IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa Legislature freshmen voice optimism, COVID-19 caution

The rotunda is seen at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The rotunda is seen at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Even before their desks were assigned Monday, freshman members of the Iowa Legislature said their phones were ringing and their inboxes filling.

“I checked about 11 o’clock and the emails were rolling pretty good. People already are giving you advice,” said Rep. Chad Ingels, R-Randalia, in northeast Iowa, one of 18 House freshmen.

“I’ve had a couple of calls and several emails already” and a virtual interview with a Quincy, Ill., television station before the first day as a lawmaker ended, said Sen. Jeff Reichman, R-Montrose, in southeast Iowa, one of eight Senate freshman.

The first day of a new legislative session is mostly ceremony, including lawmakers being sworn in, and process, such as leaders’ speeches and organizing the House and Senate.

It was a day of “both excitement and anxiety,” said newcomer Rep. Eric Gjerde, D-Cedar Rapids. He’s excited to be a part of the Legislature but nervous because of the COVID-19 protocols — or the lack of them, in his opinion., His wife and daughters did not attend his swearing in.

“I’m concerned that we aren’t following CDC guidelines at the Iowa state Capitol,” he said.

Ingels’ family was on hand to see him sworn in despite the lack of a mask mandate in the building.

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“I think it’s going to become commonplace and people will kind of grow to be a little more comfortable with it so we can be here and do our business,” he said. However, it may take some time to remember to maintain a safe distance when people without masks approach them.

Reichman also had COVID-19 on his mind. He wants to see more targeted relief for Iowans and businesses “that are really suffering.”

“I think, initially, it was done with a very broad brush,” he said. “So I hope we get some more focused relief there.”

He said his emphasis is going to be economic development because his district, which includes all or parts of Lee, Henry, Washington and Jefferson counties, has been hit hard economically over the past 30 years, Reichman said. Senate District 42 has lost about a third of its population, “so really focusing hard on trying to make sure that we have everything we need in southeast Iowa to be successful.”

“I hope we can do good things for Iowa,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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