2023 Iowa legislature convenes with sizable GOP majorities

DES MOINES — The 2023 Iowa Legislature begins later this morning, with the GOP in firm control of the agenda since Republicans occupy 65% of the seats in the Iowa House and Senate.

Republicans have what’s called a “super majority” in the Senate. With 34 of the 50 votes, Democrats will be unable to block Republican Governor Kim Reynolds’ nominees for appointed positions in state government. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said it’s been a remarkable turn around for Senate Republicans.

“We were at 18 back in 2010, and then you go to 24 and then you go to 29 and then you go to 32 and now you’re at 34 and that really just builds momentum for the direction we’re taking the state,” Whitver said.

In the House, Republicans hold 64 of the 100 seats. House Speaker Pat Grassley said each of Iowa’s 99 counties is now represented by at least one House Republican.

“That 99 of 99 was important to us because we knew that if we hit that, we would grow the majority, but more importantly I think it honestly puts us in a position to say: ‘We represent the entire state,’” Grassley said. “…I think that gives us an exciting opportunity.”

Representative Brent Siegrist of Council Bluffs was House Majority Leader in the mid-1990s when the House GOP held the same number of seats. He warns there’s no guarantee every bill Republicans try to advance will have 64 “yes” votes.

“It is difficult to manage. When you have 64 you have different groups within your caucus that have a different idea than what the majority of the people in your caucus feel,” Siegrist said. “It’s apropo to say it’s like herding cats.”

Democrat David Osterberg represented the Mount Vernon area in 1989 when Democrats held 61 seats in the House and 60% of all seats in the legislature.

“You can do things that have never been done before,” Osterberg said. “However, remember Democrats had a big majority, but they didn’t have the governorship.”

Republican Governor Terry Branstad was a check on the Democrats in the legislature back then. Osterberg said with majority Republicans in the 2023 legislature sending bills to a Republican governor, expects some “breathtaking” moments.

“Mischief happens when you have these kind of majorities,” Osterberg said.

Siegrist said proposals that “may be out of the mainstream” have a better shot when one party has the trifecta in state government. “You figure with 64, you can do whatever you want,” Siegrist said.

Thirty-nine House members ad 14 state senators are starting their first terms. That’s more than a third of the legislature — and that’s a big challenge. “That’s not to say we won’t do a lot this year,” Siegrist said, “but it takes a while to get that many people used to the process and how everything works.”

Republicans in the legislature say property tax reform is a top priority. Governor Reynolds has said her top goal is ensuring every parent can choose where to send their child to school. House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst said she doubts Reynolds has the votes in the House to get that passed in 2023.

“Iowans don’t want to take public money and put it into private schools and I think there are some Republicans who also have some serious concerns…Will it make K-12 schools dry up in small towns?” Konfrst said during a weekend appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS, “so I think the book is not closed on that issue in any way, shape or form.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls saidDemocrats will shine a light on Republican efforts to enact new abortion restrictions. “We’ll be ready to provide the transparency and accountability that their radical ideas require us to do,” Wahls said during an online news conference Friday afternoon.

The House and Senate are scheduled to convene at 10 o’clock. Governor Kim Reynolds will deliver the annual “Condition of the State” message at 6 p.m. Tuesday.