Charges and counter-charges are flying around the statehouse following a Democratic senator’s assertion that state employees who judge unemployment compensation disputes have been pressured by the agency’s director to tip cases in favor of businesses. The legislature’s top Democrat — Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs — today said the actions of Iowa Workforce Development director Teresa Wahlert were inappropriate.
“I cannot condemn in more firm words the actions of the director to instruct administrative law judges to screw Iowans out of their benefits,” Gronstal told reporters during his weekly statehouse news conference.
A spokesman for Republican Governor Terry Branstad has called the allegations “Washington-DC style” politics and the legislature’s top Republican — House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha — is echoing those sentiments.
“I think this is all about the gubernatorial race,” Paulsen said during his weekly news conference. “…Everything they’re doing is in the public, accusatory forum instead of why don’t they come and talk to one of us and say: ‘Hey, we have this concern here. How do we fix it?'”
Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who first raised concerns about the Iowa Workforce Development director on Wednesday, said during a speech in the senate this morning that he’s engaging in “Waterloo style politics.”
“Facts are stubborn things and my advice to them is when you’re in a hole, stop digging because the truth will come out,” Dotzler said. “I have met personally with more than eight administrative law judges…and when I asked them directly: ‘Did director Wahlert ask for tip sheets that would help coach employers on winning similar cases (the answer) to the person was: ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’.”
Speaker Paulsen suggested Dotzler and his fellow Democrats should have taken their concerns to Republicans in private first.
“They apparently identified an issue or something that offends them. Maybe it should offend us, too. I don’t know because they haven’t shared the information with us,” Paulsen told reporters. “All I know is that they’re out, you know, Tweeting and Facebooking and talking in hyperbole.”
Jack Hatch, a state senator from Des Moines who is the only Democrat running for governor, held a news conference late this morning, to accuse Governor Branstad of creating a “culture of secrecy” in state government.
“And I, as a candidate for governor, see a pattern,” Hatch said. “A pattern that I brought up last August when I said the governor was abusing his power, where he felt he was above the law, where he was more interested in his legacy of being the longest-serving governor than in managing the state, so this is nothing new to me and it’s a pattern that’s emerging, not from my campaign, but from different areas of state government.”
Hatch said Branstad needs to hold a news conference to answer questions in public like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did after the revelation that Christie aides ordered a busy bridge closed as payback to a political foe. Branstad is on vacation in Arizona this week with his family.
“We are confident that once the partisan shouting dies down and the facts come out, Iowans will see these allegations for the baseless, sophomoric and political claims that they are,” Tommy Schultz, communications director for the Branstad/Reynolds campaign, said in a written statement.