GOP Legislators to Watch

By consulting with a network of national and state sources, we've come up with a list of up-and-coming state legislators. This week, we look at the GOP field.
by | May 24, 2011
 

Who are the players to watch in the nation's state legislatures? No list will ever be complete, but we're giving it our best shot in a two-part series: first the Republicans and next week, the Democrats.

We assembled the lists by seeking nominations from our network of sources in the states, as well as national experts on state legislatures. From the pool of nominees, we chose to spotlight more than a dozen legislators from each party.

In seeking nominations, we assumed that ambition was a given. We wanted to feature politicians with a long future, particularly with the possibility of winning higher office at the state or federal level.

We looked for leadership qualities, demonstrated either through formal leadership posts or service in junior positions where a legislator showed unusual initiative. The ability to strike alliances across party lines was a plus, as was a record of leading his or her party to noteworthy gains. We gave special weight to those who have a compelling personal story to tell.

If you don't see your favorite worthy legislator here, leave a comment below or e-mail me at loujaco@gmail.com.

Here's the list of Republican legislators to watch, in alphabetical order:

Ohio state Sen. Kevin Bacon

Bacon, a onetime prosecutor, chairs the Senate labor committee that considered a bill to limit collective bargaining for public employee unions. He received a share of the credit (and among some critics, the blame) for the bill's ultimate passage, though some observers add that he handled the controversial hearings fairly.

Indiana state Sen. Jim Banks

Banks, a county party chair and congressional district vice chair, is touted as being on a fast-track to a leadership post even though he's only in his first term. He has harnessed his experience as a political consultant and crafted a strong media strategy that uses both traditional and new media. "He's tireless -- he does not miss an event, political or otherwise, in his district, even if it means driving back from session in Indianapolis for an hour appearance," said one political observer in Indianapolis. "He's looked to by his freshmen peers for political advice and policy counsel." Banks once worked at Focus on the Family, the socially conservative advocacy group.

Oregon co-House Speaker Bruce Hanna

In the tied Oregon House, Hanna shares power with his Democratic counterpart, Arnie Roblam. The duo has won praise for their cooperation, including their attempts to hammer out a budget agreement with Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Washington state Sen. Andy Hill

Hill retired from his job as a Microsoft software engineer to fight what looked like terminal lung cancer. Thanks to an experimental treatment, he beat the disease and proceeded to knock off a Democratic state Senate incumbent in 2010. Since taking office earlier this year, he's struck alliances with Democrats on certain environmental and education issues.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard

Observers credit Hubbard's vision and focus -- both as House minority leader and as state party chair -- with propelling Republicans into the majority in both the House and the Senate in 2010. First elected to the state House in 1998, Hubbard has won kudos for both his fundraising and party-building skills. He was rewarded by becoming the first Republican Speaker in Alabama since Reconstruction. Hubbard comes from a sports media and marketing background, where he worked with Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson.

Minnesota state Rep. John Kriesel

Kriesel, a self-described "blue-collar guy," worked in manufacturing and enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard at age 17. He served in Kosovo and Iraq, losing both legs in a roadside bomb explosion. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Purple Heart Medal and the Bronze Star Medal. Kriesel, who briefly worked as an intern for former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota in 2007, broke ranks with other Republicans by opposing a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman.

Utah state Sen. Dan Liljenquist

Liljenquist grew up in Nashville as one of 15 children and later attended Brigham Young University. After winning a state Senate primary in his first bid for elective office in 2008, Liljenquist flew to Guatemala on a humanitarian mission. His plane crashed, killing 11 of his fellow passengers; Liljenquist survived despite serious injuries. Returning to work, Liljenquist was entrusted with the task of improving the state's pension solvency. The Legislature passed a bill based on his work that has since become a model for other states. Liljenquist has now taken up Medicaid reform, and is weighing a possible primary challenge to Orrin Hatch, the long-serving Republican U.S. Senator.

Oklahoma state Rep. Glen Mulready

Despite being just a few months into his first term, Mulready, a veteran of the insurance industry, has already become the Oklahoma Legislature's go-to guy on such issues. He's touted as congenial and well-prepared, and is expected to rise quickly to a leadership position.

Pennsylvania state Sen. John Pippy

Pippy was born in Thailand to a member of the U.S. Air Force and his Thai wife. Pippy came to Pennsylvania with a degree from West Point and has served in the Senate for almost a decade. Pippy, who's wife attended West Point*, not only served in Iraq but won his Senate seat while doing it. "He -- and his wife -- badly want him to go onto a bigger stage," said a political observer in western Pennsylvania.

*Correction appended June 7 to reflect Katherine Pippy's attendence at West Point. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. Special thanks to commenter George Leader; Governing regrets the error.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston

Originally elected to the state Senate in 1992, Ralston later ran unsuccessfully for attorney general before being elected to the state House in 2002. He won the Speakership in 2010 and has earned favorable reviews for his effectiveness with fellow lawmakers.

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger

Tillis and Berger preside over the new Republican majority that came to power in a historic shift in 2010. Since taking their positions, they've sparred with Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. Both Tillis and Berger are considered politically savvy and diligent party-builders in a state where the GOP should have an edge in the Legislature for at least the next decade, thanks to redistricting.

Louisiana House Speaker Jim Tucker

Tucker, who represents a suburban New Orleans district, headed the GOP House delegation during the tenure of then-Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco. He worked to unify his caucus against much of her agenda. While Tucker has supported Blanco's successor, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, on most issues, they've also sparred on such topics as public records and spending cuts. That turbulence has driven Jindal to block some projects in Tucker's district. Tucker is term limited and unable to run again in 2011, but observers expect him to be a contender for higher office.

Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer

The first woman to hold her post, Upmeyer has a background as a nurse practitioner, which has made her a key player on health-care policy. She's active in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national network of conservative lawmakers, providing her with good national contacts. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tapped Upmeyer as his chairwoman for the Iowa caucuses.

Massachusetts state Rep. Dan Winslow

Winslow's nominal position -- a freshman state representative in a chamber and state where Republicans are badly outnumbered -- doesn't begin to describe his footprint in the Bay State. The onetime judge is a veteran of Massachusetts Republican politics, serving former Gov. Mitt Romney and later helping elect Scott Brown to the late Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat. Winslow handled the implementation of gay marriage for Romney, and won praise from gay rights groups while irritating some in his own party. In the Legislature, he's used a mix of new and old media to secure a higher profile for himself and his outspoken, yet pragmatic approach.

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch

Zellers and Koch led the GOP to surprise takeovers of both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature in 2010. Of the two, Zellers is considered more energetic, while Koch has a knack for being a conciliator. Zellers was previously an aide to former Republican U.S. Sen. Rod Grams of Minnesota while Koch served in the Air Force and was a Russian linguist for the National Security Agency.

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