Key Iowa Republican budget negotiators eager to leave Capitol

In the span of a few weeks, four Republicans who were heavily involved in shaping this year’s state budget have made sure they won’t be at the negotiating table during the Iowa legislature’s 2016 session. First, Matt Hinch quit as Governor Terry Branstad’s chief of staff. The weekly Business Record reported yesterday that Hinch “joined the Des Moines office of government affairs and lobbying group Cornerstone Government Affairs as a vice president.”

Days after the Branstad administration announced Hinch’s departure, Kraig Paulsen resigned as Iowa House speaker. He plans to be a back-bencher next year and will not seek re-election to the Iowa House in 2016. It’s not yet clear whether he will remain an attorney for the Cedar Rapids-based trucking firm CRST International, or whether he will seek a different private-sector job.

Last Friday, Branstad’s office announced that Jake Ketzner was leaving as the governor’s legislative liaison. I’ve enclosed the full statement on the staff changes after the jump. Yesterday, the marketing and lobbying firm LS2group revealed that Ketzner will be their newest vice president, specializing in “campaign management, government affairs, and public affairs.”

Finally, House Appropriations Committee Chair Chuck Soderberg told journalists yesterday that he will resign to take a leadership role in the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, a powerful interest group.

I can’t blame these Republicans for not wanting to spin their wheels at the Capitol during next year’s legislative session. Election years are not conducive to bipartisan deal-making in the best of times. Last month, possibly influenced by Hinch and Ketzner, Branstad poisoned the well with vetoes that erased most of the House GOP’s budget concessions to Senate Democrats. Although Paulsen insisted he had negotiated in good faith, he and his top lieutenant Linda Upmeyer (the incoming House speaker) didn’t lift a finger to override the governor’s vetoes.

Newly-elected House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow told a conservative audience in Urbandale today, “I’m not as skeptical about next year as maybe some are. I think there’s a lot of good things that we can get done [in the legislature],” Rod Boshart reported.

That makes one of us. Seeing Hinch, Paulsen, Ketzner, and Soderberg vote with their feet reinforces my belief that next year’s legislative session will mostly be a waste of many people’s time and energy.

P.S.- Some grade A political framing was on display in the governor’s press release enclosed below: “During the 2015 session, Ketzner worked across party lines to secure bipartisan support for historic infrastructure investment that an economic development study called a prerequisite for economic development in Iowa.” In other words, he helped persuade lawmakers to increase the gasoline tax. Ketzner’s official bio at LS2goup likewise speaks of his work “across party lines to secure bipartisan support for significant transportation and broadband infrastructure investments.”

Press release from Governor Terry Branstad’s office, August 21:

Governor’s office announces updates to staff

The Office of Governor Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds today announced internal updates to staff.

Larry Johnson, Jr., has been promoted to legal counsel to the governor and lt. governor. Johnson replaces Michael Bousselot who was previously promoted to Chief of Staff.

Legislative Liaison Jake Ketzner will depart the governor’s office to pursue an opportunity in the private sector. Ketzner will be replaced by Ted Stopulos, who previously served as a policy adviser to the governor and lt. governor from 2011- September 2013. More recently, Stopulos served as Vice President of Regulatory and Government Affairs for the Iowa Health Care Association. Ketzner’s last day in the governor’s office is today, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Stopulos will begin Sept. 1, 2015.

“Larry Johnson and Ted Stopulos are capable and talented professionals. With proven track records within the governor’s office and exceptional skillsets, I expect Larry and Ted to excel in their new roles,” said Branstad. “I thank Jake Ketzner for his service, commitment and dedication over the past six years. Since we hired him for the 2010 campaign, I have been continually impressed with the passion, energy and work ethic he brought to every task given to him. I wish him well in his new endeavor.”

“With a proven record of results and tireless commitment to completing the mission in front of him, it’s not surprising that Jake was highly sought-after in the private sector. But as Jake departs, our office has two individuals in Larry Johnson and Ted Stopulos who have impressive knowledge of state government that will allow for a seamless transition,” said Reynolds.

Johnson, Jr., has served as deputy legal counsel in the governor’s office since Jan. 2011. In this capacity, he also serves as the State’s Administrative Rules Coordinator.  Prior to his current role, Johnson worked in the private sector at a Des Moines law firm where he practiced in federal and state administrative law.  He received his Bachelor of Science in Management from the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University.  He went on to Creighton University School of Law, where he graduated Order of the Barristers and served on the Moot Court Board.  More recently, Johnson was the governor’s office lead on Iowa’s new, award-winning administrative rules website, which increases transparency in the rule-making process.

Ted Stopulos graduated from the University of Iowa in 2007 and earned his law degree from Drake University in 2010. In 2011, he joined the Office of Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds as a policy adviser focusing on public safety, public defense, transportation and veterans issues. At the Iowa Health Care Association, he oversaw the organization’s regulatory and government affairs.  Stopulos represented the group by advocating on their behalf in both a legislative and regulatory capacity.

Ketzner is a 2008 graduate of the University of Iowa. In 2010, Ketzner served as the Branstad-Reynolds campaign organization director. He served as a policy adviser in the Branstad-Reynolds administration, focusing on the issues of transportation, inspections and appeals, corrections and lottery. In 2012, he managed Iowa Rep. Steve King’s (R-Kiron) successful congressional campaign. He was the 2014 Branstad-Reynolds campaign manager. Following the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Ketzner returned to the governor’s office to become the legislative liaison. During the 2015 session, Ketzner worked across party lines to secure bipartisan support for historic infrastructure investment that an economic development study called a prerequisite for economic development in Iowa.

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