Catch-up thread on Branstad appointments

Governor Terry Branstad announced some important personnel decisions in the past few days, naming former State Representative Libby Jacobs to chair the Iowa Utilities Board and three new members of the Board of Regents, including Bruce Rastetter.

Follow me after the jump for more on those and other Branstad administration appointments.

UPDATE: On March 1 President Barack Obama named Branstad to co-chair the Council of Governors, “established by the National Defense Authorization Act in 2008 to strengthen further partnership between the Federal and State governments as it pertains to national security.” Branstad will serve a two-year term as co-chair.

SECOND UPDATE: Branstad announced more than 200 appointments to state boards and commissions on March 2. Bleeding Heartland covered the four appointees to the Environmental Protection Commission here; all have ties to large agribusiness.

Another name that caught my eye was Eric Goranson, a lobbyist and parochial schools advocate whom Branstad named to the State Board of Education. He has been a leading critic of the Iowa Core Curriculum (see here and here). The Under the Golden Dome Blog argues that Goranson’s appointment may violate Iowa code, which states, “A voting member [of the Board of Education] shall not be engaged in professional education for a major portion of the member’s time nor shall the member derive a major portion of income from any business or activity connected with education.” Several of Goranson’s lobbying clients represent religious private schools or Christian home-schooling parents.

THIRD UPDATE: I forgot to mention Branstad’s two appointees to the State Judicial Nominating Commission: Helen St. Clair of Melrose and William Gustoff of Des Moines. I have been unable to find any information about Helen St. Clair, but a Maurice St. Clair of Melrose was among Branstad’s top 20 individual donors, contributing more than $45,000 to the gubernatorial campaign. I assume he is related to Helen St. Clair and will update this post if I confirm that. William Gustoff is a founding partner of the Whitaker Hagenow law firm, which includes Republican former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley also worked at Whitaker Hagenow last year.

From a Branstad press release on February 28:

“I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Libby Jacobs to the Iowa Utilities Board,” said Branstad. “Libby’s experience in both the public and private sector will be beneficial to the board as they continue to be a solutions-oriented partner in utilities issues.”

The Iowa Utilities Board regulates utilities to ensure a fair marketplace with reasonably priced, reliable, environmentally responsible, and safe utilities for all Iowans.

Jacobs’ term on the board will last from May 1, 2011 to April 30, 2017.

Additionally, Branstad appointed Jacobs chair of the board. She will serve in that capacity from May 1, 2011 to April 30, 2013.

Jacobs will replace Krista Tanner on the board. The current chair, Rob Bernstein, will remain on the board as a member.

Jacobs represented Iowa House district 60, covering much of West Des Moines, for 14 years. She declined to seek re-election in 2008. Around the time Branstad got into the governor’s race, the Des Moines rumor mill tabbed Jacobs as a potential running mate for Branstad, but her moderate position on reproductive rights probably took her out of the running.

Branstad’s press release mentions Jacobs’ service on the Iowa House Commerce Committee. I expect her to be sympathetic to the concerns of investor-owned utilities that the Iowa Utilities Board regulates. During the gubernatorial campaign, Branstad repeatedly criticized decisions that scuttled two proposed coal-fired power plants in Iowa. (In 2009, the Iowa Utilities Board didn’t approve a major utility’s requested rate of return for a possible coal-fired plant in Marshalltown.) If any utilities seek to build new coal plants, it’s a safe bet that Jacobs would support “ratemaking principles” allowing the utility to pass most of the construction costs along to consumers. I hope the utilities will invest in more wind farms, or even natural gas-fired power plants, instead of turning back to coal. Evidence continues to mount about the adverse health effects and other hidden costs of coal combustion.

Jacobs replaces Tanner, who did legal work for utilities before joining the Iowa Utilities Board and supported plans to build new coal-fired power plants in Iowa. Berntsen worked for a utility before Governor Chet Culver appointed him to an Iowa Utilities Board term ending in 2015. The third member of the board, Darrell Hanson, was also a Culver appointee. He is a past chair of the state Environmental Protection Commission was the only utilities board member to oppose building a new coal-fired plant in Marshalltown. When Hanson’s term is up in the spring of 2013, count on Branstad to replace him with a far more industry-friendly figure.

The Board of Regents is probably the highest-profile state board. It oversees the three state universities (University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa), as well as the Iowa schools for the deaf and blind. On February 25, Branstad named three new people to six-year terms on the Board of Regents:

Rastetter, who holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of Iowa, currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, LLC. Rastetter resides in Hubbard, Iowa.

“I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Bruce Rastetter to the Iowa Board of Regents,” said Branstad. “Bruce’s knowledge he brings from being a CEO in the private sector will be an asset to the board as he works to create strategic plans, monitor progress and approve the budgets of the Regents institutions.”

Mulholland holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from The University of Northern Iowa. She currently serves as the superintendent of Linn-Mar Community School District. Mulholland and her husband, Ed, reside in Marion, Iowa. Katie and Ed have four grown children.

“Katie Mulholland will strengthen the board for years to come,” said Branstad. “I believe that Katie Mulholland’s perspective as a career educator and active citizen will bring a unique perspective to the Board of Regents.”

Carroll is a native of Carroll, Iowa. She holds a B.S. from Iowa State University and a J.D. from The University of Iowa. Nicole and her husband, Dr. John Carroll, have four children, all of which are graduates from Iowa State University.

“Nicole Carroll is a very capable individual who I believe will be a great addition to the board,” said Branstad. “Nicole’s legal training, experience as President of the Carroll Community School District, along with her rural Iowa background, will serve her well in her new endeavor.”

Jens Krogstad noted at the Des Moines Register,

The picks would add one more Republican to the board, and increase geographic diversity.

Rastetter is a Republican. Mulholland is a Democrat, who changed from no party affiliation to Republican for the June primaries, then switched to the Democratic party in July, according to Linn County records.

Carroll is an independent, but last year she donated to the gubernatorial campaign of Rod Roberts, a Republican.

The trio would replace three regents that are Democrats and live in Des Moines.

State law requires Iowa’s nine-person Board of Regents cannot have more than five members from one political party or one gender.

The three regents Branstad is replacing are Des Moines Democrats Bonnie Campbell, Michael Gartner and Rose Vasquez.

Rastetter’s appointment invites comparison to Branstad picking major donor and “kitchen cabinet” adviser Marvin Pomerantz for the Board of Regents during the 1980s. Rastetter was one of the businessmen who recruited Branstad for the governor’s race in the summer of 2009. He became the top individual donor to Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign, chipping in nearly $165,000 (that doesn’t include about $30,000 that came from his relative Brent Rastetter). Branstad picked Rastetter to co-chair his inaugural committee. Bleeding Heartland readers may also recognize Rastetter’s name as the key early financial backer of the American Future Fund. (Nick Ryan, who runs the American Future Fund, was also one of Branstad’s top 10 individual donors and has worked for Rastetter in various roles.)

It doesn’t sound as if Rastetter’s history of political giving will impede his confirmation by the Iowa Senate:

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said Rastetter is a great supporter of higher education with a passion for the job.

“I have known for a long time he has wanted to be a regent,” Hatch said.

Hatch said he expects Democrats to “huff and puff a little, but will realize the election is over and that if anyone has an objection to Bruce it has got to be based on merit and not on politics.”

Hatch, a business partner with Rastetter in commercial property in Des Moines, said Democrats will not try to block a nomination like Republicans did last year. […]

“We understand that there has to be a good reason to reject a candidate,” Hatch said. “No one is going to argue that Bruce isn’t committed to the regents.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the education subcommittee, said he would support Rastetter’s confirmation as long as he understands the value of higher education, and how businesses and universities can benefit from partnerships.

“You give me smart, active, astute people with the right set of values to promote education, and I don’t care what party they’re from,” he said.

On February 28, Branstad announced two appointments to the Racing and Gaming Commission:

A Council Bluffs native, Carl Heinrich is a veteran of The United States Air Force. Heinrich earned a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University, a master’s from Emporia State University and a doctorate from The University of Kansas.

Heinrich is the past president of Iowa Western Community College. He serves as a member of the board of directors on the American Red Cross, Loess Hill Chapter; Heartland Family Services, Council Bluffs Water Works, and currently serves as the board president of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.

“Carl will be an individual who will strive to protect the integrity of the board and maintain the confidence of the people,” said Branstad. “He is an individual from a city with a gaming presence who has a fair temperament and will serve the people of Iowa well.” […]

A former State Representative and President of the State Senate, Jeff Lamberti earned a B.A., M.B.A. and J.D. from Drake University. A native of Ankeny, Lamberti is the president of Block, Lamberti, Gocke & Ahlman P.C., is president and lead investor of The Iowa Barnstormers and shareholder and principal of Riverside Partners, Inc.

Lamberti has served on numerous boards including Casey’s General Stores, On With Life, Inc. Head Injury Rehabilitation Facility; Iowa Legal Aid Foundation, March of Dimes Central Iowa Division and the Ankeny Community School District Foundation.

“Jeff has extensive knowledge of Iowa’s laws and regulations that pertain to gaming,” said Branstad. “Jeff’s expertise will be an asset as the commission adopts standards for licensing and operation of racing and gaming facilities.”

Both Heinrich and Lamberti will serve three-year terms if confirmed by the Iowa Senate, which should be routine.

On February 25, Branstad appointed David Rose to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Transportation Commission:

“David is a lifelong Iowan who understands the need for a sound transportation system. His experience in the trucking industry and developing transportation plans in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois will serve him well as he begins this new endeavor with the transportation commission.”

The transportation commission is charged with developing a transportation plan, identifying transportation needs and implementing programs to satisfy those needs. Promotion of transportation efficiency is a key component of the commission. The commission regularly travels the state seeking input from Iowans in local communities.

“Iowa is home to some of the best products that will feed the world,” said Rose. “It is important that we maintain our transportation infrastructure so our commodities can be transported in an efficient manner.”

Rose was the Republican candidate in House district 26 last year, losing the Democratic-leaning district to Mary Wolfe. The Des Moines Register reported,

A real estate business and trucking company owner, Rose had a hand in several local economic development projects, including advocating for the construction of the Lincolnway Railport and several local transportation projects, he told the Quad-City Times last fall.

The Lincolnway Railport project is designed to take advantage of Clinton’s three barge terminals, three railroad lines, municipal airport and access to major highways: “This combination gives Clinton a huge advantage in serving industries that require bulk transport in or out of the area of raw materials or finished goods.” For background on the project, click here or here. In December 2010, the state Transportation Commission approved a major grant for the Lincolnway project.

Also last week, Branstad named Charese Yanney to complete the final year of Debi Durham’s term on the Transportation Commission:

Yanney is a former teacher who is now a partner at Guarantee Roofing, Siding and Insulation Company. She has served as chair of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, United Way of Siouxland, Symphony Board, St. Luke’s Hospital Board and various other state boards and commissions. She was a 2010 inductee to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

Durham gave up her spot on the commission when Branstad put her in charge of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, which he plans to transform into a public-private partnership.

Rose and Yanney should easily be confirmed for the transportation commission spots.

One Branstad appointee I haven’t previously mentioned here has already had to manage some political fallout. The governor named Mary Cownie to head the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. I don’t know what in her resume suggested that she would be a good fit for that job; she previously worked on George W. Bush’s White House advance staff, as communications director for the Iowa GOP and in public relations for the Prairie Meadows racetrack and casino.  

Anyway, the Department of Cultural Affairs isn’t in the news often; I didn’t even remember the name of Cownie’s predecessor. But as luck would have it, Cownie walked into her new job around the time the State Historical Building displayed a traveling exhibition on the American Civil Liberties Union. Some Republicans in the Iowa legislature weren’t happy about it:

The lawmakers said a display celebrating the Iowa ACLU’s 90th anniversary was offensive because it allowed an advocacy group to present its own ideological spin on history.

They have proposed legislation that would force the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the museum’s parent agency, to give equal treatment to opposing viewpoints or lose state money.

The department’s new director, Mary Cownie, agreed that the ACLU should not have been allowed to display the material during an exhibit that ended its scheduled run of several weeks in mid-January.

But she also said the bill requiring opposing viewpoints could open the door to a wide range of problems for the museum.

She wondered, for example, what would happen if a person who believes in creationism vs. evolution opposed the museum’s woolly mammoth display? Would room need to be found for equal space for beliefs about creation? […]

Cownie promised that in lieu of House File 159 moving forward, she would work to establish rules that future exhibits would need to be approved by the cultural affairs director.

“There isn’t a good process in place, and I want to fix that to prevent something like this from ever happening again,” Cownie said.

The issue is especially critical as the museum works to bring in more traveling displays, Cownie said. […]

The museum’s exhibits budget has shrunk from $859,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008, to around $33,000 in the current fiscal year. That makes building future displays especially tough, and contributions from outside groups more attractive, Cownie and [former Cultural Affairs Department head Cyndi] Pederson said.

Bringing this post full circle, Cownie’s husband is State Representative Peter Cownie, first elected in House district 60 when Libby Jacobs retired from the legislature in 2008.

So far, the Iowa Senate has not rejected any Branstad appointees. A two-thirds majority, or 34 votes, is required for confirmation. Bleeding Heartland user ModerateIADem commented on February 19 that according to Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ Facebook page, Senate Democrats were holding up her appointment to lead the Iowa Department of Public Health. I don’t see any reason why she should not be confirmed. Her confirmation hearing on February 23 appears to have been uneventful. The main news from Miller-Meeks’ appearance before senators was her support for extending the public smoking ban to casinos. She also credited the 2007 cigarette tax hike and the 2008 public smoking ban with reducing smoking rates in Iowa.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

  • Mary Cownie's predecessor was Cyndi Pederson

    And you’re right; there’s nothing on her resume to show that she’s qualified to be director of the DCA. No history, arts, or museum education or experience whatsoever. Her claim to fame as part of W’s staff was to organize one of the White House Easter egg parties. And check out her interview at the Iowa Arts News. When asked to name her favorite Iowa artist, she names an artist who isn’t an Iowan. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

    If you want to know why she has the job, look to her and her husband’s standing as a couple of the young turks within the Iowa GOP. This is cronyism, nothing more.

    • she is one of the few Branstad appointees

      who seems unqualified for the job she’s been given. I don’t share the same philosophy as many of his other appointees, but they mostly have relevant experience in the area of state government they’ll be handling. Cownie is also very young to be running a state department–I believe she’s not even 30 yet, and I don’t see from her resume that she has experience with staff management.

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