# Matt Hinch



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."

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Matt Hinch stepping down as Branstad's chief of staff

After nearly two years on the job, Matt Hinch is resigning as Governor Terry Branstad's chief of staff, effective August 7. The full press release from the governor's office is after the jump.

Hinch is leaving for an unspecified "private sector" opportunity. I expect to hear soon that he is joining one of the Republican presidential campaigns. Hinch's previous work included a stint as campaign manager for then-U.S. Representative Tom Latham. He also served as chief of staff for Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and handled government relations for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, an influential business-oriented group.

Hinch kept a low profile as the governor's chief of staff, rarely making the news. Last year, he headed a quick (and I mean very quick) review of secret settlements with former state employees, which sidestepped allegations of political cronyism that affected the careers of some merit-based state workers. Former Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert has asserted that Hinch and other senior Branstad administration officials thwarted her efforts to make her department's chief administrative law judge position a merit-based job, as the U.S. Department of Labor has demanded.

UPDATE: Another plausible theory: Hinch may go to work for the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, an astroturf group the Iowa Farm Bureau created to lobby against any regulations to improve water quality.

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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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Outgoing Iowa Utilities Board member slams Branstad's attempt to "appease" major utility

Outgoing Iowa Utilities Board member Sheila Tipton sent Governor Terry Branstad a scathing letter after not being reappointed to the three-member board last month, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press. Tipton defended a board decision from earlier this year, which greatly displeased MidAmerican Energy. She warned that by removing her and demoting Iowa Utilities Board Chair Libby Jacobs, Branstad was undermining state agencies' independence "in order to appease MidAmerican Energy," thereby doing "a disservice to the citizens of this State."

Tipton also characterized Branstad's recent personnel changes as  "unfair," saying she had received verbal assurances in 2013 that she would be reappointed to a full six-year term if she accepted the governor's offer to serve out Swati Dandekar's unexpired term.

I enclose the full text of Tipton's letter after the jump, along with a statement provided by the governor's office, which defends the appointment of Geri Huser and denies that Tipton was promised a full term on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Even if Branstad or his staff did promise verbally to reappoint Tipton, the governor retains the right to change his mind. However, Tipton is unquestionably correct that the latest Iowa Utilities Board changes look like "an attempt to 'bring the agency in line' and to influence its future decision-making in a way that favors the utilities."

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U.S. Department of Labor wants Branstad administration to clean up Teresa Wahlert's mess

The U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration has given Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend a list of tasks to "strengthen Iowa's compliance with Federal law" and address various concerns about the actions of Teresa Wahlert, Townsend's predecessor.

It's another sign that while Wahlert may not be Governor Terry Branstad's worst appointee during his current administration, she's a solid contender.

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"Accountability, openness, and transparency" are in the eye of the beholder (updated)

Governor Terry Branstad responded today to two political scandals that broke while he was on vacation last week. The big news was the governor signing an executive order "to increase accountability, openness and transparency of employee settlements."

Branstad's behavior reflects an odd understanding of those words. He is not holding anyone accountable for forcing out permanent employees and attempting to keep settlement deals a secret. His administration's alleged "thorough review" of the deals took place behind closed doors over the span of a few days. Branstad rejected any outside investigation of the matter and dismissed accusations against Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert without even basic fact-finding.  

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