Balancing power and issues in Iowa’s legislature

Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - Democrats in Iowa are making a case for balanced government, with the midterm election now a week away. Republicans are looking to keep the majority in the house and senate they’ve held for the last five years. We asked Republican and Democratic party leaders to explain why Iowans should elect their party candidates to the legislature. Republicans never responded, but Democrats say it comes down to a balance of power and ideas at the capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls is hopeful democrats can pick up seats next week. “We know that there are going to be competitive opportunities both for our incumbents and for challengers all over Iowa,” he said. “And it’s going to be a little bit of an unusual cycle coming out of the redistricting process last year, where you’re going to have a lot of incumbents paired together running against each other in the same district.”

One of those districts is in eastern Iowa, between Republican Senator Dawn Driscoll and Democratic Senator Kevin Kinney. The newly drawn Senate District 46 includes Washington and Iowa counties and parts of Johnson County. Republicans need just two more seats in the Senate to reach a super majority, which would give them the ability to confirm the governor’s nominees without a single Democratic vote.

Senator Wahls says bipartisan lawmaking should be essential. “We want to make sure that if it’s at all possible, that we have Democrats and Republicans working together, we have a system of checks and balances for a reason. That’s the whole point that our founders put into the national constitution that our founders put into the Iowa Constitution,” he said.

A super majority could let Republicans shape key issues that have divided the legislature, including abortion. “We know that Governor Reynolds and other Iowa Republicans have called for full abortion bans without exceptions. In our state. And we strongly oppose those,” says Wahls.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, Governor Reynolds appealed to get the courts to reinstate the heartbeat bill that passed under a Republican-controlled legislature in 2018. The law, which includes exceptions for rape, incest, the mother’s health, and fetal abnormalities, would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancies. It was ruled unconstitutional in 2019, and never took effect. Republican leaders in the House and Senate support a court review, to protect the unborn in Iowa.

Another issue putting lawmakers at odds is education. “We want to make sure that we are protecting and fully funding our public schools and rejecting Governor Reynolds Radical School voucher program that will defund Iowa public schools,” says Wahls.

That bill, which has been a signature proposal for Governor Reynolds, would divert millions from public school funding to offer parents and students a choice for education. But the bill didn’t pass the House last session, as even some Republicans worried about the impact on rural school districts. Governor Reynolds has promised the issue will be back next session, after helping to oust Republicans who opposed her voucher plan during June’s primaries.

Redistricting will give candidates in the Iowa Senate more opportunities than a typical election year. Instead of 25 seats, there are 34 seats on the ballot along with all 100 Iowa House seats.