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Iowa Legislative History

posted on January 17, 2007 at 4:21 PM


Every generation or so, the stars realign and those who govern are confronted with new possibilities. We may be living in such a time. Last week the state installed its first post-baby boomer Governor and its first female chief justice. The legislature welcomed into its ranks some new faces. Many were female. Four were members of the state’s minority population. And not incidentally, both Houses of the Assembly are now controlled by a party that has been out of power for some time.

As always, the challenge for those who govern is to seize the moment and enact policies that improve life for successive generations. Previously, when Democrats held control of the legislature and the Governor’s office, they did just that.

Narrator: The last time the Democrats controlled the Governor's office and both chambers of the general assembly, they approved a lot of what since have been called "monumental tasks.” forty-two years ago in the Johnson era, the legislature met only once every two years. So in one active year, 1965, they voted to open up their committee meetings to the public, lower the voting age from 21 to 18, cause judges to be appointed not elected, create the area community college system, and enact the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965. They also restructured the state's school districts, cutting the number of districts nearly in half, something that is often considered political suicide.

Kibbie: Those were interesting times. The attitude of the Legislature was not “are we going to get re-elected again.”

Narrator: it was an attitude that proved detrimental to the democratic class of 1965, as many did not get re-elected and they lost control of the house in 1966. Senator Jack Kibbie kept his seat, but lost in 1968. He was re-elected in 1988 and is now Senate President of the 2007 legislative session. Looking back, Kibbie says he credits most of the Democrats’ successes in 1965 not just to having the overwhelming majority in the legislature but to the leadership and cooperative effort of then-Governor Democrat Harold Hughes.

Kibbie: Harold Hughes was a very strong Governor. And when he made recommendations, he followed through on them and invited legislative leaders at that time and the committee chairs to his office and asked, “why not?”

Narrator: Today there is a lot of speculation about whether the newly elected 2007 majority will be as cooperative and productive as in 1965.

I hought a good practice for you to have quick is also how you vote. So why don't you all go ahead and vote aye.

Narrator: As newly elected members get acquainted with procedures and meet with party leaders, many already feel welcome and are optimistic that cooperation has already begun.

Gayman: I'm really excited because there's rumors that we may even -- some of us get Vice Chairmanships as freshmen.

Bailey: I was concerned that maybe it was going to be something where the leadership told you to do it and that was just the way it was. I got into the caucus, and behind closed doors there's people arguing with Pat and point and counter-point, and it’s democracy at work. So I'm excited.

Narrator: There may be excitement for what is possible to accomplish with one-party control of the General Assembly and the Governor's office. But the excitement is tempered by memories of the 1965 one-term power play. The hope for the Democrats is that history will not repeat itself.

Tags: Congress Democrats governors Iowa Iowa legislature politics

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