The 2009 Iowa legislative session is underway, with all the pomp and circumstance of the opening day a mere memory now for the 149 state lawmakers. One legislator, Representative Royd Chambers of Sheldon, is on active duty in the Air National Guard and expects to miss the entire 2009 legislative session. 

The gavels fell at about 10 o’clock in both the Iowa House and Senate. A Catholic priest from northwest Iowa offered an opening prayer in the Iowa Senate. In the House, a Jewish rabbi, a Christian minister and a Muslim imam were invited to open the session.

Rabbi Bryle Padorr of a Des Moines synagogue went first. "With your permission I would like to offer a prayer, from our morning service, for our country and its leaders," Rabbi Padorr said. "Please accept it in the name of whatever higher power you believe in."

Representative Ako Abdul Samad is imam at the Islamic Center of Des Moines and he went last. "In the book the holy Koran, (Surah al-Hujurat) chapter 49 says: ‘I have created you into tribes to get to know one another and not despise one another,’" he said, "that we can work together to bring changes and to be able to serve the communities which we live in."

Decrees from the Iowa Secretary of State were read in the house and senate, naming each of the 125 legislators who were elected in November to serve in the 83rd General Assembly. All 100 members of the Iowa House but Chambers, the guardsman who is in Kyrgyzstan, took the oath of office for their two-year terms; half of the 50 senators took the oath of office for their four-year terms. 

Applause is generally banned from the galleries where guests may sit during legislative debate, but today applause was allowed as legislative leaders gave their "opening day" speeches, talking about the "serious discussions" that are ahead.

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs offered this sobering assessment. "In my 26 years in the legislature, I’ve never seen such a tough situation," Gronstal said. "Our resources are limited. We’ll say, ‘No,’ to many good ideas. We’re going disappoint some people and frustrate others."

House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, mimicked Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opening act in the U.S. House of Representatives by inviting all the children and grandchildren of legislators who were in Des Moines to meet him on the rostrum as he banged the gavel for the first time in 2009.

A few moments later, Murphy used some clichés to describe the status of the state budget. "We will need to get leaner and meaner as the year goes on," Murphy said. "…It won’t be easy. The cupboard’s almost bare."

Gronstal, the top Democrat in the Iowa Senate, welcomed new members to the legislature, but added a caveat. "If your idea of being an elected official involves being loved by everyone, the next few months will be pretty tough," Gronstal said.

Two federal lawmakers were on hand for the legislature’s opening day: Congressman Leonard Boswell, a former state senator who served as president of the Iowa Senate, and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, who was a member of the Iowa House before his election to congress. Grassley’s grandson, Pat, is currently a member of the Iowa House.

The legislators spent a good chunk time today claiming a desk on the floor of the House and Senate. The longest-serving lawmakers get to choose first and the decision is important to most lawmakers since that desk space serves as their office in Des Moines. Only top legislative leaders get separate offices.