DES MOINES — The new year at the Iowa State Capitol comes with some leadership changes among the majority Republican Party, and potentially even some changes to how work is done in Des Moines.
The Iowa House of Representatives’ first order of business Monday was accepting the resignation of former Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, and the election of new Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.
In his opening address, Grassley said he hopes to usher in a new era of bipartisanship.
“Our door is open to bipartisan collaboration,” he said. “This session, I want to show Iowans that we are not like our counterparts in Washington, (D.C.)”
Some area representatives who have worked with Grassley think that might be more than first-day optimism.
Iowa Rep. Andy McKean, of Anamosa, worked with the new speaker for years as a Republican before McKean switched parties late in the 2019 session.
“He’s going to have a very different style of leadership,” he said. “He is very easy to communicate with, easy to work with and a fair guy. I think he really will have an open-door policy and be willing to consider the ideas of all members of the body.”
Iowa Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said she trusts that Grassley will at least communicate with Democrats.
“It’s all about leadership and the conversations ... and keeping that dialogue open,” she said. “There are always going to be those hot-topic issues we’re not going to agree on.”
Grassley said in his speech that his chief priorities for the session are workforce development and increasing access to affordable child care. Both Lundgren and McKean said those are areas in which the two parties can work together.
“What we need to do is try to look at those areas where there is common ground and try to make some progress,” McKean said.
But bipartisanship is a familiar promise for a session’s opening days. Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, said he would wait to see if the new leadership will reach across the aisle in a meaningful way, or if it is “just a slogan.”
“You engage the Democrats up front in crafting the legislation, in putting it together. Not just, ‘Hey, when it comes around, will you vote for what we put together?’” he said. “That’s the key thing. And I’m not sure our leadership has been approached on any of the priorities they listed.”
Grassley was escorted to the speaker’s bench by his grandfather, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. This, Sen. Grassley said, was the first part he has played in his grandson’s successful bid for the gavel.
“He wanted me to stay out of it, and I have stayed out of it,” Sen. Grassley told reporters Monday. “I hear him talking about having communications and discussions with the caucus. That team approach is going to be more successful than if he was going to tell people what to do.”