A bill that has cleared a Senate panel seems to clear up the controversy over whether Governor Culver gets his pick to head a key state agency. Thomas Newton’s job as director of the Department of Public Health has been in jeopardy.
Some senators were outraged his agency ran ads calling for a statewide smoking ban. At least 34 state senators must vote to confirm a governor’s choices for department directors. No Republican was willing to vote for Newton.
The bill that cleared the Senate State Government Committee would forbid state agencies from running ads that advocate for a bill pending in the legislature. Senate Republican Leader Ron Wieck of Sioux City says once the governor’s signs the bill into law, some Republicans will vote for Newton — giving him the margin he needs to win senate confirmation. "There are a lot of folks that believe Mr. newton is very knowledgeable in the field that he works in and that we’re probably fortunate to have him here in the state of Iowa," Wieck says.
But Wieck says the ad campaign at the center of this dispute was just a bridge too far for legislators considering a ban on smoking in public places. "Had the advertising that was done last fall and into the session for example been along the lines,’talk to your teenager and tell them why they shouldn’t smoke,’ we’d not said a word about it," Wieck says.
Once the bill becomes law, state agencies would still be able to buy advertising or run public service announcement, but the agency could not advocate passage of specific legislation. Senator Mike Connolly, a Democrat from Dubuque, says he didn’t object to the state-run anti-smoking ad campaign. "But I think there was divided feeling out there and I think this is a compromise that will allow Mr. Newton to be confirmed," Connolly says.
The Senate State Government Committee approved the bill unanimously. It must clear the full Senate and the House before it lands on the governor’s desk.