DES MOINES — Many times, state lawmakers are in complete agreement on legislation, and a bill passes unanimously. Many times, a bill divides lawmakers by political party; all Republicans support a bill, and all Democrats oppose it, or vice versa.
And every once in a while, there is near-unanimous agreement on a bill, except for a solitary member.
There were 11 “lone wolf” votes — in which nearly all legislators voted in favor of a bill and just one voted against it — cast during this year’s legislative session through the end of last week.
That’s a tiny number of the nearly 300 bills voted on this year in the Iowa House and Senate — 3.8 percent, to be exact — and the reasons vary for those solitary stands.
According to the legislators who cast those lone wolf votes, some were the result of general opposition to a state program. Others were based on ideology. And sometimes, the vote was cast in error.
Whatever the reason, legislators said it can feel strange to look at a final vote tally and their name as the only dissenting voice among all of their colleagues.
“It makes you laugh a little bit. It’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness,’” said Rep. Skyler Wheeler, a first-year state legislator from Orange City who cast one of those 11 lone wolf votes this year. “But it’s just one of those things. You have to stand by what you believe in.”
Of the 11 lone wolf votes cast this year, nine have been cast in the Iowa House, by nine different members. Two have been cast in the Senate, both by Sen. Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines.
Both of Bisignano’s lone wolf votes were on bills related to liability. One bill said property owners were not responsible for duty of care to a trespasser; another said the Iowa State Fair would not be liable for injury or death caused by pathogen transmission caused by animals at the fair. Both bills passed 48-1.
Bisignano also cast one lone wolf vote each in 2015 and 2016. He is among a group of four legislators with multiple lone wolf votes over the past three years. The others are Reps. Bruce Hunter, Chuck Isenhart and Jake Highfill.
“You vote your conscience, vote your district, vote what you feel is right, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re the only ‘no’ vote there,” said Highfill, a Republican from Johnston.
Two legislators have cast three lone wolf votes in a single session over the past three years.
Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan cast three lone wolf votes in 2016 while he was a Republican. He changed his party affiliation to independent before the 2017 session.
Rep. Dan Kelley, a Democrat from Newton, cast three lone wolf votes in 2015. He lost his 2016 re-election bid in a primary.
There were 20 lone wolf votes cast in 2016 and 21 in 2015. Many of the legislators who have cast lone wolf votes said they wear those votes as a badge of independence.
“It’s a point of pride to me because I like to tell my people back home that I don’t just follow the company line. I don’t just do what my caucus and leadership tells me to do, and I’ve got multiple examples that prove that,” said Rep. Bruce Bearinger, a Democrat from Oelwein. “And I vote for the people within my district, and I listen to the people in my district.”
Here are some examples of lone wolf votes cast over the past three years:
Rep. Skyler Wheeler
Wheeler was the lone vote against a House bill that updates state alcohol regulations by, in part, allowing small distilleries to sell their product on site, similar to small breweries and wineries.
The bill passed the House on a 93-1 vote; it has not yet been debated by the full Senate.
Wheeler said he voted against the bill because he viewed it as the expansion of alcohol production and consumption in Iowa, which he said he thinks is not good for the state.
Wheeler said he thinks the late Dwayne Alons, who represented northwest Iowa in the Iowa House from 1999 to 2014, also would have voted against the bill for the same reason.
“I think it increases the consumption and production of alcohol, and I’m not for that,” Wheeler said. “Ultimately, that’s what it came down to. It passed, and I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”
Wheeler also said his vote proves his independent thinking on proposed legislation.
“If you’re the only ‘no’ vote, you’re the only ‘no’ vote. It happens sometimes,” Wheeler said. “You get to kind of go back home and tell people, ‘Hey, you know what? I don’t just vote straight party line. I don’t just vote how somebody tells me to vote. I vote what I feel is right and what I ultimately feel what my district would want me to vote.”
Rep. Bruce Bearinger
Bearinger was the only legislator to vote against a bill that proposes the state public defender coordinate representation of indigent persons who have been arrested and charged with a crime.
The bill passed the House on a 93-1 vote and has not yet been debated by the full Senate.
Bearinger said the voted against the bill because of an amendment that would have the state public defender’s office, when involved in a case regarding a violation of a local law, seek reimbursement from that local government.
Bearinger said he thinks that is shifting the cost to city governments, and he fears it will force cities to either find money to cover the additional costs or local police will attempt to prevent any additional costs by bringing fewer criminal charges.
Bearinger said that concern was not expressed, even by his Democratic colleagues, but he contacted his local police chief, who shared the concern.
“I voted against it because I believe it’s soft on crime by forcing cities into that position,” Bearinger said. “And it is a further example of (state lawmakers) saying we love local control until we don’t.”
Rep. Tim Kacena
Kacena, a first-term Democrat from Sioux City, cast the lone vote in opposition to a bill that would add certain designated lanes to legal turns on red at stoplights.
The bill passed the House, 95-1, passed the Senate on a unanimous 49-0 vote and on March 23 was signed into law by the governor.
Kacena, a retired firefighter, said he voted against the bill because he thought it was a safety issue.
“I’ve been on way too many accidents, and now you can double lane turn on red,” he said. “Basically, it wasn’t good for traffic, I didn’t think.”
Despite being the lone voice of opposition, Kacena said the vote did not feel different from any other he has cast this session.
“Basically, it was like any other vote,” he said.
Rep. Cindy Winckler
In 2015, Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, was the lone vote against a bill that would have extended the deadline for contributions to the state’s college savings plan.
The proposal passed the House, 94-1, but was not voted on by the Senate.
Winckler said this week she recalls her vote was a mistake, that she intended to support the bill.
It is not uncommon for legislators to cast a mistaken vote, especially on days when they vote on numerous bills, which often have numerous amendments. Legislators have the option of changing their vote in the official record.
“Sometimes, you try and juggle a little too much, which is part of the job, and I accept that,” Winckler said. "But mistakes happen with those kinds of things."