After being selected in late December to lead the Republican caucus in the Iowa House of Representatives, Rep. Kraig Paulsen is now focused on regaining control of the chamber with the 2010 elections. Paulsen sat down with the Iowa Republican recently to discuss his new role as minority leader, the legislative session that concluded at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and what the future holds for House Republicans.
When lawmakers returned to Des Moines in January to start the new legislative session, Democrats were all aglow about newly-elected President Barak Obama, who won Iowa handedly, and they were also celebrating large majorities in the Iowa House and Senate. Iowa’s political pundits believed that there was nothing Republicans could do to slow down or stop Democrats from advancing their agenda.
The pundits were wrong because the Democrats’ agenda didn’t sail through the legislative process. House Democrats were unable to pass prevailing wage, choice of doctor, and the repeal of federal deductibility, despite Governor Chet Culver’s pledge to help find the needed votes to pass these pieces of legislation.
That’s not to say however, that House Democrats were unable to pass anything significant. Democrats passed a huge budget, along witha bill allowing the state to borrow $765 million, which taxpayers will be asked to pay back over the next 20 years. With only 44 Republican members in the Iowa House, Paulsen, with a lot of help from six moderate Democrats, was able to stop a large part of the Democrats’ agenda from becoming law.
With the legislative session now over, Paulsen is now beginning to focus on his other responsibilities as Minority Leader – raising money, recruiting candidates, and developing a game plan and message for next year’s legislative session and general election campaign. One of the things Paulsen is focusing on post-session is the House Legislative Majority Fund’s Iowa Business Summit, which will be held on May 29th at DeWaay Capital Management in West Des Moines. The event is a fundraiser and an opportunity for Republicans to hone their message.
Paulsen sees the event as an opportunity for House Republicans to get better prepared for what lies ahead of them. “The timeline between Election Day and the start of that first session is amazingly quick, especially when you throw in three holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years,” Paulsen said. “While Republicans had an affirmative agenda this year in regards to rebuilding the disaster areas and the GROW Iowa Plan put forth by the freshmen legislators, the Business Summit is about starting a discussion so that when Republicans come back in January, they have a strong affirmative plan to grow Iowa’s economy,” Paulsen concluded.
Paulsen said he was disappointed and surprised by the House Democrats’ agenda this past session.
“When we showed up this year, there were 72,000 unemployed Iowans. By the time we left, there were 88,000 Iowans out of work. All we talked about were things that would make it more difficult to be an employer in the state.”
Paulsen also discussed at length the conversation he had with Governor Culver about his bonding proposal. “When I met with Governor Culver, I told him that House Republicans have been supportive of bonding in the past. There are times when bonding makes sense, like it makes sense to borrow money in your personal life. I think Vision Iowa is an example of something that has been successful. For House Republicans to be supportive of any bonding proposal, at a minimum it would have to meet three tasks. First, it has to be for vertical infrastructure. Second, the life of the project has to outlive the life of the debt. And third, it has to be leveraged,” said Paulsen.
Paulsen noted that some of the Vision Iowa dollars were leveraged 15 to 1, but there are entire parts of Governor Culver’s proposal that lack a leveraging component. Paulsen also said, “When House Republicans looked at the Governor bonding proposal, we saw that it was simply a way to take infrastructure dollars that are built into the budget through the Rebuild Iowa Fund Infrastructure Fund and divert those resources to ongoing expenses. Culver’s plan then borrows the money to repay the Rebuild Iowa fund, so by the time you are done playing this shell game, what this is really about is just spending more money.”
Paulsen believes that the money already existed to fund many of the projects that Culver has been promoting across the state.
In regards to the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, Paulsen said that he was “surprised at how expansive and aggressive” its ruling was. While he was unable to get a vote on the marriage amendment this spring, Paulsen is confident that there will be a vote on a marriage amendment in the Iowa House next year. Paulsen said, “I don’t anticipate that Rep. Mary Masher will bring the marriage amendment up for a vote in committee, but the resolution is already filed and they will be able to invoke house rules to bring the bill up for a vote.” Paulsen also believes that there will be 44 votes in support of the bill, but they will still need seven votes to pass the amendment in the House.
Paulsen is optimistic about the future. He praised his Republican collogues saying that they are a great caucus that has lots of energy and enjoys a good debate. He also said that the House Republican caucus is the most conservative that he has seen since being elected to the legislature.
Paulsen is also optimistic about adding members to the Republican caucus in the Iowa House. He is confident that there is a roadmap to elect 51 Republicans in the Iowa House. Paulsen’s optimism comes from the number of people who are motivated to run for office.
Paulsen said, “I’m very excited about where we are at in candidate recruitment. One of the things that is really encouraging is the number of people who are stepping up to run for the legislature.” Paulsen said that obviously some of these candidates are motivated to run because of the gay marriage ruling, but he added that Republicans were motivated long before the court’s decision on a number of other issues.
Paulsen feels that he has had some success in his first session as Minority leader in the Iowa House. With a year of experience under his belt as leader, and with a year of experience under the belts of the freshmen legislators, Paulsen feels confident that House Republicans will have more success in the future.
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