CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Senate Democrats heaped praise on Sen. Rob Hogg after replacing him as minority leader Sunday afternoon.
“I can’t say enough good things about Sen. Hogg,” said Sen. Janet Petersen of Des Moines, who was elected to be the caucus’ new minority leader. Democratic senators will “keep progressing on the foundation Rob put in place.”
The leadership change comes less than a year after caucus members elected Hogg to succeed Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, who was among the Democratic senators defeated in the November 2016 election. Democrats, who had a 26-24 majority, now hold 20 seats to Republicans’ 29. One seat is held by a Republican-turned-independent.
Petersen called Hogg “a very important part of our caucus, our team.”
She said he “has done amazing things to get Democrats across our state motivated.”
Although he was not looking to step down, Hogg expressed confidence in Petersen.
“I am very proud of the Herculean effort I have made over the last 11 months to recruit great candidates and raise money so that we can have the biggest political comeback in Iowa’s history in 2018, and I am confident that Sen. Petersen will do her best to lead that effort,” Hogg said.
A Cedar Rapids attorney and author of a book on climate change, he was elected to the Iowa House in 2002 and the Senate in 2006. He plans to seek re-election in 2018.
Petersen, 47, first elected to the Legislature in 2000, served six terms in the House and is in her second term in the Senate. She is the first woman to lead the Senate Democratic caucus. Her name has been floated as a potential candidate for governor or Congress.
Sunday evening, Petersen said the Democratic caucus “is pretty unified. It’s in a good place … better than in previous (election) cycles.”
“I think the media is making it more of an event than it was,” she added.
Petersen didn’t identify specific reasons for the leadership change and said she doesn’t expect major changes in Democrats’ legislative priorities, strategy or staffing.
“The caucus thought the timing is right for a change as we get ready to launch the 2018 session” in January, she said. “They thought that as we get into the thick of things for 2018, this was a good time to do it.”
However united the caucus is on its legislative goals, the leadership decision was not unanimous, according to Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids.
Horn, who is in his fifth decade as a lawmaker, said he had heard comments about Hogg’s leadership, “but I didn’t think this would happen.”
“I don’t think anything good comes out of this,” he said. “I don’t know how much worse it is. I think it is more toward the negative direction than the positive.
“I just can’t see anything better coming out of it, but when you’re in the Legislature, everyone has an ego,” said Horn, a former Democratic majority leader. He suggested the change was driven by incumbents who are up for re-election in 2018 who thought not enough attention was being paid to them.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, who described the mood of the meeting as “pretty serious (with) plenty of good discussion,” didn’t think it was as simple as that.
“We didn’t have problems with Rob. He worked very hard. I don’t know if anyone could put in any more effort than he did,” said Dotzler, a legislator since 1997 and senator since 2003. “But we’re looking forward to a new leader, a different style.
“There are times when you have to make changes,” said Dotzler, who thought the decision reflected senators’ thoughts about the “complexity of coming elections.”
Raising money for the 2018 elections may have been an issue, Dotzler said, “but political elections are always about fundraising, and that’s no different no matter who is the leader.”
Horn agreed that fundraising was an issue, but “comparing raising money now to when Gronstal was there, that’s comparing apples to oranges (because) we’re in an off year and we’re in the minority.”
Dotzler expressed confidence in Petersen as a caucus leader and a champion of Iowans, both urban and rural. Democrats can’t win control of the Senate without picking up rural legislative seats, he said. Electing a leader from Des Moines doesn’t change that, Dotzler said, but “Janet’s fought for issues that affect all Iowans, not just those in Polk County.”
In the 2017 session, Petersen was outspoken in criticism of the GOP efforts to defund Planned Parenthood as well as a vocal opponent of changes in public employee collective bargaining and workers’ compensation laws.
In 2008, Petersen founded a nonprofit with four other central Iowa women called Healthy Birth Day. The organization, best known for its Count the Kicks campaign, is devoted to improving birth outcomes.
She and her husband, Brian Pattinson, have three children.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price congratulated Petersen and expressed confidence.
“She will be an effective champion for Democratic values in the Statehouse,” he said.
He also thanked Hogg for his work and “commitment to the progressive issues that matter most to the people of Iowa.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, “wishes Sen. Peterson the best,” according to a spokesman.