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State lawmakers prepare for 2012 election

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

Jobs and the economy, property tax relief, lower spending and education reform were winning issues for Iowa Republicans two years ago when they took a 60-40 majority in the House and picked up six seats in the Senate.

“Thematically, not a lot has changed since 2010,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha. “That’s still what’s on the electorate’s mind.”

That angry electorate has had a chance to reflect on its 2010 decision, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said he believes voters think “Republicans spent too much time on partisan, divisive issues instead of the issues that matter most to Iowans.”

“So if the question is, ‘Is there too much partisanship and divisiveness and you want to get back to governing from the mainstream?’ then Democrats will fare well,” said McCarthy, who is looking to pick up at least 11 seats and the majority.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he agrees that Iowans want legislators to find common ground and work together.

Meanwhile, Paulsen said voters may tire of partisanship, but they care about results.

“Iowans expect us to come to Des Moines and fight for the things that are important to them,” Paulsen said. “They don’t care whether we have a pleasant experience. It’s about improving the state of Iowa — not our lives.”

Returning $390 million to taxpayers will improve their lives, Paulsen said, and that will be the House’s first order of business if the GOP is in control in 2013.

The key to tax relief and enacting the House Republican agenda — and GOP Gov. Terry Branstad’s priorities — hinge on the party gaining a majority in the Senate. That’s doable, according to Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn, R-Boone.

Behn said he thinks Iowans will look at majority Democrats’ inability to pass their own property tax plan and decide it’s time for a change.

He also pointed out voter registration numbers have swung in the GOP’s favor — from a 100,000-plus Democratic advantage to an 8,000 Republican advantage.

“I’m not sure I can give you anything more exciting than that,” Behn said. “That illustrates a trend. The numbers have continued to swing to Republicans and as long as there is a trend, that’s absolutely thrilling to Republicans.”

However, Democrats are laying the blame for inaction on property tax relief on Senate Republicans.

“Instead of trying to pursue a historic opportunity to get a $350 million, 25 percent reduction in commercial property taxes, I think they decided it’s better to use it as a political issue than get something accomplished,” Gronstal said.

That argument is the least of Behn’s worries, he said, because Senate Democrats voted down a House GOP plan offering greater property tax relief.

Another reason for GOP optimism is that for the first time in 14 years, Republicans are heading into an election with a governor from their own party and “it’s no secret the governor will be out campaigning,” said his chief of staff, Jeff Boeyink.

“Branstad has never been interested in half-measures,” Boeyink said of the governor, who was elected in 2010 after serving four terms from 1983 to 1999. “He came back with a mission in mind.”

Although the GOP has voter registration numbers and Branstad on their side, Democrats said they like the opportunities presented by the new legislative map. Legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes, and McCarthy said 64 House districts have a Democratic performance edge.

Democrats’ success, he said, will depend on turnout. According to McCarthy, the GOP didn’t win in 2010 as much as Democrats didn’t show up. If turnout meets or exceeds the level of support John Kerry received in 2004, “we’ll pick up a load of seats,” he said.

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