The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

April 1, 2013

Regents conflict could impact legislative work

DES MOINES — If two of Gov. Terry Branstad’s nominees to the Board of Regents are not confirmed by the Senate, some think the political fallout could jeopardize progress on tough issues like education spending, property tax reductions and health care.

Democratic senators said two of Branstad’s three nominees to the nine-member board that oversees Iowa’s three public universities face serious problems winning confirmation. Board President Craig Lang, whose tenure has troubled Democrats, and Robert Cramer, a socially conservative businessman from Grimes, did not receive the backing of the Senate education committee.

Branstad has been a vocal advocate for both nominees.

The governor praised Lang’s leadership, including the plan for a tuition freeze in the coming academic year. And he said Cramer’s experience in construction would benefit the university system.

GOP fundraiser and Branstad adviser Doug Gross said there could be bad blood in the Capitol if the nomination process doesn’t change course.

“These things are the toughest because they’re personal. They’re not just numbers, they’re people. People are hurt on both sides. There’s a lot of bile on both sides,” Gross said. “It bodes ill for the rest of the session.”

The nominations require a two-thirds approval vote in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority. Under state law, the Senate must vote on the nominations or pass a resolution to defer the decision by April 15. The 85th legislative session is scheduled to end May 3. The legislative session can continue after that time, but lawmakers will no longer receive per diem payments.

The governor and the Legislature are dealing with a substantial policy agenda this spring, with proposals for property tax reductions, increased education spending and Medicaid expansion on the table. But discord could lead to little or no resolution on those issues, which has happened in previous years.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor’s office would not speculate on what would happen if the nominees were not confirmed. In an interview, Branstad made clear he was throwing his political weight behind his picks. He has sent letters to all 50 senators seeking their support.

“I want them to know I do take these things seriously. I do try to choose strong, effective people and we shouldn’t have a bunch of clones that everybody thinks the same way,” Branstad said. “I’ve been through this before and I’ve seen some things unfairly done. I don’t want to see a repeat of what was done in the 1990s.”

According to Branstad, a Regents nominee has not been rejected since the mid-1990s, during his previous stint in the governor’s office.

Former Regents President Marvin Pomerantz was not confirmed for a second term in 1993, after critics raised questions about his management style and ties to the governor. Branstad later put him back on the board on a temporary basis. And the Senate rejected businessman David Fisher in 1995, amid some similar concerns about his relationship with Branstad, but confirmed him to the board in 1997.

“They were two of the strongest and best regents we ever had,” Branstad said.

Branstad’s third nominee, Webster City physician Subhash Sahai, was recommended by the Senate education committee and appears to face no threat.

Sen. Jack Hatch, a Democrat from Des Moines, said rejecting the nominees could sour negotiations on other issues, but he hoped both sides could move past it if necessary.

“We know the politics of the whole session is already difficult and we’re not trying to make it more difficult,” Hatch said. “When personalities are involved you have to get through that. The Senate can separate these issues.”

Lang, a Brooklyn dairy farmer and former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, and Cramer underwent tough questioning during Senate hearings.

Democrats asked if Lang was trying to restrict academic freedom at an Iowa State University policy institute created to honor Sen. Tom Harkin. Lang had supported rules implemented by ISU President Steven Leath that would have limited the institute’s ability to research agriculture. Leath loosened the policy, but Harkin — angry about the restrictions — withdrew plans to donate his papers and blamed “partisans on the Board of Regents” for meddling. The institute now faces an uncertain future.

Senators also took issue with Lang’s criticism of University of Iowa President Sally Mason. The board last year took the unusual step of declining to renew her contract and ordered her to improve the university’s public relations.

Lang, who was appointed to the board in 2007 and has served as president since 2011, acknowledged mistakes during the hearing but asked senators for continued support. He said he supported Mason and didn’t know of any professors who thought academic freedom had been violated at the Harkin Institute.

Cramer was questioned about his conservative social views on issues such as stem cell research, gay rights and academic freedom. Some lawmakers questioned whether those positions could compromise the academic values of the public universities that the board oversees.

Cramer said Friday that he had different beliefs than some senators, but stressed that he valued higher education. He said he would write a letter to the senators to advocate for his nomination.


Text Only
AP story section
  • State to reopen Juvenile Home DES MOINES -- A district court judge on Wednesday ordered the state to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home, telling Gov. Terry Branstad he cannot unilaterally change a law approved by the state Legislature. Judge Scott Rosenberg said the home in Toledo was

    February 6, 2014

  • Panel OKs ban on remote abortion pill distribution DES MOINES -- A legislative panel approved a measure Wednesday that would ban the remote distribution of abortion pills, a proposal the bill's sponsor said is intended to delay the procedure and give women more time to change their minds. The subcomm

    February 6, 2014

  • Sioux City gambling group halts local grants SIOUX CITY -- The nonprofit that holds the gambling license for the Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino has voted to temporarily stop sending grants to local charities and government agencies. A legal dispute with the operator of the casino, Penn Nati

    January 15, 2014

  • Davenport pays, apologizes to hearing impaired man DAVENPORT (AP) -- The city of Davenport has issued an unusual apology to a former alderman after a police employee was caught on tape saying that he intentionally knocked softly on the hearing-impaired man's door when responding to a service call. Th

    January 15, 2014

  • Budget Branstad presents budget for next fiscal year DES MOINES -- Gov. Terry Branstad offered a budget proposal Tuesday that includes a tax break for veterans, a tuition freeze for college students and incentives to encourage Internet expansion in rural Iowa, a more modest list of priorities one year

    January 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gov. restores more felons' voting rights IOWA CITY (AP) -- Gov. Terry Branstad restored voting rights to more felons in 2013 than the prior two years combined, but thousands of others remain disenfranchised under a 2011 policy change. Data released by the governor's office to The Associated

    January 15, 2014

  • Man fatally shot at Fla. theater over texting WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. (AP) -- A 71-year-old retired police officer accused of shooting a man dead in a Florida movie theater told authorities that "he was in fear of being attacked" during Monday's confrontation. Curtis Reeves is charged with second-de

    January 15, 2014

  • Iowa Senator: Congress must confirm election board DES MOINES -- An Iowa senator asked a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday to confirm appointees to a federal election commission so a decision can be made about whether Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz is properly using money for voter-fraud investig

    January 9, 2014

  • School Discipline Gov't: End overly zealous discipline in schools WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Obama administration is urging schools to abandon overly zealous discipline policies that civil rights advocates have long said lead to a school-to-prison pipeline that discriminates against minority students. The wide-ranging

    January 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Governor, lawmakers set modest goals for 2014 DES MOINES -- After reaching bipartisan agreements on several major policy initiatives last year, Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday that he is setting more modest expectations for the 2014 legislative session. Speaking at The Associated Press' annua

    January 9, 2014

AP Video
National News