Senate Democrats Remove Wahls As Leader After Staffing Dispute

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zachs Wahls (D) in his office shortly after midnight on April 18, 2023.

Iowa Senate Democrats voted tonight to remove Sen. Zach Wahls as minority leader and replace him with Sen. Pam Jochum.

The leadership change was precipitated by Wahls dismissing two longtime Democratic Senate caucus staffers, both of whom worked at the Statehouse for over two decades, at the end of last week, and replacing one with a new hire. Unhappy with Wahls’ internal staffing decisions, a group of senators quickly moved over the weekend to gather support to remove the 31-year-old senator from the top leadership position.

Multiple sources also told Starting Line that the staffing decisions added to other concerns that some senators had with Wahls.

Jochum, however, made no reference to any of that in a statement.

“I am honored to receive the unanimous support of my fellow Democratic Senators during this critical moment for our caucus and the state of Iowa,” she said in a press release. “As a united team, Senate Democrats will continue to fight for the principles we believe in on behalf of the people of Iowa.”

Jochum previously served as the Senate President when Democrats held the majority, the second woman to do so.

Senate Democrats currently hold a 16-34 minority in the Iowa Senate, down significantly from a high-water mark of 32 seats back in 2008.

There was a similar mid-cycle change in leadership with the Senate Democrats back in 2017 when the caucus removed Sen. Rob Hogg as leader in favor of Sen. Janet Petersen.

This time the leadership switch may have significant, far-reaching impacts.

Wahls was a prolific fundraiser, buoyed by a national network built in part by his early fame from speaking out on the House floor as a 19-year-old student against Republicans’ opposition to same-sex marriage rights. Elected to a Johnson County-based Senate seat in 2018, he was elected as Senate Democrats’ leader in 2021.

Wahls communicates with Iowans often on social media, and built up a wide following within the party and beyond. In recent months, he had kickstarted a new effort to get younger progressives and Democrats more involved in the state party.

He also was working closely with House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst and State Auditor Rob Sand on rebuilding the Iowa Democratic Party.

The rest of the Senate Democrats will have to quickly regroup as a team to keep their political goals in place for next year’s elections.

Though there has been no formal announcement, Jochum was not previously expected to seek reelection to her Dubuque-area seat in 2024.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 06/07/23

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