Later this morning, for the first time since 1964, Democrats will have control of both the legislative and executive branches of state government. Democrats will hold a majority of seats in both the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate, so Democrats will be able to control the legislature’s debate agenda. And out-going Governor Tom Vilsack will be replaced by another Democrat in Chet Culver.
Culver says the "people have spoken" and they have expectations. "I think we have to be, as elected officials here at the state capitol, very respectful of the wishes and desires of the electorate and so we have to be responsive to their demands," Culver says. "I think they expect us to raise the minimum wage and expect us to increase teacher pay and move forward on many of those initiatives that I ran on."
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines says Democrats will govern in the "mainstream." "I’ve said this several times, but there’s always two ways to govern. One’s in the extreme, governing by ideology. The other, I think, is governing in the mainstream, governing by facts and letting facts dictate where you go," McCarthy says.
"If people are looking for (Democrats) to govern based on some sort of ideology: ‘Here’s what we believe and here’s where we’re going to head, regardless of what the facts show,’ that’s a recipe for failure." McCarthy says Democrats will manage the legislature differently than Republicans have over the past few years. "Leave divisive, ideological fights to the other party," McCarthy says. "We’re going to focus on bread-and-butter issues."
One of the first bills to be introduced will call for an increase in the minimum wage and even House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City predicts it will pass, with some Republican "yes" votes. "There’s a race going on between Democrats in congress and Democrats in Iowa about who can pass it first," Rants says. "As long as they’re just raising the minimum wage, we’re not going to stand in the way and be obstructionists."
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs also predicts health care reform will be a key issue. Gronstal envisions a "comprehensive plan" that not only improves "access" to health care but also resolves to ensure all Iowans are covered by some kind of insurance. "I don’t know that we’ll get that all done in one year," Gronstal concedes.
But Gronstal says the example of Massachusetts is inspiring as that state passed a law requiring businesses to pay if they weren’t providing health care benefits and forcing all Massachusetts residents to obtain health insurance, like Iowa now requires all automobiles on the roads to be insured. "Whether we go down that same road remains to be seen," Gronstal says. Gronstal acknowledges that despite state law, not every driver in Iowa has car insurance.
"But Iowa also has the highest voluntary compliance with car insurance in the country," Gronstal says. "I think Iowans are largely responsible people and I think they would respond well if we give them the tools and the mechanisms to access affordable health care, I think the vast majority of Iowans will, in fact, do that." Republicans will be in a new role this year, losing the ability to control the debate agenda because they lost seats in the November election. In the Senate, Democrats hold 30 of the 50 seats.
Senate Republican Leader Mary Lundby of Marion says those 20 Republican senators won’t sit back and remain silent. "There’s not as many of us so we can’t control the agenda, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be part of the agenda," she says. Democrats hold 54 of the 100 seats in the House. Gavels are to fall in the Iowa House and Senate at 10 o’clock Monday morning to convene the 2007 legislative session. Representatives and senators will take the oath of office shortly afterwards.