Sen. Bill Dix

Following a closed-door caucus Friday of 29 GOP senators, Shell Rock Republican Bill Dix was elected to serve as Senate majority leader during the 85th Iowa General Assembly when lawmakers convene their 2017 session on Jan. 9.

Rod Boshart, Journal Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES -- Senate Republicans got the first taste Friday of their new-found majority status handed to them by Iowa voters by electing new leaders.

They pledged to lead "boldly and with new ideas" that will grow the economy, lighten their tax burdens and open new career opportunities.

"This caucus has been in the minority for a long time and we are excited with the opportunity to be in the majority and it's a responsibility that we take real seriously," Sen. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, told reporters after emerging from a closed-door caucus as the leader of the Senate's 29-member majority.

Republicans, who picked up six seats in Tuesday's balloting, elected Dix as majority leader. Sen. Jack Whitver of Ankeny will serve as Senate president; Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone is president pro tem; Sen. Charles Schneider of West Des Moines is majority whip; and Sens. Michael Breitbach of Strawberry Point, Randy Feenstra of Hull, Amy Sinclair of Allerton and Dan Zumbach of Ryan will serve as assistant majority leaders.

The Senate currently has 19 Democrats and one independent, Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan, with one seat vacant due to the death of Davenport Democrat Joe Seng that will be contested in a special election next month.

The 85th General Assembly is slated to convene Jan. 9 with Republicans in control of the House, the Senate and the governorship with Gov. Terry Branstad midway through his sixth term.

"We have more unity today in this room, with the House Republicans and the governor than has ever been in my time here," said Dix as he looked forward to the state agenda for the next two years. "We all recognize what the expectations of voters are and we're not going to take our eye off that ball."

Dix, 53, a 16-year veteran of the Legislature who operates a farm near Janesville, said the new Senate leadership team expects to make committee assignments in the coming weeks and hold a follow-up caucus to begin charting its 2017 agenda and getting into more details of the priority issues they plan to address next year.

He expected tax relief, less spending, smaller and more efficient government and policies to promote growth, investment and jobs to be at the forefront.

"Make no mistake, our promise to voters was that we are going to make Iowa attractive to career development and more opportunities for Iowa families and making sure our tax policy reflects that, is something we will not take our eye off of," the new Senate majority said.

Senate Democrats are expected to meet later this month to select a new leadership team after Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, was ousted from a post he occupied for a decade when he lost to Dan Dawson in the Senate District 8 race.

Majority House Republicans were slated to hold the initial caucus of their 59 members and elect leaders next Wednesday, while minority House Democrats planned to have their first post-election meeting on Saturday.

Senate Republicans are approaching the upcoming session with enthusiasm and excitement after spending years in the minority and not having their voices heard, Dix said. They are looking forward to accomplishing their objectives and he noted he was flattered, honored, humbled and excited over the prospect of leading that effort.

"We know that revenues are tight and we've got to keep our nose to the grind stone in making sure that we are keeping spending in check," said Dix.

Efforts to reduce taxes have "been absent in recent years," Dix said, and the message GOP candidates got from voters was "they feel like they've had the short end of the stick and a bad deal over the years and they want more opportunity to have better family incomes."

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