Ever since Mary Lundby orchestrated a mid-session leadership coup of Stewart Iverson in 2006, the Republican leadership in the State Senate has been turbulent to say the least. After Lundby’s short time as Senate Republican Leader for the remainder the 2006 session, Ron Wieck held the post from 2007 through 2008. Paul McKinley, the current Senate Republican Leader, has held the post since 2009.
Typically, leadership elections in the legislature are held after the general election or before the legislature reconvenes the following January. Such has been the case for Republicans in the Iowa House, but that tradition has not held true for Senate Republicans. McKinley’s reign as Senate Republican Leader could come to an abrupt and messy end tomorrow morning if State Senator Bill Dix is successful in his challenge of McKinley.
Dix made his intentions known to his colleagues in an email yesterday, and while McKinley ally, Republican Whip Steve Kettering, claims that Senate protocol and tradition indicates that the party leaders set a date and time for meetings of the caucus, and thus, Dix is out of line, there are no official rules that govern who can call for the Republican members to convene a caucus.
Dix’s challenge of McKinley came as a surprise to many, but Republican insiders have known about the possibility for quite some time. Had the Senate Republicans not gained six seats in the 2010 elections, McKinley would probably already have been replaced. The Republican gains in the last election made it difficult to challenge McKinley, but many people would argue that the Republican gains were based on a favorable political climate instead of anything that could be attributed to McKinley and his team.
It is not yet known what spurred Dix to challenge McKinley now instead of after the special election in Senate District 18 or right before the legislature reconvenes in January. TheIowaRepublican.com called Dix yesterday afternoon for comment, but he has yet to respond as of the time of publication. What we do know is that Dix has been very hands-on in the three special senate elections since the 2010 election, while McKinley has been distant.
Dix was present at each of the three nominating conventions that have taken place since the last election. He was there when Joni Ernst was nominated to run for the remainder of Kim Reynolds’ term. He was there when Jack Whitver was nominated to be the Republican candidate in Larry Noble’s seat, and Dix was in Cedar Rapids on Thursday night when Cindy Golding was nominated. Oddly enough, Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley never attended any of those nominating conventions.
It very well could be that Dix is frustrated with McKinley’s hands-off approach when it comes to the political aspects of being the leader of a chamber. It is already widely known that Dix, a savvy fundraiser, has been leaned upon to help raise funds for the chamber, even though he’s technically just a freshman member.
TheIowaRepublican.com was told that Dix is already actively involved in the Republican effort in Senate District 18, while McKinley is rumored to have just traveled overseas to celebrate his 37-year wedding anniversary. Iowa does have a citizen legislature, but more is expected of a caucus leader. Winning the Senate District 18 contest would have major implications for Republicans, and thus, the leader of the Republican caucus must be actively engaged.
We are less than six weeks from election day in Senate District 18, so while McKinley’s vacation was already planned, he has had a week and a half to either cancel or reschedule his trip. It’s also ironic that Bill and Gerri Dix spent their anniversary at Jack Whitver’s nominating convention on December 30th.
Being a legislative leader requires more than just being the point person during the legislative session and sending out a weekly email. Legislative leaders must also be the driving force behind candidate recruitment, fundraising, and deployment of staff and resources in key races. That is the area where McKinley has been criticized the most, and that is likely why Dix has chosen to make his leadership move now instead of later.
Senate Republicans need to have all possible hands on deck if they are serious about winning Senate District 18. That means the caucus leader needs to be spending a day or two in the district every week helping the Republican candidate. It also means that the rest of the caucus needs to know what’s expected of them. Senate Republicans need to be on the ground in Cedar Rapids every single day, and that doesn’t seem to be the case under McKinley’s leadership.
Dix’ challenge of McKinley may be unconventional in its timing, but it might be necessary if Republicans want to dethrone Mike Gronstal before the next session begins.
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