if Iowa is destined to move more to the right with stronger gun rights, stiffer anti-abortion laws, and other conservative meaasures waiting in the wings.

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“We will caucus and see what is on the minds of Iowans,” said Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake.

For their part, Republican leaders say they are focused economic prosperity.

“We are going to focus on a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda, and make Iowa a better place to live work and grow,” Schneider said.

He said they planned to focus on business friendly and family friendly policies as well as legislation to give the workforce a leg up in attaining skills to match job demands. Despite tax cuts last year, work remains to improve the climate for income taxes in Iowa, he said.

Upmeyer added, “There are somethings we can work on around health care and additional things in mental health area.”

Schneider said it was too soon to tell where social issues and gun control would fit in.

Some of the more conservative measures left on the table after the 2018 legislative session include lessoning gun permit requirements and advancing a constitutional amendment providing the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed by government to the voters. The constitutional amendment appeared to have majority support, but lawmakers pulled legislation after the deadly Parkland, Fla. school shooting.

After passing a “heartbeat law,” one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation, last year, the legislature is expected to face pressure to pass a “personhood bill.” The proposed law would restrict abortions after the point of conception whereas the existing law bans abortion once a heartbeat is detected.

Other items on the radar include rules to address traffic cameras and school vouchers.

Along the campaign trail, frequent messages from Democratic candidates — many who sought office for the first time — pointed to Republicans’ one-party control in Des Moines as having led to conservative policies that were out of touch with most Iowans. Republicans, most of whom were playing defense this year, positioned their campaigns around the state of the economy, pointing to low unemployment and a new tax structure as steps along the right path.

The GOP’s overall success at the state level contrasted with Democrats Abby Finkenauer, of Dubuque, and Cindy Axne, of West Des Moines, defeating Republican incumbents in U.S. House district’s 1 and 3, respectively. Iowa’s delegation in the House of Republicans will swing from three to one in favor of Republicans to three to one in favor of Democrats.

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This mirrored a mixed bag at the national level where Republicans retained control of the Senate thanks to winning several highly watched tossup races, including in Florida, Texas in Missouri. But, control of the House flipped to Democrats, who also made gains in governor’s races around the nation.

“There was clearly no blue wave,” said State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who won re-election on Tuesday. “Campaigns stand or fall on what they talk to voters about. Apparently the governor’s race in Iowa, tax cuts over taking care of people is what won tonight.”

He said the congressional races had ample resources while Republicans outraised and spent Democrats on state races.

Retiring State Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said winning the U.S. House was a priority nationally in order to put checks on President Donald Trump. He explained the different outcome at the state level noting Iowan’s are independent minded and like to vote for people rather than parties.

Democrat’s gain in the Iowa House could make the house more moderate, but how much clout they have remains to be seen, he said.

He foresees the State Senate pursuing a decidedly right wing agenda, but it’s unclear where the governor will land on some of the more controversial issues. Reynolds became more conservative on issues such as abortion and union rights as she filled out Branstad’s term, but when she served in the state senate she was more of a moderate, he said. She’s also said she is comfortable with Iowa’s current gun laws.

“I’m hoping now that she has her own term as governor, she will go back to being more moderate,” Dvorsky said. “If she was elected in her own right, maybe she will feel she will be acting on her own.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Quad City Times contributed to this report.

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