September 2, 2014

Hatch says Branstad ‘can’t buy back integrity’ with campaign ads

Jack Hatch

Jack Hatch

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, says Repulican Governor Terry Branstad has taken “zero responsibility” for mistakes in his administration and that can’t be papered over by Branstad’s barrage of campaign advertising.

“The governor can spend all that he wants, but you can’t buy back integriy,” Hatch said this morning during a statehouse news conference.

Branstad’s campaign war chest dwarfs Hatch’s campaign treasury, but Hatch says raising money isn’t “equivalent” to success — and Hatch pointed to the 1998 governor’s race, when summertime polls showed former Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot leading eventual-winner Tom Vilsack by 30 points.

“After almost $3 million of advertisement, this governor is still only 11 points ahead of me,” Hatch said, “so this campaign is not over.”

Hatch said Iowans “are suspicious” of what Hatch calls the “fake numbers” Branstad’s administration is presenting about how many new jobs have been created in Iowa and how much personal incomes have grown. Next week Hatch plans to start airing his own ads, which Hatch said are sprinkled with humor but will focus on Branstad’s management of state government.

“The abuse of power, the mismanagement of our resources has been to a level never seen before in this state,” Hatch said.

Hatch will he’ll also talk in the ads about his vision for the state’s future, including “clean water” initiatives and a new economic development approach.

Last week the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party accused Hatch of killing a bill about tax credits for developers that may have reduced Hatch’s income as a property developer. Hatch called it a “desperate” attack that ignores the political reality of the legislature.

“The Republicans are reaching deep into the recesses (for) a minority bill that joined 80-90 percent of the bills introduced into the state senate and not getting through a committee,” Hatch said.

According to Hatch, it was the committee chairman who didn’t want the bill to pass, but Hatch says “in hindsight” he should have turned down the assignment of subcommittee chairman for the bill.

In other campaign news, political action committees representing the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the Iowa Corn Growers Association have endorsed Branstad’s bid for a sixth term. The Iowa Corn PAC has also endorsed Democrat Bruce Braley in the U.S. Senate race, along with Republican Congressman Steve King and Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack. The group is backing Democrat Pat Murphy in Iowa’s first district race and Republican David Young in the third congressional district.

Branstad says state lacked ‘good tracking system’ for confidential settlements (AUDIO)

Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad says he was surprised a state audit has revealed a key state agency failed to find all the settlements with former state employees that included confidentiality clauses.

“Unfortunately they did not have a good tracking system and my staff went on the information they were supplied and it wasn’t adequate and that’s the thing we are committed to correcting,” Branstad says.

This spring Branstad ordered an end to adding money to a state employee’s exit settlement to keep the details of that deal confidential. Branstad released a list of what he said were all the confidential settlements his administration had struck. A state audit released last week, however, identified 18 more confidential settlements. Branstad was asked about the discrepancy during his weekly news conference.

“Unfortunately, the Department of Administrative Services in the past has not had an electronic tracking system and that’s the reason why it was not discovered previously,” Branstad said.

AUDIO of governor’s news conference, 23:00

Branstad told reporters the director of the Department of Administrative Services is now working with the state auditor to set up a tracking system.

“I’m pleased that the auditor’s report also showed that the action that I took with the executive order has ended the use of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements and that the agencies are abiding by the responsibility to have all of these agreements reviewed by the attorney general’s office and approved by the director of the department and the Department of Administrative Services,” Branstad said.

Branstad asked legislators to make all state personnel files public records. State Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines who works in human resources, says private businesses do not disclose that kind of information because of the liability and Branstad’s proposal would open the state up to lawsuits.

Senator Grassley hosts town hall meetings in northwest Iowa

Congress is in recess through this week and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says he’ll be using that time to host town hall meetings in five northwest Iowa cities. During this month-long break, Grassley says he’s made a lot of stops in counties across Iowa and he’s hearing from constituents about a host of issues and concerns.

“Ukraine, ISIS, Medicare, the president issuing executive orders, the EPA regulations particularly as it affects agriculture.” Grassley, a Republican, blames Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, for cutting the upcoming work session short. Ordinarily, Grassley says, members of Congress would be back at work for more than a month following the August recess during an election year, adjourning around the 10th or 12th of October.

“This year, Reid is so nervous about losing Demcratic control of the United State Senate, he told us in July that he was going to adjourn for the election on September 23rd,” Grassley says. “So, we have at a maximum, unless we work weekends, we’ll only have 12 days of sessions.”

Most of that time, Grassley expects the chamber to be focused on budget talks, debating the amount of money that will be spent next year. Grassley says, “There will probably be other things brought up, but I think you have to realize that for the most part, the Senate’s going to be run to whatever benefits the Democrats politically because of their concern about losing control of the United States Senate.”

Grassley is holding town hall meetings this week in: Rockwell City, Odebolt, Holstein, Denison and Jefferson. With these meetings, he says he will have visited all 99 Iowa counties this year for the 34th year in a row.


First debate in third go-round between Loebsack & Miller-Meeks

The major party candidates running in Iowa’s second congressional district this year met in their first debate of the season Thursday evening. Both Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack and Republican challenger Mariannette Miller-Meeks agreed congress is dysfunctional.

Miller-Meeks said Loebsack is part of the problem because he moves in “lock-step” with President Obama.

“He is a puppet of this administration and a puppet of Nancy Pelosi, so he does what they want him to do,” Miller-Meeks said. “His voting record shows that.”

Loebsack said he’s worked with Republicans on key issues.

“This year I’m the person who led the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis to get the funding back in for Meals on Wheels,” Loebsack said.

Both said economic sanctions are the appropriate response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the two discussed the rise of Islamic militants who’ve taken control of parts of Syria and Iraq. Miller-Meeks faulted President Obama for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq in December of 2011.

“In World War II when we had troops that remained in Germany, we had troops that remained in Japan, that we were able to help those countries transition to a more stable form of government, to a growing economy and out of war,” Miller-Meeks said.

Loebsack said the country was “war-weary” when Obama made the call.

“Iraq is not World War II,” Loebsack said. “Iraq is not even North and South Korea and if you’re suggesting that we keep 39,000 troops in Iraq as we did in Korea for all those years or hundreds of thousands of troops as we did in Europe, that makes absolutely no sense.”

On domestic issues, Miller-Meeks said congress must address the growing number of states allowing marijuana to be used as medicine.

“I think you do have to look at decriminalizing the medical use of marijuana,” Miller-Meeks said. “I do think that’s something on a federal level, when you have states acting in that regard, and then that’s in contrast to what the federal law is.”

Loebsack chimed in on the issue as well.

“My answer’s very short,” he said. “I’m in favor of medical marijuana use.”

However, neither embraced the idea of going the next step and making marijuana a legal drug for everyone, just like alcohol.

Miller-Meeks said the Affordable Care Act has not made insurance more affordable, but she did not call for repealing the bill. Loebsack accused Miller-Meeks of flip-flopping from her positions on the issue in previous campaigns. Miller-Meeks has twice before run against Loebsack, losing in 2008 and 2010.

Thursday’s debate was held at City High in Iowa City and broadcast live on Iowa Public Television. The video of the hour-long event is now available on IPTV’s website.

State audit finds cost of confidential settlements more than reported

A state audit released Thursday shows taxpayers paid nearly $700,000 to cover confidential settlements to former state employees over a four-year period. The dollar figure is roughly $200,000 more than what had been previously reported.

On March 24, Governor Branstad signed an executive order ending the use of confidentiality provisions. At the time, his administration identified 24 former state employees who given settlements totaling  $468,000.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman has identified 18 more. “We identified at total of 37 who had confidentiality clauses and of ones that were settled through court proceedings, we had five, so a total of 42 confidentiality clauses,” Mosiman said.

The audit did not reveal any more evidence of so-called “hush money” payments to former state workers in exchange for their silence. Governor Branstad fired Mike Carroll, who was head of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, after a Des Moines Register investigation found his office had paid nearly $300,000 in settlements to a half dozen former workers to keep the details of their firings secret.

Mosiman noted in her report that the 42 confidentiality clauses did not violate public records laws. “None of them violated (section 22.13 of) the Iowa Code, which states these clauses are a matter of public record,” Mosiman said. “It seems the (confidentiality clauses) were intended to impact the behavior of the parties to the agreements, but it did not impact the ability of the public to have access to the document as a public record.”


Jack Hatch, the Democrat who is challenging Governor Branstad’s re-election bid, released the following statement:

“It’s exhausting trying to get answers out of this Governor. Iowa needs a fresh start with a government built on openness, honesty and transparency after these years of Terry Branstad dodging the truth and hiding the facts. Terry Branstad promised Iowans he would get the facts out, level with Iowans and open up the books.  None of it was true. He still hasn’t kept his promise. Branstad hasn’t been open, he isn’t being honest, and his administration shows no signs of being accountable. Branstad made a change in the leadership at the Department of  Administrative Services and pronounced everything okay. That clearly was not the case as the new Director did not reveal the information about the additional secret settlements. This Governor continues to mismanage state government and act as if he’s above the law, and re-electing him will only reward that behavior. Iowa can do better, and when I’m Governor, we will.”


Statement from Senator Janet Petersen, Democrat, Oversight Committee chair:       

“When the story broke earlier this year about former state employees being offered and paid hush money to keep quiet, few of us could imagine what else was going wrong in the Branstad Administration. Today’s report by the State Auditor is another wake-up call for Iowans concerned about secret settlements, hush money and misuse of our tax dollars.  We need a long-term solution — not Band-Aids — to fix this serious problem in the management of state government. While Governor Branstad and many legislative Republicans show no concern about all these problems, the Senate Oversight Committee is continuing to ask questions that Iowa taxpayers deserve to have answered. We remain disappointed that Governor Branstad and legislative Republicans turned their backs during the 2014 session on Senate File 2358. The report today by the State Auditor demonstrates the need for the Legislature and Governor to get behind legislation, which was designed to keep state government open, honest and accountable to taxpayers by:

- Banning secret settlements and hush money payments throughout state government.

- Expanding protections for those who blow the whistle on wrongful activity.

-  Requiring the State Auditor to investigate previous secret settlements.

- Preventing no-bid contracts on state jobs.

-Outlawing cronyism in hiring state employees.

-Mandating disclosure of state worker bonuses.

-Reforming use of the state “do-not-hire” database.

IWD director defends her managment of state agency, says she’s ‘direct’

Iowa Workforce Development director Teresa Wahlert appeared before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee Wednesday and defended the way she runs the agency.

“My management style is direct,” Wahlert said.

On Tuesday, administrative law judges in the agency told legislators Wahlert has pressured them to rule in favor of businesses rather than employees in contested unemployment cases. Wahlert told lawmakers the statistics show employees win those cases more often and the rate of employee wins has been increasing.

“To think that I have been influencing people to rule on behalf of employers — the data just does not support that,” Wahlert said.

On Tuesday, several workers in the agency appeared before the senate committee to say Wahlert’s primary management tool was fear. Wahlert on Wednesday told lawmakers she had to make changes to save money and make the agency run more efficiently — and she’s aware her management style isn’t popular with everyone in the department.

“I know that some personalities adapt to change more quickly and readily than others,” she said.

Wahlert and Democrats on the committee quarreled about the agency’s March overpayment of unemployment benefits to 85 people who didn’t seek another round of benefits. Democrats blasted Wahlert for telling employees in the agency not to talk about the computer glitch, and questioned whether the overpayment might be larger. Wahlert responded: “We knew exactly how many people reported it in to us. I have no reason to think it’s more.”

Wahlert said it’s just a cost of doing business and the state will not seek repayment of the 27-thousand dollars worth of unemployment benefits sent to those 85 Iowans since the mistake was the state’s and the employees aren’t at fault.

Steve King predicts ‘politically nuclear’ reaction if Obama issues executive order on immigration

Republican Congressman Steve King says the reaction will be “politically nuclear” if President Obama bypasses congress and issues an executive order granting some sort of legal status to illegal immigrants.

“First, the president has no constitutional authority to make up laws as he wishes they would be, but he threatens to do so anyway,” King told KLEM radio in Le Mars. “…If the president does this and five to nine or more million people get a ‘you are now legal’ slip from the president of the United States, that throws us into an instantaneous constitutional crisis.”

Congress faces another deadline in September to approve a federal budget or pass a stop-gap measure to avoid a government shutdown. King said those discussions may break down if President Obama uses an executive order on immigration policy.

“This would be the most blatantly unconstitutional act by any president of the United States ever if he does what his trial balloons and his own threats have promised to do,” King said. “And so, as the intensity of that gets closer and closer, it’s more and more likely that something like that will happen.”

Reports indicate President Obama is considering executive action that would make more undocumented immigrants eligible for green cards and place more people on the “deferred action” list, so deportation procedings are delayed. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says it “would be a shame” if Republicans in congress decide to shut down the government over the immigration issue.

(Reporting by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)