DES MOINES — Sometime Wednesday morning, Walt Rogers will hop in his Nissan and drive the roughly 120 miles to the Iowa Statehouse.
“Door-to-door, it takes me exactly an hour and 50 minutes,” said Rogers, a Cedar Falls Republican, who won re-election to the Iowa House on Tuesday by besting Democrat Bob Greenwood 52 percent to 48 percent.
Once in Des Moines, Rogers will join the other House Republicans who were elected, or re-elected, on Tuesday for a closed-door meeting to elect the party leadership and strategize for the upcoming General Assembly.
Rogers, who was elected to an assistant leader post late last session, may again run for his spot, but talking specifically about what goes on in caucus meetings is frowned upon, if not completely forbidden. And unlike most the votes they’ll take once the session starts, leadership votes are done on a secret ballot.
“I look forward to welcoming newly elected members into our caucus and getting to work on behalf of Iowans,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said in a written statement. “House Republicans are ready to go to work making Iowa’s economy, schools and communities stronger and craft responsible budgets that provide certainty for Iowa’s job creators.”
The leader positions are the most powerful in the Legislature. They can control what bills get called up for votes, and effective leaders can corral their members into tight voting blocs. During the last session, the ability of House Republicans and Senate Democrats to keep their members in line had major implications on education reform, firearms policies, tax reform and a proposed same-sex marriage amendment.
They look to be key again this session as Iowa voters divided control of the House and the Senate between the two parties. It is one of only four Statehouses in the country to have such a split. The others are New Hampshire, Kentucky and Virginia.
“A lot of it has to do with the map,” Chris Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, said of the state’s legislative districts. “Because the map isn’t drawn by either political party, a lot of your districts are always going to be competitive.”
Paulsen is returning back to a House with Republicans in control by a 53-47 majority. That’s seven more seats for the Democrats than they had following the 2010 elections. House Democrats hold their caucus Saturday.
“I do know we have more people interested in assistant leader positions than there are spots,” House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “But as a matter of course and tradition, I don’t get involved in those.”
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McCarthy said the caucus discussion will range from big ideas on strategy for the upcoming session to more practical matters, such as where the new House members pick up their security badges.
Paulsen and House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer of Garner aren’t expected to face challenges from within the party. Neither are McCarthy or Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. The Senate Democrats have not yet set their caucus date.
Leadership in the Senate Republican caucus is sketchier.
Tuesday’s elections left the Democrats in control with a 26-23 advantage with one seat to-be-filled by a special election next month.
Last year, Shell Rock Republican Bill Dix challenged Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, for the leadership. Dix ultimately didn’t have the votes, but McKinley stepped down anyway. The senators then put Jerry Behn, R-Boone, into the spot. The sentiment for a change may still be out there among the senators who hold their caucus Wednesday.
“Senate Republican Leader Behn will not be making any comments related to internal caucus decisions prior to the Senate Republicans’ meeting next Wednesday afternoon,” said Don McDowell, assistant to Behn.