Governor Terry Branstad’s office released a long list of nominees to state boards and commissions yesterday. I’ve posted the full list after the jump. As he’s done during the past three years, the governor tapped several former state legislators or onetime Republican candidates for the Iowa House or Senate. The latest batch of appointees includes former GOP State Representative Lance Horbach for the State Judicial Nominating Commission, former GOP State Representative Jamie Van Fossen for the Public Employment Relations Board, and former GOP State Senator John Putney for the State Transportation Commission.
Branstad also re-appointed former GOP State Senator Jeff Lamberti to the Racing and Gaming Commission. I’m not surprised; the governor has expressed his confidence in him many times, even immediately after Lamberti’s drunk driving arrest in May 2012. A few weeks later, Lamberti pled guilty to driving while intoxicated, after which his colleagues elected him chairman of the Racing and Gaming Commission.
Several Iowa lawmakers in both parties have been caught driving after drinking too much alcohol. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds was arrested for drunk driving twice while serving as a county treasurer. Arguably, Lamberti’s lapse in judgment is no impediment to leading one of the most powerful state commissions, which will soon make a high-profile decision on granting licenses to two new casino projects.
At the same time, it’s striking that Branstad, so committed to a continuing role in public life for Lamberti, so committed to seeing Reynolds succeed him as governor, is also determined to prevent tens of thousands of Iowans from ever participating in politics at the most basic level for a U.S. citizen. Since he signed an executive order making Iowa one of the most restrictive states for felon voting, only about 40 people have managed to regain their voting rights out of an estimated “25,000 offenders who finished their sentences for felonies or aggravated misdemeanors” since January 2011. Branstad’s policy affects mostly non-violent criminals. Non-white Iowans are more likely to be permanently disenfranchised, since Iowa is the worst state for racial disparities in marijuana arrests.
Branstad recently defended his policy on these terms: “At least somebody that commits an infamous crime such as a felony ought to pay the court costs and the fine associated with that crime before they expect to get their rights restored.” The governor knows perfectly well that most ex-felons are lucky to find a job that covers essentials like food and housing. Repaying thousands of dollars in court costs is not realistic for most of these people. Moreover, “infamous” crimes can include stealing a vending machine as a teenager. Denying thousands of Iowans a real chance to exercise their right to vote is a scandal, especially for a governor so forgiving of serious mistakes made by certain well-connected Republicans.