Iowa House Democrats elect Kevin McCarthy minority leader

Iowa House Democrats elected Kevin McCarthy minority leader for the coming legislative session on November 15. McCarthy represents district 67 on the southeast side of Des Moines. He served as House majority leader for the last four years alongside House Speaker Pat Murphy. Murphy did not seek the minority leader position after the election shrank the House Democratic caucus from 56 members to 40. The caucus elected four assistant minority leaders today: Ako Abdul-Samad from district 66 (Des Moines), Mark Smith from district 43 (Marshalltown), Sharon Steckman from district 13 (Mason City), and Mary Mascher from district 77 (Iowa City).

The press release from the House Democratic caucus does not say whether anyone challenged McCarthy for the leadership position. Last week Dave Jacoby of Coralville and Mark Smith were rumored to be considering a run for minority leader, although Smith told the Des Moines Register he had decided against pursuing the job. LATE UPDATE: McCarthy told that Smith did challenge him for minority leader, but declined further comment.

I’ve never been in the McCarthy fan club. He and Murphy sometimes pushed bad legislation, including the odor study bill that was a gift to CAFO operators. McCarthy is also a notorious opponent of real campaign finance reform. I’m not just talking about the VOICE act, which would have created a voluntary public financing system. I’m talking about reasonable contribution limits, which the Democratic House and Senate leadership never moved in the past four years. I doubt McCarthy will collect many five-figure checks for the House Truman Fund once Iowa has a Republican governor and a large GOP majority in the lower chamber.

While I would have preferred to see a new face for House Democrats who wasn’t part of last session’s leadership team, I wish McCarthy well. He’ll have a big job holding the Democratic caucus together and laying the groundwork for future gains.

McCarthy issued this statement today: “House Democrats are committed to strengthening our economy and helping create jobs. We will work together on the main stream, bread and butter issues that effect the every day lives of Iowans. However, if Republicans steer to more extreme policies at the expense of ordinary Iowans, we will make our voices heard.” The reality is that with 60 votes and almost no moderates left in the GOP caucus, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer won’t need to work with Democrats on any bills they want to pass, no matter how extreme.

Even though the House Democratic caucus will be much smaller next year, it still will have some new blood. Seven Democrats won open-seat House races on November 2: Chris Hall from district 2 (elected despite unusually strong GOP performance in Sioux City), John Wittneben from district 7 (Palo Alto, Emmet and part of Kossuth counties), Anesa Kajtazovic from district 21 (Waterloo), Mary Wolfe from district 26 (Clinton), Dan Kelley from district 41 (Newton and most of Jasper County), Dan Muhlbauer from district 51 (Carroll County and parts of Crawford and Sac), and Ruth Ann Gaines from district 65 (Des Moines).

LATE UPDATE: McCarthy’s comments on the election and the upcoming session are after the jump.

McCarthy spoke with after being elected minority leader:

McCarthy indicated that House Democrats will be largely united in voting against a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. “There may be some individual legislators that will vote their conscience or vote their district, or may have alternative views, but I think the majority of the Democrats will be standing strong on civil rights,” he said.

As for the “several hundred million dollars” of budget cuts that House Republicans expect to make in the current budget year, McCarthy said Democrats will work with them to see what their cuts are. He expects some moves, like eliminating Gov. Chet Culver’s Iowa Power Fund, to be largely symbolic and predicted that Republicans will still find a way to fund renewable energy in some other way such as through the Department of Economic Development.

“If there are cuts that can make Iowa government leaner and more efficient, then we will work with them in a bipartisan way. I have yet to see actually what they’re proposing in terms of specifics,” McCarthy said. “But if they come in and start cutting programs — health care, education or otherwise that deliver for corporate interests — then we are going to let our voices be heard.”


Iowa House Democrats represented just “one ship in a very large storm” that suffered serious setbacks in the Nov. 2 election, McCarthy said.

“Some serious setbacks were dealt to Democrats nationally, really pretty epic in scope in what occurred around the country,” McCarthy said. “We are very united as a caucus and hopeful and optimistic about the future because when you have setbacks politically like occurred recently in the election, the opportunity for moving the ball down the field for future success is much, much greater.”

McCarthy said Republicans did a very good job of nationalizing the election and making a lot of the legislative races a referendum on Washington, D.C., which isn’t very popular right now. “And to be frank with you, there was not a lot we could do in this campaign environment to stop that trend,” he said.

Paul Deaton’s take at Blog for Iowa:

The challenge for House Democrats, as always, will be to hold the caucus together to check the Republicans as they attempt to move forward with legislation that infringes on the values of Iowans. In the past, Democrats have been undisciplined in holding the caucus together both in the minority and the majority. With McCarthy as the selected leader, it is an indication of continuing the status quo.

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  • Freshmen

    I’ve been reading about Dan Kelley for quite a while now.  Narcisse even had nice things to say about him.  I hope something positive comes out of the session dealing with commercial property taxes according to what several small business owners in Keokuk have said at forums.

    I hope Anesa Kajtazovic takes a lead role and does a good job in that seat as well after the troubles Kerry Burt had.  

    • I think it's impressive

      that Kelley won given what hard times Newton has gone through the past few years.

      Kajtazovich won by a huge margin in a massive Republican wave year. I know, it’s a Democratic leaning district, but so are some of the others we lost. I think she has a nice career ahead.

      I don’t think Senate Democrats would object to property tax reform unless the plan is to starve other services to pay for it. If the Republican plan doesn’t include some way to compensate local governments for the lost revenue, the biggest potential pushback will probably be from the League of Cities and the Association of County Governments.