DES MOINES — Senate Republicans got the first taste Friday of their new-found majority status handed to them by Iowa voters by electing new leaders who pledged to lead "boldly and with new ideas" that will grow the economy, lighten tax burdens and open new career opportunities.
"This caucus has been in the minority for a long time, and we are excited with the opportunity to be in the majority, and it's a responsibility that we take real seriously," Sen. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, told reporters after emerging from a closed-door caucus as the leader of the Senate's 29-member majority.
Republicans, who picked up six seats in Tuesday's election, elected Dix as majority leader, Sen. Jack Whitver of Ankeny as Senate president, Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone as president pro tempore, Sen. Charles Schneider of West Des Moines as majority whip and Sens. Michael Breitbach of Strawberry Point, Randy Feenstra of Hull, Amy Sinclair of Allerton and Dan Zumbach of Ryan as assistant majority leaders.
The Senate currently has 19 Democrats and one independent, Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan. One seat is vacant following the death of Davenport Democrat Joe Seng; that seat will be contested in a special election next month. The 85th General Assembly is scheduled to convene Jan. 9 with Republicans in control of the House, the Senate and the governorship with Gov. Terry Branstad midway through his sixth term.
"We have more unity today in this room, with the House Republicans and the governor, than has ever been in my time here," Dix said in looking forward to getting the state agenda for the next two years. "We all recognize what the expectations of voters are, and we're not going to take our eye off that ball."
Dix, 53, a 16-year veteran of the Legislature who operates a farm near Janesville, said the new Senate leadership team expects to make committee assignments in the coming weeks and hold a follow-up caucus to begin charting their 2017 agenda and getting into more details of the priority issues they plan to address next year. He expected tax relief, less spending, smaller and more efficient government and policies to promote growth, investment and jobs to be at the forefront.
"Make no mistake, our promise to voters was that we are going to make Iowa attractive to career development and more opportunities for Iowa families and making sure our tax policy reflects that is something we will not take our eye off of," he said.
Senate Democrats are expected to meet later this month to select a new leadership team after Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, was ousted from a post he occupied for a decade when he lost to Dan Dawson in the Senate District 8 race.
Majority House Republicans were scheduled to hold the initial caucus of their 59 members and elect leaders next Wednesday, while minority House Democrats planned to have their first post-election meeting on Saturday.
Senate Republicans are approaching the upcoming session with enthusiasm and excitement after spending years in the minority and not having their voices heard, Dix said. They are looking forward to accomplishing their objectives, and he noted he was honored over the prospect of leading that effort.
"We know that revenues are tight, and we've got to keep our nose to the grind stone in making sure that we are keeping spending in check," Dix said.
Efforts to reduce taxes have "been absent in recent years," he said, and the message GOP candidates got from voters was "they feel like they've had the short end of the stick and a bad deal over the years, and they want more opportunity to have better family incomes."