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.