DES MOINES — State Sen. Wally Horn views his time at the state Capitol in decades, not years.
That’s understandable as Horn is in his fifth decade as Iowa’s longest continuously serving state legislator ever.
At 81, it’s hard to think of Horn as the poster child for anything. But he is for the term-limit movement that wants to restrict future lawmakers to no more than six consecutive terms in the Iowa House and no more than three consecutive terms in the Iowa Senate.
Horn served five terms in the Iowa House, beginning in 1973, before moving to the Iowa Senate, where he is in his 10th and what he believes will be his last four-year term.
“I have three more years and I think that will be it,” Horn said during an interview in the Senate chambers last week. “I’ll be 84. I’ll have been here 46 years. Maybe it’s time I go down to Phoenix and hang around some of my grandkids.”
As dean of the Iowa Legislature — or as “dean of the dome,” as some call him — Horn has seen a lot of bills and people come and go. He recalls some, such as current Branstad budget director and Iowa Department of Management director David Roederer, when he was a legislative intern, and former Gov. and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who referred to Horn as “coach” in helping the fledgling senator begin to make his mark on Iowa.
During his 43 sessions, Horn has seen the legislative process from all sides — as a member of the minority and of the majority, as a committee chairman and as top leader of the Senate during a four-and-a-half-year stint as majority leader from 1992 to 1996. In 1995, President Bill Clinton accepted his invitation to address the Iowa Legislature, the first time a president has spoken in the Senate chamber.
Seeing Legislative action
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
A Bloomfield native who worked for more than 31 years as a high school and coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School, Horn first ran for an Iowa House seat in 1972, spending $800 in a winning cause, after redistricting created a favorable district for Democrats.
And the rest, as they say, is history as he rolled up victory after victory to where he now represents northwest and southwest portions of Cedar Rapids and the southwest corner of Cedar Rapids, which comprises Senate District 35.
An Army veteran with a master’s degree, Horn once asked the Legislative Services Agency to calculate how many times he had voted during his legislative career. LSA experts estimated he cast more than 159,000 votes on bills, amendments, minutes, rules, motions, quorum calls and adjournments during his service in 10 legislative committees and about 60 days of legislative action each session.
That was three years ago.
Over the decades, Horn also been pulled into a lot of controversial issues, including the state’s foray into casino-style gambling, public worker pensions and the end of the state’s monopoly on liquor sales. He was a trailblazer for teachers serving as part-time legislators when local school officials agreed to give him unpaid leave.
Horn said he has voted on a host of issues during his time at the Statehouse, including supporting a measure to lower the state’s legal drinking age to 18 during the Vietnam War and then later voting to raise it back to 21 when problems associated with teen drinking arose. He opposed lowering the blood alcohol standard to .08 percent, led the effort to repeal Iowa’s motorcycle helmet law, and cast the deciding Senate vote to establish the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act.
“As a legislator, I lose more than I win and I have to learn to lose to go on in order to win some more,” said Horn, who attributed his past experience as an athlete and a coach that taught him to learn how to lose from time to time.
“You learn there are mountains you can move and to go around those you can’t,” he said.