DES MOINES — Hours after a video was posted online showing someone appearing to be Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix kissing a female lobbyist, the senator shocked his caucus Monday by immediately resigning — leaving the GOP to quickly find a new floor general who could usher through tax cuts and other conservative priorities.
Dix, R-Shell Rock, an 18-year veteran of the Iowa Legislature, quit both his leadership position and his District 25 seat. In a short statement, he resigned at 2 p.m. Monday. His resignation letter did not state a reason.
“This has taken everybody by surprise,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jerry Behn, R-Boone, a past leader of the Senate GOP caucus.
“I’m shocked. I think everybody is, but we’ve got a job to do,” said Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, who filled in for Dix as the floor leader, calling up bills during Monday’s Senate debate. “That’s why people elected us — to come here and do a job and we’re going to stay focused on that job.”
Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, declined to comment after a closed-door GOP caucus. But his office issued a statement later.
“I believe he made the right decision for himself and for his district, but most importantly, I believe he made the decision in the best interest of his family,” Whitver said in his statement.
“Senate Republicans will continue to move the policies Iowans elected us to pursue,” he added. “After discussions with the Republican caucus this afternoon, an election to fill the position of Iowa Senate majority leader will be held on Wednesday.”
Dix, a third-generation farmer who was born and raised on his family farm near Janesville, met with fellow Republicans for about 15 minutes behind closed doors in a Senate committee room. Staffers had placed a large white board in front of the glass window to keep TV cameras, reporters or others from seeing inside the room.
“It was somber. It was sad,” Schneider said of the mood in the meeting, where Dix indicated he would stop down. “There was anger as well.”
Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, who attended the meeting, said Dix “did the right thing for himself, for his family and for Iowans today and I think as a caucus we’ll move forward.”
Dix’s departure came only a few hours after the Iowa Startling Line website posted a video it said it had obtained of Dix and the lobbyist sitting at the bar March 1 at the Waveland Tap. The video, which was taken by a customer at the bar the website did not identify, shows the two flirting and kissing.
The lobbyist in the video, Lindsey McCune, did not respond to messages by phone and text from The Cedar Rapids Gazette. One of the clients she represents, the Iowa League of Cities, issued a brief statement: “We are taking what we believe are appropriate actions, but because this is a personnel matter we cannot comment further.”
Behn, Schneider, Bertrand and others declined to speculate on who might emerge as the next Senate majority leader, calling it “the will of the caucus.”
But Behn said Monday’s distraction would be short-lived as lawmakers push toward Friday’s funnel deadline and next month’s expected adjournment.
“Everything we did, we did as a caucus,” Behn said. “We weren’t following what Bill said. We all worked together on this. I think the process will proceed pretty much on schedule.”
Earlier in the day, Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed “extreme disappointment” and told reporters at her weekly morning news conference she planned to meet privately with Dix.
“With what little I know, I’m certainly disappointed in what I’m hearing,” Reynolds told reporters.
“I think Iowans holds their elected officials to a high standard. They expect us to lead and I expect to lead,” the governor said. “I want to know the facts. I’m extremely disappointed in what I’m hearing but until I have an opportunity to hear the story I’m not going to comment yet.”
But by early afternoon, Dix had made the decision to end his Senate stay in the final year of his second term.
He previously served in the Iowa House for five terms and was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2010 and became majority leader after the 2016 election. He represented Butler, Grundy, Hardin and Story counties.
Sen. David Johnson, an Ocheyedan independent who left the Republican Party in 2016 over differences with now-GOP President Donald Trump, said he had not seen the video but noted he had heard similar reports about Dix before Monday, telling reporters “this is nothing new.”
“We don’t need this ongoing story about where Senate Republican leadership is on these issues dealing with women,” said Johnson.
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines issued a statement calling the video “a serious matter” that follows Dix’s failure to take responsibility for the $1.75 million settlement that resulted from a sexual harassment brought by former Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson.
Anderson asserted she was fired in 2013 after complaining of a toxic work environment in the Senate. A jury last year found in her favor, and the state later agreed to the payout in exchange for it dropping its appeal.
Dix faced pressure for initially refusing to release a review of sexual harassment at the Statehouse, let later relented.
Dix’s resignation, Petersen said, gives GOP senators an opportunity to “finally get it right and change a culture at the Iowa Capitol.”
“Republican senators have an obligation to elect a new leader who will take responsibility for the sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation against former Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson by Republican senators and staff. After footing the bill for a $1.75 million settlement in Kirsten Anderson’s lawsuit against Senate Republicans, Iowa taxpayers deserve nothing less,” she said.
“It is shameful that the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim,” Petersen added.
Reynolds said she hoped the majority party leaders could “move on” with the 2018 session in pushing plans to cut taxes, balance the budget and address other GOP priorities.