What's going on at the Iowa Department of Revenue?

Governor Kim Reynolds appointed former Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen as director of the Iowa Department of Revenue on February 22, only six weeks after she had named Adam Humes to lead the agency. A late Friday afternoon news release did not explain the reason for the change, saying only that Humes “has decided to pursue other opportunities.”* Paulsen will start work this coming Monday. Leadership transitions at state agencies typically are weeks or months in the making.

Humes’ predecessor, Courtney Kay-Decker, also left under odd circumstances. Appointed by Governor Terry Branstad in 2011, she sounded excited to continue to lead the department after the 2018 election. But in early December, Kay-Decker announced her resignation, effective at the start of the new year.

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Reminder: State employees can't boost the Reynolds/Gregg campaign at work

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend instructed all her agency’s employees today “to be mindful of state and federal guidelines regarding prohibitions of participation in political activities while on state time or using state assets.”

The action followed Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry about a September 29 e-mail from an operations manager to more than 60 Iowa Workforce Development colleagues, recruiting volunteers for the Kim Reynolds/Adam Gregg campaign under the subject heading, “A Message from Governor Reynolds’ Office.”

State law prohibits using “public moneys for political purposes.” Administrative rules written to implement that portion of the Iowa Code forbid public employees from using public resources “to expressly advocate the nomination, election, or defeat of a candidate,” or “to solicit votes, engage in campaign work.”

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Beth Townsend's embarrassing defense of phony job numbers

“Phony number” graphic created by Dave Swenson

I was encouraged when Beth Townsend became Iowa Workforce Development director early this year. The previous director, Teresa Wahlert, was one of Governor Terry Branstad’s worst appointees; I suspect her record for legal entanglements involving an agency director for the State of Iowa will never be surpassed. In contrast, I’d heard consistently good feedback about Townsend’s work as executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The new director has taken several steps to bring Iowa Workforce Development’s operations in line with federal labor laws.

Which makes it even more disappointing to see Townsend sell one of the biggest lies of Branstad’s long, long stint as governor, first in her agency’s annual budget presentation, and now in the editorial pages of Iowa’s largest newspapers.

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Terry Branstad can't quit pushing phony job creation numbers

For years, Governor Terry Branstad and his appointees have cited fake job creation statistics to create the illusion that Iowa was on track to fulfill one of Branstad’s key promises from the 2010 campaign. This week, the deception culminated in an official slideshow “indicating that 206,200 gross jobs have been created in Iowa since 2011, based upon current employment statistics.”

It’s a shame the governor can’t celebrate Iowa’s low unemployment rate without exaggerating job growth during his administration.

It’s even more unfortunate when major news media downplay the dishonesty underlying Branstad’s claims.

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Branstad insists on keeping administrative law judges "at-will," easier to fire

Not for the first time and probably not for the last time, Governor Terry Branstad dropped a lot of line-item vetoes late in the afternoon before a holiday weekend. Early news reports are understandably focusing on the vetoes of one-time funding for K-12 education and state universities, as well as language that would have kept mental health institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant open. Bleeding Heartland has a post in progress about the fallout from those actions and others, including Branstad’s decision to strike language that would have expanded child care assistance.

Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman called attention to several other line-item vetoes that flew below the radar yesterday. One of them seems particularly important, as it could put the State of Iowa at odds with U.S. Department of Labor demands to “strengthen Iowa’s compliance with Federal law” and keep administrative law judges “free from actual or perceived intimidation.”

JULY 6 UPDATE: The vetoed language pertained to administrative law judges working for the Public Employment Relations Board, not Iowa Workforce Development; see further details below.

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New Iowa Workforce Development Director cleaning up Teresa Wahlert's mess

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend is implementing key recommendations from the U.S. Department of Labor to resolve concerns about the previous agency director’s actions. Townsend’s actions provide a refreshing contrast to Teresa Wahlert’s management of Iowa Workforce Development, which sparked recurring controversy and not one, not two, but three lawsuits.

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