Government

Voters endorse GOP's control at Iowa Capitol

Democrats gain in the House, lose seats in the Senate

Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines.
Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines.
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Republicans held on to complete majority control over Iowa state government in Tuesday’s elections, leaving the party with the ability to craft policy largely unchecked by Democrats when they return in January to Des Moines.

In the Iowa House, Democrats picked up a net gain of five seats, the largest share of which were in the Des Moines suburbs, but fell short of the 10 they needed to wrest the chamber away from Republicans.

In the Iowa Senate, Republicans not only kept control, a result that was expected, but they added three seats, giving them a 32-18 advantage.

And Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds won her first four-year term.

After all the talk about a blue wave election year, Democratic state Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City answered that question bluntly after he won his reelection bid.

“There was clearly no blue wave,” he said. “Campaigns stand or fall on what they talk to voters about. Apparently the governor’s race in Iowa, tax cuts over taking care of people, is what won tonight.”

Along the campaign trail, Democratic candidates pointed to Republicans’ one-party control as having led to conservative policies out of touch with most Iowans, warning the GOP would go further if given another two years of power.

Republican leaders, however, say the decision of voters validates the job they’ve done over the past two years.

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“What it tells me is people are happy with what we are doing in Iowa at the state level,” state Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said. “They like taxes going down, wages going up, and lots of jobs to be found. And they want to see us do more of that.”

And for her part, Reynolds said Tuesday following her victory that she intends to “represent all Iowans in every single corner of this state,” adding that she invited Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell to “sit down and work together and make sure that we can maybe find some common ground to address some of the issues that were important to the people that he was out there fighting for.”

Here is a look at some of the issues that might come up for debate:

Taxes

Republicans championed a lower tax rate enacted this year despite protests from Democrats, who criticized the plan as giving most of the relief to the wealthy and corporations. In the Statehouse, GOP leaders are saying deeper tax cuts could be on the horizon.

The GOP majority caucuses in the House and Senate will hold leadership elections in closed meetings Friday.

Schneider, the Republican Senate president, said he expected Republicans would consider changes to Iowa’s corporate income taxes, state tax credits and other ways to move the state up in the national rankings for business competitiveness.

Democrats have argued the tax cuts and others proposed do too little to help everyday Iowans — and drain revenues that could be spent to better Iowa’s health care system and schools.

Gun control

Last year, a legislative measure to loosen gun restrictions that was advanced by Republicans was postponed in the wake of the fatal school shooting in Parkland.

Some of those measures left on the table include lessening gun-permit requirements and advancing a state constitutional amendment on the right of people to keep and bear arms.

Schneider said it is too soon to tell where gun measures would fit in.

Abortion

Iowa passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country this year, a change made without support from Democrats. The change, now on hold amid a legal challenge, makes it a crime to perform an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

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Republicans have painted it as a moral decision. But some want to go further and enact a “personhood bill” saying life begins at conception.

Public pensions

Democrats campaigned this year on the threat that Republican control could lead to changes in the state’s public employee pension system, IPERS. The governor has dismissed those concerns as election-year “scare tactics.”

Still, Democrats have suggested those words are hollow, noting changes made by the Republicans to reduce the power of public sector unions came with little warning.

Medicaid privatization

Perhaps the most heated debate in the governor’s race was Iowa’s 2016 shift from state control of its Medicaid program to one now managed by private companies. Republicans argued the switch was necessary because the program was becoming too expensive.

In September, though, data showed expenses growing three times faster under private control than under state management. Providers have complained that insurance companies have been too slow to reimburse providers.

Hubbell proposed bringing at least some of the recipients back into state-run programs. Reynolds has said the system isn’t perfect, but it’s unlikely Medicaid will return to an entirely state-run program.

B.A. Morelli of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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