DES MOINES — The newly selected Senate Republican leadership team of Jack Whitver of Ankeny as majority leader and Charles Schneider of West Des Moines as president pledged Wednesday to press ahead with plans to cut state taxes, balance the state budget and press for conservative changes.
“I believe that it is a new day in the state of Iowa and in the Iowa Senate, and we look forward to moving forward,” said Whitver, 37, a married lawyer and father of three children who had served as the chamber’s presiding officer since January 2017.
“I am honored and humbled that the caucus has shown confidence in me to lead the caucus going forward and in our leadership team. The people sent us here to do work and we are going to continue to do same work, the same agenda we have had over the last year and a half,” added Whitver, who was chosen during a closed-door caucus to guide the 28-member Senate GOP majority. “My focus right now is working with the caucus to make sure that we stay as strong as we ever have been.”
The leadership change was precipitated by Monday’s surprise and abrupt resignation by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, a Shell Rock Republican who was an 18-year veteran of the Iowa Legislature.
Dix left his leadership and District 25 positions in the wake of a video posted online that appeared to show him kissing a female lobbyist at a Des Moines bar.
Whitver played down the impact the leadership shake-up has had at the Statehouse, telling reporters “there have been distractions around here with the incident that happened on Monday, but I was committed to making sure that this place ran as normal as possible.”
“We have operated exactly like we would have otherwise, and that’s not easy to do and it’s important,” the new Senate floor leader added. “This is an important week. There are a lot of important items out there for people that we need to continue to work on and I believe we’ve done a very good job of sticking to that as scheduled.”
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He and Schneider, 44, an attorney for Principal Financial who was elected to the Senate in 2012, said their priorities, among other conservative priorities, would be:
l Finding an immediate resolution to a projected budget shortfall this fiscal year
l Passing a fiscal 2019 budget
l Enacting major state income tax reductions and simplification
l Passing Gov. Kim Reynolds’ skilled worker plan.
“We’re thrilled with the progress we have made here in the state of Iowa over the past year and a half,” said Whitver, a former Iowa State University football player who has a law practice and a sports training business while serving in the Senate since January 2011.
Reynolds issued a statement congratulating the new Senate leadership team and expressing her desire to work with them and the GOP-led House “to continue the important work of building a better Iowa and unleashing opportunity for all Iowans.”
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines also welcomed the new Republican leaders, but added Whitver and Schneider “have an obligation to finally get it right and change a culture at the Iowa Capitol that is currently putting lobbyists, special interests and political arrogance ahead of the interests of Iowa families.”
In the wake of Dix’s departure, Petersen called on Whitver and Schneider to “finally take responsibility for the sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation against former Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson by Republican Senators and staff. After footing the bill for a $1.75 million settlement in Kirsten Anderson’s lawsuit against Senate Republicans, Iowa taxpayers deserve nothing less.
“Iowa taxpayers’ dollars should have never been used as a slush fund to cover the cost of sexual harassment by Senate Republicans,” she added. “Senators Whitver and Schneider should turn over all campaign funds raised by Sen. Dix to begin to cover the costs of the illegal behavior by their caucus.”
Schneider, who will stay on as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee through the 2018 session, said he plans to meet with the Senate’s human resources official to discuss changes to the employment rules handbook that were recommended by Mary Kramer, a former state senator who has human resources expertise.
“I look forward to being president of the Senate moving forward,” Schneider said. “Obviously, it’s not something I anticipated happening when I woke up on Monday, but circumstances being what they were, I thought that I could help contribute to the caucus and the Senate moving things forward and getting things accomplished.”
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While the new leaders are both from Polk County, Schneider said most of the committee chairs and assistant majority leaders are from rural areas — with Sen. Amy Sinclair of Allerton elected Wednesday as new majority whip and Sen. Jake Chapman of Adel as a new assistant majority leader.
“Rural interests are very important to us as a caucus, and we as a leadership team will reflect those priorities and those values,” Schneider told reporters.
However, Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa, a statewide liberal advocacy organization group, said the message from Wednesday’s leadership change was “allow harassment, get promoted.”
“Whitver and Schneider were part of the Senate leadership team that fired an employee for reporting harassment, brought a $1.75 million judgment that Iowa taxpayers have to cover and did all they could to ignore the issue after the fact. Now, they’re being promoted,” he said in a statement. “The ability of Iowa Republicans to stick their heads in the sand and hope this issue goes away is astonishing and appalling.”
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