Was anyone else disappointed that the "major endorsement" Terry Branstad's campaign hyped yesterday turned out to be State Auditor David Vaudt? He's not exactly a celebrity, and his stamp of approval only reinforces that Branstad is the Republican establishment candidate. I guess the big deal is that Vaudt normally does not endorse in competitive Republican primaries, but when I think "major endorsement," I think game-changer, and Vaudt doesn't fit the bill.
At yesterday's press conference, Vaudt cited several of Branstad's accomplishments as well as his proposals for the future. For example, he praised the 1985 government reorganization. It takes guts for Branstad to keep bragging about "cutting out half the state agencies" when Iowa's general fund budget increased by 166 percent during his tenure, and the number of state employees increased by about 15 percent (from 53,342 in 1983 to 61,400 in 1999).
Vaudt also credited Branstad with implementing budget reforms to use generally accepted accounting principles, establishing the rainy day fund, spending no more than 99 percent of expected revenues, and leaving Iowa with a $900 million surplus in 1999 (which happened to be near the peak of an economic cycle). As State Representative Chris Rants has noted, Governor Branstad wanted to spend more:
Republicans were unwilling to go along with Branstad's desire to spend more money - a fact he forgets when he talks about how much money was left in the reserves when he left office as it was only there because the legislature wouldn't agree to his spending plans.
Vaudt praised Branstad for promising to reduce the cost of state government by 15 percent. We still haven't seen specifics about how Branstad will achieve that. The 2011 budget was adopted in March; it's past time for Branstad to tell us which services or programs he would eliminate to put us on track to reduce the size of government by 15 percent. Cutting funds for preschool programs, family-planning services and Area Education Agencies administrators won't be nearly enough to keep his promises on spending.
Vaudt's endorsement invites questions about Richard Johnson, who was state auditor during most of Branstad's time as governor. Johnson famously endorsed Fred Grandy during the 1994 Republican primary and now co-chairs Bob Vander Plaats' gubernatorial campaign. Asked about Johnson yesterday, Branstad said,
"First of all let me say, I've learned a lot. Dick Johnson made some valid criticisms back in the 80's when the Democrats were in control of both houses of the legislature. As a result we put together the Committee to Reform State Spending in 1991 and passed the spending reforms. I didn't just accept the legislature saying, 'That's all we can do.' I brought them back twice in 1992 until we got all the spending reforms."
Branstad went on to say that, after Republicans got control of the Iowa House in the 1992 elections, they passed the 99% spending limitation, and he strictly enforced that limit the rest of the time he was in office.
Whatever reforms Branstad enacted in 1992 weren't enough to satisfy Johnson two years later. Johnson also called out Branstad for misleading claims about reducing the size of government. Chet Culver's campaign released several news clips yesterday about Johnson and Branstad, including this one:
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that "Where Branstad claims a 16 percent reduction in the number of management employees in state government, for example, Johnson contends the reality is that jobs weren't eliminated. Titles were changed. 'The people and the payroll are still there.'" (Cedar Rapids Gazette, 6/4/1994)
I posted the Culver campaign's release after the jump for those who want to stroll down memory lane about Branstad's record on fiscal issues.
Speaking of Branstad's accountability problem, the Des Moines Register reports today that he spoke out publicly for a racetrack in Cedar Rapids in 1984. Branstad recently criticized Governor Chet Culver for advocating approval of four new applications for casino licenses. He claims that unlike Culver, he never directly contacted members of the Racing and Gaming Commission to urge approval of the Cedar Rapids racetrack. I highly doubt that the commissioners were unaware of then-Governor Branstad's opinion. Most governors make their views known to state commissions via backdoor channels.