After a disappointing special election loss on Tuesday, the two dozen Republicans who serve in the Iowa Senate have selected a new leader.
Jerry Behn, a Republican from Boone, is the new Minority Leader in the Iowa Senate.
“The biggest thing we want to do is have everybody working for the pro-growth agenda and to win the 2012 election,” Behn told reporters this afternoon after winning the post. “And that’s really going to be the focus of everything we do.”
It was not a unanimous decision. Behn was challenged by Senator Bill Dix of Shell Rock who tried unsuccessfully to force a leadership election earlier this fall. After the vote, a senator who had supported Dix denounced Behn’s win, saying “absolutely nothing” had changed with Behn’s election. Behn downplayed the rifts among the Senate Republicans.
“I made calls to every single (Republican senator)…had nice discussions and everybody was on the same page and I think that’s the biggest thing we want to continue on is to keep united,” Behn told reporters.
Behn — whose name is pronounced BAYN and rhymes with the word “rain” — is a farmer who ran briefly for governor before dropping out in December of 2009 and endorsing Terry Branstad’s bid for a fifth term. Behn was first elected to the state senate in 1996.
“I would say I’m for a pro-growth agenda,” Behn said in describing his political philosophy, “and doing what we can to create jobs in this state.”
Governor Branstad’s home in rural Boone is about six miles from Behn’s farmstead.
“Jerry’s a good guy. He’s very personable. He works well with people. I think he’ll be a good leader,” Branstad told reporters this afternoon after the governor met privately with the 24 Senate Republicans. “And I’m really excited. I think they’ve got a good team and I’m looking forward to working with them.”
Behn replaces former Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley who announced last week that he would step down as leader. This past Tuesday, Republicans lost their chance to tie Democrats in the senate, The Democratic candidate in an eastern Iowa state senate race beat the Republican by 12 percentage points. The governor appears to be playing peacemaker for the fractered group of Senate Republicans by predicting Republicans can win control of the Senate in the 2012 election.
“I reminded them every campaign is different,” Branstad said. “I’ve been through 12 contested elections. Everyone of them is different and the situation and circumstances are different and you’ve got to take that into consideration. The most important thing is to recruit the very best candidate and you’ve got to work extraordinarily hard. You’ve got to raise the money, the resources to do the job and I think we can do that and I’m very encouraged.”
Behn said he’d like to see the full, 50-member senate vote to set up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, but Behn told reporters economic issues are at the top of his agenda.
“We want to illustrate the differences between teh Democratic philosophy and our philosophy,” Behn said. “Everybody says they’re pro-growth, o.k.? The reality is some of the issues that are being brought forth are not necessarily pro-growth. It is our responsibility to illustrate that to the public and that’s what we intend to do.”
Republican Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale was elected to the job of “whip” — the top assistant for Behn — and Senator Roby Smith of Davenport was elected to an assistant GOP leader position.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal issued a written statement shortly after Behn’s election, congratulating Behn and pledging to “work cooperatively on the issues the Democrats and Republicans can agree upon.”