Although the Republican takeover of the Iowa Senate was a bigger headline, the November 8 results were also devastating for Iowa House Democrats. Going into this campaign down 57 seats to 43, Democrats had realistic hopes of winning back the House majority, thanks to a half-dozen Republican retirements in the eastern half of the state, where Democrats have done well the last two presidential election years. With fewer open seats on the ballot in 2012, Democrats had a net gain of seven Iowa House seats and fell just a hair short in several other districts.
By October, an eight-seat gain looked out of reach, as Donald Trump had built a lead in state polling, and GOP candidates were outspending Democrats in most of the contested districts. Still, early vote totals looked promising for Democrats in some key legislative races shortly before election day. However, on Tuesday Democrats lost every race against a House Republican incumbent and every race in a GOP-held open House district. State Representative Patti Ruff was the only incumbent in the lower chamber to lose. The party lost one Democratic-held open House district as well, giving the GOP a net gain of two seats and a 59-41 majority for the next two years.
Despite the disappointing election, House Democrats re-elected Mark Smith as minority leader in Des Moines on Saturday. His four assistant minority leaders will be Bruce Bearinger, Liz Bennett, Brian Meyer, and Helen Miller. I was surprised to see Meyer's name on the list, because one of the worst-kept secrets in Iowa Democratic circles is that he and Smith don't get along. (Meyer was not a ranking member on any House committee during the last legislature.) All power to those who can put past grievances aside. The caucus can't afford to be divided during what will likely be a distressing two years at the statehouse.
Not mentioned in the press release I enclose below: Miller challenged Smith for the leadership position, according to sources close to the legislature. I don't have details on the vote count. Miller and Smith were both elected for the first time in 2002, Bearinger in 2012, Meyer in a 2013 special election, and Bennett in 2014.
None of the assistant minority leaders during the last legislative session (Ako Abdul-Samad, Mary Gaskill, Sharon Steckman, and Todd Prichard) are on the incoming leadership team. Abdul-Samad and Gaskill have had some health issues this past year. I don't know whether Steckman and Prichard wanted to continue serving as assistant minority leaders.
November 12 press release from the Iowa House Democrats:
SMITH TO CONTINUE AS LEADER OF IOWA HOUSE DEMOCRATS
Des Moines, Iowa – State Representative Mark Smith of Marshalltown was elected today to continue on as Iowa House Democratic Leader. Leader Smith was first elected to the post in 2013.
“House Democrats are unified and ready to get to work in January. We will fight hard to defend our progressive values and support hard-working families. We’re ready to work with Republicans on the key issues facing our state, but we will stand strong against any Republican plans that shortchange our public schools, infringe on a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, or hurt working families,” said Smith.
Rep. Smith was just elected to his 9th term in the Iowa House last week. He was born and raised on his family’s farm near Osceola, Iowa. He is a graduate of Graceland College in Lamoni and earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Iowa. Smith was the Director of Special Projects at the Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa. Mark and his wife, Karen, have one grown daughter and he has two grown foster sons.
House Democrats also elected four Assistant Minority Leaders for the 2017 session and they include: Rep. Bruce Bearinger of Oelwein, Rep. Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids, Rep. Brian Meyer of Des Moines, and Rep. Helen Miller of Ft. Dodge.
The four new members of the House Democratic Caucus are Wes Breckenridge of Newton, Tim Kacena of Sioux City, Amy Nielsen of North Liberty, and Ras Smith of Waterloo.
The 2017 Legislative Session starts on Monday, January 9. For more information, log on to www.iowahouse.org .