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)