IOWA LEGISLATURE

After Republican victories, new Iowa Senate president predicts 'incredibly exciting session'

Jake Chapman of Adel will be chamber's presiding officer when Legislature convenes in January

The Senate chambers are seen from the galley area in December 2019 at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. Sen. Jake Chapman,
The Senate chambers are seen from the galley area in December 2019 at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, will take over as the Senate’s presiding officer when the Legislature convenes in January. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Fresh from his third election win, Adel Republican Jake Chapman is ready to take on a new challenge as presiding officer in the Iowa Senate.

Chapman said he was honored to be chosen recently by his 31 majority GOP colleagues to move into the Iowa Senate’s second most powerful position as the chamber’s next president when the 89th Iowa General Assembly convenes Jan. 11. Chapman succeeds West Des Moines Republican Charles Schneider, who did not seek reelection.

Chapman, 36, has been a leading proponent of conservative causes such as tax cuts, abortion restrictions and gun rights. He brings a sometimes-fiery passion to a new post that oversees management and decorum during floor debate in an ornate upper chamber steeped in tradition.

The father of five also is an emergency medical technician who operates an ambulance service.

He recently spoke with The Gazette about the upcoming legislative session and his new role.

Q: Why did you want the job as presiding officer?

A: It’s really a privilege to serve in this new role. Over the last number of years, I think I’ve truly demonstrated a breadth of knowledge when it comes to the rules and applying those rules in the chamber. Also, being able to lead our caucus on important agenda issues that we care deeply about. As president of the Senate, I’ll continue to fight for those issues that Iowans care about and certainly those issues that our caucus cares about.

Q: How will you approach the position? What do you think the role of the presiding officer should be?

A: I think you’ll see some differences than in the past. We have a rich history of tradition and decorum in the chamber, and I think you’ll see a lot of that tradition continue. I suppose there won’t be a lot of change from that aspect, but don’t be surprised if from time to time the president of the Senate steps down to engage in some debate. That might be a change that will be coming this year.

Q: Sometimes things get heated during floor debate, and you’ve been involved in some of those situations. How will you approach your new duties, which require a steadying approach in maintaining Senate decorum?

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A: Historically what we’ve seen is that the presiding officer sits in the chair and assures that the procedural motions are carried out properly and correctly but, when it comes to floor debate, that is something that I’m passionate about, and from time to time I will perceive that I will be able to engage in some of those floor debates as well. We have a very strong president pro tempore (Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale) as well and I look forward to those opportunities.

Q: How challenging will it be to separate yourself from the floor proceedings or do you see that as the role of the presiding officer? How much will you rely on the Senate secretary in making rulings on germaneness, procedures and protocols?

A: The president is the decider, and I will be making the decisions. From time to time there is consultation between the president of the Senate and the secretary of the Senate. He’s a very astute individual who knows the rules very well, and if there is a question, certainly I would confer with him but ultimately those decisions will be made by myself.

Q: What are your expectations heading into the 2021 legislative session?

A: I think there’s an enthusiasm and excitement that reminds me of the 2017 session after the 2016 election. It’s very similar. We’ve done some very tremendous things over the last four years, and I think Iowans have sent a very clear message that they like, they approve the agenda that Republicans have pushed forward over these last four years and would expect to see a lot of movement of building on those successes we’ve had over the last four years. I think it’s going to be an incredibly exciting session. Every session kind of takes on its own form and has its own issues, but I think there’s a lot of excitement and we’ll see how it goes.

Q: How might COVID-19 impact the 2021 session? Will it be a big question mark hanging over your first year’s work?

A: Well, look, COVID certainly has thrown a wrench in a lot of aspects of state government, whether it’s knowing what our budget is going to look like to procedurally, how do we try to mitigate COVID in the chamber while also conducting the business that we’re expected to conduct? So I do think it will have some impact, particularly on making sure we’re cognizant of the effect that COVID has had economically on businesses and what it will have on our state revenue. It’s going to have an impact in this session on what kind of recovery we’re going to do and what kind of things we can do economically to stir up our economy again and bring it back to where it was pre-COVID.

Q: Might it be 2022 before you really have a clear sense on how this shook out and where you can move forward from there?

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A: It may be past 2022. I mean there is still a lot of uncertainty. Losses carried forward by businesses and what kind of impact that’s going to have and how long that’s going to carry out. There’s a lot of impacts. But Iowans expect us to be mindful of those things and be prudent and conservative when it comes to budgeting measures. But we’ll take all of those things into consideration and despite the fact that we had COVID, despite the fact that we had to shut down, our economy is still growing and we’re still doing fairly well. But that doesn’t mean there’s not significant problems for particular industry sectors of our economy that have been absolutely devastated by COVID and so I think there are issues that we have to be mindful of as legislators and how we can be of assistance in bringing these industries back better and stronger than ever before.

Q: What mandate do you think the voters advocated in November? Following that 2016 election, one majority Republican leader announced that the plan was to “kick in” the door at the Capitol, and a number of major conservative initiatives were enacted during that two-year biennium. Do you expect a similar aggressive agenda to be put forward by majority Republicans in 2021?

A: I sure hope so. Based on this election, I think it’s very clear that Iowans love freedom, they love personal responsibility, they love maintaining their rights, particularly when it comes to the Second Amendment. We, as Iowans, are law-and-order individuals, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest mandates, that we maintain the rule of law and that we enforce the law. I think those are some of the things that we’ve accomplished that Iowans have rewarded us on. The integrity of elections, the fact that we have implemented a voter ID system where individuals can be confident that their vote is being counted and it’s not being erased because of someone cheating. I don’t think there’s one singular issue. It’s an accumulation of multiple issues and multiple bills that we have passed here in Iowa. We have not sat on our hands while we’re here. We have passed bill after bill that secures personal freedom and liberty, and I think Iowans have rewarded that.

Q: Tax cuts have been one of your top priorities. How much in the way of cutting taxes do you think can be accomplished in 2021 or has the pandemic temporarily tempered what can be accomplished until you have a better sense of Iowa’s economic health and revenue collections?

A: Now more than ever is when we need to be implementing tax cuts. We need to stir our economy as never before, and one of the ways we do that is through tax cuts. I’m talking about individual tax cuts, I’m talking about people who are paying capital gains, who are wanting to bring their business back or start a business. This is the time to really focus on how we can begin to implement tax cuts that will lead to the total elimination of income tax. My hope is that we do focus on how we can reduce taxes and eventually eliminate the income tax.

Q: You also have been a strong proponent of pro-life legislation. What would you like to see accomplished during the 2021 session regarding abortion regulations in Iowa?

A: I think the fact that we didn’t get a constitutional amendment across the finish line last year. I think that’s something that should be revisited this year. We wanted an amendment put forward to the people of Iowa based on the judicial ruling that unfortunately found a fundamental right to abortion under Iowa’s constitution, and I felt like we need to correct that and the way that we can correct that is through a constitutional amendment, and so I think that’s one we can continue to focus on this legislative session and hopefully get that across the finish line.

Q: Will it help having a stronger majority in the Iowa House next year?

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A: Certainly. Growing the majority the way they have in the House will only be a benefit to us as we face these types of issues that maybe we weren’t able to quite get done last year or the previous year that we will be able to get done this year.

Q: Sometimes after a campaign there are issues that percolate that weren’t really talked about on the trail. What surprises do you think are in store for us?

A: Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise then. I guess I don’t really know. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes those issues do come up that may not have come up on the campaign trail. I’m not aware of any right now, so I’ll be just as surprised as you.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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