The longest-serving Republican member of the Iowa General Assembly, Andy McKean, is now a Democrat.
Andy McKean: “increasingly uncomfortable”
At a news conference on Tuesday, the Representative from Anamosa announced his decision to cross the aisle after 24 years of service in the Iowa legislature as a Republican.
McKean said that no single event had provoked the decision, but cited the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016 as a moment when the GOP changed.
“I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the stance of my party,” he said.
“Quite frankly, in listening to the discussion on the critical issues of the day since I’ve been back in Des Moines, I’ve felt in great sympathy with the Democratic Party on most of those major issues.”
“With the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, I feel, as a Republican, that I need to be able to support the standard bearer of our party,” McKean continued.
“Unfortunately, that’s something I’m unable to do.”
McKean’s announcement comes in the last days of the legislative session, which is scheduled to conclude on May 3rd.
After initially listing his party affiliation as “no party specified,” the official Iowa Legislature website is now listing McKean as a Democrat.
According to McKean, he plans to seek reelection in House District 58 in 2020 under his new party banner.
Party leaders react
The defection of Andy McKean reduces the Republican majority to just 53-47. If McKean is able to return in 2020, his presence in the Democratic caucus could prove decisive.
Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann thinks McKean will struggle to win as a Democrat, however. Donald Trump carried the eastern Iowa district by 20 points in 2016, and Governor Kim Reynolds by 15 points in 2018.
Kaufmann also thinks McKean has betrayed his constituents.
“When he was running for office a mere five months ago, he made a commitment to the voters of District 58, running on the Republican platform. Today, he has violated the trust of the voters in his district,” he said.
House Minority leader Todd Prichard took a more magnanimous position.
“The Democratic party is a big tent, it’s got a wide range of views and ideas,” he said. “We’re pleased to have Andy’s experience and ideas as part of our discussion when we go to caucus.”
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a national organization that supports Democratic candidates in state legislatures, celebrated McKean’s move.
Jessica Post, DLCC executive director, said in a statement, “Representative McKean didn’t leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left him — and their loss is our gain. We’re going to have his back in 2020 — and with this seat in Democratic control, the path to taking back the Iowa House is clear.”
Can McKean get reelected in 2020?
McKean’s 2020 reelection bid may provide a fascinating test-case for political scientists.
Running as a Republican in 2018, he was overwhelmingly reelected with 69% of the vote. In 2016, he won with a convincing 59%. Before 2016, McKean had been a member of the Iowa Senate and the Jones County Board of Supervisors.
McKean will be hoping his personal popularity and his longstanding ties to the community as a legislator will outweigh the Republican voting tendencies of District 58. If he succeeds, it could be a rare example of personal ties outweighing party loyalty among voters.
There is one other factor in McKean’s favor: District 58 voters have a history of reelecting legislators who switch parties. His predecessor, Brian Moore, had previously run as a Democrat before standing as a Republican candidate for the House in 2010.