The Iowa legislature convened this morning in Des Moines with new leaders at the helm. Both the House and Senate are in Democratic control for the first time since 1992. Democrats won a majority of seats in the House and Senate last November, and that means Democrats get to control the debate agenda — and lead committees. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs is beginning his 25th year in the Iowa Legislature, but it’s the first time he’s been part of a Democratic Party that controls the Senate, the House and the governorship. “It really kind of hasn’t sunk in yet,” Gronstal says. “In some respects, it’s no different than the last 24 years. There’s a set of issues we know are going to come up…How do we find a way to resolve them?…All of that’s kind of not that different from what I’ve done in the last 24 years.”
Gronstal, however, says he is still awed by the statehouse and being in the legislature. “I have told people this and I know they think it’s schmaltzy or whatever…but when I first came here the hair on the back of my neck went up and it still does at the start of every session,” Gronstal. “..It’s a pretty awesome job and kind of an awesome responsibility.”
Dubuque’s Pat Murphy has just been installed as House Speaker and he says all but a handful of House Democrats will be in the majority for the first time. That means 49 of the 54 Democrats in the House have never been around when Democrats have run the show. “There’s no question that it’s a learning curve for us,” Murphy says.
Representative Murphy says sitting in the speaker’s chair and making decisions about what can and cannot happen will be a new experience. “I’ve sat in the speaker’s chair I think twice in 18 years, but usually when I was sitting in it, the bill was going to pass 100 to nothing and it didn’t matter,” Murphy said. “Now I have to pay a whole lot more attention to the whole process.”
The first bill Democrats intend to act upon is legislation that would increase the minimum wage.
One legislator — Representative Ray Zirkelbach, a Democrat from Monticello — is not at the statehouse today. Zirkelbach, a member of the Iowa National Guard, has been in Iraq for the past 13 months and that’s where he stationed today as well.