I was first elected to the Iowa Legislature back in 1978 when I was still in my late 20s. I served for seven terms in the House and another three terms in the Senate. Highlights of those years included working to pass non-partisan redistricting legislation, the creation of REAP, developing sentencing reform legislation, protecting the elderly from abuse, and floor managing one of the toughest drunken driving laws in the nation.
While my emphasis was on bipartisan undertakings, I was comfortable with my party’s priorities and felt at home in the Republican caucus. Gov. Ray was in office when I first served and was a wonderful mentor. I continue to believe that he epitomizes what is best about public service.
After 24 years in the legislature, I made the decision to retire and return to Jones County to serve as a county supervisor. Our four children were in or approaching their teenage years and I felt I was needed at home. I had missed some very important times in my children’s lives and wished to make up for some of the time I had lost. And with college expenses on the horizon, I also needed to put more time into my law practice.
After my kids were all grown and I retired from law practice, I decided to return to the State Capitol 15 years later. What I found was a very different place.
The Legislature is considerably more partisan and regimented than it used to be. I believe the partisanship stands in the way of good legislation and I’m also deeply concerned by the increasing influence big money is having on the legislative process.
I also found a very changed Republican caucus. While I have great respect for my Republican colleagues, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the stance of my party on the vast majority of high profile issues. I voted against many of these priorities and worked for changes to make legislation better.
I might have limped along attempting to work within my caucus for what I felt was best for the people I represent if it hadn’t been for another factor. With the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, I felt as a Republican that I needed to be able to support the standard-bearer of the party. Unfortunately, that is something I’m unable to do.
I believe that it is just a matter of time before our country pays a heavy price for President Donald Trump’s reckless spending and shortsighted financial policies; his erratic, destabilizing foreign policy; and his disregard for environmental concerns.
Furthermore, he sets a poor example for the nation and our children. He delivers personal insults in a crude and juvenile fashion to those who disagree with him. He’s a bully at a time when we’re attempting to discourage bullying. He has a frequent disregard for the truth. He has a willingness to ridicule or marginalize people for their appearance, ethnicity, or disability.
I believe that his actions have coarsened political discourse, have resulted in unprecedented divisiveness, and have created an atmosphere that is a breeding ground for hateful rhetoric and actions.
Some would excuse this behavior as telling it like it is and the new normal. If this is the new normal, I want no part of it. Unacceptable behavior should be called out for what it is and Americans of all parties should insist on something far better in the leader of their country and the free world.
This has been a very difficult decision for me and has only come after considerable reflection, much prayer, and many restless nights. I’ve been a registered Republican for close to half a century, a Republican office holder for 35 years, am the longest serving Republican currently in the Iowa Legislature, and am proud of many good things that the Republican Party has accomplished over many years.
I am all too aware that my decision to switch parties will be a disappointment to many friends and colleagues who have supported me over the years. However, the time comes when you have to be true to yourself and follow the dictates of your conscience. For me, that time has come.
I want the people of House District 58 to know that I’m the same Andy McKean today that I was yesterday. We still share the same values, live in the same community, and want to make our state a better place. I’ll be working on the same goals and priorities as I always have during my time in public service.
I look forward to continuing my service in the Iowa House and bringing people together to get things done.
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• State Rep. Andy McKean of Anamosa is a Democrat representing District 58 in the Iowa House. He switched parties on April 23.