Five unanswered questions about Iowa governor's staff salary payments

Governor Kim Reynolds has defended her decision to use nearly $450,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay salaries and benefits for her permanent staffers.

But her comments at a September 16 news conference, along with information her staff provided to some reporters afterwards, left several salient questions unanswered.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Why did these House Republicans reject an easy win for Iowa taxpayers?

State Auditor Rob Sand had “great news” to share with members of the Iowa House and Senate Appropriations Committees in May. Federal officials had agreed not to demand repayment for alleged overbilling, provided that Iowa changed its billing practices for future audits. The savings to the state would amount to tens of thousands of dollars for each fiscal year.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request confirm that key Reynolds administration officials were on board with the reform plan, and Iowa Senate appropriators took it up in June as the legislature was completing its work.

The records also show that State Representatives Gary Mohr and John Landon refused to move the fix through the Iowa House.

What they don’t explain is why.

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Ashley Hinson dodged Iowa House debates on high-profile bills

State Representative Ashley Hinson didn’t miss a roll call vote as the Iowa House wrapped up its work in June, legislative records show. But the two-term Republican mostly stayed out of the House chamber while colleagues debated controversial bills.

The tactic allowed Hinson, who is also the GOP challenger in Iowa’s first Congressional district, to avoid public questioning about policies she supported. Notably, she was absent during most of the House deliberations on imposing a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, establishing a barrier to voting by mail, and giving businesses near-total immunity from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Neither Hinson nor her Congressional campaign responded to Bleeding Heartland’s repeated inquiries about those absences.

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New look at the 2020 Iowa House landscape (post-filing edition)

Now that the deadline for candidates to qualify for the June primary ballot has passed, it’s time to revisit the 2020 Iowa House landscape. (A separate overview of state Senate races is in progress.)

Republicans now hold a 53-47 majority in the lower chamber, meaning Democrats need a net gain of four seats for control. Thanks to our state’s nonpartisan redistricting system, more than a dozen House districts should be highly competitive. This post covers 22 House districts that could fall into that category. One or both parties spent significant funds on twenty Iowa House races in 2018, not counting House districts 82 or 16, where Republican candidates ended up winning by small margins.

Since Bleeding Heartland first reviewed the House landscape last May, both parties have had some recruiting successes, while other districts still lack a top-tier challenger. The Secretary of State published the full list of Democratic and GOP primary candidates here. In some races that are currently uncontested, major parties may get candidates on the ballot later by holding a special nominating convention.

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Iowa House district 37 preview: John Landon vs. Andrea Phillips

State Representative John Landon filed for re-election in Iowa House district 37 on the morning of February 24, the first day candidates could submit their nominating papers at the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

I had wondered whether the four-term Republican from Ankeny might retire this year. The chair of the Administration and Regulation Appropriations subcommittee is not part of the GOP leadership team, having reportedly favored Chris Hagenow instead of Pat Grassley when the caucus voted on a new House speaker last fall.

He’ll also be facing his toughest re-election bid yet against Democrat Andrea Phillips.

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