I’m the Longest-Serving Republican in the Iowa Legislature, and I’m Switching Parties

There are times when you have to follow the dictates of your conscience. For me, that time has come.

Andy McKean, right, the longest-serving Republican in the Iowa legislature, announced that he's becoming a Democrat during a news conference on April 23, 2019.
Andy McKean (right), the longest-serving Republican in the Iowa legislature, announced that he's becoming a Democrat during a news conference on April 23, 2019. (David Pitt / AP)

I was first elected to the Iowa legislature in 1978, when I was still in my late 20s. I served for seven terms in the House and another three terms in the Senate. I worked on passing nonpartisan redistricting legislation, creating REAP (a program enhancing and protecting Iowa’s natural resources), developing sentencing-reform legislation, protecting the elderly from abuse, and floor-managing one of the toughest drunk-driving laws in the nation.

While my emphasis was on bipartisan legislative undertakings, I was comfortable with my party’s priorities and felt at home in the Republican caucus. Governor Robert Ray, a Republican, was in office when I first served and was a wonderful mentor. I continue to believe that he epitomizes what is best about public service—integrity, compassion, moderation, and a spirit of rational inquiry.

But after 24 years in the legislature, I made the decision to return to Jones County to serve as a county supervisor. My four children were in or approaching their teenage years, and I felt I was needed at home. I had missed some important moments in my children’s lives—school concerts, parent-teacher conferences, sport events—and wished to make up for the time I had lost. And with college expenses on the horizon, I also needed to put more time into my law practice.

Fifteen years later, after my kids were grown and I retired from my law practice, I decided to return to the state capitol. I wasn’t quite ready for retirement and felt that I had more to contribute. What I found, however, was very different from the legislative body I had once served in.

The legislature is considerably more partisan and regimented than it used to be. I believe the increased partisanship often stands in the way of good legislation, and I’m also deeply concerned by the growing influence that big money exerts on the legislative process.

I also found a very changed Republican caucus. While I have great respect and personal regard for my Republican colleagues, I found myself more and more uncomfortable with the stance of my party on the majority of high-profile issues, such as gutting Iowa’s collective-bargaining law and politicizing our method of selecting judges. I worked for changes to improve legislation that I had concerns about, but also voted against many of these priorities.

I might have limped along—attempting to work within my caucus for what I felt was best for the people I represent—if it hadn’t been for another factor. With the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, I felt, as a Republican, that I needed to be able to support the standard-bearer of the party. Unfortunately, that is something I’m unable to do.

I believe that it is just a matter of time before our country pays a heavy price for President Donald Trump’s reckless spending and shortsighted financial policies; his erratic, destabilizing foreign policy; and his disdain and disregard for environmental concerns.

Furthermore, he sets a poor example for the nation and our children. He delivers personal insults, often in a crude and juvenile fashion, to those who disagree with him, and is a bully at a time when we’re attempting to discourage bullying, on- and offline.

In addition, he frequently disregards the truth and displays a willingness to ridicule or marginalize people for their appearance, ethnicity, and disability.

I believe that his actions have coarsened political discourse, contributing to unprecedented polarization and creating a breeding ground for hateful rhetoric and actions.

Some would excuse this behavior, claiming Trump is just telling it like it is—and that this is the new normal. If this is the new normal, I want no part of it. Unacceptable behavior should be called out for what it is—and Americans of all parties should insist on something far better from the man holding the highest office in the land.

All of which is to say that my decision to switch political parties has been a very difficult decision for me and has only come after considerable reflection, much prayer, and many restless nights. I had been a registered Republican for close to half a century, a Republican officeholder for 35 years, and the longest-serving Republican currently in the Iowa legislature. I am proud of many good things that the Republican Party has accomplished over the years.

I am all too aware that my decision is a disappointment to many friends and colleagues who have supported me over the years. However, the time comes when you have to be true to yourself and follow the dictates of your conscience. For me, that time is now.

I want the people I represent in Jones, Jackson, and Dubuque Counties to know that I’m still the same Andy McKean today that they knew yesterday. We still share the same basic values, are proud of our families and our communities, and want to make Iowa an even better place. I’ll continue to work for the same goals and priorities that I always have during my years in public service.

I look forward to continuing my service in the Iowa House and bringing people together to improve the quality of life for all Iowans.