Government

Capitol Ideas: Linda Upmeyer made history in multiple ways

Retiring Iowa House speaker oversaw breadth of legislation, from tax cuts to gun laws

Rep. Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, is seen in January 2014 on the House floor after the Condition of the State address at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. Upmeyer announced this past week that she is stepping down as House speaker and will not seek re-election in 2020. (The Gazette)
Rep. Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, is seen in January 2014 on the House floor after the Condition of the State address at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. Upmeyer announced this past week that she is stepping down as House speaker and will not seek re-election in 2020. (The Gazette)

Linda Upmeyer served as Iowa House speaker for just four legislative sessions. And yet her name is indelibly etched into Iowa history. And not only as a trailblazer.

Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, announced this past week she is stepping down as Iowa House speaker, will serve the remainder of her two-year term and will not seek re-election in 2020.

The announcement is significant not only because of the deck-shuffling it starts and the fact there will be a new leader setting the House’s legislative agenda next year — but also because it brings to a close Upmeyer’s historic tenure.

In 2016, Upmeyer became the first woman to serve as speaker of the House in the 178-year history of the Iowa Legislature. That alone is enough to guarantee her place in the state’s history books. But the breadth of legislation passed into law under Upmeyer’s stewardship means her influence will affect the state for years, possibly decades, to come.

For three of her four sessions as House speaker, Upmeyer was in the envious position of setting the state lawmaking agenda with her political party in complete control of the process. Republicans had majorities in the Senate as well as the House, and Kim Reynolds occupied the governor’s office.

There were some significant bipartisan accomplishments during that time, most notably a significant expansion of the state’s mental health care system and legalized sports betting.

There also were some decidedly partisan laws passed onto the state’s books: a reduction in state income taxes, a near-complete dismantling of public employee union collective bargaining rights, significant restrictions on abortion, loosened gun regulations and giving the governor more say in the way Iowa Supreme Court justices are nominated.

That’s a lot packed into a couple of paragraphs. Go back and reread that list. It is remarkable in its scope.

This is not to say how people should feel about those laws — it’s understating it to say Democrats and Republicans do not see eye-to-eye on many of them.

But the significance of those laws and their effect on the everyday lives of Iowans is inarguable.

Upmeyer will serve her 18th year in the Iowa Legislature in 2020. But it only took four years to stamp her name on the state’s history books.

House Republicans will choose a new leader this coming week. Whomever takes the speaker’s gavel will have some big shoes to fill.

New progressive media outlet in Iowa

Progress Iowa, a liberal advocacy group, has announced the creation of the Potluck Media Network, which is described as featuring opinion articles and podcasts from Iowa progressives.

The network will feature contributions from progressive elected officials and organizational leaders, according to a news release. Among the contributors will be state Sen. Rob Hogg and state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell and organization leaders Erin Davison-Rippey of Planned Parenthood and Charlie Wishman of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, among others.

“We believe every voice has value and that everyone has something to contribute,” Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa and co-host of the “What a Week” podcast, said in a statement. “A potluck brings people together, and I can’t wait to see what everyone brings to the table with this new opportunity to serve up Iowa values.”

The articles and podcasts can be found at potluck.fm.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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