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Iowa Politics Roundup: Legislative Democrats Pick Leaders, Fear Extremism by Republicans PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 19 November 2010 14:13

Iowa House and Senate Democrats voted this week to stick with their leaders, despite losses in the 2010 election.

Representative Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) was re-elected the leader of House Democrats but will now serve as the minority leader instead of the majority leader. He said the caucus saw its losses in the 2010 election as part of a nationwide setback for Democrats, and did not blame individual decisions made by legislative leaders here.

“There was not a lot we could do in this campaign environment to stop that trend,” McCarthy said. “Some serious setbacks were dealt to Democrats nationally, really pretty epic in scope in what occurred around the country. We are very united as a caucus and hopeful and optimistic about the future because when you have setbacks politically like occurred recently in the election, the opportunity for moving the ball down the field for future success is much, much greater.”

McCarthy said House Democrats will work with Republicans whenever possible but fear that the GOP will push an agenda of extremism.

“As long as the Republicans operate in the mainstream focusing on bread-and-butter issues, we will be a loyal opposition party and we will help and try to improve legislation and work with them in a very cooperative fashion,” McCarthy said. “If they steer towards a more extreme approach, whether it’s social extremism or whether it is policy extremism at the expense of ordinary, average Iowans, then we will let our voices be heard, and they will be heard very loudly.”

McCarthy indicated that House Democrats will be largely united in voting against a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. “There may be some individual legislators that will vote their conscience or vote their district, or may have alternative views, but I think the majority of the Democrats will be standing strong on civil rights,” he said.

As for the “several hundred million dollars” of budget cuts that House Republicans said they will make in the current budget year, McCarthy said Democrats will see what the cuts are. He expects some moves, such as eliminating Governor Chet Culver’s Iowa Power Fund, to be largely symbolic and predicted that Republicans will still find a way to fund renewable energy in some other way, such as through the Department of Economic Development.

“If there are cuts that can make Iowa government leaner and more efficient, then we will work with them in a bipartisan way. I have yet to see actually what they’re proposing in terms of specifics,” McCarthy said. “But if they come in and start cutting programs – health care, education, or otherwise that deliver for corporate interests – then we are going to let our voices be heard.”

House Democrats also elected state Representatives Mark Smith of Marshalltown, Ako Abdul-Samad of Des Moines, Sharon Steckman of Mason City, and Mary Mascher of Iowa City as assistant leaders.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs and Senate President Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg will remain the leaders of Senate Democrats going into the 84th Iowa General Assembly.

Gronstal said Sunday that members of his caucus are openly disagreeing with him and trying to convince him to change his mind regarding a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state. He again said he will not allow a vote on the issue, while Kibbie said that’s a bridge Senate Democrats will cross when they come to it.

“We had a slight discussion about that today, and we’ll deal with that,” Kibbie said. “If we receive a constitutional amendment from the House we’ll deal with it at that time. In the State Government Committee, I’ll assume we’ll discuss that.”

Also elected as leaders for Senate Democrats were Senate Majority Whip Tom Courtney of Burlington and Assistant Majority Leaders Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, Bill Dotzler of Waterloo, Amanda Ragan of Mason City, Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids, and Steve Sodders of State Center.

Special Election Set to Fill Seat Vacated by New Lieutenant Governor

Two women are seeking to fill the vacancy in Iowa Senate District 48 in a special election that will be held January 4 following Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Reynolds’ resignation from that seat.

Control of the Iowa Senate is currently at 26-23 in favor of Democrats, although recounts are underway in two close races that could potentially change that balance.

Iowa Republicans will hold a special nominating convention in Creston at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 23, to select their candidate. Montgomery County Auditor Joni Ernst of Red Oak announced last week that she will seek the Republican nomination and has been endorsed by both Reynolds (R-Osceola) and state Representative Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr).

Ernst is a married mother of three who is serving her sixth year as auditor. She has served 18 years in the U.S. Army Reserves and the Iowa Army National Guard and spent 14 months mobilized and overseas in Kuwait at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She currently serves as a major in the Iowa Army National Guard and is assigned as operations branch chief of logistics with Joint Forces Headquarters in Johnston.

“I look forward to serving the people of Senate District 48 and making sure government is once again accountable to the people,” Ernst said. “We need to reduce the size of government and get it back to serving the people. We the people also know how to spend, save, and invest our paychecks better than government.”

Iowa Democrats will hold a special nominating convention at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 1, in Creston to select their nominee.

Ruth Smith of Lamoni, who ran in 2008 against Reynolds, is seeking the Democratic nomination. Smith is a married mother of three who’s a rural physical therapist, entrepreneur, and business owner. She is also an adjunct instructor at Graceland University in Lamoni, and a volleyball and softball coach at Lamoni Community Schools.

Republicans have the advantage over Democrats in the district’s voter registration, 38 to 26 percent, although nearly 36 percent of voters have no party affiliation, according to November 1 statistics from the Iowa secretary of state’s office. Smith acknowledged that the district leans Republican.

“I think the task at hand is to be convincing that I can represent all people of any party affiliation,” Smith said. “My experience in 2008 has set a good foundation of supporters throughout the seven counties. It’s a large geographical area. Making those relationships is quite a good start.”