DES MOINES — Many followers of the Iowa Legislature may know Matt Windschitl, the new Iowa House majority leader, primarily for his advocacy for gun rights legislation.
The Missouri Valley Republican, who represents portions of Harrison, Ida, Monona and Woodbury counties, is a gun rights supporter whose family used to own a gun store. Because of his expertise on and passion for the subject, Windschitl regularly has served as the frontman for House Republicans on legislation designed to expand gun rights or loosen gun regulations.
But Windschitl is not an overnight leader of the House Republican caucus. While his public profile may have been largely tied to gun-related issues and debates, Windschitl has spent much of his 13 years in the Iowa Capitol in myriad leadership positions, rising steadily in the House GOP ranks.
First elected in 2006 as a 22-year-old Marine veteran, then the youngest member of the Iowa Legislature, Windschitl has served as an assistant minority leader, assistant majority leader after Republicans took the House majority in the 2010 elections, and most recently as speaker pro tempore.
“I think he got pigeonholed just a tiny bit. Because we all develop expertise on a topic, right? Just as I used to carry almost every health care bill at one time, he’s carried pretty much every Second Amendment bill for a long time,” said Linda Upmeyer, a Republican legislator from Clear Lake who has served as majority leader and House speaker.
Yet at the same time, “he’s been elected to leadership positions (all the) way along, and no single-issue individual can accomplish that,” she added.
She thinks he has been successful as a leader because he’s a good listener.
“He’ll fit this position well because a whole lot of what the majority leader does is listen and understand where people are so that you can get to 51 votes (a majority in the House),” she added.
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Whereas in the past Windschitl has ardently advocated for issues near to his heart, he said that in his new leadership role he will take in the will of the entire House Republican caucus and be their megaphone, not his own.
“It’s not my job to come out and tell the caucus what their agenda is. It’s not my job to bring people back here and twist an arm and say, ‘You’re going to vote this way or that way.’ That’s not how this should work,” Windschitl said in an interview last week.
“My job is to listen to the caucus, and then help take whatever ideas they’re hearing from back home and turn those into the best pieces of public policy we possibly can. And then bring those things out to the floor and make sure that we are successful and make sure I’m successful with our successes.”
Windschitl said he has watched legislative leaders — although he declined to say which ones — use the strong-arm, vote-wrangling tactics he described. That led “ poor public policy, poor budgeting principle, and ultimately my colleagues’ and my success in 2010 (elections),” Windschitl said.
Those who know Windschitl well expect him to be a welcoming and fair leader.
Chris Hall, a Democrat from Sioux City, said despite their divergent political ideologies, he considers Windschitl a friend. Hall said he and Windschitl came to the state Capitol as young legislators and worked together on occasional western Iowa-centric issues.
Hall said he and Windschitl share another common bond: their dark beards. Hall said people occasionally get them confused, although that should start happening less often, as Windschitl’s continues to grow away from his chin.
Hall said he respects Windschitl’s devotion to the rules and decorum expected of state lawmakers.
“Our friendship is rooted in a mutual respect for the institution,” Hall said. “He and I both, I think, play a role for our caucus where we keep an eye on the rules, the procedures, how debate occurs in the chamber and making sure that there is respectful decorum while also realizing there are going to be some very heated moments in debate.”
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That respect for the institution, Hall said, is what makes him confident Windschitl will be a fair majority leader, even when working with minority-party Democrats.
Windschitl said he has learned from leaders who served before him — including Upmeyer and Kraig Paulsen, a former House speaker — and he is ready to lead the House Republican caucus.
“I want to help find the pathway that will bring the most success,” Windschitl said.
“Doesn’t mean I’m always going to have every answer or the right answer,” he added. “ ... But there are always ways to be helpful, and do so in a respectful fashion, even if you disagree.”