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Terry Branstad

Branstad insists on keeping administrative law judges "at-will," easier to fire

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 03, 2015 at 10:47:23 AM CDT

Not for the first time and probably not for the last time, Governor Terry Branstad dropped a lot of line-item vetoes late in the afternoon before a holiday weekend. Early news reports are understandably focusing on the vetoes of one-time funding for K-12 education and state universities, as well as language that would have kept mental health institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant open. Bleeding Heartland has a post in progress about the fallout from those actions and others, including Branstad's decision to strike language that would have expanded child care assistance.

Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman called attention to several other line-item vetoes that flew below the radar yesterday. One of them seems particularly important, as it could put the State of Iowa at odds with U.S. Department of Labor demands to "strengthen Iowa's compliance with Federal law" and keep administrative law judges "free from actual or perceived intimidation."

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Iowa Board of Medicine not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 02, 2015 at 15:35:07 PM CDT

Nearly two weeks ago, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state ban on using telemedicine for abortion. The unanimous decision is the end of the line for a rule the Iowa Board of Medicine adopted in the absence of medical evidence.

Yet Governor Terry Branstad isn't the only person reluctant to take the Iowa Supreme Court's no, no, no, no, no, no for an answer. Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, "The Iowa Board of Medicine has huddled three times with its lawyers since losing a key state Supreme Court case this month, but has not yet decided whether to appeal or accept the decision."

I don't know what's more surprising: that after three meetings, those attorneys still haven't persuaded board members to quit while they're behind, or that board members who didn't participate in making the unconstitutional rule are considering hitching their wagons to this cause.

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Judy Bradshaw to lead Iowa Law Enforcement Academy

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 17:43:54 PM CDT

Former Des Moines Police Department chief Judy Bradshaw will be the new director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, Governor Terry Branstad announced yesterday. Bradshaw has been assistant director at the academy since last October. Before that, she broke several glass ceilings in Des Moines as the Police Department's "first female lieutenant, captain, major and police chief." When she started at the department in 1980, the only two women working there "both had filed harassment charges."

I don't understand why Branstad renominated Arlen Ciechanowski as director of the Law Enforcement Academy despite disturbing accounts over the last few years of a hostile environment for female staff and cadets. Fortunately, the Iowa Senate declined to confirm Ciechanowski during this year's legislative session, prompting the director to retire and forcing Branstad to look for a replacement. Bradshaw will be much better positioned to change the culture.

Bradshaw said yesterday that her new position will allow her to share her experience and "perspective in what I think is good police work." I've enclosed more background on her career after the jump. She should have no trouble during the Iowa Senate confirmation process.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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Why is Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey blocking a liberal blogger? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 01, 2015 at 08:27:33 AM CDT

UPDATE: This morning Secretary Northey unblocked me and said the blocking had been unintentional. Glad to hear it.

Pulling together some links for a future post about how Iowans have responded to a new Environmental Protection Agency clean water rule, I checked Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey's Twitter feed yesterday and saw this:

 photo Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.51.05 PM_zpswyu83i3v.png

Northey may be the first Iowa Republican elected official to block me. Certainly he is the only statewide official ever to do so. A guy who is likely to run for governor in a couple of years might want to grow a thicker skin.

UPDATE: I learned this morning that I am unable to view Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore's Twitter feed. That was not the case a few months ago. He may have deleted that account; the old @ChipBaltimoreIA feed has no new tweets since 2013. I haven't mentioned Baltimore at Bleeding Heartland in a while, but in April I did tweet a link to an unflattering story about him.

SECOND UPDATE: It seems Baltimore deleted that @chipbaltimore Twitter account.

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Iowa reaction to Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 27, 2015 at 06:42:23 AM CDT

In a 5-4 decision announced Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states and ordered state governments to recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere in the country. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell v Hodges, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Each of the dissenting justices wrote a separate opinion; all are available in this pdf file after Kennedy's opinion. Amy Howe explained the majority opinion in "Plain English" while Lyle Denniston posted a brief analysis.

Follow me after the jump for Iowa reaction on both sides of the marriage debate. Two years ago, Bleeding Heartland compiled Iowa politicians' comments on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Windsor, which struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriages but left state bans intact.

As a group, Iowa Democratic politicians are more enthusiastic and less cautious about welcoming marriage equality now than was the case in 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court struck down our state's Defense of Marriage Act. Many Iowa Republicans called for elected officials to overturn the 2009 Varnum v Brien ruling by passing a constitutional amendment, but reacting to the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling, few in the Iowa GOP sounded hopeful that there was any chance to reinstate state bans on same-sex marriage.

I will update this post as needed.  

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Branstad not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 26, 2015 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling against your position is usually a sign that your legal arguments lack merit. But Governor Terry Branstad hasn't learned that lesson from his administration being on the wrong end of not one, not two, but three unanimous Iowa Supreme Court rulings.

Last week, the court ruled with no dissenting justices that Iowa's ban on using telemedicine to provide abortion services is unconstitutional. Three of the justices who concurred in the decision are Branstad appointees (Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman). Two of them--Waterman and Mansfield--have demonstrated in previous cases that they are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of executive branch bodies responsible for rulemaking. Yet Branstad not only rejects the reasoning underlying the telemedicine ruling, but also refuses to accept legal experts' determination that his administration cannot appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

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Five key points about the Iowa Supreme Court striking down the telemedicine abortion ban

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 20, 2015 at 22:30:15 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that Iowa's ban on the use of telemedicine to provide abortion services was unconstitutional because it imposed an "undue burden" on women seeking an abortion. You can read the whole ruling here (pdf). I've posted highlights after the jump, along with some reaction to the decision from both sides in the debate.

A few points are worth remembering.

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Environmental Protection Commission fails to protect the environment

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 17, 2015 at 09:52:43 AM CDT

The Environmental Protection Commission voted yesterday to eviscerate a rule adopted in 2012 to reduce stormwater runoff from new construction sites. The rule previously required developers to put at least four inches of topsoil back on sites. Thanks to a lobbying campaign from home-builders, the new wording requires topsoil replacement "unless infeasible," without defining that term. So any developer who doesn't feel like spending money to put topsoil back can claim it would have been "infeasible" to do so. If the homeowner can't grow anything on the impacted clay, and runoff contributes to more flash flooding in the area or downstream, too bad.

Dar Danielson reported for Radio Iowa that only two of the nine Environmental Protection Commission members voted against the rule change: Bob Sinclair and Nancy Couser. Sinclair proposed different wording, which sounded like a reasonable compromise, but other commission members did not want to adopt new wording, which would restart the lengthy public input process. The full list of EPC members is available on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website.

One of the newest commissioners, who joined the majority yesterday in putting a few developers' interests ahead of the environment, is former State Representative Joe Riding. Branstad named the Democrat to the EPC earlier this year. Riding's action is disappointing but hardly surprising. He didn't serve on committees that focused on environmental issues during his one term in the Iowa House. A former city council member in the rapidly-growing Des Moines suburb of Altoona, Riding has probably worked with lots of home-builders.

As Todd Dorman wrote earlier this year, the EPC "abandoned all sense of balance and fairness on this issue." Expect more flooding in Iowa, more topsoil loss, and more pollution from yard chemicals making its way to our waterways.

UPDATE: Matthew Patane reported for the Des Moines Register,

Prior to voting, Couser said the rule change would mean homeowners will get "thrown under the bus" if builders don't have to evenly distribute topsoil.

"Although it may not be the intent of the rule to protect the homeowner, the homeowner definitely, 7-to-1, is telling us that's what they want from us. They want their soil," she said.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 08:22:02 AM CDT

Shortly before the end of this year's legislative session, former State Representative Ed Fallon announced "political action" to stop the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline. He warned that if the Iowa House and Senate did not approve a bill to block the use of eminent domain for the project, he would organize and fundraise "to help defeat one or two Democratic Senators and one or two Republican Representatives" who oppose the bill.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year without passing an eminent domain bill in either chamber. Last week Fallon confirmed that he is sticking to his goal of defeating one or two majority party members in both the House and Senate, adding that he had already raised $4,500 toward the cause.

All I can say is, count me out of that political crusade.

Come to think of it, I have a few more things to say on the subject.

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Branstad will seek to change GOP presidential candidate debate rules

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 15, 2015 at 18:52:09 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad will appeal to television networks and the Republican National Committee leadership to allow more GOP presidential candidates to participate in debates, Radio Iowa's reported today. It's not every day I agree with Iowa's governor, especially on a matter of political fairness, but Branstad got this one right.  
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House rebuffs Obama on trade bill; how the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 12, 2015 at 16:15:02 PM CDT

A rare visit to Capitol Hill by President Barack Obama wasn't enough to bring House Democrats on board with a crucial companion bill for "fast-track" trade authority today. The House rejected the trade adjustment assistance bill by a surprisingly wide margin of 126 to 302 (roll call). A few minutes later, House members narrowly approved the other part of the trade legislation by 219 votes to 211 (roll call). However, the fast-track package can't reach Obama's desk without both parts clearing the lower chamber. David Dayen explained the significance of the votes well at Salon. I've enclosed excerpts from his analysis below, but you should click through to read the whole piece. Dayen lays out several possible next steps for Congressional leaders who support giving Obama fast-track authority, with a view to approving a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Splitting the trade bill into two House votes was a gambit to let the trade adjustment assistance language pass with primarily Democratic support, while the fast-track language passed with primarily Republican support. As Dayen describes, the concept has worked for decades but didn't pan out today. Only 40 Democrats fell in line with Obama, while 144 voted against the trade adjustment assistance provisions, including Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Representative Steve King (IA-04) also voted against the trade adjustment assistance language, even as Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) were among the 86 Republicans to vote yes. All three Iowa Republicans were in the yes column on the subsequent vote for the fast-track language. Loebsack again voted no, as did all but 28 House Democrats. After the jump I've enclosed Blum's statement; I will update as needed with comments from the other Iowans in Congress.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported the fast-track trade bill the U.S. Senate approved last month by 62 votes to 37 (roll call). They have consistently supported trade promotion authority for the president. In that Senate vote, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham voted for fast-track, while Rand Paul voted no, along with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In case you missed it, I highly recommend State Representative Chuck Isenhart's warning that the "Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could threaten our ability to enforce state laws." Conservatives as well as progressives have reason to fear that outcome.

UPDATE: Added below more Iowa political reaction to these votes. House leaders will bring the trade adjustment assistance legislation up for another vote next week.

SECOND UPDATE: Added a statement from Monica Vernon, one of Blum's three Democratic challengers in IA-01. She opposes fast-track legislation.

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Bye bye, Iowa straw poll

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 12, 2015 at 09:45:00 AM CDT

The Iowa GOP's State Central Committee voted this morning to cancel what has traditionally been a major event of the Republican caucus campaign. The straw poll will not be held in Boone this August after all. Despite efforts to change some features of the event to reduce the cost of participating to candidates, lack of interest from several top-tier Republican contenders forced the party's hand. Today's vote was unanimous, reflecting broad recognition that the straw poll might need to be sacrificed for the sake of the Iowa caucuses. Or as Governor Terry Branstad said more than a year and a half ago, the straw poll "has outlived its usefulness."

The next big "cattle call" for Republican presidential candidates in Iowa will be the Family Leadership Summit in Ames on July 18. Bob Vander Plaats' FAMiLY Leader organizes that event, which gives candidates a chance to address a large group of social conservatives without the risk of a poor showing in a straw poll. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Senator Marco Rubio were not planning to participate in the Iowa GOP's Boone event but have already confirmed their attendance at the Family Leadership Summit. Others who will be in Ames on July 18 include Dr. Ben Carson, former Senator Rick Santorum, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Senator Ted Cruz. Santorum, Cruz, and Jindal all spoke at last year's Family Leadership Summit too, as did former Texas Governor Rick Perry (not yet confirmed for this year). Bleeding Heartland user natewithglasses wrote an entertaining post about last summer's event.

Fortunately for the throngs of national reporters covering the presidential candidates, it's not too long a drive from Cedar Rapids (where at least four Democratic presidential candidates will appear on July 17) to Ames for the FAMiLY Leader's event the next day.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. P.S. The demise of the straw poll is terrible news for the Central Iowa Expo venue in Boone, which has never been profitable and remains in deep financial trouble, with few events scheduled.

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Branstad may veto part of budget compromise, open to special session on school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 09, 2015 at 07:59:32 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad does not feel bound by spending compromises Iowa Senate Democrats and House Republicans made to end the 2015 legislative session, he told reporters yesterday. Democrats reluctantly agreed to most of the GOP budget targets in exchange for extra funding for education and other key programs in a $125 million supplemental spending bill. But last year, Branstad vetoed one supplemental spending bill in its entirety and item vetoed from other legislation some hard-fought increases in conservation funding. Similar action in the coming weeks would make an already disappointing session for Democrats even worse.

In more surprising comments yesterday, Branstad indicated that he hasn't ruled out calling lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special session to set K-12 school funding for the 2016/2017 academic year. Under a 20-year-old state law, the Iowa House and Senate should have acted on that issue months ago, but in recent years House Republicans have refused to follow the timetable for giving school districts a year's warning on state aid levels. As a result, administrators and school board members were forced to fly blind when adopting budgets for the 2015/2016 academic year. While I'm glad Branstad is back on board with following the law on school funding (he wasn't always so inclined), I have trouble seeing how a special session could overcome House Republicans' intransigence.

Follow me after the jump for more details from Branstad's press conference.

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Anatomy of a rare and costly strategic error by Mike Gronstal

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 05, 2015 at 13:52:17 PM CDT

The Iowa legislature is wrapping up its work for this year with the usual frenzy of appropriations bills. Months of stalemate over K-12 education funding and social safety net programs ended late last week with a deal that gave Iowa House Republican leaders what they wanted on overall state spending ($7.168 billion) and "allowable growth" for local school district budgets (up by only 1.25 percent). A $125 million supplemental spending bill will allocate one-time money for K-12 schools and some other Democratic priorities.

It will take a while to sort through the wreckage and identify the good, bad, and ugly line items hiding in the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016. Democrats can only pray that Governor Terry Branstad won't veto the supplemental spending bill like he did last year.

What's already clear: Republicans have many more reasons to celebrate. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen was all smiles about the budget deal, while Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal admitted candidly, "I think there's plenty of disappointment to go around, but we fought long and hard for what we thought was important and I think we, in the end, had some success." Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Gronstal noted, "If left to our own devices, we would pass a very different budget. But it is our duty to work together to come to common ground between the two sides."

Why did this "common ground between the two sides" end up so much closer to the Republican negotiating position? Because months ago, Gronstal gave House leaders what they wanted on tax bills, without securing any concessions on spending. Even a brilliant politician can make a mistake.

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Iowa Utilities Board chair won't recuse herself on Bakken pipeline

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 05, 2015 at 12:22:49 PM CDT

Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser "will help decide whether to build a major oil pipeline even though her family law firm has represented a landowner trying to block it," Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press. Shortly after Governor Terry Branstad named Huser to the utilities board in March, Foley reported that Huser's brother R. Bradley Skinner "has represented farmers who oppose the $3.8 billion [Bakken] pipeline that would transport crude oil from North Dakota across Iowa." Skinner is no longer the landowners' legal counsel, and Huser has said she wasn't aware of her brother's involvement in the Bakken pipeline dispute.

The latest AP story notes that Huser's decision not to recuse herself

means all three [Iowa Utilities] board members will vote on whether to approve the $3.8 billion underground pipeline, avoiding a possible deadlock. But legal experts say parties may request Huser's recusal due to the appearance of bias, and if she declines, the issue could be raised during any appeals of the board's decision.

I have a bad feeling that any appeals of the board's decision will come from pipeline opponents rather than from Dakota Access, LLC, the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners that wants to build the Bakken pipeline through eighteen counties from northwest to southeast Iowa.  

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Chris Godfrey's lawsuit against Branstad administration takes another detour to Iowa Supreme Court

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 04, 2015 at 17:05:58 PM CDT

Nearly four years have passed since Governor Terry Branstad and his senior staffers tried to strong-arm Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey into resigning years before the end of his fixed term, but the lawsuit Godfrey filed in early 2012 won't be heard in court anytime soon. Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register today that before the case goes to trial, the Iowa Supreme Court will rule on whether Godfrey "can invoke the Iowa Constitution to win monetary damages from the state in his lawsuit against Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and four former state officials." Excerpts are after the jump, but you should click through to read the whole story. Godfrey's attorney Roxanne Conlin appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court after Polk County District Court Judge Brad McCall "tossed out Godfrey's four constitution-based claims in an April order."

Last summer, a divided Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Godfrey could sue Branstad and five other administration officials individually for defamation, extortion and other claims, in addition to pursuing general claims and tort claims against the state of Iowa.  The governor contends that neither he nor his staffers discriminated against Godfrey, and that he was seeking to appoint a commissioner who would be more sympathetic to business owners. Depositions began in the fall of 2014, and a trial date had been set for November of this year. The Iowa Supreme Court is likely to resolve the new constitutional issue sometime in 2016.

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Iowa Supreme Court dismisses case on Iowa Juvenile Home closure

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 29, 2015 at 09:35:00 AM CDT

This morning the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a lawsuit brought by Democratic state lawmakers and a public employee union leader to challenge the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home without legislative input in the middle of the 2014 fiscal year. The seven justices reversed a Polk County District Court ruling from February 2014, which had ordered the Branstad administration to reopen the home.

The full text of Justice Edward Mansfield's decision is available here (pdf). Follow me after the jump for key points and excerpts. The central factor in the ruling was the Iowa legislature's failure to appropriate funds to operate the Iowa Juvenile Home for the 2015 fiscal year.

Today's news is a classic example of elections having consequences. Had Democrats recaptured the Iowa House majority in 2012, which could easily have happened with better allocation of resources, lawmakers in both chambers would have funded the home for girls during the 2014 legislative session. That in turn would have prompted the Iowa Supreme Court to view the lawsuit over the juvenile home closure differently.

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Branstad's commission on Central Iowa Expo work violated best fundraising practices

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 28, 2015 at 21:59:07 PM CDT

The latest "Civic Skinny" column in the Des Moines-based weekly Cityview explores an angle that hadn't occurred to me when I read Jason Noble's excellent recent reports about "ongoing financial struggles" for the Central Iowa Expo facility in Boone.

Noble documented "red flags" surrounding the initial business plan for the facility, which received substantial aid from Boone County and a $5 million federal loan guarantee. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials "felt pressure to approve" the loan guarantee and agreed thanks to "assurances by expo officials of substantial fundraising by two of the most powerful men in Iowa: once and future Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Republican super-lawyer Doug Gross."

Civic Skinny took a closer look at Branstad's fundraising for the Boone venue.  

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Episode 3: Revenge of the Bully Bill

by: natewithglasses

Wed May 27, 2015 at 12:03:49 PM CDT

(Thanks for the update on one of the governor's top priorities for this year's legislative session. Natewithglasses previously discussed the proposed bullying bill here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

As the Iowa Legislative Session comes to a close (or maybe not...) - one of Governor Branstad's top priorities is struggling to stay alive.  Bullying prevention efforts have gained bipartisan support over the last few years as leaders from both parties have heard the demands of their constituents for more work to be done protecting Iowa's kids.  Let's take a look at this year's bullying bill and what happened to a policy item that every major education organization and several other leaders in school issues supported.  
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Iowa Senate confirms all but one Branstad appointee during 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 22, 2015 at 08:45:58 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session drags on amid unresolved conflict over various budget issues, especially K-12 school funding. But one aspect of the lawmakers' work is complete for this year. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate has confirmed all but one of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees. The overwhelming majority of those votes were unanimous or nearly so.

In recent years, senators have voted against confirming one or two Branstad nominees. This year no nomination failed on the Iowa Senate floor, and only one department head was ever in real danger of not being confirmed to do his job: Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer.

Branstad has occasionally withdrawn nominees who didn't have support from the necessary two-thirds majority in the Iowa Senate. This year the governor didn't need to exercise that power, although he sidestepped a near-certain rejection by accepting Teresa Wahlert's resignation in January, rather than reappointing her to run Iowa Workforce Development. In addition, Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Director Arlen Ciechanowski recently announced plans to retire, tacitly acknowledging the votes weren't there to confirm him.

Follow me after the jump for background on the controversies surrounding Palmer and Ciechanowski and details on Palmer's confirmation vote--the closest call by far for any Branstad appointee this year.

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