Democrats in the Iowa Senate are accusing Republican Governor Terry Branstad of lying about their treatment of one of his top aides. Branstad went to Fort Madison yesterday and complained Senate Democrats had “bullied” his economic development director during a senate hearing.
“Debi Durham…she may not be very tall, but she is very tenacious. She’s our director of economic development and the way she was treated by Senator Bolkcom and his colleagues in that Ways and Means Committee — they tried to bully her,” Branstad said. “I can tell you, you can’t bully Debi Durham. You can’t bully the lieutenant governor and you can’t bully me.”
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, participated in that February 27 hearing about state incentives for Orascom, the Egyptian company that plans to build a fertilizer plant in southeast Iowa.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into Governor Branstad,” Hogg said in the Senate this morning. “…For him, who’s not there, to create this false, revisionist history and tell the people of Iowa about it is very misleading and it calls into question, you know, what else is he saying that’s not true?”
Republicans in the senate immediately objected. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs later told reporters legislators have every right to ask questions about the $100 million in state incentives for Orascom after the company already had landed $300 million in federal aid from a flood relief account.
“The governor mischaracterized the concerns that Democrats raised about this deal as somehow being against the deal. That was never the concern of Democrats,” Gronstal said. “The concern was the governor got bluffed out of an extra $100 million.”
Gronstal said he met personally with Branstad last week and offered to let the governor’s economic development director appear again before a senate committee to answer more questions about the project.
“I think he’s decided rather than defend a decision that appears to be weak, he’s going to go on offense,” Gronstal said, “so I understand that game in politics and everybody in this institution does.”
Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, this morning accused Democrats of failing to “understand” the economic importance of this deal.
“Johnson County, for instance, has the University of Iowa,” Feenstra said. “Over the last few years they got $914 million in tax dollars in tax money…What is Orascom truly getting?”
That’s a shot at Democratic Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, which is in Johnson County — the same senator Governor Branstad has been singling out for calling this the “worst economic development deal ever”in the state of Iowa. Bolkcom was relatively brief in his remarks in the senate this morning. According to Bolkcom, much of what Branstad said in Fort Madison yesterday was “inaccurate.”
“The governor accused me on complaining about Lee County getting jobs,” Bolkcom said. “Wrong, governor. I have consistently supported the fertilizer plant and the jobs in Lee County. It is the waste of more than $100 million in state incentives that I oppose.”
Another senator, Democrat Bill Dotzler of Waterloo, suggested Branstad “got fooled” by Orascom.
(Reporting in Fort Madison by Brian Crozier of KBUR in Burlington)