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DES MOINES, Iowa - Iowa Senate Democrats retooled some of their leadership team Sunday by naming Dubuque Sen. Pam Jochum to be the chamber's next president and pledged to work with Gov. Terry Branstad and minority Republicans over the next two years to get Iowans back to work and grow the economy.
"Now the hard work begins. We have to govern and that's what we need to be focused on," said Jochum, 58, a Dubuque Democrat who became the first woman since Sen. Mary Kramer, R-West Des Moines, to be selected by her Senate colleagues to be the Iowa Senate's presiding officer. She will succeed retiring Sen. Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg.
Jochum is a 20-year veteran at the Statehouse, having served 16 years in the Iowa House before moving to the Iowa Senate. She was elected to a second term earlier this month by a 68 percent majority of the vote in Senate District 50.
"It is truly an honor to be able to preside over the Senate and maintain the civility of the chamber," Jochum told a Statehouse news conference.
The 26 Democrats who make up the Iowa Senate's incoming majority re-elected Sen. Mike Gronstal, 62, of Council Bluffs, to serve as their caucus' majority leader. They also named Sens. Steve Sodders of State Center to serve as Senate president pro tempore, Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City as majority whip, and Matt McCoy of Des Moines, Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids, Bill Dotzler of Waterloo and Amanda Ragan of Mason City as assistant majority leaders.
"We're excited that we're still in the majority and we've got a great team," said Gronstal. He noted that majority Democrats' main focus during the 85th General Assembly which convenes its 2013 session on Jan. 14 will be to create jobs and grow the Iowa economy.
Gronstal and Jochum will be filling committee assignments in the coming weeks and majority Democrats plan to reconvene Dec. 17 to discuss policy priorities, which likely will include commercial property tax relief targeted to small businesses without shifting tax burdens to homeowners, providing more job training opportunities, and assisting Iowa businesses by giving them the first shot at state contracts and other job-creating initiatives.
Gronstal said his Democratic caucus "did a pretty good job" working with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad over the past two years and were more receptive to his education reforms than their Republican counterparts. He said he expected they would work with the GOP governor and legislators again over the next two years but would not set aside their principles to do so.
"The election is over. It's now time for people of good faith to work together to find common ground and help put Iowans back to work," Gronstal said.
The new Senate majority will be comprised of 13 carry-over senators, nine Democrats who won re-election and four Democrats who won election for the first time on Nov. 6. A Dec. 11 special election will be held to fill the Senate District 22 seat vacated due to the death of Sen. Pat Ward, R-Clive, and a recount has been requested in Senate District 28 where Republican Michael Breitbach defeated Democrat John Beard by 36 votes in unofficial results.
Democrats held their leadership caucus at the Statehouse Sunday, which included newly elected freshmen Sens. Chris Brase, Rita Hart, Janet Peterson and Rich Taylor.