Governor Terry Branstad says Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson “did the right thing” by resigning Wednesday soon after a report was released suggesting there is “probable cause” that he was paid for his work on Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign.

“Considering the gravity of the accusations, I think it was appropriate that he do so and I’m glad he made that decision,” Branstad said this morning. “And I will be making the decision on setting the special election date in the very near future.”

Sorenson’s senate district covers Warren and Madison Counties and the governor by law is the official who sets the date for a special election to fill a vacancy in the legislature. The special investigator has suggested there is probable cause to charge Sorenson with felonious misconduct in office, but Branstad told reporters this case won’t tarnish Iowa’s status as the state that kicks off the presidential campaign.

“If it had been ignored, I think it could have,” Branstad said. “But the fact that the senate chose to do a very detailed, thorough investigation and now the member has resigned at the request of his leader, I think it says that we are committed to clean, honest, open government and the appropriate thing has happened.”

The 566-page report from a special investigator appointed to review allegations that Sorenson violated Senate ethics rules by being paid for work on a presidential campaign was publicly released Wednesday afternoon and just after five o’clock Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix announced he had asked Sorenson to resign, and Sorenson had agreed to do so “effective immediately.” Branstad said as the top official in the executive branch, it was not his place to referee this case.

“I’ve tried to be very careful and that’s why I was pleased that Bill Dix was the one that asked for his resignation and that he made the decision to resign,” Branstad said. “I think it was handled in the appropriate way and I want to give the Republican leader in the senate credit for making the ask for the resignation in light of the report that was done.”

The governor said as a separate branch of government, it’s up to legislators to do this kind of policing and Branstad opposes the idea of a new state law that would put the Iowa Ethics Board in the executive branch of state government in charge of reviewing ethics complaints against legislators.

Branstad and Sorenson have a rocky history. Sorenson was a key support of Branstad’s 2010 primary opponent Bob Vander Plaats and Sorenson declared during that campaign he would never vote for Branstad if he became the GOP’s nominee. When answering reporters’ questions today about Sorenson’s resignation, Branstad referred to Sorenson as “he” and “the member” but did not mention him by name.

Sorenson said late yesterday he did nothing illegal or immoral and was resigning because of the financial drain of mounting a legal defense. In an email to supporters last night, Sorenson hinted he might seek elected office in the future.