Republican agenda likely to see smoother sailing with GOP gains in Legislature

By: - November 9, 2022 6:22 pm

The Iowa Statehouse. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican leadership may have an easier path forward with appointments and legislation in the upcoming session as Republicans take a supermajority in the state Senate and add to their majority in the state House.

In the Iowa Senate, Republicans gained at least two seats according to unofficial results. With at least 34 seats, Republicans have a two-thirds majority. That means state Democrats can no longer block appointments by Gov. Kim Reynolds to state agencies and board and commissions.

Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver called the state Senate election historic in a GOP gathering on election night.

“It’s been over 50 years since either side has had a supermajority,” he said. “And I’m confident enough to know, that with results still to come in, we will have a supermajority in the Iowa Senate.”

The governor, who won her own election Tuesday, has highlighted her private school scholarship program as a legislative goal for the upcoming session. Her plan failed to pass the House this year. Some Republicans said they would not support the legislation because it would hurt schools in their districts.

In response, Reynolds put her weight behind challengers in the GOP primaries earlier in the election cycle against some of the Republican incumbents who opposed her proposal. Several of those challengers won.

Outside of scholarships and talk of more tax cuts, she and Republican leadership have stayed quiet on what other specific legislation they would pursue. For example, Reynolds has not proposed any further restrictions to abortion beyond working to reinstate a law that the courts blocked before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Republican challengers gained ground in areas held by Democrats. GOP challenger Rocky De Witt defeated Democratic incumbent Jackie Smith in Senate District 1 in Woodbury County, and Republican incumbent Dawn Driscoll defeated Democratic incumbent Kevin Kinney in Senate District 46.

Republicans also held onto seats in places like Scott County’s Senate District 47, where Republican Scott Webster beat Democrat Mary Kathleen Figaro. The open seat was formerly held by state Sen. Roby Smith, who successfully ran for Iowa treasurer of state.

One race was still too close to call Wednesday: Senate District 21, where Republican Mike Bousselot leads Democrat Todd Brady.

There were a few key victories for Iowa Democrats. Incumbent Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott defeated GOP Senate President Jake Chapman in Dallas County. Trone Garriott thanked voters in a statement for their support during a “incredibly challenging campaign.”

In the House, Democrats were leading in two Ankeny area districts. Democrat Molly Buck was slightly ahead of Republican Mavis Landon in District 41, while Democrat Heather Matson had a slight edge in a rematch against Republican incumbent Garrett Gobble in District 42. The Associated Press had not declared winners in those and several other House races Wednesday afternoon.

House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst released a statement saying that Democrats would continue fighting for the issues they campaigned on during the election: combatting abortion restrictions, increasing public school support and legalizing marijuana.

“While I’m disappointed tonight, I have hope and faith in the people of Iowa,” Konfrst said. “Tonight’s election results do not change the issues important to them.”

While waiting for final results in some races, Republicans lead in unofficial results and are poised to expand their 60-40 majority in the House. At a rally Tuesday night, House Speaker Pat Grassley said Republicans expanded their representation to “99 of 99 counties.”

Republicans also won some of the most expensive Statehouse races this election cycle. Former U.S. Rep. David Young won his race against Democrat Sonya Heitshusen in Dallas County’s District 28, where candidates raised over $500,000 in in-kind contributions. Republican Bill Gustoff was the victor against Democrat MacKenzie Bills and Libertarian Jen Kadel in the open Polk County District 40 seat; Democratic incumbent Phyllis Thede was defeated by Republican Mike Vondran in Scott County’s District 94.

There are some results still pending recounts in Des Moines County and Warren County.

The results in state legislative elections were consistent with GOP wins at the federal and state levels. Former state Sen. Zach Nunn defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District. Longtime Democratic incumbents Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald were defeated by their Republican challengers.

The AP had not called the race for state auditor between Democratic incumbent Rob Sand and Republican Todd Halbur as of Wednesday evening. Sand currently leads by 3,000 votes with 98% of votes counted.

Editor’s note:  This story has been updated to correct the name of the winner of the race in House District 94. His name is Mike Vondran.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.