Iowa Senate Democrats caucused at the state capitol yesterday to choose their leaders for the next legislative session. As expected, Mike Gronstal remains Senate majority leader. The big change will be Pam Jochum of Dubuque as Senate president to replace Jack Kibbie, who retired last year.
After the jump I’ve enclosed background on Jochum and details on the rest of the Iowa Senate leadership team. Republicans elected leaders of their Senate caucus last week. Both parties will announce committee assignments before the end of the year.
Majority Leader Gronstal was first elected to the Iowa House in 1982 and won his first Senate election in 1984. He was just re-elected in Senate district 8, covering most of Council Bluffs in Pottawattamie County.
Jochum is the first Democratic woman chosen as Iowa Senate president. She represented part of Dubuque in the Iowa House from 1993 through 2008 before winning her first term in the Senate that year. Last year she chaired the Administration & Regulation Budget Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee and was vice chair of the Labor & Business Relations Committee. Jochum has been among the more progressive House and Senate Democrats. For instance, she voted against the “ag gag” bill designed to stifle whistleblowers. She was among the leading voices against the bad legislation that would promote nuclear power at the expense of Iowa consumers. Jochum was floor manager for a major tax reform bill in 2011, which would have raised the refundable earned income tax credit for more than 200,000 taxpayers making less than $45,000 per year.
Former legislator Ed Fallon noted in an e-mail to supporters last night,
[Pam’s] top priority for as long as I can remember has been campaign finance reform. No other [Iowa] lawmaker (and few anywhere in the country) understand this issue as thoroughly as Pam. And never has Iowa elected a leader in either chamber who is so strongly committed to curbing the abuse of money in politics.
The Iowa Senate has seen weak presidents in recent years. There’s no reason that needs to be the case. In the Iowa House, the Speaker and Majority Leader share power equally. That’s how it should work in the Senate as well.
Fallon called on Senate Democrats to pass “meaningful” campaign finance reform quickly during the 2013 legislative session. Although Gronstal supported tougher campaign finance disclosure requirements for Iowa, he has shown zero interest in in passing limits on individual campaign contributions, let alone an optional public financing system like those used in Maine and Arizona.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Gronstal and Jochum indicated that promoting job creation and economic growth will be the top priorities for Senate Democrats moving forward. A Senate press release pointed to education legislation as part of that equation:
“Democratic Senators will continue to focus on improving the economy,” Gronstal said. “That’s got to include helping Iowa workers gain the skills need to fill jobs that are already available here in Iowa.” […]
“As President, I’ll do my best to help the Iowa Senate effectively respond to the most pressing issues Iowans face: growing our economy and expanding educational opportunities,” Jochum said.
Senate Democrats chose a new President Pro Tempore yesterday: Steve Sodders. He was first elected to the legislature in 2008 and was just re-elected in Senate district 36, covering Marshall and Tama counties and part of Black Hawk County. For the last two years, Sodders has chaired the Senate Economic Growth Committee and served as assistant majority leader. Jeff Danielson, who just won his third term in the Iowa Senate, had served as pro tem from 2007 through 2012.
Senate Democrats elected Joe Bolkcom majority whip yesterday. He previously chaired the Senate Ways and Means Committee and served as an assistant majority leader.
The Senate caucus will have four assistant majority leaders during the next session: Wally Horn, Amanda Ragan, Matt McCoy, and Bill Dotzler. Horn, Ragan, and Dotzler were all assistant leaders last session as well. Horn chaired the Labor and Business Relations Committee. Ragan chaired the Human Resources Committee. Dotzler chaired the Economic Development Committee. McCoy chaired the Commerce Committee in 2012, following the resignation of Swati Dandekar.
The following members of the Democratic leadership team will be up for re-election in 2014: Bolkcom (district 43, Iowa City), Horn (district 35, part of Cedar Rapids), Ragan (district 27, most of Cerro Gordo County, Franklin County, and Butler County), McCoy (district 21, parts of Des Moines and West Des Moines), and Dotzler (district 31, much of Waterloo). Only Ragan’s seat appears likely to be competitive.