DES MOINES — House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said Wednesday he decided after the overtime 2015 legislative session that it was “the right time” for him to step down as the House’s top leader and end his legislative career by not seeking re-election in 2016.
“I wanted to finish strong in this role,” Paulsen, a 50-year-old Hiawatha Republican, told reporters during a news conference held in the House chambers.
“There’s no perfect time to show up and there’s no perfect time to leave, but I believe this is the right time and the right decision for the House Republican caucus and the right decision for my family,” added Paulsen, who plans to step down in January as Iowa’s longest-serving Republican House speaker. “It just seems correct.”
Paulsen said he expects his 57-member majority House GOP caucus will “in the next handful of weeks” to elect his successor but no specific date had been set, and he is backing House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, to become the chamber’s 72nd speaker and the first female in the state’s history to hold that post.
Paulsen has served as House speaker since 2011. He was first elected to the Iowa Legislature in 2002.
“My turn’s over,” he said, noting the House GOP caucus has a deep bench that is probably the most talented during his time in the Legislature. He said he believed it was time for someone else to guide state policy that produced the largest tax cut in state history and returned the state to sound budgeting practices during his tenure.
“The caucus has more than enough talent to fill any real or perceived void I may create. I see nothing but great days ahead,” Paulsen said. “I think there’s nothing but good for the future.”
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As far as his immediate future, he will continue as legal counsel for CRST International transportation company in Cedar Rapids, but will not be on the election ballot in 2016 and has no political plans in the works for 2018. He did not rule out a return to public office in the future, but said “I cannot imagine an opportunity to serve that is more remarkable than I’m leaving. Maybe that will present itself some day, I don’t know.”
A U.S. Air Force veteran, Paulsen considered running for Congress in 2014, but decided against it.
Shortly after his announcement, Upmeyer praised Paulsen for his service and announced that she would seek to succeed him.
“I love this caucus, I have fought for it and I am proud of what we have accomplished together,” Upmeyer said in her statement. “I would be honored to continue to work on their behalf as speaker towards our shared goal of making Iowa a better place to grow a business and raise a family.”
Paulsen conceded his planned departure likely would touch off maneuvering within the House GOP caucus among representatives who will compete to become the next House speaker.
In a statement, Gov. Terry Branstad praised Paulsen’s tenure in the Iowa House. The governor said Paulsen, while in the minority before 2011, succeeded in preventing “ill-advised, job-killing legislation,” and helped restore financial stability to the state budget and pass the largest tax cut in state history while in the majority.
“Rep. Kraig Paulsen has been one of the most effective legislative leaders I have had the privilege of working with at the state capitol,” Branstad said.
“As one of the longest-serving House Republican leaders in state history, I can understand Rep. Paulsen’s decision,” added Branstad, who served in the Iowa House for six years before running for executive office. “I’ve appreciated his friendship, leadership, and his partnership as we’ve work to build Iowa for the future.”
Senate GOP Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock called it an honor to work side-by-side with Paulsen, while Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann — who served with Paulsen in the Iowa House — also issued a statement, calling Paulsen “one of the most-honorable men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and a man of unquestioned integrity.”
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“Under his leadership we’ve maintained control of the House, passed some of the most far-reaching tax breaks in state history, and bolstered Iowa’s sterling reputation as a place to live and do business,” Kaufmann said.
“His leadership will be sorely missed at the Capitol but, like all good leaders, I’m confident Speaker Paulsen is leaving the House in good hands,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he had “deep respect” for Paulsen and the way he was willing to work to resolve partisan differences. He said they worked their “level best” to address their differences and Paulsen “always treated me decently and fairly.”
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