Environmental Protection Commission's closed meeting prompts concern

An Iowa House member suggested last week that the state Environmental Protection Commission went “beyond the intent of the law” by calling a closed session to discuss a decision related to a hog lot expansion in Poweshiek County. However, a spokesperson for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office suggested that a “contested administrative law case that involves legal briefs, hearings, decisions, appeals” qualifies as a circumstance permitting a closed session under the Iowa Code.

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Ethics board dismisses complaints against Brent Rastetter and Jason Glass

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board on Thursday dismissed ethics complaints filed against Environmental Protection Commission member Brent Rastetter and Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass. Rastetter had been accused of a conflict of interest related to his factory farm construction business. The complaint against Glass focused on an all-expenses-paid trip to Brazil, which he took in September.

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Branstad names Paul Trombino to run Department of Transportation

Governor Terry Branstad finally announced his choice to head the Iowa Department of Transportation today. Paul Trombino III has been serving as Bureau Director of Transit, Local Roads, Rails, and Harbors for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Before this year he was Region Operations Director of the Wisconsin DOT. After the jump I’ve posted the press release announcing Trombino’s appointment, which includes some details on his education and work experience. Trombino’s appointment is subject to Iowa Senate confirmation, but he is well qualified for the job and should not run into any trouble.

I hope that in his new position, Trombino will be able to target state resources toward repairing Iowa’s many deficient bridges and roads, as opposed to spending the lion’s share on new road construction.

I also hope he will help the governor see the benefits of expanding passenger rail in Iowa. Representing the Wisconsin DOT at a high-speed rail conference last year, Trombino depicted passenger rail as part of a “robust, diverse transportation system that meets the public need,” not something to be pursued instead of repairing state highways. (Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker rejected federal high-speed rail funding shortly after taking office this year.) Passenger rail was a goal of former Governor Chet Culver’s administration, but Branstad has made clear that roads will be his top concern, funded with a higher gas tax if necessary. Branstad didn’t include any passenger rail money in his draft budget, although he hasn’t definitively rejected federal funds allocated last year to extend a rail link from Chicago to Iowa City. Rail advocates have been working on funding plans that would require certain local communities to cover part of future passenger rail subsidies.

Branstad announced most of his picks to lead state departments in November and December, but he delayed choosing a head for the Iowa DOT. Instead, he asked Nancy Richardson to stay on through the 2011 legislative session. Governor Tom Vilsack originally named Richardson to that position, and she was one of the few Vilsack department heads that Culver left in place.

Branstad’s administration is nearly complete, but he has a few other significant personnel decisions to make. Earlier this month the Iowa Senate rejected his choice to lead the Department of Human Rights and one of his appointees to the State Judicial Nominating Commission. Branstad also needs to fill one more vacancy on the state Environmental Protection Commission. He withdrew one of his nominees to that body after the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter pointed out the governor’s choices would leave the commission with too many Republican members.

UPDATE: Branstad nominated Nancy Couser for the last open spot on the Environmental Protection Commission. She is a cattle feeder from rural Nevada who also serves on the Iowa Beef Industry Council.  

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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