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April 30th, 2009

2009 Legislative Session Winners and Losers

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Written by: Craig Robinson

capitol-dome1Democrat leaders of the Iowa House and Senate came to Des Moines in January with increased majorities in each chamber. Iowa Democrats also believed that their victories in November gave them a mandate to push their agenda forward through the legislature.

While Governor Culver was able to convince Iowa Democrats to support his $750 million borrowing plan, little else was accomplished. Legislative Democrats saw their legislative agenda get bogged down. House and Senate Democrats proposed an eight-cent increase to the state’s gas tax. It went nowhere. They wanted to pass legislation that would award Iowa’s seven electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Governor Culver said he would veto it. They also failed to pass any of the labor unions’ four legislative priorities. For a party that has a six-seat majority in the Iowa House and a seven-seat majority the senate, the inability to advance legislation was shocking.

On the other hand, interest groups like the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and Iowans for Tax Relief were able to gin up considerable public outrage to help defeat some of the legislation that Iowa Democrats wanted to pass.

Likewise, a few Republican legislators stood out and showed that they are future leaders of the party. Former Speaker of the House Christopher Rants was able to miraculously reestablish himself as a potential gubernatorial candidate after losing his leadership position soon after the November elections.

Below is my list of winners and losers from the legislative session. Let me know what you think or share your own list in the comment section below.


Rep. Christopher Rants: After the November elections, Rants was stripped of his leadership position by members of the House Republican caucus. While the move was expected some questioned the decision.

Many people were interested in seeing how Rants would transition to life outside of leadership. Rants used his website, email distribution list, and other social networking media sites to reengage. His insight and involvement on the various union bills, federal deductibility, state budget, and the bonding bill showed that he had found his comfort zone.

However, Rants’ effort to find ways to get legislators to vote on the issue of gay marriage is probably what has done the most for his political restoration. Not only did he force a procedural vote on the floor of the house, but he also attached marriage language to the federal deductibility bill, which may have lead to its demise. Following the legislative session, Rants traveled to eastern Iowa – a sign that he may be laying the ground work for a gubernatorial campaign.

Bob Vander Plaats: Criticized by some for being a perennial gubernatorial candidate, the first month of Vander Plaats’ campaign got off to a rough start. The Court’s decision on April 3rd that allowed gay marriage in Iowa also provided a platform to launch his gubernatorial campaign. Vander Plaats has been much more passionate and comfortable in this new political environment.

Rep. Scott Raecker: The legislature’s all-around good guy, Raecker served as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee when Republicans were in control. That experience has allowed Raecker to become the Republican’s budget guru. During debate on budget bills and the bonding proposal Raecker provided a principled and respectful opposition to the Democrat proposals.

Iowa Association of Business and Industry: No group was more under attack than ABI. Heading into the legislative session, the Democrats made it known that they would advance the labor unions’ list of priorities. Amazingly, not a single piece of legislation that the unions wanted to see passed made it out of the Iowa House.

ABI used a combination of radio ads and a grassroots campaign to engage the public and create an environment where it was impossible for Democrats to find the necessary votes to pass prevailing wage, doctor shopping, or collective bargaining legislation despite Governor Culver’s insistence on finding the necessary votes.

Just yesterday, Governor Culver blamed special interest groups and lobbyists with deep pockets (ABI) for blocking legislative passage of four labor bills pushed by unions this year. Culver’s statement is interesting since it was the labor unions who poured thousands of dollars into their TV campaign, while ABI focused on cheaper radio ads. Culver also pledged to push for the labor union’s agenda again next year.

Iowans for Tax Relief: While ABI had to fend off attacks on multiple issues, Iowans for Tax Relief was part of a month-long all-out war to preserve Iowans right to keep their federal deductibility state tax deduction. ITR effectively combined a radio and TV campaign with a grassroots effort to raise public awareness about the issue.

Iowans for Tax Relief also provided one of the key moments of the legislative session when they turned out 600 people to a public hearing at the state capitol. As we all know, Speaker of the House Pat Murphy threw the people out and ignited public outrage that has never been seen before in this state.

Governor Chet Culver: Culver makes the winners’ list because, despite 71% of Iowans being against his $750 million borrowing plan, he somehow convinced legislators to pass it. Privately, many Democrat legislators voiced hesitation over Culver’s bonding proposal, but in the end, the Governor won out.

Future Leaders: Rep. Matt Windschitl, Rep. Kent Sorenson, Rep. Jason Schultz, and Sen. Randy Feenstra all gave Iowa Republicans a glimpse of a bright future. Sorenson, Schultz, and Feenstra are all freshmen, but they didn’t sit on the sidelines and let the more experienced legislators take the lead. They got their hands dirty.

Rep. Windschitl, who is only in his second term, has proved to be someone who is not afraid to get involved behind the scenes. Windschitl has gotten the attention of Congressman Steve King who said, “Matt is a great man of character and conviction, who is a future leader of our state.”

Steve Deace: Many will find it odd to see the outspoken WHO Radio personality on this list. While some disagree with his tactics, one cannot ignore the impact he has had on the political strategy surrounding the issue of gay marriage. Deace worked behind the scenes encouraging procedural votes so that Democrats would be on the record on gay marriage. Deace was also largely responsible for the legislature’s inability to pass residency requirement which he opposed.

Like it or not, by working behind the scenes and communicating with Iowans for three hours every night, Steve Deace has emerged as one of the main social conservative leaders in the state. Nobody communicates more regularly with Iowans on these issues than he does.

However, Deace is also at least partially responsible for creating some division within the Iowa GOP. While many have seen disagreement between “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives” (or, some would say “moderates” and “conservatives”) for quite some time, now there also seems to be a divide between different factions of social conservatives (see “losers” section below). While Deace makes it into the winner’s column for maneuvering himself into a leadership role of sorts, he’s also partially responsible for the various family groups’ inability to jump into action on April 3rd due to the fact that they had to stop and argue amongst themselves about a residency requirement.


Taxpayers: Despite fending off the Democrats’ plan to repeal federal deductibility, the budget passed by the Democrats is the largest in Iowa’s history, despite the state experiencing sinking revenues. Additionally, Democrats passed a $765 million borrowing plan that will cost taxpayers $1.6 billion over the next 20 years. What really makes the taxpayers losers following the legislative session that set up a $890 million budget gap for next year. This means that a huge tax increase is looming.

Labor Unions: With huge majorities in the Iowa House and Senate and a Democrat Governor who was desperate to sign labor bills into law, it is amazing that not one single labor bill made it out of the Iowa House. Not only did their four legislative priorities find resistance from six House Democrats, they also suffered an embarrassing loss when Speaker Pat Murphy kept the voting machine open for an entire weekend in hopes to find one additional vote to pass a prevailing wage bill. Labor Unions contributed $1.1 million to Democrat legislators this past cycle and have nothing to show for it. Now Ken Sager, the Iowa AFL-CIO president, has pledged to primary those Democrats who voted against these bills. Sager is also the treasurer of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Speaker Pat Murphy: If anyone is to blame for the inability of Democrats to pass their legislative agenda, it is Speaker Murphy. His publicity stunt following the defeat of the prevailing wage bill was a colossal failure. It is inexcusable for a legislative leader to bring a bill up for a vote and get caught one vote short.

The prevailing wage debacle was a turning point in the session. The next labor bill they moved on was the doctor shopping bill, and it went nowhere after its public hearing. Speaking of public hearings, Speaker Murphy showed a lack of discipline when he kicked out 600 citizens because they were a little rambunctious at the public hearing on federal deductibility. Having the State Troopers remove the public from a public hearing made for a huge news story and a more motivated and passionate opposition.

Making matters worse was the fact that a member of his leadership team, Rep. Mike Reasoner, called it quits in the final days of the session. The announcement came at the same time as rumors swirl that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy may not run for re-election. McCarthy was seen as an up and coming leader in the Democratic Party.

Iowa Pro-Family Groups: With gay marriage now allowed in this state, it is impossible to call any of the various groups whose core mission is to protect traditional family values a winner. Iowa’s marriage laws have been under attack for more than a decade, and they lost the battle, albeit in the courts.

The case in which the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, Varnum v. Brien, has been in front of the court since the summer of 2007. The Court heard arguments from both sides this past December, yet it seemed as if these groups were caught flatfooted when the court issued its ruling on April 3rd.

Also troubling is the inability of these groups to get along and work for a common purpose. At a time when the people of Iowa expect these groups to set differences aside, some in the movement looked for opportunities to make political gains instead of trying to work together.

Senate Majority Leader Gronstal: Senator Gronstal reigns over the Iowa Senate with an iron fist. Yet, for the first time in six years the shine is starting to come off. Gronstal hadn’t lost a vote in the senate in five years. That came to an end when he was unable to find the votes to confirm Gene Gessow to another term at the Department of Human Services. For the first time in years, Gronstal had to deal with a minority party who shared a common ideology. Gone were moderate Republican senators who would often do business with him. In this new environment, Gronstal’s temper and arrogance showed.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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