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House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer

posted on January 7, 2011

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New power, new leader, new gatekeeper. Iowa's 84th General Assembly convenes Monday morning with Garner republican Linda Upmeyer leading the new republican majority in the House of Representatives. She'll be controlling what gets debated and what doesn't. A conversation with Linda Upmeyer on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: State government has a busy week ahead. On Monday Iowa's 84th General Assembly convenes. When the swearing in ceremonies are completed republicans will be holding a sizeable majority in the Iowa House of Representatives and significantly more power, but not the majority control in the senate. The following day, legislators will crowd into the house chambers to hear Governor Chet Culver's final Condition of the State address and they'll be back in joint session on Wednesday hearing the State of the Judiciary from interim Chief Justice Mark Cady and again on Friday watching Terry Branstad's inaugural as Iowa's new governor. After the week's ceremonies are over, legislative republicans will be settling into new power roles, republicans holding a 20-seat advantage, 60 to 40 in the House of Representatives. And our guest today from Hancock County in north central Iowa will be leading that republican majority. Linda Upmeyer is a cardiology nurse practitioner turned political leader. She has been in the legislature for the past eight years, had plenty of mentoring, though, from her father, Dale Stromer, a former speaker of the House of Representatives. Representative Upmeyer, congratulations on your new role and welcome back to Iowa Press.

Upmeyer: Thank you very much and thank you for inviting me today.

Borg: It's good to have you here. We're interested to hear how you're going to be viewing that new power role. And across the table, two people who will be up there and have been up there in past sessions, you know them well, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Glover: Representative Upmeyer, potentially the most controversial, noisiest issue you're going to face in this upcoming session is dealing with the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Let me ask your own personal view of that decision. Do you think the court overstepped its bounds in striking down a ban on same-sex marriage?

Upmeyer: As majority leader I am expecting to hear from the caucus, arguments on both sides of that. I know that there are members in our caucus that support an impeachment. I know there are members in our caucus that do now. So, until that discussion has been had in caucus and we've determined whether or not that will be something we will discuss further I'm just going to wait and hear.

Glover: What is your personal view?

Upmeyer: I think it's unfair actually to color this discussion with my personal view until we've had an opportunity to talk. We haven't even sworn these new legislators in yet and so I'm going to wait and have that discussion.

Glover: Is it your view that -- what is your prediction about the outcome? There are conservatives in your caucus who are going to introduce a resolution aimed at impeaching the remaining four justices. What is your take on how that resolution will proceed?

Upmeyer: I think it will depend on what the caucus decides. The resolution hasn't been filed yet to my knowledge, well it hasn't been brought in yet to my knowledge and it will depend on what the caucus decides and what we decide.

Glover: What is your timeframe for dealing with that?

Upmeyer: I don't think there is a timeframe. I haven't thought about where that might land if, in fact, we do decide to move forward with it. What I know is that we're going to focus on bills like the Taxpayer First Act that will be the first bill out and we're going to focus on doing exactly what Iowans elected us to do and I think that is to address the budget and the spending and get Iowans back to work.

Henderson: This past week in an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette and in an interview with me, Radio Iowa, Governor-elect Branstad said it's pretty obvious if you read the constitution there are no grounds for impeachment. Does Governor Branstad's statement impact the consideration of house republicans in this matter?

Upmeyer: Well, I think he certainly framed up the question because I think that is what needs to be determined. I don't think there's a case for a misdemeanor so I think what has to be decided is was there malfeasance and in looking at court cases, law definitions of malfeasance there really are none. So, we have to determine whether or not we believe that has been the case. And those arguments will be made to the caucus and that will be the discussion. But I think he framed up the question correctly.

Henderson: Do legislators have the capacity to come up with those articles of impeachment on their own? Are you hiring outside counsel to come in and advise?

Upmeyer: I have no knowledge of what the group is doing, if they're writing them themselves, the people that are engaged in that I do not know.

Henderson: You also, in early December, told a group that the house will take up a resolution which would put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Iowa on the ballot. Will that pass the house?

Upmeyer: That will pass the house.

Henderson: Why?

Upmeyer: That is what the majority of our members told the voters they would do, voters have been asking for that opportunity and we're going to give them the opportunity.

Henderson: In what timeframe do you intend to take that up? Is that the first order of business?

Upmeyer: Taxpayers, the Taxpayers First Act will be our first order of business. I predict that will be sooner rather than later but I haven't selected exactly where that will land.

Borg: You're being very conciliatory here concerning the questions from Mike on where, you said you want to listen to the caucus first on what happens with legislation concerning the judiciary. Representative Kevin McCarthy, your predecessor as majority leader, is drawing a line in the sand. He is making statements saying there will be a debate like nothing else and they'll block everything. He's not taking the same conciliatory role that you are.

Upmeyer: Well, Representative McCarthy can take any position he'd like to take. I certainly would never suggest he shouldn't but I really believe that it is my role as the majority leader to listen to my caucus. It would be the wrong thing to do as my first action to not listen.

Glover: Representative Upmeyer, you know your caucus, you know these people, they elected you majority leader, you know where they're coming from. Where are they coming from on this issue?

Upmeyer: I think there are groups, three, four, five, I'm not sure how many people that are working on impeachment. I think there are members that don't agree with that. So, we'll have a discussion.

Glover: Will you stop it? Will you use your authority to block a debate on that issue?

Upmeyer: Once we reach a decision then I'll be sure and let people know what that decision is.

Borg: As I opened the program I said that you've got a busy week ahead of you and the first thing you're going to do is listen to outgoing Governor Chet Culver deliver a Condition of the State message. Traditionally that is a road map for the legislative agenda. Well, he is not going to be controlling that agenda so what would you like to hear from the Governor? Is that just a waste of time, the Condition of the State message?

Upmeyer: Oh, I certainly wouldn't call it a waste of time but we all wish Governor Culver well.

Borg: What do you want to hear from him?

Upmeyer: I'd like to hear how he frames up what has gone on in the past four years, where he sees the state moving in the next four years and in a very, in a real and positive way I think that would help give us some ideas and thoughts on how to do that.

Borg: Then the following day, Justice Cady, with the State of the Judiciary. Ordinarily that doesn't get as much attention as it is getting this year. What could Justice Cady's time best be used in talking with the legislature?

Upmeyer: I think that there is an opportunity for him to rebuild sort of a confidence in what the courts are going to be doing and how they're going to move forward. I think the judge needs to say precisely, reaffirm what the courts do. We have three separate branches of government and so he needs to lay that out, he needs to talk to people about what he sees the judicial branch responsibilities including and if he doesn't believe that the courts overstepped their bounds, which I assume he does not believe then he needs to lay out the argument why not. I think it's an opportunity for him to be very clear about his position on the courts.

Glover: Representative Upmeyer, I'm assuming he's not going to say that the court overstepped its bounds because he wrote the decision.

Upmeyer: You're right, I think that's correct.

Glover: And the larger question that goes beyond the role of that decision and the future of these justices is the way that Iowa picks its judges. Iowa has a fairly unique merit based system for picking judges. Are you happy with that system? There are those who suggest it needs to be changed.

Upmeyer: You know, I think overall the systems work well. I think the biggest argument perhaps that we're hearing is the way the commission members are appointed and I'm sure we'll have that discussion. But it's one of those things where everything moves inside that system so a different governor will have different appointments, there's roll over time so sometimes it's a question of be careful what you ask for.

Glover: I remember -- there are complaints now that the commission is overwhelmingly dominated by democrats -- I remember when Terry Branstad was governor before democrats complained it was overwhelmingly dominated by republicans.

Upmeyer: That's exactly right.

Glover: Is it your prediction that system will stay in place?

Upmeyer: It is my prediction that we'll talk about it and I'm not hearing that that's something that must be changed. I think much will depend on what happens with the resolution on the -- letting Iowans vote on the definition of marriage. If that moves forward I think that is what people have asked to do.

Glover: And it'll pass the house but the senate democratic leader has vowed to block it there. Is there any way to get it through there?

Upmeyer: I think there are many folks in the senate that are going to work very hard to do that. I think it's up to Senator Gronstal in the end.

Henderson: At the national level, republicans in the U.S. House have decided to advance a bill which would repeal the healthcare reform law that President Obama signed last April. You were last on this program talking about the healthcare issue. I'm wondering if republicans in the Iowa House will take any action in regards to the healthcare issue.

Upmeyer: As far as a direct relationship to the national issue I think we will affirm that we believe Iowans should have the right to choose. Obviously we can't have a direct impact on whether that is repealed and replaced or not. However, Iowa has a very small problem in relation to a national problem. Iowa has the tools and the will to solve its problem relating to health and the uninsured and I believe that is the direction we should go because I really am not interested in taking on New York's problem or California's problem or any other state's. We’re in a pretty good position to move forward and take care of Iowans on our own.

Glover: The incoming governor was up at the legislature this past week talking to people about what he sees as a budget shortfall for the next year. He sees it at anywhere between $600 and $700 million dollars. And contributing to that are more than $300 million in tax cuts he wants to push. He wants to cut in half the corporate income tax and he wants to give commercial property taxpayers a break. Will you pass those and how will you pay for them?

Upmeyer: I believe that we will pass bills in some form. I don't know precisely what form they'll take today. Certainly as far as taxes Representative Sands and the ways and means committee will discuss it but that is the first premise of the Taxpayer First Act is that the first thing we will do is create a tax relief fund and one-time dollars coming into the state, surpluses like ending balances that are one-time dollars that will go into that fund. We do have a $600 to $700 million gap as we move into even beginning the FY12 budget and that is because we had one-time dollars in that hole. We need to move toward a budget that is much more aligned with revenues than we have been in the past.

Henderson: The other part of that bill that you just mentioned outlined a series of cuts in state spending. Among the ideas is the sale of the Iowa Communications Network. I'm wondering how you would accomplish that, if it's worth anything and then essentially would the man who created it, Governor-elect Terry Branstad, sign a law getting rid of it?

Upmeyer: You know, actually the bill says sale or lease and what we've looked at is I think most of us agree that even since the inception, and I served on the Education Telecommunication Council back when I was a community college trustee, Dean you probably remember that, but I think even in the beginning the fact that we had a very narrow interpretation of who could use the bandwidth that the ICN was capable of meant that it wasn't utilized to the level that perhaps would have made it much easier to sustain so the problem we have is maintaining a system that isn't fully utilized. So, if we can lease some bandwidth, if we can look for other opportunities that more fully utilize it and generate some revenue to help maintain it that would be a possibility as well.

Glover: Another issue you're going to have to wrestle with this winter, you're going to have a busy winter ...

Upmeyer: I am going to have a busy winter.

Glover: Governor Culver has reached an agreement with the largest union representing state workers that will cost you about $100 million in the first year. Are you bound by that agreement or can you tinker with it?

Upmeyer: You know, I think there might be some ways that we might be able to, I guess, tinker with it in your words but the legislature created Chapter 20 so I think we can make some changes to Chapter 20 so to the extent that perhaps we might talk about health insurance, for example ...

Glover: That would be requiring state workers to pay ...

Upmeyer: ... to pay a portion of their health insurance, that might be something we could do and we'll be looking at that.

Glover: Anything else you can think of?

Upmeyer: That's the one that rises to -- I think because that's pretty significant. I don't think Iowans agree with the idea that those of us who have health insurance through the state pay zero dollars and yet we have Hawk-I folks that sign their children up for the Hawk-I program needing to pay even $10 to $20 to $40 a month. So, I think that doesn't quite fit.

Borg: I mentioned Kevin McCarthy earlier, he is from Polk County and he is the former majority leader for the democrats when they controlled the House of Representatives. You now, in your role, he was metropolitan Des Moines, you're from rural Iowa, Hancock County along the northern tier of counties, about as rural as it gets in Iowa. How is that going to influence your selection of what gets debated in the House of Representatives and what doesn't? What would you like to see come through there in legislation for revitalizing Iowa's rural landscapes?

Upmeyer: You know, we're going to focus on the priorities of Iowans and what meets the needs of Iowans and that is all Iowans and I think common among all Iowans is the fact that we need to spend fewer tax dollars, give the taxpayers a seat at the table and make sure that we get Iowans back to work and that isn't just in the urban areas and it's not just in the rural areas. I've got a good mix of urban and rural folks in the caucus and I think we'll together be able to move forward an agenda that is beneficial to all Iowans.

Henderson: Many of our viewers may be seeing you for the first time so let's give them an idea of who you are. What got you involved in politics? Was it watching your dad from the sidelines?

Upmeyer: I think absolutely that was the beginning. I joke a little bit about the fact that when other young girls were going off to Girl Scout camp I was going off to Teenage Republican camp. So, absolutely I was involved in what my dad was doing with policymaking, it was things we talked about at the dinner table and in those days it was always phone calls, you know, at the phone in the kitchen, not on a cell phone in somebody's office. So, I heard a lot of that and listened and thought about it as I was growing up and absolutely that influenced me.

Glover: You have risen to a very high political position for a woman and I say that with the background that Iowa is one of two states in the nation, Mississippi being the other, that has never elected a woman to Congress or a woman governor. What does your election as majority leader of the house say about the role that women play in politics in the state? Are you making some advances?

Upmeyer: Oh, I think we're absolutely making advances and I don't probably think over much about the fact that being a woman -- I think there are opportunities and there are times that sort of come along and while we absolutely create many of our own opportunities I think about women that have gone before me that at the right point in time could very well have been a majority leader, governor or whatever as well. So, I'm absolutely honored and humbled that I get to be that first person.

Glover: Could you be the person who breaks that glass ceiling and one day becomes Iowa's first woman governor or first woman congresswoman?

Upmeyer: Right now, Mike, I want to be the very best woman majority leader in the state.

Henderson: You're involved in a group that does recruit women to run for office. What do you tell a prospective candidates of the female variety when she's contemplating jumping into politics?

Upmeyer: Well, just to step back even one step what we've learned from research is actually that women often have to be asked to run, they have to be sort of given that confidence that it's okay to do that because sometimes, and especially right now, politician isn't a word that rises to the top of gee, that's what I want to be. So, women need to be encouraged to do that. And then, you know, the first thing I tell any candidate and absolutely women as well is that it's a lot of hard work and it takes a certain amount of courage and you're taking a risk because there are going to be people out there that are going to reject you and you may lose, you may have unpleasant things said about you and you have to be prepared for that and that's something that most people, man or woman, don't particularly enjoy.

Glover: We've referred to it obliquely, republicans in the house are talking a lot about the agenda they would like to accomplish beginning next week but you're going to have to deal with the democratic senate. How are you going to do that? How are you going to compromise, reach agreements with a senate that is still controlled by democrats?

Upmeyer: Well, I think we're going to work very hard and work very closely. We need the best ideas of all Iowans and that certainly doesn't exclude democrats and it certainly doesn't exclude democrats in the senate. As Kay pointed out earlier, I've worked on health bills for a long, long time and that tradition in the house particularly and then moving to the senate is to work together in a bipartisan fashion to the very extent possible.

Borg: How would you describe your negotiating style? Is it hard line take it or leave it? The real question is, can you be hard enough to be the majority leader?

Upmeyer: You know, I think there are points that we can negotiate on that are within reason. I think for me there's always been a point that that is the end of the negotiation, that's as far as I'll go, as much as we could do based on our principles. We all come here with a set of principles and I'm not going to ask anyone, including myself, to sacrifice principles for a compromise but there's a whole lot of room to have conversations about the ways we do things that are negotiable.

Glover: Wouldn't that be a recipe for gridlock?

Upmeyer: No, I don't think so.

Glover: I mean, if you're saying at the end of the day there are principles like you want to cut taxes, cut spending, do all that kind of stuff, that's going to run into resistance in the senate at some point, don't you just butt heads and not get anything done? What is the danger of that?

Upmeyer: Well, I hope that's not the case. We've got a new governor, I'm sure the governor will have input as to how things move forward and Senator Gronstal has been here and done this before, we've been here and done this before and we've worked with a senate as a majority before so I think we'll continue to do what we've always done.

Henderson: One of the largest impacts this coming legislature will have on Iowa politics is redrawing the lines for congressional districts and for the legislative districts. The census figures indicate Iowa will lose a member of Congress. There are three democrats and two republicans right now. Have those two republicans talked to you about the necessity of not drawing them into a new district that would force them to run against one another?

Upmeyer: They have not.

Henderson: I would expect, though, you'll get pressure.

Upmeyer: I would expect those discussions will come up but, you know, in this state we have a system that doesn't really allow for much gerrymandering so we count people and we put the number of people into a district based on population centers and things like that. So, while we may reject the first map if we don't like it we have no guarantee that the second map is going to be any better. So, I think we'll be very thoughtful ...

Glover: I can take that as a commitment from you that you're going to stick to this non-partisan process where the non-partisan legislative staffers draw the first three maps? You're going to commit to sticking with that?

Upmeyer: Yes, we will.

Glover: You'll have pressure, of course, to not.

Upmeyer:Well, I have no indication at this point that there is widespread support for changing the way we do that. I think the electorate in Iowa doesn't expect us to come to Des Moines and re-draw maps so that we can protect ourselves as incumbents. They expect us to come here, do their work and then they can decide if they wish to retain us.

Henderson: You will have an April 1st deadline for the first map. Do you expect this to be resolved early or do you expect it to take a while?

Upmeyer: Much of that depends on how long it takes to draw the maps and I think probably even the most uncertain piece is when the census is actually certified. We don't know -- I don't know if we believe February 1st, February 10th, will it be one time, will it take longer? But I think we'll move along in an expeditious way.

Borg: Speaking of moving along we need to do that ourselves with our time limited here. But you've got a busy week ahead of you up at the legislature and we look forward to seeing you then and during the coming session.

Upmeyer: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Borg: Thanks for being here today. As I said at the beginning of the program and just now, the coming week is packed with significant political events and Iowa Public Television will be there. Our coverage begins at 10 Tuesday morning with Governor Chet Culver delivering his final Condition of the State Address to the Iowa General Assembly. You'll see it as it happens on IPTV's World channel, rebroadcast at 7 that night on Iowa Public Television's main channel statewide. The next morning, Wednesday at 10, the Iowa Supreme Court's Interim Chief Justice Mark Cady delivers the State of the Judiciary message. We're carrying that live too at 10 on our World channel, rebroadcast at 9:30 Wednesday night on IPTV. And moving to next Friday, Iowa's new Governor Terry Branstad takes the oath of office at 9 in the morning, again, you'll see it as it happens on our World channel, rebroadcast at 8:30 next Friday night on statewide Iowa Public Television's main channels. It's one of our busiest weeks of the year. We hope you'll be watching. And that brings us to Iowa Press. Next weekend we'll be questioning Iowa Supreme Court Interim Chief Justice Mark Cady. That will be following up Justice Cady's message to the Iowa General Assembly. You'll see Justice Cady at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

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