A key Democrat in the Iowa legislature says fellow Democrat Chet Culver erred when he signed-off on a new salary deal with the union that represents the largest share of state employees.

State Representative Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines — the new leader of House Democrats — suggests Culver should have handed off the negotiations to his successor, Terry Branstad.

“Perception is reality in politics and I think this raises a lot of questions that did not need to be raised,” McCarthy says. “I think Culver should have waited.”

Culver approved the new two-year contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union last week.  McCarthy says he doubts this was any kind of political payback from Culver to the union.

“The governor — I haven’t visited with him about this issue — I’m assuming he also did not think about…how this would look because he hasn’t always had a rosy relationship with AFSCME,” McCarthy says.  “There’s never been an accusation out there that he’s out there delivering for some political partner. He vetoed their big bill — open scope bargaining.” 

Back in 2008 the Democratic-led House and Senate passed a bill that expanded the topics which could be included in negotiations with public employee unions, but Culver vetoed it

McCarthy says the substance of the new pay deal Culver has approved may seem “reasonable” since AFSCME workers agreed to pay cuts last year, but the deal may put more strain on relations between Governor-elect Branstad and all the unions that represent state employees.  

“I can see how this happened,” McCarthy says. “Governor-elect Branstad kind of basically declared war on state employees with campaign rhetoric. When the election was over, he’s made it very clear that he’s going after state employees.”

McCarthy made his comments this afternoon during taping of the Iowa Public Television Program, “Iowa Press” which airs Friday at 6:30 p.m.  Doug Gross, a long-time Branstad confidant who once served as Branstad’s chief of staff, was the other guest on the program and Gross blasted Culver for signing off on the pay deal.

“It’s never been done before by an out-going governor. When Governor Branstad left he turned it over to Governor Vilsack to negotiate and it only makes sense because Governor Branstad has to deal with the results for the next two years,” Gross said.  “This is a two-year contract.” 

Branstad plans to ask the AFSCME union to reopen contract negotiations in hopes of getting workers to agree to a pay freeze.