September 5, 2015

‘Draft Biden’ has new Iowa staff, long-time Biden backer as co-chair

A former Democratic leader in the Iowa House has signed on as co-chair of the Draft Biden effort in Iowa.

Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines was in the legislature for 11 years and he served as House Majority Leader for four years. In a statement released by the Draft Biden organization, McCarthy called Biden “the real deal” and McCarthy said Biden “would bring an unmatched combination of authenticity and electability” to voters. McCarthy said voters are “craving” someone like Biden.

McCarthy was chair of Biden’s 2008 campaign. In 2004, McCarthy was the state director for Joe Lieberman’s Iowa campaign.

Seven Democrats who are current members of the Iowa House and Senate have signed onto the Draft Biden effort, as have three former legislators, the Dubuque County Auditor and the Polk County Treasurer. In addition, the Draft Biden team has a new state director who worked on Biden’s 2007 presidential campaign in Iowa. Draft Biden is a “Super PAC” not directly affiliated with the vice president.

Biden’s oldest son died this summer and Biden said yesterday in Atlanta he and his family may not have the “emotional energy” for another campaign.

Legislator tapped to head Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives


Chuck Soderberg

A Republican legislator from northwest Iowa will soon resign to take over as general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, which provides power to about 650,000 Iowa customers.

Representative Chuck Soderberg of Le Mars has worked for the Northern Iowa Power Cooperative for the past 36 years. Soderberg grew up on a dairy farm near Burt, Iowa, and has lived in Le Mars for the past four decades. Soderberg will move to the Des Moines area and he’ll start his new job with the state association for Rural Electric Cooperatives on September 8.

“The organization provides a number of services to the RECs and the generation transmission cooperatives throughout the state from the regulatory support, legislative support, safety support and education and communications,” Soderberg says, “Also included are the association’s health insurance plans and the retirement programs that many of the RECs participate in.”

Soderberg, who is 58 years old, has served in the Iowa House since 2005 and, for the past two years, he has been chairman of the House committee that writes the state budget. He’ll resign from his House seat soon and a special election will be held to select his replacement.

“From a timing standpoint, we’re still working through that,” Soderberg says.

Soderberg’s House district covers Plymouth County and parts of Woodbury County. It has a solid Republican voter registration edge. Soderberg ran unopposed in the district five times and easily defeated a Democratic opponent in 2008.

(Reporting by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)

Governor talks about Denison plant closing, Iowa State Fair attendance

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds in Sioux City.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds in Sioux City.

Governor Terry Branstad will be in Denison today to meet with local officials over the closing of that city’s Tyson Foods plant. Tyson announced August 14th it would shut the plant down.

“And obviously this is 400 jobs being lost and we’re concerned about that,” Branstad says. “But there’s also a possibility of another plant — a vacant plant I understand — that is considering Denison that could bring a couple hundred jobs. We are going to talk about that.” Branstad says there will also be discussions about how to help the workers displaced by the plant closing:

He says Workforce Development people will go along on the visit and they will meet with local officials on a strategy for helping those who lost their jobs and replacing the jobs as quickly as possible.

he plant has a long history in Denison, opening back in 1961. Branstad made his comments during a news conference Monday in Sioux City.

Branstad also touted a compromise he and state lawmakers reached earlier this year on the school start date following word that this year’s Iowa State Fair set an attendance record. Back in April, Branstad signed a bill into law which mandates schools start classes no earlier than August 23. Branstad says he saw a lot more families and children at this year’s fair because of the change.

“We had more FFA and 4-H students showing at the fair than ever before, at least in recent history, because of that,” Branstad said. “It’s been an issue that’s been around and debated for 30 years and now I think we’ve got a reasonable compromise.” The Iowa State Fair estimated attendance was 1,117,398 for 11 days, which broke the previous record from 2008 1,109,150.

The later school start date is helping other tourist attractions around Iowa, according to Branstad.”I had some people from Okoboji at the fair telling me that their numbers are up in August from what they’ve been recently,” Branstad said.

(Story and photo by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)

House GOP chooses Upmeyer as speaker-select, first woman to hold the post (AUDIO)

Linda Upm

Linda Upmeyer holding a press conference at the Iowa House.

Republicans in the Iowa House have just elected the first woman speaker of the house in state history. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake will become speaker in January, when the 2016 Iowa legislature convenes.

“It’s really an exciting day for me on many levels,” Upmeyer told reporters late this morning.

Upmeyer’s late father, Del Stromer served as House Speaker in the early 1980s and Upmeyer grew emotional this morning as she talked about him.

“My dad was an amazing man and so it’s really something to live up to knowing what a good job he did as speaker, watching that and being able to follow in his footsteps,” Upmeyer said, “and I think that there are many things that I learned from him that will hold me in good stead as I do this work.”

Harriet Stromer, Upmeyer’s mother, served as a secretary to her husband during his 23-year legislative career.

“This morning, my mother gave me the lapel pin that was a gavel that she’d given him when he was first elected speaker,” Upmeyer said. “So it’s just a very special moment for our family.”

Upmeyer, though, does not plan to wear that pin until she formally becomes speaker. Her title today is “Speaker-select” and Upmeyer said her new status as the legislature’s first female speaker may be an inspiration to other women to seek public office.

“But you know, I’ve never felt like there was a glass ceiling that I needed to break,” Upmeyer said. “However, in visiting with the public as I go out and recruit candidates and help members campaign, it’s my hope and I know it’s true that there’s a young lady out there somewhere that is going to say: ‘I can do this, too.'”

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha announced earlier this month that he would not seek reelection in 2016 and will be stepping down from his role in January. The 57 Republicans who serve in the Iowa House met this morning to elect Upmeyer as Paulsen’s successor. She will become the top-ranking Republican in the legislature. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, unsuccessfully challenged Upmeyer today, to send a message that things need to be run differently in the legislature.

“I feel like I’m in that movie, Groundhog Day,” Byrnes told reporters. “…It’s the same leadership in the House, the same leadership in the Senate. It’s the same governor and the parameters just feel like they’re just set and we can’t move from them. We need new ideas. We need new energy, we need to be able to accept other people’s concepts and infuse those in and I hope that, you know, she can do that.”

According to Byrnes, rank-and-file legislators are upset with missed deadlines, as the legislature has failed to set state school aid levels on time and met for weeks past its scheduled adjournment date. Byrnes also said Iowans are soured by the hyper-partisanship they see from statehouse politicians.

“We’re not lighting the world on fire with Iowans right now and we need to do a better job,” Byrnes said.

Upmeyer told reporters she’ll address the concerns Brynes raised.

“We never should be comfortable with where we’re at,” Upmeyer said. “We always should be striving for innovation and to do things smarter and better and so I absolutely applaud that.”

AUDIO of Upmeyer speaking with reporters after her election as speaker-select

House Republicans are keeping the vote-count on the speaker’s race secret. Representative Chris Hagenow of Windsor Height was chosen by his Republican peers to serve as House Majority Leader in January. The majority leader is the number two Republican in the House and runs the House debate schedule. Upmeyer has held that job for the past five years. Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, was among those who emerged from the private meeting of House Republicans to comment on Upmeyer’s election.

“I think she’s proven herself as majority leader to step into the post of speaker,” Heaton said.

Representative Linda Miller, a Republican from Davenport, said the other Republican women in the house are the chairs of committees and didn’t want to move into leadership posts.  Miller sees Upmeyer’s advancement, though, as a recruiting tool for female candidates.

“Hopefully just by virtue of Linda being the speaker, that kind of notoriety will actually help us recruit more women or at least have them think about the job,” Miller told reporters. “Women have to be asked. Men never have to be asked to run for the job. Never.”

Twenty-five years ago, when Republicans won majority control of the Iowa House, Mary Lundby of Marion sought the job of House Speaker, but lost that election. Lundy soon ran for the senate and later became Senate Co-Majority Leader, the first woman to be elected by her peers to a top leadership spot in the legislature.

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Branstad: It’s up to attorney general to determine if Planned Parenthood broke laws

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says it’s “the responsibility” of Iowa’s Democratic attorney general to determine if Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is prosecuted for “any criminal wrong-doing.”

Critics of the organization have called on Iowa’s Republican governor to launch a criminal investigation of Planned Parenthood after a series of undercover videos were released.

“These are videos from other states, so we don’t know if this has happened in Iowa, but this is a national organization,” Branstad told reporters Monday.

As Radio Iowa reported on August 6, Branstad is having officials in the Department of Human Services review federal family planning grants the state administers to see if any state dollars are being used on contraceptives provided by Planned Parenthood.

“We’re going to look at the contracts and see what our rights and responsibilities are,” Branstad said Monday at his weekly news conference. “But I want to protect the taxpayers.”

No state taxpayer dollars are paying for abortions in Iowa. This past Saturday hundreds of abortion opponents rallied at the statehouse to call attention to the undercover videos. Branstad spoke at the gathering.

House Speaker Paulsen speaks with reporters after surprise retirement announcement (AUDIO)

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen at his press conference in the Iowa House this afternoon.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen at his news conference in the Iowa House this afternoon.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen will not seek reelection in 2016 and in January he’ll step down from his job as the top-ranking Republican in the legislature. Paulsen held a news conference early this afternoon on the floor of the Iowa House.

“You probably want some grand story of why. There’s no grand answer. There’s no single thing,” Paulsen said. “…There’s never the perfect time to show up. There’s never the perfect time to leave, but I believe this is the right time. It’s the right decision for the House Republican Caucus. It’s the right decision for my family and so that’s the decision that I’ve made.”

AUDIO of Paulsen’s news conference

Paulsen told reporters the contentious 2015 legislative session had nothing to do with his decision.

“We all have our, I guess, fruastrations as we move through that,” Paulsen said. “…There’s no single or one thing. It’s just the right time.”

Paulsen had been thinking about retiring from the legislature before lawmakers convened their 2015 session this past January.

“I had a pretty good feel actually when the session started that this had a good possibility to be my last one,” Paulsen told reporters.

His decision became final in June and he made it public today. A leadership election will be held within the next few weeks to choose a new speaker of the Iowa House. House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake, the number two Republican in the House today, will seek the job — and Paulsen will vote for her to get it.

“You can call it an endorsement,” Paulsen said, laughing when pressed by reporters to describe the move. “You can call it whatever you want, I guess.”

Paulsen’s passing the leadership torch so his successor can be in charge of recruiting 2016 candidates and raising money for House races.

“It’s important to me that I set up the Caucus and the chamber for success,” Paulsen said. “And I think part of that is making sure whoever my successor is has time to put together a House agenda for next year and has time to, on the political side, put together the political campaign map.”

Paulsen isn’t ruling out another run for elected office, but Paulsen told reporters he can’t imagine an opportunity that’s more remarkable than the one he’s leaving.

“I’m 50 years old. I don’t know, it’s probably too young to say never, but I’m not going to be on the ballot in ’16,” Paulsen said. “I’m not working toward anything in ’18.”

Paulsen retired from a career in the military when he was 34 and got a law degree. He was first elected to the Iowa House in 2002 and thought he’d serve just three terms, but will wind up serving seven. Paulsen considers his premiere accomplishment as House Speaker to be passage of a commercial property tax reduction plan in 2013.

After five sessions as House Speaker, Paulsen wound up being the Republican who’s served longest in that role. Democrat Don Avenson of Oelwein served eight years as House Speaker in the 1980s.

Paulsen has a part-time job doing legal work for a trucking company in Cedar Rapids and he does not have another job lined up. Paulsen discussed his decision to retire from the legislature with his wife, Cathy, and a handful of his closest advisors.

“Actually, Cathy and I joke about this. I think the first that I stepped away from a position, the Air Force, without knowing what I was going to do was probably a little unsettling,” Paulsen said today. “The second time I did it, she was kind of O.K. with it and I think this time, hopefully, the whole family is excited.”

Paulsen has four adult children. His married daughter lives in Creston. He has twin sons, one of whom is a student at Iowa State and the other is an electrical apprentice in Cedar Rapids. His third son is a married Marine stationed in North Carolina — and that’s where Paulsen’s first grandchild lives.

(Photo & video by Asya Akca)

Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen to step down in January

House Speaker Craig Paulsen in a July meeting with reporters.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen in a July meeting with reporters.

The top-ranking Republican in the Iowa legislature does not plan to seek reelection in 2016 — and he’s leaving his leadership post in January.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha will serve out the remaining 16 months of his term, but will turn over leadership of the House to another Republican in January. That means someone else will serve as House speaker during the 2016 legislative session.

Paulsen was first elected to the Iowa House in 2002. He rose to become a leader of House Republicans in 2008. When Republicans took majority control of the House in 2010, Paulsen was elevated to House Speaker. No word yet on what’s next for Paulsen, who is 50 years old. Paulsen considered running for congress in 2014, but decided to remain in the state legislature.

Paulsen announced his legislative retirement via email this morning. He will speak with reporters early this afternoon.

Paulsen’s departure sets up a competition to become House speaker. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake is currently House Majority Leader, the second-ranking Republican in the Iowa House. If Upmeyer is elected by her Republican colleagues as House Speaker, she would be the first woman to win that job.

A series of statements were released by some of the state’s political leaders in response to Paulsen’s announcement.

(DES MOINES) – Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds today released the following statements praising former Iowa Speaker of the House Rep. Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) upon learning of his decision to step down from his leadership post in the Iowa House of Representatives. Paulsen is one of the longest-serving Republican leaders in Iowa House of Representative history.

“Representative Kraig Paulsen has been one of the most effective legislative leaders I have had the privilege of working with at the state capitol. Even before he was Speaker, Representative Paulsen worked across party lines in the minority to prevent the passage of ill-advised, job-killing legislation. With the partnership of Iowa House Republicans under his tenure as Speaker, we balanced the state’s budget, restored financial stability in state government, passed the largest tax cut in the state’s history and passed student-focused education policies to raise pupil achievement, among many other things,” said Branstad. “As one of the longest-serving House Republican leaders in state history, I can understand Representative Paulsen’s decision. I’ve appreciated his friendship, leadership, and his partnership as we’ve work to build Iowa for the future.”

“As a former legislator who served during the period of reckless budgeting and across-the-board budget cuts, I’ve valued the commitment of Representative Paulsen to ensure government lives within its means just as the hard-working taxpayers of Iowa do each day,” said Reynolds. “Together with Iowa House Republicans, we’ve worked to make state government more effective, efficient and innovative. We’ll miss Representative Paulsen’s leadership during the legislative session, but we’re confident he’ll continue to honorably represent his constituents and work to protect the interest of the hard-working taxpayers of Iowa.”

CLEVELAND – Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who is in Cleveland for the RNC’s Summer Meeting, released the following statement on Speaker Kraig Paulsen’s decision to step down from his leadership post and not seek reelection:

“During my time in the state legislature and after I’ve been lucky enough to call Kraig Paulsen a friend. Speaker Paulsen is one of the most honorable men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and a man of unquestioned integrity. Under his leadership we’ve maintained control of the House, passed some of the most far-reaching tax breaks in state history, and bolstered Iowa’s sterling reputation as a place to live and do business. His leadership will be sorely missed at the Capitol, but like all good leaders, I’m confident Speaker Paulsen is leaving the House in good hands.”

Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) today thanked Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) for his service to Iowans. Upmeyer’s recognition comes following Speaker Paulsen’s announcement earlier today.

“The Iowa House of Representatives and the state of Iowa have benefitted greatly from the leadership of Speaker Paulsen over the last five years. It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with Kraig since we were both elected in 2002,” said Upmeyer. “The state is in a stronger position because of his efforts and I wish he and his family the best in their future endeavors.”

Upmeyer confirmed that she would seek the support of her caucus to become the first woman to serve as the Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives.

“I love this caucus, I have fought for it and I am proud of what we have accomplished together. I would be honored to continue to work on their behalf as Speaker towards our shared goal of making Iowa a better place to grow a business and raise a family,” said Upmeyer.

Upmeyer indicated a caucus and election would be scheduled in the near future. House Republicans traditionally hold a caucus in the late summer to discuss priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

Statement by Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) on House Speaker Kraig Paulsen’s retirement announcement 

“I have always had a deep respect for Kraig Paulsen.

“He has always treated me decently and fairly. While we have had our partisan differences, we have done our level best to work those out with each other.

“I wish him well wherever his future takes him.”

SHELL ROCK – Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, Wednesday thanked Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen for his dedication and service to the state of Iowa during his tenure as a state representative and as a House leader.
“Speaker Paulsen has been a great leader for the House Republican caucus and our state. He has been a champion for responsible budgeting practices, easing the burdens on the Iowa taxpayer and promoting policies that strengthen and grow Iowa’s economy. It has been an honor to work side-by side with the Speaker as the Senate Republican leader and during my tenure in the Iowa House.”

(This post was updated at 5 p.m. with the statement from Dix.