To take that opportunity requires conscious tactical decisions. With Iowa’s healthcare legislation, Republicans say that meant opting not to be obstructionist, given the issue’s importance. They said it made more practical sense to work with Democrats rather than repeatedly accuse them of seeking a massive government-run program.
“We said this is something we should not fight about and is something we should move forward on,” says Republican Kraig Paulsen, Iowa’s House minority leader. It was easy to win strong bipartisan support, he says, because the work in the House’s subcommittees was transparent and inclusive; because all sides had input, the resulting ideas “flat made a whole lot of sense.” That stands in contrast to Congress, where Republicans in the minority accuse Democrats and the Obama administration of shutting them out of negotiations.
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Representative Paulsen says some inherently institutional features at the state level encourage bipartisanship. Unlike most legislative bodies that segregate the parties on each side of the chamber, Hawkeye State members are intermingled, enabling them to converse with a range of colleagues during floor debates. “To the right I have a Republican and to the left I have a Democrat, and in front of me there’s a Democrat,” Paulsen says. “It provides some casual opportunities for collaboration.”
It also helps that minority parties in Iowa and other states – unlike Congress – can’t rely on the filibuster. The US Senate, these days, only has to threaten that parliamentary weapon to stall a vote if there are fewer than 60 votes to pass legislation. But in the few states where the filibuster is permitted, state lawmakers can only use it the old-fashioned way, by talking endlessly to stall business.