The man Governor Branstad asked to serve as director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights has fallen three votes short of winning senate confirmation to the post.
A few hours before the senate vote, Department of Human Rights director Isaiah McGee sent an email to legislators. The move was seen as reversing a “gag order” McGee had issued in January, when he forbid agency employees from speaking directly with legislators without his permission. Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, said “a tremendous amount of energy has been exerted” since January to give McGee a chance to reverse that gag order.
“You cannot conduct open, transparent government if people who work in that department cannot communicate with us,” Jochum said.
Today, Republicans in the Senate rose to defend McGee, who had been a member of the Republican Party of Iowa’s state central committee. Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, questioned the motives of Jochum and the other Democrats who voted against confirming McGee for the job.
“Do you want to take him down because supposedly he didn’t allow somebody to say something?” Feenstra asked. “Really? Is there more behind this?”
And Feenstra defended McGee’s order to ensure all agency workers had to get his permission to speak to legislators.”If you are the leader of your organization or of your business, I can only hope that you want all communication to go through you because you want to be lock-step with everybody in your organization,” Feenstra said. “You want to say the same thing every time.”
But another Republican, Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale, called the gag order a mistake — that had been corrected. “He’s a younger person,” Zaun said. “My dad and mom always taught me that if you make a mistake, you make the mistake right. He did that.”
Jochum suggested the mistake had lingered too long.
“This was not taken lightly,” Jocum said. “This is not about politics. This was plain and simply about open, transparent government and a director, nominee who several months ago did put a gag order on.”
The Senate did vote today to confirm the directors Branstad chose to run the departments of Corrections and Workforce Development. But the Senate overwhelmingly rejected an attorney Branstad had put forward to serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission. William Gustoff’s nomination to that 15-member panel failed on a 27-to-23 vote. Gustoff needed seven more “yes” votes to be confirmed for the job.
Seven of the members of the Judicial Nominating Commission are lawyers, selected through the Iowa State Bar Association and the governor nominates seven others to serve. Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who is a lawyer, says Branstad should have chosen a “lay person” rather than an attorney to fill one of those seven slots. Gustoff was also the Iowa attorney of record for an out-of-state attorney’s lawsuit challenging the Judicial Nominating Commission. While Gustoff removed himself from the case after Branstad asked him to serve on the commission, Hogg suggests that’s not enough to avoid a conflict of interest.
“He, I think, struck me as a good guy and I appreciate his interest and willingness to serve, but at the end of the day I don’t think he can serve on a commission where he was the attorney of record in suing,” Hogg said.
The lawsuit challenged the make-up of the Judicial Nominating Commission, questioning why the Iowa State Bar Association is allowed to help select seven of the commission members.