DES MOINES — When the next round of work begins on crafting new Iowa laws, sitting in one of the most important seats will be a relatively fresh face with a very familiar last name.
Pat Grassley was chosen last week by his Republican colleagues to serve as the next speaker of the Iowa House.
He is the grandson of Chuck Grassley, the longtime Republican U.S. senator from Iowa who once served in the same chamber the younger Grassley will now lead.
Pat Grassley will be sworn in when the Iowa Legislature convenes in January. He replaces Linda Upmeyer, the Republican from Clear Lake who announced she is stepping down as speaker and will not run for reelection in 2020.
Rep. Pat Grassley is a 36-year-old from New Hartford. He has served in the Iowa Legislature since 2007, and has been chairman of the House committees on agriculture and the state budget.
Speaker-elect Grassley spoke with The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau about his new role, his leadership style and his new responsibility to lead House Republicans’ political efforts to maintain their majority in the 2020 election.
The interview has been edited only for clarity and brevity.
Q: Was becoming speaker of the Iowa House something to which you aspired?
A: Honestly, I would say as much of it came from (House Republican) members asking me if I would consider it if it ever became an opportunity, as well as just working with so much of the caucus on the budget. I can’t think back to 23-year-old Pat and say this is what my plan was. I hopefully have proven to the caucus with the hard work I’ve put in that I’m ready for it, and obviously with their support they’ve trusted me to do this job. So I would say that it never was the plan, but there have been a lot of members that reached out to me, encouraging me to do it, which makes a decision like this a lot easier.
Q: You have served in the majority party under two House speakers: Kraig Paulsen and Linda Upmeyer. What did you learn from them that you will take with you as speaker?
A: It probably would be unfair for me to just give you an example for either one because they did so many things in their tenure. But what I can tell you, one of the most important things that I learned from them is obviously being accessible to the caucus is what I consider to be my No. 1 priority, making sure that I’m representing what they want me to do and trying to help support the agenda that moves Iowa forward that House Republicans will put forward. Watching the way they both led almost at a higher level of the caucus is probably what I would take from both of their perspectives that they really did a good job of. And it isn’t easy to maintain the majority as long as we have, and obviously that takes a lot of hard work. So they’ve shown that that dedication has paid off.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: When I was talking to members of the caucus, having conversations about doing this, in fact I was asked that question quite often. And my response was hopefully you’ve seen how I plan on running the caucus as appropriations (budget) chairman. Hopefully as appropriations chairman I displayed to you what it would be, and I would say that is making sure that the caucus is always educated and informed on the budget process, and I think that same thing can hold true to policy as well, that the caucus is always educated and informed on what we’re doing. And also making sure that the members’ voices are being heard. Our caucus is very bottom-up, and I don’t see anyone being a successful leader of the House Republican caucus that tries to dictate upon them their beliefs and the priorities of theirs. Now, there’s obviously times when the leader has to bring things to the caucus and try to get them accomplished when it’s the right thing for the caucus, but most of the time if not almost all of the time it’s going to be bottom-up and the caucus giving direction to leadership. And that’s actually, I think, very healthy for our system of government.
Q: You will take your policy cues from the House Republican caucus, but are there any policies you personally hope to see debated?
A: I think I can honestly answer that question that my plan is not to force issues upon the caucus. And I’m not saying that as a canned answer. In fact, I’m trying to think back in my four years as appropriations chair. I can’t really think of anything that I ever even put in the budget now that you ask that question that way. I can’t even really think of anything that I got in the budget that may have been just for me, which is probably a rare occurrence for an appropriations chair. So I don’t see that changing from the way that I handled that committee. ... I don’t see any specific piece of legislation that’s my pet project that needs to be done because of this change.
Q: The new House Republican leadership team consists of yourself, Matt Windschitl from Missouri Valley, and John Wills from Okoboji. Is that group too rural?
A: Let me say this: First of all, I live 2 miles from Black Hawk County, I’m 10 minutes from the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. While I consider myself a rural legislator, a lot of what I do and a lot of the input I get is going to be from what I would consider a metro area like Black Hawk County. That being said, the policies that we’re going to develop as a caucus are not going to be only good for rural Iowa or only good for urban Iowa. I would be hopeful that a leadership team that was just from urban Iowa would have the same mentality, that they would not only do things for their areas. So I think what you’re going to see from our caucus are issues that are good for the entire state. Because there are a lot of issues facing this state right now that I think you can’t just pinpoint on rural or urban. ... So I think a lot of the policies that we’re going to have are going to be to try to move Iowa forward for both, because at the end of the day we’re all Iowans. We want the whole state to succeed.
Q: One of the speaker’s most important roles is, during an election, to recruit candidates and help fundraise for their campaigns. Are you prepared for the fundraising aspect of this job?
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A: Looking at what we have for candidates that have either announced or plan on announcing and stepping up to the plate and running for office, I actually think we have a lot of seats where we will be on the offense. There are several seats in the Legislature that, whether it was (Gov. Kim Reynolds), whether it was (President Donald Trump), whether it was (U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst), have run very strong in those districts and in most cases have won those districts that we don’t currently hold. So the narrative that may be out there that this is about a race to the bottom for House Republicans, I look at it as the opposite. I actually look at it as there is a lot of opportunity here and we’re going to have a very strong top of the ticket. When it comes over to fundraising, this is one of those areas that just so happens with my last name there’s always been a lot of expectation. In fact, before I ran for office, and I doubt this happens with many legislators and candidates before they’re even elected, but I remember then-Majority Leader Chuck Gipp actually driving to New Hartford, riding a couple rounds in the combine with me just to get a check supporting my colleagues before I was even elected to office. So that is something that I’ve felt that I’ve stepped up to the plate even before I was elected, and it’s something that I’m ready to even take to the next level.
Q: If your grandfather decides to retire from the U.S. Senate and not run for reelection in 2022, do you plan to resign as Iowa House speaker to run for that U.S. Senate seat? (He will have turned 89 shortly before the November 2022 election for the six-year term.)
A: To be honest with you, I have full expectation that my grandfather’s running for reelection. So I don’t think this is anything that will even be an issue for Iowans to even have to concern themselves with. I think that issue is more of a conspiracy theorist’s dream than it really is a reality, as like I said, I have full expectations my grandfather is running again.