Opening Day Invocation in the Iowa House on January 9, 2017.
Opening Day Invocation in the Iowa House on January 9, 2017.
Photo credit: Jacob Hall

(Des Moines, IA) Monday’s opening day of the Iowa legislative session saw Republicans return to the House with a majority. But in 2017 they’ll have tag team partners in the Senate as the GOP controls all three branches of the Iowa government – and will for the next two years.

“I think right now we’re just trying to sort everything out as far as making sure Senate leadership and House leadership are in sync on a lot of things,” said State Representative Greg Heartsill (R-Chariton). “Obviously it’s a big responsibility to be handed a political trifecta; so I think we’re just wanting to make sure that everyone is on the same page. We understand the responsibility and we want to make sure we’re making things go as smoothly as possible and restoring confidence in government with the electorate.”

State Representative Matt Windschilt (R-Missouri Valley), who was re-elected as Speaker Pro Tempore, said leadership from the two chambers have been meeting prior to the start of session.

“I think every individual member who has had a project or an issue they’ve been trying to work on for years has an equal degree of excitement as somebody who has had a different project,” he said. “The Senate seems very eager to get running and I’m happy to see that. We will do what we’ve done over the past six years – now going on seven – as a majority and we will govern wisely and accordingly.”

It’s hard to tell which Republican majority is most excited – the Senate Republicans who have spent years in the minority or the House Republicans who have enjoyed a majority for the past six sessions only to see a number of bills die in the Senate.

“I’m optimistic,” said State Representative Steve Holt (R-Denison). “All these bills we’ve advanced the last two years I’ve been here that have just stopped at the Senate door – pro-life legislation, Second Amendment legislation, things that will make government smaller and smarter – we have the opportunity now to actually pass those things and I think pass them we will. I’m very excited that the next two years will be great for the state of Iowa.”

Heartsill and Holt reflected on successful legislation from the House that failed to even see the floor of the Senate. Sometimes even a bipartisan effort was for naught.

“The thing we always knew was when we sent something over to the Senate in the past, as long as I’ve been here, it had to come through with bipartisan support,” Heartsill said. “What was frustrating was some of the things that we worked on very hard to garner bipartisan support would go to the Senate and die – sometimes those things passed with near unanimous approval. But, if the then-Senate leadership didn’t want to pass it; it just died. That’s a huge frustration.”

Bipartisanship was a key theme in the speeches delivered by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake), Majority Leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights) and Windschitl. It’s also something Heartsill said he expects Republicans in both chambers will still embrace.

And while it’s easier to preach bipartisanship when in control of a chamber, Windschitl is intent on making every effort he can to make good on that promise.

“I don’t say anything that I don’t fully mean,” he said. “We need to take the rhetoric from the campaigns and leave it behind. Now is the time to govern; now is the time to legislate. That’s what Iowans expect of us.”

Minority Leader Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown) heard the bipartisan billing in the Republican speeches, but focused on Republican policy in his remarks.

“They talked about bipartisanship but they also talked about their agenda – cutting taxes, which is in opposition to what Governor (Terry) Branstad has said in this political climate,” he said. “It shows there are some divisions in the Republican Party – it is our job to point out the problems, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Smith said the biggest concern of House Democrats is public education.

“My main concern is that when a public school closes that community dries up and blows away,” he said. “This is not the way to revitalize rural Iowa. The way to revitalize rural Iowa is to make sure we continue to have a strong public school system.”

During his speech on the floor Smith highlighted Republican efforts to take away women’s rights, voting rights and workers’ rights.

“The main role of the opposition is to point out problems with legislation and make sure we do the best for Iowa,” he said. “We’ll be working in that regard.”

While his remarks received applause from most members of the chamber, Holt wasn’t on his feet – or clapping.

“We’re not interested in the least in reducing women’s rights – we’re interested in protecting the unborn,” Holt said. “That’s the reason I didn’t stand up and applaud – I don’t applaud things that are that far off the mark when it comes to accuracy.”

Smith’s comments were not unexpected to Holt.

“The facts are, in the two years I’ve been here, Republicans have always taken the high road in opening and closing remarks and Minority Leader Smith does not do that,” he said. “He has a tendency to be more partisan, as is his choice and his right to do. I’m proud of our leadership, who has a tendency to take the high road on these issues.”

All three Republicans representatives highlighted Second Amendment issues as legislative priorities.

“There’s a plethora of different Second Amendment issues that are out there; whether it be permanent privacy, constitutional carry, stand-your-ground, fixing the renewal system,” Windschitl said. There are so many nuances to this that it would get too complicated if I tried to elaborate on all of it right here, right now.”

There’s also optimism on the life issue.

“I want to see us push forward on life as strong as we can,” Windschitl said. “I would love to see us recognize life as beginning at conception – I’d like to see that bill on the floor. I don’t know if we’ll get there, but we’re going to try. I’ve already had conversations with members of my caucus who feel just as passionate about it.”

Holt said he will continue his push against sanctuary cities and communities in the state.

“I’m concerned about Iowa City talking about becoming a sanctuary community,” he said. “I advanced legislation last year on that issue and I’ll be advancing it again this year. We want to make sure folks and communities understand that sanctuary cities are not acceptable in Iowa.”

Heartsill touched on the ability for Republicans to provide conservative solutions not just on social issues, but also on fiscal policy.

“I’m a conservative, so as far as advancing a more conservative agenda, that’s exciting for me,” he said. “It’ll be an across-the-bard conservative agenda. Tax and regulatory reform is something that will be possible now. Obviously we have a tighter budget so that’ll cause some challenges.”

While the Democrats seem intent to fight the Republicans on key issues, Windschitl espoused confidence in his party’s ability to get things done.

“We are in the majority,” he said. “We will do what we need to do regardless of what some remarks may be.”

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