Gov. Terry Branstad and top legislative leaders pledged bipartisan cooperation Wednesday after voters kept Democrats in control of the Iowa Senate and narrowed the GOP majority in the Iowa House for the next two years.
“Iowa voters once again chose divided government, and their message was unmistakable: They want us to work together in moving this state forward,” Branstad said in a statement after slowly unfolding and unofficial election results left Democrats with a 26-23 edge in the Senate and Republicans bringing a 53-47 majority into the 85th General Assembly which convenes its 2013 session in January. Some races finished close enough that recounts could be possible.
“The election is behind us, and the time to work together lies in front of us. I will work with both parties to ensure we don’t squander this great responsibility Iowans have placed upon us,” the governor said in a post-election statement issued Wednesday.
“Just as President Obama and Gov. (Mitt) Romney pledged to work together nationally, I see great opportunities for cooperation here in Iowa,” Branstad added. “I look forward to working with the Senate and House to improve our schools, make our tax climate more competitive and to continue balancing the state budget. We must continue to make state government more efficient, transparent and responsive to Iowans.”
Senate Majority Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, who survived a tough re-election battle en route to his seventh term, called Tuesday’s outcome the culmination of a “hard fought and hard won” campaign.
“Our advantage was a group of moderate, well-qualified candidates who worked hard to earn every vote,” said Gronstal, who credited his party’s successful night to winning three key open-seat races and unseating incumbent Republican Sens. Merlin Bartz of Grafton and Shawn Hamerlinck of Dixon.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, who saw his 60-member majority shrink by seven members, said the new crop of freshmen legislators and the shifting majorities likely will change the dynamics and the dialogue at the Statehouse, but majority GOP representatives will continue to press for tax relief for commercial property owners, reforms in education and government regulations, and continued fiscal responsibility that has led to a $688 million surplus and growing.
“Those are the things we worked on the preceding two years, it’s the things we campaigned on, and Iowans chose us to be in control,” he said. “We’re ready to go to work for the taxpayers.”
Paulsen expected House Republicans would hold their first caucus next week to begin charting a 2013 legislative agenda.
Tuesday’s results likely means that the effort by conservative activists to bring a constitutional amendment before voters defining marriage as only between one man and one woman will stay bottled up in the Senate for two more years.
“Yesterday’s historic election shows unequivocally that the tide is turning in this country and that the arc of history is bending towards justice,” said Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa – the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group.
“This election is a decided victory for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans and we have truly turned a corner in the movement for equality,” she added in a statement. “Yesterday, Iowa voters sent a pro-equality majority in the Iowa Senate back to work. We thank Iowa voters for their commitment to electing a State Senate that values all families.”
Senate Democrats also have pushed for commercial property tax relief targeted to small businesses in a way that protects homeowners from a tax shift, and ensures that local governments are held harmless in the process of revamping their major source of revenue. They also have championed more funding for education, job creation efforts and worker training.
In a matchup of House incumbents, Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, downed Sioux GOP Rep. Jeremy Taylor by an advantage of 6,317 to 5,595 votes.
Two Linn County Republican House members also lost in their re-election bids.
In a rematch of the 2008 election, former Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, recaptured the seat he lost to Rep. Renee Schulte, R-Cedar Rapids, in House District 66, while Democrat Daniel Lundby upset Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, in House District 68.
Former state Sen. Frank Wood, D-Eldridge, won a return ticket to the Legislature by defeating ousting incumbent Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, in House District 92, while Rep. Roger Thomas, D-Elkader, survived a challenge from Spillville Republican Michael Klimesh by 180 votes.
A special election has been scheduled for Dec. 11 to fill the vacant seat in Senate District 22 in the western suburbs of Des Moines following the Oct. 15 passing of Sen. Pat Ward, 55, who died after a battle with cancer.