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ERIN MURPHY: With two more years of GOP control in Iowa, what’s next?

November 24, 2018

Iowa Republicans earned two more years of complete control of the state lawmaking process earlier this month.

How they will take advantage of their extended reign will make the next two years pretty interesting.

Will Republicans use this rare opportunity to produce more conservative legislation? Or will they use their second two-year term in complete control to offer a more moderate, perhaps even bipartisan agenda?

One-party control over all the state lawmaking levers is not a common occurrence. Before earning the trifecta in the 2016 elections, Iowa Republicans had not enjoyed that position in two decades.

It should come as little surprise, then, that parties use the opportunity to their full advantage, as did Iowa Republicans in 2017 and 2018.

The GOP-led Iowa Legislature and Govs. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds passed a laundry list of state laws with a decidedly conservative ideological bent: a significant income tax cut, restrictions on abortion policy and elimination of state funding to abortion providers; a loosening of gun regulations; and the gutting of collective bargaining rights for public employees, among others.

Given the rare opportunity, and the fact Iowa voters chose to keep Republicans in power after all those conservative policies were enacted, it would not be surprising if Statehouse Republicans keep the pedal to the conservative metal in 2019 and 2020. Bites at the lawmaking apple like this do not come along often, and voters did not punish them for their agenda the past two years. So why stop now?

That said, there could be some interesting political dynamics at play. The agendas and working relationship between the Iowa Senate and Iowa House will be worth watching.

While Republicans maintained their majorities in both, House Republicans lost a few seats, whittling their advantage from 59-41 to 54-46, pending one recount. And House Republicans know in two years they will face another tooth-and-nail electoral battle to preserve that smaller majority.

Meantime, the number of Republicans in the Iowa Senate actually grew. The question is, will House Republicans tend to be a little more cautious while Senate Republicans feel emboldened to press on along the same path as the last two years?

Then there is Reynolds, who is fresh off her first election victory at the top of the ticket and heading into her first full term in office. Reynolds’ leadership and legislative priorities will be worth watching, as will to what degree she uses the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to guide legislation that may or may not make it to her desk.

Reynolds this week provided a sneak peek into her 2019 agenda when she said she is considering changes to how the state handles voting privileges for people with felony convictions.

Iowa is one of just two states that permanently rescinds those voting privileges unless the individual petitions the governor’s office after completing his or her sentence and shows payment on legal fees. Although she was vague on specifics, Reynolds said her administration is considering changes to that policy. Reynolds said she would provide more details in her condition of the state address in January.

In 36 states and the District of Columbia, voting privileges for people convicted of felonies are restored automatically after completion of their sentence or their sentence plus parole and probation. In two states, felons never lose voting privileges.

It’s worth noting that the first significant policy proposal floated by Reynolds after the election is something that likely would have strong bipartisan support. Many Democrats have been calling for the restoration of these voting rights for years.

Still, it’s just one proposal. Will Republicans also tackle more controversial and politically charged topics over the next two years? Will they make changes to the retirement system for public employees or revise the state’s nonpartisan method of drawing political boundaries? Both systems are popular, but some conservative organizations and politicians in Iowa and across the country have proposed changes to both. Will Iowa Republicans?

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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