ELECTION 2020

Iowa voters hand 'mandate' to Republican state lawmakers, leader says

House speaker sees signal to continue conservative path

Iowa house speaker-select Pat Grassley speaks during an interview with Gazette reporters at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moin
Iowa house speaker-select Pat Grassley speaks during an interview with Gazette reporters at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said he believes Republicans earned a mandate Tuesday from voters who not only preserved the GOP’s control over the state lawmaking agenda but also expended the party’s majority in his chamber.

That mandate, Grassley said, is to stay on the path Republicans have forged since taking control four years ago.

Iowa Republicans went into Tuesday’s elections with a 53-47 advantage in the Iowa House as part of their full control of the state lawmaking process. They have a much wider majority in the Iowa Senate and hold the governor’s office.

Democrats believed they had a chance to flip enough seats to win majority and reclaim a seat at the table. But the opposite happened: House Republicans protected their seats, flipped several Democratic seats and emerged with an even bigger, 59-41 majority.

“I think it would be a clear mandate that the path that Iowa is on is the path that Iowans want us to continue down,” Grassley said Wednesday. “I think that’s where (a mandate) exists, is to continue down the path of a responsible budget, funding our priorities, at the same time making sure we have ending balance in cash reserves, reducing the cash burden on Iowans. Those kinds of things that we’ve done are kind of our core issues that we’ve had as Republicans.”

In addition to those policies, Iowa Republicans over the last four years have enacted myriad conservative changes to state law that would not have happened had Democrats been pulling any of the levers. Republicans dramatically reduced the benefits for which public employee unions could bargain; limited damages workers can seek in lawsuits; loosened restrictions on gun ownership; eliminated public funding for women’s health care providers that offer abortions; and approved other abortion restrictions, some of which were struck down in courts.

Grassley credited Republican candidates with working hard on their campaigns, going door-to-door to talk to voters in their communities and focusing on local issues. And he celebrated Republicans’ victories despite the millions of dollars that outside groups spent in an effort to help Iowa Democrats flip control of the chamber.

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As examples, Grassley highlighted three suburban Polk County races that Republicans won: Charlie Andrews defeated a Democratic incumbent in Johnston and Grimes, Garrett Goble defeated an incumbent in one Ankeny district, and John Landon fended off a challenge in the other Ankeny district, which was considered one of Democrats’ top flip opportunities.

“Obviously we had good candidates. Obviously we put the resources behind those candidates,” he said. “But the biggest thing that I think was the difference was the amount of work that those three put in to get themselves where they needed to be, to be in a position to win.”

A spokesman for Democratic Iowa House Minority Leader Todd Prichard did not return a message Wednesday seeking comment.

Iowa Republicans’ success in the elections was celebrated also by the national organization that helps Republican statehouse candidates.

Austin Chambers, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said in a conference call with reporters that Iowa House Republicans’ victories were emblematic of Republican victories in other competitive statehouse races nationwide.

“The reason we were successful is because we had really good candidates across the country who were running on local issues, who were talking about the needs of their communities, the needs of their neighbors, and that’s ultimately why we were successful in many of these suburban districts across the country,” Chambers said.

Grassley did not predict what policy topics Republicans may address when they return in January to the Iowa Capitol or the 2021 legislative session, which for the fifth consecutive year will operate under full Republican control.

Grassley said those discussions will begin next week when Republicans meet for the first time since the election.

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