Governor Branstad suggests some state senators are refusing to support one of the men he’s asked to lead a state agency because that man is a minority.
“He is the only black department head that I appointed,” Branstad said this morning during his weekly news conference.
Branstad appointed Isaiah McGee to head the Iowa Department of Human Rights, but McGee quickly became a lightning rod for controversy after he issued a “gag order” for the agency’s staff, forbidding them to speak with legislators without his permission. Divisions within the Department of Human Rights advocate for women, African Americans, Latinos, native Americans and those of Asian descent.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal said last Friday that some senators are concerned McGee is the kind of manager who’ll make decisions without consulting those groups within the agency.
“I think people are concerned that there’s a set of advocacy organizations that are all there to be access points for people in Iowa that are of populations that are minorities and that want to advocate for things that will be good for them and that there’s some filter on that at the top that isn’t appropriate,” Gronstal said.
Governor Branstad this morning suggested the criticism of McGee boils down to bigotry. “I think it’s unfortunate that, you know, a minority person that I’ve appointed is being attacked in this way,” Branstad said.
McGee has spent a good part of the past couple of weeks at the capitol, speaking individually with state senators who will decide his fate. To keep the job, McGee must win confirmation from two-thirds of the state senators by April 15th. Branstad is standing behind McGee’s decision to issue that “gag order” on the agency’s staff and commissions. Branstad says while the Iowa Senate may want to hear directly from those folks, new rules in the Iowa House require state workers to have the governor’s permission before they may speak with House members.
“I think Isaiah is a great guy and I think it’s really — some of the criticism that he has taken is, I think, really unfair,” Branstad said.
McGee, the former mayor of Waukee, is also a former member of the Republican Party of Iowa’s state central committee. McGee recently hired the Iowa Republican Party’s former communications director as his chief assistant in the Department of Human Rights.