Branstad names Geri Huser to Iowa Utilities Board, demotes Libby Jacobs (updated)

I missed this story last week, but Ryan Foley didn’t: Governor Terry Branstad is replacing Sheila Tipton with Geri Huser on the Iowa Utilities Board. Not only that, Branstad appointed Huser to chair that three-member board, demoting current Chair Libby Jacobs for the remainder of her term, which runs through April 2017. A recent board ruling that disappointed MidAmerican Energy, an investor-owned utility serving a large area in Iowa, precipitated the governor’s decision.

Details from Foley’s report are after the jump, along with background on Huser and first thoughts on her chances to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate.  

Huser’s appointment was buried in a long announcement of Branstad nominations released on March 2. Scroll to the end of this post to read the full list. For most of the high-profile positions, the governor renominated his appointees from the previous term.

The Iowa Utilities Board can’t have more than two members from any one political party. Current Chair Jacobs and Nick Wagner are Republicans who formerly served in the Iowa House. Tipton is a Democrat and attorney who previously represented companies in the energy industry. She replaced Swati Dandekar on the Iowa Utilities Board in 2013, after Dandekar resigned in order to run for Congress.

The conventional wisdom has been that the Iowa Utilities Board has been quite corporate-friendly under the leadership of Branstad appointees. But as Ryan Foley reported last night for the Associated Press, MidAmerican was not happy with one of the board’s recent decisions.

The shakeup comes one month after the board disappointed MidAmerican Energy by ordering it to return $2 million to customers as part of a $280 million wind project that had been publicly praised by Branstad. It also comes as the board considers whether to approve two controversial projects: a transmission line that would send wind energy from northwest Iowa to Illinois and a pipeline to transport crude oil across the state. […]

MidAmerican vice president Dave Caris said executives recently met with Branstad to criticize the board’s decision to require that MidAmerican pay $2 million annually to electric customers as part of a project to add 67 turbines in Adams and O’Brien counties. He said the company told Branstad that the decision wasn’t “a balanced outcome,” unlike eight prior wind projects approved by the board.

MidAmerican didn’t lobby for personnel changes, but looks “forward to working with a new board,” he said.

This project has not been on my radar. Click here (pdf) to read the Iowa Utilities Board’s order, which included the $2 million in annual payments to customers. From an board press release of February 6:

The Iowa Utilities Board today issued an Order on Rehearing approving MidAmerican Energy Company’s proposed “Wind IX” Iowa electric generation project of up to 162 megawatts.

The Board has long been supportive of renewable energy as part of Iowa’s generation mix. As the Board notes in the order, wind projects have many benefits and the Board appreciates the economic benefits wind development brings to the state, but they also have some risks. While the Board has and will continue to encourage such projects, the projects must provide benefits to customers that are commensurate with the risk that customers will be bearing.

The Board’s order affirms its January 20, 2015, decision approving a settlement with modifications for advance ratemaking principles. That order included an annual $2 million energy adjustment clause (EAC) credit to MidAmerican electric customers as an advance ratemaking principle tied to construction of the proposed project. The Board noted, “Without such a principle, the risks and rewards of Wind IX are skewed too much towards MidAmerican for the Settlement Agreement to be reasonable and in the public interest.”

On January 22, 2015, MidAmerican Energy filed a petition for limited reconsideration asking that the Board not require MidAmerican to pay the annual $2 million credit to its electric customers. The Board stated in today’s order that it “views the settlement agreement as a whole, and determined that this settlement agreement was not reasonable or in the public interest without the modifications contained in the final order, including the EAC credit.”

Branstad’s communications director confirmed to Foley that the governor met with MidAmerican executives on February 9, just three days after the Iowa Utilities Board had denied the company’s request to reconsider the $2 million annual credit. One former member of the board (appointed by Governor Chet Culver) was incredulous:

Darrell Hanson, a Republican who served on the board from 2007 to 2013, said it would be “really surprising” if MidAmerican’s complaints prompted the board shakeup, saying “$2 million is a rounding error” for MidAmerican and the case is over.

“When they met with the governor, what were they expecting to get out of it if it wasn’t a change on the board?” Hanson said. “They went to that extent for $2 million a year? OK.”

Foley notes another possible reason for Branstad to replace Tipton. Because of prior legal work, she had recused herself from an upcoming vote on the planned Rock Island Clean Line for transmitting wind energy. That project is controversial because it would involve the use of eminent domain to claim farmland.

Huser served seven terms in the Iowa House, representing parts of eastern Polk County and a small area of Jasper County. She had a reputation as a business-friendly Democrat and was part of the so-called “six-pack” of House Democrats who helped scuttle legislation favored by organized labor when Democrats had an Iowa House majority under Governor Culver. She didn’t endear herself to liberals when she tried to help Republicans force a vote on an amendment to ban same-sex marriage shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien decision.

Huser’s defeat in the 2010 Republican landslide was one of the most shocking state legislative races of that year. The following year, Branstad named Huser to the Transportation 2020 Citizen Advisory Commission, and she took a senior position with the Iowa Finance Authority, running the Title Guaranty Division. She remains in that job at this writing; Tipton’s term on the Iowa Utilities Board runs through April 30.

Typically, former lawmakers sail through the Iowa Senate confirmation process. Huser needs a two-thirds vote (at least 34 of the 50 state senators) to be confirmed. I don’t expect any particular problems for Huser.

On the other hand, Tipton’s departure will leave the Iowa Utilities Board somewhat unbalanced. For most of the board’s history, at least one of its members has been an attorney. Jacobs, Wagner, and Huser are all former state legislators with no law degree. CORRECTION: I recalled that Huser was a social worker, but she also went to law school while serving in the Iowa House.

Wagner almost wasn’t confirmed to the board himself. Branstad first nominated him in 2013, shortly after Wagner lost his Iowa House seat. The governor pulled the nomination when it became clear that senators were not likely to confirm Wagner. Instead, the governor waited until after the legislature had adjourned for 2013, then appointed Wagner to the board on an interim basis. By the time his nomination came up for consideration in 2014, Tipton had replaced Dandekar on the board, so the argument that the body needed an attorney was not relevant.

Even so, Wagner was confirmed with only one vote to spare. But he was a Republican, whereas Huser should get a more friendly reception from the 26 Senate Democrats.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Looks like smooth sailing for Huser in the Iowa Senate.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, who chairs the Iowa Senate Commerce Committee, told the Des Moines Register she doubts there will be a Senate investigation of Branstad’s changes on the Iowa Utilities Board and she praised Huser.

“Geri Huser has a pretty strong reputation here at the Statehouse for her work as a legislator,” Peterson said. “So while I am uncertain of what the governor’s rationale was for shaking up the Iowa Utilities Board, I don’t see any issues with Geri’s appointment. She is quite intelligent, and people know that she is a quick study.”

Sen Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, said lawmakers may have some tough questions for Huser, but he doesn’t anticipate she will have any trouble winning confirmation.

“She was a capable legislator. She has done a number of different things in state government. So there is certainly an experience level there,” Danielson said.

March 2 press release from Governor Branstad’s office:

Gov. Branstad announces department director, boards and commissions appointments

Gov. Terry E. Branstad today announced appointments to fill Iowa’s boards and commissions, and executive branch department directors.

The following appointees’ term begins on May 1, 2015, unless otherwise noted, and are subject to Senate confirmation.

Director of Department on Aging

Ms. Donna Harvey

Director of Department of Corrections

Jerry Bartruff (effective immediately)

Superintendent of Division of Credit Unions

Ms. JoAnn Johnson

Director of Department of Cultural Affairs

Ms. Mary Cownie

Director of Department of Economic Development Authority

Ms. Debi Durham

Director of Iowa Finance Authority

Mr. David Jamison

Director of Department of Human Services

Mr. Charles Palmer

Director of Department of Inspections and Appeals

Mr. Rod Roberts

Director of Iowa Law Enforcement Academy

Mr. Arlen Ciechanowski

Director of Department of Management

Mr. David Roederer

Director of Department of Revenue

Ms. Courtney Kay-Decker

Director of State-Federal Relations

Mr. Doug Hoelscher

Property Assessment Appeal Board

Mr. Stewart Iverson, Chairperson, Clarion

Ms. Karen Oberman, Clive

Racing and Gaming Commission

Ms. Dolores Mertz, Algona

Ms. Kristine Kramer, New Hampton

Board of Regents

Ms. Mary Andringa, Mitchellville

Ms. Patricia Cownie, Des Moines

Ms. Rachael Johnson (student), Sioux City

Transportation Commission

Mr. David Rose, Clinton

Utilities Board

Ms. Geri Huser, Chairperson, Altoona

Accountancy Examining Board

Ms. Cheryl Critelli, West Des Moines

Mr. Robert Snodgrass, Creston

Mr. Tommy Thompson, Jefferson

Commission on Aging

Ms. Betty Grandquist, Des Moines

Ms. Carole Dunkin, Clinton

Agriculture Development Board

Ms. Annette Townsley, Letts

Alcoholic Beverages Commission

Ms. Rachel Eubank, Des Moines

Architectural Examining Board

Mr. Bruce Bassler, Ames

Ms. Linda Alfson Schemmel, West Des Moines

Board of Athletic Training

Ms. Rita Perea, Des Moines

Mr. Thomas Green, Clive

Iowa Autism Council

Mr. Brandon Arkland, Webster City

Ms. Erica Hertel, Homestead

Ms. Jenny Phan, Ankeny

Mr. Steven Muller, Altoona

Ms. Theresa Croonquist, West Des Moines

Board of Barbering

Ms. Thi Truong, Ankeny

Board of Behavioral Science

Ms. Amy Crow Sunleaf, Dubuque

Ms. Sarah McElhaney, Ankeny

Mr. Wade Leuwerke, Indianola

Commission for the Blind

Ms. Sandra Ryan, Ames

Boiler and Pressure Vessel Board

Ms. Susan Oltrogge, Des Moines

Capital Investment Board

Mr. Thomas Bernau,Des Moines

Child Advocacy Board

Mr. Bruce Johnson, Cedar Rapids

Board of Chiropractic

Dr. Aaron Martin, Ankeny

Dr. Randall Stange, Orange City

Ms. Stephanie Netolicky, Ankeny

City Development Board

Ms. Barbara Brown, Cedar Falls

Mr. Jay Howe, Greenfield

Civil Rights Commission

Ms. Angela Williams, Urbandale

Ms. Patricia Lipski, Washington

Mr. Robert Hosford, West Des Moines

Commission on Community Action Agencies

Ms. Anna Hilpipre, Brooklyn

Ms. Kelly Busch, Creston

Mr. Marc Lindeen, Mt. Pleasant

Iowa Comprehensive Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Fund Board

Ms. Karen Andeweg, Urbandale

Ms. Dawn Carlson, Dallas Center

Board of Corrections

Mr. Michael Coleman, Waterloo

Mr. John Chalstrom, Cherokee

Mr. Lawrence Kudej, Swisher

Ms. Lisa Hill, Johnston

Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences

Mr. Don Nguyen, Des Moines

County Finance Committee

Mr. Grant Veeder, Waterloo

Ms. Jane Heun, Jefferson

Mr. Russell Hopp, George

Credit Union Review Board

Ms. Becky Zemlicka, Waukee

Mr. Dave Cale, Johnston

Ms. Lorraine Groves, Sioux City

Mr. Timothy Marcsisak, Atlantic

Cultural Trust Board

Mr. Randy Lewis, Davenport

Ms. Tiffany Tauscheck, Clive

Commission of Deaf Services

Ms. Mary Dyer, Glenwood

Board of Dentistry

Ms. Lori Elmitt, Johnston

Ms. Nancy Slach, West Branch

Dr. William McBride, Dubuque

Board of Dietetics

Mr. Brian Smith, Des Moines

Mr. Steven Kury, West Des Moines

Drug Policy Advisory Council

Ms. Jane Larkin, Ames

Mr. Warren Hunsberger, Clive

Early Childhood Iowa State Board

Ms. Betty Zan, Cedar Falls

Ms. Brook Rosenberg, Des Moines

Ms. Jean Stadtlander, Manning

Ms. Katherin Averill, Fort Dodge

Mr. Michael Bunde, Denison

Mr. Robert Ockerman, Adel

Ms. Shaun Ward Taylor, Waukee

Ms. Sigrid Lane, Waterloo

Mr. Terry Harrmann, Des Moines

Economic Development Authority

Mr. Daniel White, Dubuque

Mr. David Bernstein, Sioux City

Ms. Jennifer Cooper, Des Moines

Ms. Lisa Hull, Clarinda

State Board of Educational Examiners

Ms. Brenda Garcia, Muscatine

Mr. Dan Dutcher, Waukee

Mr. Larry Hill, Thompson

Electrical Examining Board

Mr. Todd Cash, Mason City

Elevator Safety Board

Ms. Amy Infelt, Coralville

Mr. Marvin Schumacher, Denver

Iowa Emergency Response Commission

Ms. Julie Waltz, Winterset

Mr. Bob George, West Des Moines

Engineering and Land Surveying Examining Board

Ms. Laura Sievers, Rock Rapids

Ms. Lisa VanDenBerg, Johnston

Environmental Protection Commission

Mr. Joe Riding, Altoona

Ms. Mary Boote, Des Moines

Ms. Nancy Couser, Nevada

Mr. Ralph Lents, Menlo

Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board

Mr. James Albert, Urbandale

Ms. Saima Zafar, West Des Moines

Finance Authority Board of Directors

Ms. Darlys Baum, Burlington

Ms. Martha Bell, Atlantic

Flood Mitigation Board

Mr. John Torbert, West Des Moines

Ms. Lorraine Glover, Waterloo

Great Places Advisory Board

Mr. Donald Zuck, Ankeny

Ms. Gayle Redman, Gowrie

Ms. Kerri Kuiper, Lehigh

Mr. Trevor Toft, Schaller


Mr. Eric Kohlsdorf, Des Moines

Ms. Kelly Renfrow, Johnston

Hearing Aid Dispensers Board

Ms. Dorothy Walters, Norwalk

Higher Education Loan Authority

Mr. John Hartung, Indianola

Council on Human Services

Ms. Phyllis Hansell, Des Moines

Mr. Samuel Wallace, Des Moines

Interior Design Examining Board

Mr. Andy Crabb, Ventura

Mr. Jay Reyhons, Ankeny

Ms. Jennifer Brand, Huxley

Ms. Serena Zwanziger, Janesville

Board of Iowa Innovation Corporation

Ms. Georgia Van Gundy, Waukee

Ms. Kathryn Kunert, Des Moines


Mr. David Creighton, Des Moines

Landscape Architectural Examining Board

Mr. David Fjare, Council Bluffs

Mr. Samuel Jones, Cedar Rapids

Law Enforcement Academy Council

Mr. David Lorenzen, Waukee

Ms. Nancy Bodnar, Peosta

Lottery Authority Board of Directors

Mr. Connor Flynn, Des Moines

Ms. Mary Rathje, Marion

Board of Medicine

Dr. Kyle Ulveling, Carroll

Ms. Mary Romanco, Pleasantville

Dr. Charles Wadle, West Des Moines

Mental Health and Disability Services Commission

Ms. Jennifer Sheehan, Clarion

Ms. Jody Eaton, Newton

Mr. John Parmeter, Des Moines

Mr. Patrick Schmitz, Kingsley

Ms. Rebecca Schmitz, Fairfield

Mental Health Risk Pool Board

Mr. Andrew Nielsen, Ankeny

Ms. Linda Dunshee, Urbandale

Mr. Patrick Schmitz, Kingsley

Mr. Rick Larkin, Fort Madison

Board of Mortuary Science

Mr. Bradley Hawn, Spencer

Ms. Norene Mostkoff, Waukee

Commission of Native American Affairs

Ms. Crystal Davis, Waterloo

Ms. Kelly Montijo Fink, Hiawatha

Ms. Vicky Apala-Cuevas, Davenport

Natural Resource Commission

Mr. Dennis Schemmel, Grimes

Mr. Richard Francisco, Lucas

Board of Nursing

Ms. Kathryn Dolter, Dubuque

Board of Nursing Home Administrators

Ms. Char Schlepp, Coon Rapids

Mr. David Chensvold, Marion

Ms. Donna Dolan, Olin

Ms. Patrice Herrera, Ankeny

Ms. Patricia Hoffman-Simanek, Cedar Rapids

Board of Optometry

Dr. Mark Mentzer, Ely

Dr. Monique Root, Urbandale

Board of Pharmacy

Mr. Edward McKenna, Storm Lake

Dr. Jason Hansel, Bettendorf

Board of Physical and Occupational Therapy

Ms. Rachel Judisch, Lake View

Mr. Robert Palmer, West Des Moines

Board of Physicians Assistants

Mr. Dennis Janssen, Clive

Ms. Teresa Armstrong, Story City

Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board

Mr. Jason Hayes, Norwalk

Ms. Susan Pleva, Woodward

Ms. Toni Knight, Ankeny

Board of Podiatry

Mr. Donald Shurr, North Liberty

Mr. Travis Carlson, Hiawatha

Dr. Erin Nelson, Ames

Prevention of Disabilities Policy Council

Ms. Cheryll Jones, Bloomfield

Mr. Christopher Atchison, Iowa City

Ms. Susan Lerdal, Urbandale

Ms. Tracy Keninger, Des Moines

Board of Psychology

Dr. Brandon Davis, Grinnell

Dr. Matthew Cooper, West Des Moines

Real Estate Appraiser Examining Board

Ms. Amanda Luscombe, Holstein

Ms. Joan Scotter, Marion

Real Estate Commission

Mr. Terry Duggan, Dubuque

Ms. Carol Haines, West Burlington

Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Board

Mr. Al Hillgren, Stuart

Ms. Carol Balvanz, Hubbard

Ms. Diane Dennler, Mason City

Mr. John Maynes, Norwalk

Mr. Mark Cobb, Brighton

Respiratory Care Board

Ms. Kathleen Parris, Audubon

Ms. Lisa Kingery, Casey

School Budget Review Committee

Ms. Gretchen Tegeler, West Des Moines

Board of Sign Language Interpreters and Transliterators

Ms. Tailyn Kaster, West Des Moines

Ms. Stephanie Lyons, Ankeny

Board of Social Work

Mr. Mark Hillenbrand, West Des Moines

Mr. Neil Nelsen, Indianola

Soil Conservation Committee

Mr. Kevin Pope, Mason City

Ms. Linda Querry, Red Oak

Mr. Sherman Lundy, Cedar Falls

Board of Speech Pathology and Audiology

Ms. Denise Renaud, Iowa Falls

Mr. John Tysklind, West Des Moines

Board of Tax Review

Mr. David Erickson, Des Moines

Technology Advisory Council

Mr. Tim Peterson, Des Moines

Title Guaranty Division Board

Ms. Judy Hilgenberg, Guthrie Center

Commission on Tobacco Use Prevention and Control

Mr. Chad Jensen, Carroll

Commission of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Gary Wattnem, Mason City

Ms. Kathleen Myers, Graettinger

Mr. Ronald Langel, Ankeny

Mr. Steven Hyde, Marshalltown

Board of Veterinary Medicine

Ms. Christine Bean, Marathon

Mr. Curtis Youngs, Ames

Vision Iowa Board

Ms. Cathy Reece, Chariton

Ms. Charese Yanney, Sioux City

Ms. Emily Schirmer, Des Moines

Mr. Merlin Bartz, Grafton

Ms. Stacie Mitchell-Gweah, Des Moines

Workforce Development Board

Mr. Andrew Roberts, Urbandale

Mr. Joe Greving, Johnston

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