Can Iowa's election year session be a politics-free zone?

2014 Iowa legislative session likely short, efficient, but not free of politics

James Q. Lynch
Published: January 12 2014 | 5:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:57 am in

Iowa legislative leaders from both parties are promising a short, efficient and productive 2014 session focused on a handful of priorities that will leave little time for politicking.

“My caucus is very focused on making sure we’re working on good public policy and moving the state forward,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, adding that pre-session discussions haven’t been “terribly political at all.”

“The time to govern is when we’re in session,” agreed House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown.

Although most of his 47 caucus members — as with most of Paulsen’s 53 GOP representatives — will be up for re-election in November, “I’ve asked for the campaigning to be done when we’re not in session,” Smith said.

“There are two years between elections, and the public doesn’t expect us to retreat into politics during the session,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock.

And Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has said legislative sessions are the time “for people of good faith to sit down, work through our differences, compromise where we can compromise and agree to the stuff we’re going to disagree on.”

So it’s agreed lawmakers won’t be playing politics when they convene Jan. 13 to begin working on policies to make Iowans better educated, more employable, safer and wealthier.

“Well, that would be the first time in the history of the human race that would happen,” noted former Democratic House Majority Leader Jerry Fitzgerald.

Although Fitzgerald, now a lobbyist at the Capitol, agrees with the legislative leaders that the 2014 session “gives the appearance of having a more uniform feeling across party lines of wanting to finish early, it doesn’t mean it will happen.”

And that’s not all bad, he said.

“Politics can have a pejorative label,” Fitzgerald said. “But the bottom line is this: There are people trying to represent their constituents, and their constituents aren’t all the same. So they are trying to advance the point of view of their district or themselves or whatever mix goes into their decision-making.

“That’s normal. It’s just normal,” Fitzgerald said.

Stewart Iverson has been a part of the legislative sausage-making in both the House and Senate, and agreed with Fitzgerald that because of the leaders’ limited agendas the 2014 session lends itself to being less political than some.

“I doubt if there will be a lot of politics. I think there will be a budget, and they did some very major stuff last year and they may have to go back and tweak that,” the former GOP Senate majority leader said. “I don’t see a great deal of new subjects that will be introduced and get passed.”

“But there will be a lot of things introduced to provide fodder for campaign brochures. Both sides can do that,” Iverson said. “There may be lots of that, but I’m not looking for lots of that to get passed.”

That seems to be guiding Gov. Terry Branstad’s limited agenda and expectations for the session.

“I’m cognizant that it is an election year and there are people who would like to play politics,” he said. “That’s not our agenda. It might be somebody else’s agenda.”

Instead, the five-term Republican said he will present an agenda that “can, again, generate bipartisan support and make progress. I don’t look at this as we’re going to put out a political agenda designed to score points for an election. We want to accomplish significant things.”

And that — accomplishing significant things — legislative leaders say, is the best politics.

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