September 23, 2014

Branstad to be questioned Nov. 26 about attempt to fire gay employee (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says he’s too busy campaigning to be questioned about his attempt to force the state workers compensation commissioner to resign.

“I’m very interested and willing to have a deposition, but we’ll have it after the election,” Branstad said today during his weekly news conference. “The election’s only a month and a half away and my schedule between now and then is extremely busy.”

Branstad’s top aides asked Christopher Godfrey, the state workers compensation commissioner, to resign in early 2011 so Branstad could choose his own person for the position. Godfrey had been appointed to the job in 2009 by Democratic Governor Chet Culver. When Godfrey wouldn’t resign, his pay was cut dramatically. Godfrey has sued Branstad, arguing he was targeted for dismissal because he’s gay.

“This lawsuit was filed years ago and the plaintiff has delayed and delayed and delayed it,” Branstad said. “We have totally cooperated in every aspect and I think asking me to have a deposition before the election when my schedule is already extremely busy is not appropriate.”

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate challenging Branstad’s bid for a sixth term as governor, today said voters deserve to know more about Branstad’s actions on this case.

“I think he’s using the election as an excuse not to give the deposition,” Hatch said, “and not to have the case resolved before the election.”

Hatch suggests this case shows Branstad “bullies” state employees.

“For him to delay it is clearly a political tactic that is preventing people from really seeing what kind of a government and management of his government that he has,” Hatch said during a news conference.

The lead attorney handling the case against Branstad is Roxanne Conlin, Branstad’s opponent in 1982, which was his first successful campaign for governor. After negotiations between Conlin and the private attorney Branstad hired to handle the case, November 26 is the date set for Branstad to be questioned under oath in the defamation case. That’s the day before Thanksgiving.

Godfrey resigned from his state post in August to become the chief judge of a federal panel that rules on employee compensation appeals.  Branstad appointed an acting state workers compensation commissioner last week.

Find the audio of Branstad’s weekly news conference here.

Charges of ‘crazy’ and ‘stale’ fly at debate between Branstad, Hatch

Democrat Jack Hatch  and Republican Terry Branstad. (L-R)

Democrat Jack Hatch and Republican Terry Branstad. (L-R)

The two major party candidates for governor met in their first, face-to-face debate of the campaign Thursday.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad and Democratic challenger Jack Hatch quarreled over the past and traded jabs over their proposals for the future. Hatch repeatedly used this theme: “We need better leadership and a fresh start.”

It was his way of emphasizing Branstad’s 20 year career as governor.

“There’s stale leadership in the statehouse,” Hatch said.

Branstad described himself as a life-long Iowan who grew up on a farm and suggested Hatch, who is a state senator from Des Moines, can’t relate to rural Iowans.

“Somebody who has never really represented the whole state of Iowa, just represents a safe Democratic district here in the largest city of the state,” Branstad said.

Hatch responded: “I may be from Des Moines, but I’ve lived in Iowa my whole adult life and this state is important to me.”

The candidates spent several minutes of the debate focused on the previous governor, Democrat Chet Culver. Hatch defended Culver’s decision to borrow to build infrastructure and recover from the floods of 2008. Branstad was on the edge of his chair, waiting with this response:”Last time I ran against ‘big debt Chet’ and now (Hatch is) supporting the big debt that we ended up with…I can tell you, most of the people of Iowa didn’t like the state of Iowa going into debt.”

Branstad said the state is now dealing with natural disasters, without borrowing to finance recovery efforts. The debate’s moderator tried to move on to another topic, but Hatch interjected, suggesting the eastern Iowa cities hit by flooding six years ago would still be struggling if the borrowed state money hadn’t been there.

“What he’s saying is, ‘If you don’t have the cash, we’ll wait ’til next year,’” Hatch said. “In this case, it would have been 10 years later.”

The two quarreled over the state package of incentives for the Egyptian company that’s building a fertilizer plant in southeast Iowa. Hatch said the company got too much.

“In all, public taxpayers paid $3.2 million per job for that,” Hatch said.

Branstad responded: “Site Selection magazine said this was the second-best deal in the whole world last year.”

And Branstad said Iowa farmers will benefit from the plant’s cheaper fertilizer.

On the subject of gambling and the Racing and Gaming Commission’s decision to deny a casino license to Cedar Rapids, Branstad said regulators should follow the law and “determine what’s in the best interests of the state of Iowa.” Hatch said state regulators shouldn’t deny Cedar Rapids a casino because it might take business away from casinos in Waterloo and Riverside. Hatch said the market should decide winners and losers.

As the debate opened, Branstad said he had “only just begun” and promised to serve all four years if he’s elected to a sixth term as governor. Hatch repeatedly criticized Branstad’s management style and brought up allegations that the governor is changing job classifications so Branstad can threaten immediate termination if administrative law judges don’t decide cases as the governor wants.

“I think people feel that the governor’s been there too long, that he’s not in charge of his administration, that he didn’t know about all these scandals that are coming out,” Hatch said.

Branstad called Hatch “crazy.”

“All these wild accusations he makes. Iowans know better. I go to every county, every year,” Branstad said. “They know that they’re not true.”

Branstad also used the debate to unveil what he called his “Connect Every Acre” proposal, new state incentives to businesses to expand broadband service in rural areas.

“Because it is so important to agriculture and right now we have a gulf of what happens in our cities,” Branstad said. “They have high speed internet. Many of the rural areas don’t.”

Hatch said Branstad’s “Connect Every Iowan” incentive plan failed to make it through the legislature this past year because “special interests” killed it and Hatch said it may be time to regulate broadband like a utility.

“If the big guys try to stop the little guys from getting broadband across the state, then we’ll take a look at what we have to do to regulate the industry,” Hatch said.

The debate was sponsored and broadcast statewide by Iowa Public Television and it was staged inside a livestock sale ring on the state fairgrounds. Over 300 spectators were in the stands, watching. At the end, both candidates were asked to name a state fair competition they might be able to enter and win. Hatch went first.

“I’d like to think it’s the pie eating contest,” Hatch said, getting laughter from the audience.

Branstad noted he has already won the Governor’s Charity Steer Show at the state fair three times, then debate moderator Dean Borg asked Branstad:”He said he’d like to eat a pie. Would you bake it?”

Branstad and Hatch laughed, then Branstad responded: “My grandmother used to make the best apple pies. He probably wouldn’t eat it if I made it.”

After the debate, Hatch told reporters he wouldn’t rule out eating a Brantad-made pie, but needed to know: “What kind?”

State commissioner who wouldn’t resign under pressure in 2011 takes federal job

The state official who filed a lawsuit, charging Governor Branstad targeted him for dismissal because he is gay, has a new job in Washington, D.C. Iowa Worker’s Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey has been appointed chief judge of a federal board the decides employee compensation appeals.

In 2009, former Democratic Governor Chet Culver appointed Godfrey to a six-year term as commissioner of the state bureau in charge of deciding workers compensation appeals. After Republican Governor Terry Branstad took office in 2011, Branstad’s top aides asked Godfrey to resign. When Godfrey wouldn’t, Godfrey’s salary was cut by $36,000.

Godfrey filed two lawsuits — one in state court and one in federal court — accusing the Branstad Administration of sexual discrimination and extortion. A federal judge recently ruled the case should be decided by an Iowa court.

Godfrey’s last day as a state official is August 21 and he starts his federal job on August 25. He is not dropping the lawsuit against Branstad.

Report counters Branstad claim of reduced state workforce (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad is dismissing a Legislative Services Agency report which concludes an embattled state agency isn’t saving money after outsourcing jobs — and the state workforce is growing rather than shrinking.

“If you analyze in depth this report on the Department of Administrative Services you’ll find some of it has to do with the motor pool and some other issues,” Branstad says, “but I also would say I have great confidence in the new director of that department.”

The new director started this spring after Branstad fired the previous director who had maintained no extra money had been offered to terminated state employees who promised to keep their exit packages secret.

The Legislative Services Agency’s analysis of five years of data shows the Iowa Department of Administrative Services budget “increased rather than decreased.” The budget for the agency drawn up in the final year of Democrat Chet Culver’s administration was $97.4 million. The agency’s budget in the second year of Governor Branstad’s administration was 17 percent higher and agency officials say it’s because computer and vehicle purchases are included. Branstad also counters that he has reduced the overall size of state government operations since he took office in 2011.

“We have reduced the number of state employees by over a thousand in the three and a half years that the lieutenant governor and I have been in office and there’s been considerable savings because of that,” Branstad says.

However, the Legislative Services Agency report found that while the number of state employees had decreased during Chet Culver’s final two years in office, it had “rebounded” once Branstad returned to office. The report found the number of state employees grew by three percent during the first budgeting year Branstad oversaw and by another three-point-four percent during the second year.

AUDIO of Branstad’s weekly news conference

Second try at creating separate state agency to deal with IT issues

The “help desk” for employees in the executive branch of state government who have computer issues is getting a new name.

“There’s not going to be any additional staff added on as a part of this,” says Caleb Hunter, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services. “The staff that was currently a part of the Information Technology Enterprise is just moving over to the Office of the Chief Information Officer.”

In 2010 legislators and former Governor Chet Culver voted to hire a “chief information officer” for state government. In 2013 current Governor Terry Branstad and legislators agreed to put that person in charge of all the I-T staff in the executive branch and create the new department.

“There are some new initiatives around email, cloud-based email systems, and some other areas that IT is focused on to try to improve the efficiency and leverage new technologies in order to reduce the cost and improve the service,” Hunter says.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer will be in charge of all state government websites.

This is a second go-round for a state agency solely dedicated to “information technology” issues. Former Governor Tom Vilsack hired a “chief information officer” in 1999 to oversee a new state Information Technology department, but four years later during an effort to reduce the number of state agencies that department was tossed into what is now called the Department of Administrative Services. It’s the agency responsible for state personnel issues, for purchasing goods and services for state government and for the upkeep of state-owned buildings.

Hatch casting ‘big, big…net’ in search for running mate

Jack Hatch (file photo)

Jack Hatch (file photo)

Jack Hatch, the only Democrat running for governor, has started interviewing candidates to decide who he’ll choose as a running mate.

“(The) ideal candidate is a person who has experience in the private sector, who has experience in the public sector, who understands and has a strong understanding of constituent needs,” Hatch told reporters this morning. ” We want to make sure the people of this state see me as the CEO of a company that would bring those values in here.”

Hatch, a long-time legislator, is a real estate developer. Iowa’s constitution was changed more than two decades ago, so candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run together as a team, just like the president and vice president.

“Fortunately for Democrats, there are half a dozen people that I would be very happy with,” Hatch said. “Any one of them would be very good for me and for the party and for the state, so we have a big, big kind of net to cast and we’re going to be cautious about doing it.”

Iowa has had a female lieutenant governor since January of 1987. Hatch said while he is “embarrassed” Iowa has not elected a woman as a governor, a U.S. Senator or to congress, he doesn’t feel pressure to choose a woman as a running mate.

“I would hate to think that I would choose that just as a default position,” Hatch said. “I believe that women should and need to ascend to the highest position and I’ve always been committed to that and I continue to be committed to making sure that especially younger women, younger professional woman feel and know that the public sector is a place for them to demonstrate their skills and become a strong candidate for governor or a congressional candidate before the end of my term in office.”

Hatch does say he needs to look outside of his home territory in Des Moines for a running mate.

“I want to choose a running mate that can become governor on day one, at any time,” Hatch said, “and, number two, really supplements and adds to my experience as an elected official and also as a business person.”

Hatch has sought the advice of the past two Democratic governors as well as previous Democratic nominees who went through this process of choosing a running mate.

“The universal response is: ‘This has to be your decision. Don’t make a decision based on the politics of your staff or your supporters or your biggest contributor….You’re lieutenant governor is part of your team. He or she is not in your shadow. They have to have a real role to play,’” Hatch said. “And I’ll be talking about that when we do announce the person.”

Delegates at the Iowa Democratic Party’s convention on June 21 will be asked to ratify Hatch’s decision.

“And we hope to announce, to give the delegates a chance to assess my choice for lieutenant governor,” Hatch said.

The last independently-elected lieutenant governor in Iowa was Jo Ann Zimmerman, who won in 1986 for a job that used to include serving as president of the state senate. The next lieutenant governor was Joy Corning, elected as Terry Branstad’s running mate in 1990 and 1994. Sally Pederson was Tom Vilsack’s lieutenant governor running mate in 1998 and 2002. In 2006, Patty Judge ended her own campaign to be governor and agreed to be Chet Culver’s lieutenant governor.  In 2010, Terry Branstad chose Kim Reynolds as his running mate.

Branstad asks new DAS chief to calculate actual savings in state construction contracts

Governor Terry Branstad says his new Department of Administrative Services director should review state construction projects completed in the past two years, to determine if changes implemented by the previous director actually yielded savings for taxpayers.

“I think I’d be very interested in having Janet Phipps, the new director, do a review and give us an update as to how much savings this has been for the taxpayers,” Branstad says.

The previous director, fired by Branstad last week after the department’s confidential “hush money” settlements came to light, got rid of the team that oversaw state construction projects and hired six private companies to oversee those projects.  The agency reported the changes brought savings, but the savings were estimated on a formula rather than going through contracts to decide if there were actual savings.

“I think the more information we can get, I think the more we’ll see the benefit of making these changes,” Branstad says. “I’m very interested in getting all the information that we can and I’m very proud of the fact that we made changes to do things differently and do them more efficiently and not just see that the contracts went to these big union companies in Illinois.”

Iowa contractors complained in the fall of 2010 when a Chicago-based company that had submitted the lowest bid was awarded the contract to build the new state prison in Fort Madison.  Branstad made it a campaign issue in his 2010 race against Governor Chet Culver.

AUDIO of Branstad’s weekly news conference, 27:00