A top Democrat in the Iowa Senate is angered by Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s declaration this past Monday that as the state’s chief executive he has broad authority to close state institutions without legislative approval.

“The last time I checked, we elect a governor, not an emperor,” Senate President Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, told reporters Thursday.

According to Jochum, Branstad has shown a “pattern” of abusing executive power since he returned as governor in 2011.

“We just, out of the blue, closed a Juvenile Home for young women and then we start closing two Mental Health Institutes,” Jochum said. “And now, out of the blue, we’re privatizing an entire Medicaid system.”

The Branstad Administration is in the process of hiring managed care companies to handle the state’s Medicaid program. Branstad said Monday he was elected by the people of Iowa to reduce the size and cost of state government and he intends to make “tough decisions” like closing two of the state’s four Mental Health Institutes to do it. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs said the governor’s comments on Monday were “a bit over the top.”

“I don’t think the governor meant that he had unlimited power,” Gronstal told reporters Thursday. “I’m pretty sure he wishes he had unlimited power, but I don’t think he really meant that. I think it’s time to calm this stuff down, look for common ground, work together.”

The top Republican in the legislature is House Speaker Kraig Paulsen. Paulsen says he’d like to see exactly what Branstad said about executive branch authority before commenting on behalf of the legislative branch.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Branstad overstepped his authority in closing regional Workforce Development offices a few years ago, but the court challenge of Branstad’s decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home without legislative action is pending before the Supreme Court.