CEDAR RAPIDS — Five minutes into Tyler Olson’s tenure as Iowa Democratic Party chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin announced he would not be seeking re-election in 2014.
“That obviously changes the landscape significantly,” Olson said Tuesday, explaining his decisions to step down as party chair five months into his term.
Olson, a member of the Iowa House since 2007, had been contemplating a bid for governor, but when U.S. House Rep Bruce Braley decided to run for the Senate, Olson took a look at running in the 20-county northeast Iowa 1st District.
“I’m interested in talking to folks about how I can best serve the state,” he said, “and those are some conversations you can’t have as party chair.”
So Tuesday Olson tendered a letter of resignation.
“I need to make sure the work IDP is doing doesn’t get short-changed” as he explores his future, Olson said. He had said early on that he would step down as chairman if he became a candidate for statewide or federal office.
Olson’s resignation will become effective upon the selection of an interim chair during a special meeting of the State Central Committee Saturday. Former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan is expected to run for the position.
Olson, who will be 37 later this month, expects he will make a decision within two to three weeks about which office to seek.
“I think there is a real opportunity for someone to put forward a vision for the next 30 years,” he said. “I’m going to spend some time thinking about how best I can do that.”
He’s not sure whether that will be as governor or as a member of Congress.
“It’s a process you can go through amongst a close group of people, but in order to make a final decision I have to talk to a lot more people,” Olson said.
In a December 2012 interview, Olson talked about the need for Iowa’s governor to take a “bigger picture” view of issues facing the state.
“It’s important that state government recognize that economic development is more than a massive commercial property tax cut and giving hundreds of millions of dollars to companies to entice them to locate here,” Olson said in December.
Similarly, he said education reform should be about more than more testing.
“We need a system to foster critical thinking and creativity,” he said.
If he runs in the 1st District, Olson would join fellow House member Rep. Pat Murphy of Dubuque and Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon. Another former colleague, Swati Dandekar of Marion, is considering the race.
If Olson opts for the governor’s race, he’ll join Sen. Jack Hatch of Des Moines and former legislator Bob Krause.
Hatch expressed disappointment in Olson’s departure from the state party.
“I supported Rep. Olson’s efforts to become Iowa Democratic Party chair four months ago,” Hatch said while campaigning in Cedar Rapids. “I’ll be among many Iowa Democrats who are disappointed to see him leave a position in which he was a good fit and showed real promise.”
Incumbent Republican Gov. Terry Branstad hasn’t said whether he will seek a sixth term. However, he had a $600,000 fundraiser with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio earlier this year and prior to the November 2012 election had a fundraiser with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Cedar Rapids.
Olson and his wife, Sarah, have two children. He is vice president at Paulson Electric in Cedar Rapids. He is a Cedar Rapids Washington, Claremont McKenna College and University of Iowa law school graduate.
James Q. Lynch reports for The Gazette of Cedar Rapids.