That didn’t last long. Iowa Senate Democrats met today to take the rare step of electing a new minority leader not even halfway through a campaign cycle. Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids was replaced by Janet Petersen of Des Moines, who will now lead the Senate Democrats in the upcoming legislative session and head up their political efforts for the 2018 election.
Hogg only held his leadership position for a little less than a year, elected last November after Democrats lost six incumbents, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, and their majority. Campaign finance reports for state races don’t come out until January, but frustrations behind the scenes over lackluster fundraising from Hogg precipitated the change.
Senate Democrats faced a difficult hole to climb out of in the first place, down 29 Republican seats to 20 Democratic ones. Retaking the majority was a two-cycle process at best, making it difficult to raise money in a year where the gubernatorial race and competitive congressional contests are sucking up all the oxygen. Senate Democrats essentially went from the most-important contest in Iowa (they held the narrowest of majorities at 26 seats for three cycles) to the one seen by many as the least consequential. Their strategy didn’t seem to shift this year to adequately adjust for that, and senators had quietly discussed their concerns that Hogg’s fundraising efforts weren’t enough. They lost their fundraising staffer to Nate Boulton’s campaign a month back.
Petersen has been in the Iowa Legislature since 2001, but she gained additional prominence this past legislative session thanks to her high-profile role in fighting Republican bills targeting Planned Parenthood. She can likely tap into the Des Moines donor network better than most senators, and has more than enough experience in the chamber to lead the Democrats on the Senate floor. One of the most-liked senators among Democratic activists – especially female ones – Peteresen might be able to produce some more excitement for their targeted races.
But is Petersen’s installment as minority leader a temporary fix or a longterm ambition for the Des Moines senator? Hogg’s quick ouster is a little reminiscent of what happened with Senate Republicans as they went into the minority from the 2006 election. Republicans cycled through six different leaders from 2006 to 2011, finally settling on Bill Dix, who led their caucus back to the majority in 2016.
After Gronstal’s defeat last year, there seemed to be some initial confusion over which senators would even be interested in stepping up to lead the caucus. There was no real line-of-succession plan. Other senators hadn’t really been groomed for leadership. Democrats have three, possibly four real senate district pick-up opportunities in 2018, so even a best-case scenario means it’ll still be another cycle until Democrats have a chance to get back into the majority.
by Pat Rynard