Government

Iowa's first female speaker of the House, Linda Upmeyer, to leave leadership position, not seek reelection

Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, won't run in 2020

Gov. Kim Reynolds, left, shares a laugh Jan. 15 with Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer after the governor delivered the annual Condition of the State address in the Capitol in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds, left, shares a laugh Jan. 15 with Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer after the governor delivered the annual Condition of the State address in the Capitol in Des Moines. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Citing a desire to spend more time with her family, Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer — the first woman to ever hold that role and arguably the second-most powerful woman in the state’s government — announced Monday she will quit the leadership position and not seek reelection in 2020.

Although she plans to resign as speaker at the end of this year, the Clear Lake Republican said she will continue to serve as a state representative through next year’s legislative session.

Upmeyer, 67, has served 17 years so far in the Iowa Legislature. She served as House Speaker for the 2016 through 2019 legislative sessions.

Upmeyer said she made the decision this summer when discussing her future with family members. She said during that discussion, her 14-year-old grandson reminded her she has not yet come to watch him play soccer.

“I want to be able to go out and enjoy some of that,” Upmeyer said. “It’s an opportunity to spend some time with family.”

She said it was a huge privilege and honor” to serve as Iowa House speaker regardless of her gender, but she also appreciates the historical nature of her service.

“I’m particularly touched and privileged that I got to be the first woman to do it. That was a big honor, and I don’t take that lightly,” Upmeyer said.

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Republicans held the majority in the Iowa House during the entirety of Upmeyer’s tenure as speaker. During the 2017 through 2019 sessions, Republicans also had a majority in the Iowa Senate and held the governor’s office, giving the GOP unfettered control of the state’s lawmaking agenda.

During those sessions, Republicans passed new laws that reduced state income taxes, constrained public employee union bargaining rights, restricted abortions, loosened gun regulations, legalized sports betting, expanded the state’s mental health care system and changed the way Iowa Supreme Court justices are nominated, just to name a few.

Upmeyer also played a critical role in negotiating the 2013 bipartisan agreement that resulted in Iowa expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law and passing a sweeping commercial and industrial property tax reduction.

“I think we have done some really amazing things. I think we have done some really historic things,” Upmeyer said. “I’m really proud of what I was able to do with the opportunities.”

House Republicans will meet over about the next week to 10 days, Upmeyer said, to select a new leader. That person will serve as speaker-elect until being officially nominated at the start of the 2020 legislative session in January.

Upmeyer said she won’t endorse a successor, that she trusts Republicans to pick their next leader.

Potential successors include Pat Grassley, from New Hartford, the grandson of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley who most recently has led the House budget committee; Matt Windschitl, the House speaker pro tem from Missouri Valley; and Chris Hagenow, the House majority leader from Urbandale.

Upmeyer said she is not retiring to avoid the 2020 election, in which Iowa Republicans will attempt to avoid a second consecutive election with losses that could threaten the majority they have held in the Iowa House since 2011.

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“I’m actually excited about the election,” she said, adding that she will continue to help GOP candidates through 2020.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — the first woman to be elected Iowa’s governor — said in a statement that “Speaker Linda Upmeyer is a dear friend as well as a talented and tenacious legislator. Together, we tackled some of the most important issues facing the state. ... Linda will be remembered as a remarkable public servant who helped move Iowa in a better direction.”

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said in a statement, “It has been an honor to serve alongside Speaker Upmeyer. I am proud to have led with her during the most productive years of the Iowa Legislature. ... It has been a historic period of policy achievement and attaining those goals does not happen without strong, effective leadership from the Speaker.”

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement, “Very few House Speakers in Iowa’s history have created a legacy like Speaker Linda Upmeyer. At a time when gridlock and partisan bickering grind Washington, D.C. to a halt, Speaker Upmeyer delivered tangible results on behalf of Iowans, creating opportunities for them to grow their business, raise their families and keep government out of the way.”

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