Governor Culver, please take your Democratic critics seriously (updated)

In her book Living History, Hillary Clinton wrote,

“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”

This advice came to mind as I read the harsh exchange of words between Ed Fallon and Governor Chet Culver’s office on Thursday.

I’ll explain what I mean after the jump.

As you may recall, Fallon finished third in the 2006 Democratic primary for governor and endorsed Culver a few days after the primary. Fallon had harsh words for the governor in the statement released by his I’M for Iowa movement yesterday. Iowa Independent published the whole statement, but this is the key passage:

“Culver promised me that, as governor, he would take seriously some of the issues important to me and my supporters. He specifically promised to advocate for serious campaign finance reform, to support legislation to control urban sprawl, and to involve me in his work in a meaningful way. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, that hasn’t happened, and it’s clear to me that the Governor has no intention of making it happen.”

I admit that I don’t understand the timing of this missive or what Fallon hoped to achieve by sending it to his supporters, but he raised serious questions about whether Culver has followed through on promises he made during the 2006 campaign. Fallon also characterized the governor’s office as inaccessible, citing various unreturned calls he has made to staffers.

A few hours later, the governor’s office struck back:

Governor Culver and Lieutenant Governor Judge have always considered Ed Fallon a friend and committed public servant. That is why Governor Culver appointed Mr. Fallon to the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council in 2007. In addition, the Governor has met several times with Mr. Fallon over the last two-and-a-half years, most recently in a very productive meeting with him on January 6 of this year.

Mr. Fallon has contacted our office on several occasions asking the Governor to create a new, full-time paid position within the office and to provide him a full-time assistant and support staff. The position Mr. Fallon seeks does not exist and will not be created. Many people want to work for the Governor, and not all of them can be accommodated.

As to the issue of campaign finance, the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a significant reform this session. Unfortunately, it was without Mr. Fallon’s support.

Oh, snap!

But hang on a second–I don’t see how this smackdown addresses the questions Fallon raised.

I would like to know whether Culver promised in 2006 to advocate for serious campaign finance reform and legislation to curb urban sprawl. If he did, what were his reasons for not pressing ahead on those fronts during the past three legislative sessions? (And no, what passed this year is not significant campaign finance reform.)

I recall that Culver named Fallon to the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council. A lot of smart and well-informed people served on that body, which issued its final report and recommendations for combating global warming a few months ago. I hope the governor’s staff will correct me if I am wrong, but I am not aware of Culver doing anything substantial to implement the recommendations of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council.

I’m not privy to the conversations Fallon and Culver had, but I would encourage the governor’s staff not to brush off Fallon’s criticism as the outburst of a man who wanted a Terrace Hill job.

You don’t have to look hard to find Iowa Democrats who are disappointed with what’s been achieved since Culver took office. Many labor activists feel the governor hasn’t been supportive enough of their priorities. I don’t think the governor is solely to blame for last year’s mess surrounding the collective bargaining bill, and it’s definitely not Culver’s fault that there haven’t been 51 votes in the 56-member Iowa House Democratic caucus to pass good labor bills this year. But rightly or wrongly, many people in the labor movement feel Culver hasn’t been the champion they were looking for.

By the same token, I’ve heard environmental-minded Democrats (not just Fallonistas) complain that Culver’s office is less accessible than Governor Tom Vilsack’s was. Some of these people prefer Culver’s overall record to Vilsack’s, but they don’t meet as regularly with the governor or his staff, and they often don’t know where Culver stands on a given issue.

Even Democrats who work at the statehouse, where Fallon is quite unpopular, will tell you (off the record) that the communication between the governor’s office and legislative leaders could be improved.

Like Hillary said, “Take criticism seriously, but not personally.” It wouldn’t hurt for Culver’s staff to work on outreach to and communication with key Democratic constituencies before his re-election campaign next year.

UPDATE: John Deeth’s take on this story has a different focus (it’s mostly about why Fallon is marginalized in Iowa politics), but the most important message of his post is the lede:

In the small world of Iowa politics and journalism, “Chet Culver’s not returning my calls” is not a unheard-of sentiment. What’s unusual is that someone said it on the record.

SECOND UPDATE: This could go on for a while. I’M for Iowa sent out the following press release on Friday morning:

Yesterday, Governor Culver’s office issued a response to a press release from Ed and Lynn Fallon criticizing the Governor and his staff for being inaccessible, unresponsive and reneging on promises. Today, Ed and Lynn provided a rebuttal of the Governor’s response, characterizing that response as inaccurate and inadequate.

“It’s interesting that the media can get an immediate response from the Governor’s office whereas those of us in the general public are repeatedly ignored,” said Ed Fallon. “That said, the Governor’s response is woefully inadequate, and entirely inaccurate on several counts.”

Governor’s office: “{T}he Governor has met several times with Mr. Fallon over the last two-and-a-half years, most recently in a very productive meeting with him on January 6 of this year.

“This statement is patently false,” said Lynn Fallon. “The Governor and Ed met for five to ten minutes in February of 2007. Then, on January 6 of this year, Ed and I were scheduled to meet with the Governor. We spent 45 minutes waiting for him to arrive. During that time, we explained to Jamie Cashman (the Governor’s staffer), our concerns about the lack of consideration for the issues Culver had promised to address. We then repeated everything when the Governor finally arrived, only to be interrupted by a fire alarm. Our time with the Governor amounted to only about 15 – 20 minutes, and in no way could it be characterized as ‘very productive.’”

Governor’s office: “Mr. Fallon has contacted our office on several occasions asking the Governor to create a new, full-time paid position within the office and to provide him a full-time assistant and support staff.”

“I have a job and co-own a business,” said Ed Fallon. “I do not now nor have I ever needed a job with the Governor’s office. My offer was intended to address a shortcoming in the Governor’s staffing, i.e., someone to serve as a liaison with the general public. After two-and-a-half years of this administration, seeing the number of Iowans who feel ignored by the Governor and his staff, I still believe such a position would have been of great benefit.”



Governor’s office: “As to the issue of campaign finance, the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a significant reform this session. Unfortunately, it was without Mr. Fallon’s support.”

“If the Governor’s office is alluding to the bill dealing with candidates paying themselves from their campaign funds, it’s absurd to consider that ‘significant reform,’” said Ed Fallon. “In fact, it’s a step in the wrong direction, and really amounts to an incumbent protection program. The Governor’s office is trying to divert attention away from the fact that in three years, neither he nor the Legislature have done anything to curb the flow of special-interest money into the political system.”

“We aren’t the only ones expressing concern about unresponsiveness and inattention to the needs and inquires of Iowans,” said Lynn Fallon. “In less than 24 hours, we’ve received 65 citizen responses to yesterday’s press release. Attached to today’s release are just a few examples of what people are saying.”

THIRD UPDATE: I must agree that it’s ridiculous to  characterize this bill as “significant” campaign finance reform.

  • Speaking truth to power

    Good for Ed.  

    My state representative is as timid on Democratic issues as Culver and even she disses his relations with the House.  

    Culver’s calling the “Ed Fallon Prevention Bill” a significant campaign finance reform is just a case of adding insult to injury.

    Culver beat Fallon fair and square in 2006.  Then Ed campaigned for Culver when it wasn’t clear Culver would beat Nussle.  Culver owes Ed bigtime!

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