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Not all are pleased with new Iowa Senate GOP leader

State Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) will serve as the Senate Republican leader, the caucus decided after a closed-door meeting Thursday. But it appears some rifts in the minority party may remain, despite Republicans insisting they’ll be united.

State Sen. Rick Bertrand (R-Davenport) said after the meeting “You know what changed today? Nothing,” before quickly leaving the chamber. And State Sen. Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) – the other nominee to lead the Senate Republicans – didn’t stick around to talk to media after the event.

Bertrand and Dix are among a large class of freshman Senate Republicans this year. State Sens. Kent Sorenson, Bill Anderson, Roby Smith, Sandra Greiner, Joni Ernst and Mark Chelgren were also elected in 2010, and some looked to go around leadership in the 2011 legislative session to push legislation on social issues like same-sex marriage.

Iowa Senate Assistant Leader David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) said “it’s a free country” and “they can say whatever the want” when asked about the disappointment some members seemed to have with the vote.

“I think we’re on our way but our work is really cut out for us, no question about that,” Johnson said, later declining to reveal the results of the leadership vote.

New Senate Republican Whip Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) also downplayed the differences in his caucus, saying the new leadership and the time spent behind closed doors today helped to mend some fences and unite the group.

“Obviously there were some things that were said and we’ve had kind of a somewhat divided caucus in the past, and spending the two or three hours we were behind closed doors we’ve put that behind us as a group,” Zaun said. “We all decided we’re going to vote for someone, it was a very healthy election and we’re going to be focusing on the next election and coming together as one group, not as a divided group.”

Behn said repeatedly after the vote that his goal is to move forward with a pro-growth agenda and win a majority in the Iowa Senate, and said communication will help bring the caucus together.

“I think that’s the biggest thing we want to continue on, is to keep united and keep working towards the 2012 elections,” he said.

Behn said votes on social issues blocked by Senate Majority Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) are important to him, but economic growth and winning elections are at the top of his agenda.

“I want those votes to come to the floor as well,” Behn said. “I think it’s inappropriate that he majority leader in the Senate has been blocking those votes, and I would like the people in Iowa to have their legislators express what they sent them down here to do.”

Johnson said it’s too early to tell, but he thinks Republicans will likely try to push controversial issues like same-sex marriage and abortion to the floor again when the 2012 legislative session begins in January.

“I do imagine that there will be groups that will be putting pressure on the Senate to revisit that issue as well as the late-term abortion issue, but that’s going to have to be a caucus decision and we haven’t really reorganized yet,” he said.

Behn, first elected to the Senate in 1996, is a farmer. He’s a graduate of United Community High School and a member of the Farm Bureau, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

The Senate Republican leadership position was vacated last week, when State Sen. Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) stepped down and announced he won’t seek re-election to a fourth term in 2012. Republicans picked up six seats in the Iowa Senate in 2010 under McKinley’s watch, bringing the balance to 26-24 in favor of Democrats.

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