Former Governor Terry Branstad says current Governor Chet Culver is improperly interfering with state regulatory agencies. 

Branstad, a Republican who is seeking a fifth term as governor, says it was wrong for Culver to question the state insurance division’s approval of an insurance rate hike for Wellmark.  Culver also publicly questioned the Iowa Utilities Board action which granted electric rate hikes for Alliant Energy. 

“Those agencies are important regulatory agencies.  They are given very clear instructions in the law and the rules,” Branstad says.  “They should be given the opportunity to make those decisions without political interference.”

Branstad accuses Culver of “second-guessing” the person he put in charge of regulating the insurance industry.  In early March, Culver asked the insurance commissioner to put the Wellmark insurance premium increases on hold so a “third-party, independent” actuary could review the case and determine if the rate hike was justified.  “I think it’s wrong for the governor to second-guess the insurance commissioner, who’s appointed by the governor,” Branstad says.  “I think it’s wrong for the governor to come in and question the Utilities Board decision.”

Alliant Energy executives refused the governor’s call for a review and plan to go ahead with the 10 percent temporary rate hike increase the Iowa Utilities Board granted the company.  About 80,000 Iowans who have a private health insurance policy through Wellmark were notified their premiums would go up an average of 18 percent and Wellmark executives agreed to delay the increase until the third-party review is complete. 

Branstad cites a third instance in which he contends Culver has improperly inserted himself into a regulatory agency.  Culver has called upon the state Racing and Gaming Commission to approve four new casino licenses for Fort Dodge, Larchwood, Ottumwa and Tama. “I think that’s bad policy.  It’s putting politics ahead of policy and I think the agencies should be able to make those decisions,” Branstad says.  “And if he doesn’t have confidence in the people that are there, he’s got the authority to replace them.” 

According to Branstad, the gaming commissioners should be guided by the law and the economic impact the four new casinos would have on existing casinos when they make their decision. “It puts these people in a very difficult situation when the person that has the authority to jerk them out of their position puts this kind of pressure on them.  I think that’s absolutely wrong,” Branstad says. “I think most Iowans think that’s wrong.” 

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan this afternoon addressed Branstad’s criticism of Culver’s intervention in the Wellmark case.  Kiernan said Branstad is “out of touch” with Iowa’s working families and “doesn’t seem to notice rising health care costs.” According to Kiernan, Culver’s “fighting” to ensure Iowans have “quality, affordable health care.” 

(This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.)