The Race To Replace Kraig Paulsen As Speaker

Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen surprised the state’s political watchers yesterday by announcing that he would be stepping down from his position and not running for re-election. While Paulsen declined to give any specific reasoning as to why now was the time to go, you have to imagine Branstad’s vetoes seriously damaged his ability to negotiate with Democrats next session (although it’s unclear if they’ll trust any Republican leader at this point). In one sense, it’s unfortunate Paulsen felt the need to go – he’s a decent, good person who was a serious legislator and leader. However, Democrats will likely enjoy watching the Republicans’ intra-party free-for-all that could ensue from his departure.

So the race is now on inside the fractious Republican House caucus to choose a new leader and leadership team. Starting Line spoke with a number of Statehouse insiders yesterday after the Paulsen news. Here’s a very early look at who’s considering leadership spots and a tiny bit of analysis on each as to what their chances may be:

Linda Upmeyer – the current Majority Leader was quick to announce her intentions to run for Speaker. It’s long been a goal for Upmeyer, whose father served as House Speaker and Minority Leader years ago. She’ll be extremely motivated to make the deals necessary to win, but some wonder if she can overcome frustrations in the caucus. Paulsen faced a lot of aggravation from House conservatives who wanted him to push through abortion and gay marriage bills. Upmeyer was part of that leadership team, and Starting Line had even heard last week that some from that bloc might target her position next session. Paulsen has endorsed her bid, but perhaps more importantly, Matt Windschitl is backing her. More on that below.

Peter Cownie – with Windschitl demurring, the Representative from West Des Moines may have the second-best chance of becoming Speaker, if he decides to run. He’s extremely well-respected in the caucus and can raise significant amounts of money. If Republicans are seriously concerned about defending seats in 2016, they may go with someone who can best finance that effort. More of a business conservative himself, Cownie would need to form some alliances with the religious set in the caucus. So far, however, he’s holding off.

Guy Vander Linden – look for the extremely conservative member from Oskaloosa to play a role in the leadership race. He likely has little chance of becoming Speaker, but might turn a run for the top slot into a negotiating tactic to win the Majority Leader position or something else high-ranking.

Josh Byrnes – he’s indicated his interest in running for Speaker, though the Representative from northern Iowa seems like a long-shot. As one of the only moderate Republicans remaining in the House, he doesn’t have a natural base of support in the caucus to pull from.

Chris Hagenow – another well-respected and hard-working Representative from Polk County, the current Republican Whip Hagenow could use this opportunity to move up. The only issue he may have is taking on a larger role while representing a swing district where Democrats have come close in during the last two presidential elections. A race for the Majority Leader spot could be between him and Rogers.

Chip Baltimore – he mentioned to the Register he was thinking of running. Considering how contentious the gas tax was inside the House caucus (and probably contributed to Paulsen’s exit), it seems unlikely he’d do well after walking out on the vote.

Walt Rogers – if he doesn’t have his eyes on Jeff Dainelson’s Senate seat, as some suggested to Starting Line a few weeks ago, Rogers could take a shot at Majority Leader.

Matt Windschitl – he’s already passed on running for Speaker, but Windschitl, the current Speaker Pro Tempore, may hold the most sway in how the leadership structure turns out. He’s one of the leaders of the more conservative group of House members and can bring a lot of votes along with him. If he wanted to, he could try working out a deal with Upmeyer to try and move up himself.

Pat Grassley – He’s supposedly thinking of moving up into leadership. Grassley could do very well in helping the leadership team raise money, and a top spot could also help prepare him to run for his grandfather’s U.S. Senate seat someday. Some have questioned whether he’d be capable for one of the main leadership jobs at this point in his career, however.


We’ll have more on this Republican leadership race as it develops. If you hear of anything about it, drop us a line at

by Pat Rynard
Posted 8/6/15

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