Iowa’s New Female Speaker to Lead in Tough Budget Year

Jan 11, 2016

The Iowa legislature made history Monday by swearing in its first woman as Speaker of the Iowa House.   There was bipartisan praise for Republican Linda Upmeyer.   But the bipartisanship was lacking in opening-day speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders in  the Senate.  

“I am honored to nominate Linda Upmeyer of Cerro Gordo County to be the first female speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives,” said Mount Ayr Republican Cecil Dolocheck, putting Upmeyer’s name before the Iowa House.   She officially replaces former House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.  

In her first remarks as speaker, Upmeyer starts on a personal note.

“This is such a personal moment for our family,” Upmeyer says.   “It will take me a little time to fully appreciate following in my father’s footsteps.” 

Upmeyer’s father Del Stromer served as House Speaker back in 1981.   Upmeyer held various leadership rolls since then on her way to the top job. 

Some Republicans sported pink ties in her honor.    But leading the Iowa House in a year with limited revenues and an approaching election in November won’t be easy. 

House minority leader Democrat Mark Smith outlines his party’s priorities.

“To expand early childhood education, protect kids from bullying, raise the minimum wage and  ensure equal pay for equal work,” Smith says.

Republicans stressed job creation and responsible budgeting, specifically keeping past promises for schools, rather than giving them a big raise.  

Top Senate Republican Bill Dix says Democrats have a never-ending appetite for taxpayers’ money.

“Senate Republicans have long warned if we do nothing to curb the appetite of spending the money of hard-working Iowans that there would be consequences,” Dix says.

But Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal says Republican lawmakers and their governor have underfunded education.      And he blasts the governor’s plan to privatize Medicaid, the health care program for the low-income and disabled.  

Gronstal says over the interim, Democrats sought  public opinion on the issue.

“Iowans told us that the privatization scheme developed by Branstad is a poorly planned, poorly implemented mess,” Gronstal says.    

Senate Democrats last year passed a bill to mandate more oversight of the privatization.   House Republicans did not take that up, and it appears unlikely they will do so this year.

Both parties will have their eye on fall elections, when Republicans hope to wrest control of the Iowa Senate from Democrats.  

At a Republican fundraiser earlier in the day, Governor Branstad said he’s hopeful that will happen.

“We have the strongest slate of candidates we've ever had on the Republican slate for this coming election in 2016,” Branstad says, “and I’m excited about that,” he added to enthusiastic applause.

Branstad singles out Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal in particular as a target for defeat.  

Gronstal introduced the first Senate bill of the 2016 session which will favor young voters this year.   The bill will allow registered voters who are not 18 years old to vote in a primary election if they’ll turn 18 by November.