Lawmakers open session, but will bipartisanship last?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Democrats who lead both chambers of the Legislature opened an election-year session Monday with calls for bipartisanship, but some lawmakers made clear that partisan disagreements were looming.

"There's no question we have a lot on our plate," said House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque. "There's no question we need to do it in a bipartisan manner whenever possible."

Murphy and Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, began the second session of the 82nd General Assembly shortly after 10 a.m., when they dropped the gavel in their respective chambers.

In speeches marking the session, Democrats promised to keep the commitments to voters they campaigned on, while Republicans voiced concern about pocketbook issues and the ability of Democrats to lead the state.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Iowans want lawmakers to follow through on changes they began in 2007, including increases in teacher pay, expanding health insurance and using taxpayer money to boost alternative power industries.

"First and foremost this session will be remembered as one in which we kept our commitments and stood up for middle-class families," Gronstal said. "The people of Iowa are energized for change as never before."

But Republican leaders made clear this election-year session would have a hotly partisan backdrop.

"I stand before you today with a great deal of worry for the future of the state of Iowa," said Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City. "This Democratic majority will not lead. The Democrat majority appears to worship at the altar of poll-driven politics."

House Minority Leader Chris Rants, R-Sioux City, predicted that Democrats who control the Legislature and the governor's office will push for big tax increases.

"It's costing more and more just to be middle class in Iowa," said Rants. "Both spouses are already working. They are already stretching just to pay the mortgage and health insurance - not to mention things like paying off student loans and setting aside just a bit for retirement."

Wieck claimed that Democrats wouldn't deal with vital issues, such as the state's transportation infrastructure and high commercial property tax rates, they're worried about the political fallout.

"The Democrats are so consumed with holding on to power that the governor's office and the Democratic majorities are like deer frozen in the headlights of this problem," said Wieck.

Rants said Republicans will push for a debate about a court ruling that briefly legalized gay marriage in Polk County before the issue was appealed to the state Supreme Court.

"I know the quick and casual answer is to say we don't have time, we'll let the courts sort it out," said Rants. "But Mr. Speaker, we do have the time."

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, acknowledged a difficult session could be ahead.

"It's an election year and we know it will be easy to slip into partisan politics and negativity," he said. "Is it possible we can disagree without being disagreeable?"

Today, attention will focus on Gov. Chet Culver, who will deliver a report on the state's condition to a joint session of the Legislature. In that speech - televised statewide - Culver will give his legislative wish list and offer a proposed budget of roughly $6 billion.

Wednesday, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus will give a report on the state's judicial system before a joint session.

After that, it's down to business, Gronstal said."We're going to get off to a fast start," he adds.

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