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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What the voting rights order revealed about Kim Reynolds

“Quite simply, when someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crimes, they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple,” Governor Kim Reynolds said on August 5, shortly before signing a critically important document.

Executive Order 7 automatically restores voting rights to most Iowans who have completed prison sentences or terms of probation or parole associated with felony convictions. The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP estimated that the order paves the way for more than 40,000 people to vote this year. Going forward, approximately 4,700 Iowans who complete felony sentences each year will regain the same rights.

Reynolds had publicly promised to sign such an order seven weeks ago, after Republican senators declined to advance the state constitutional amendment that was her preferred way of addressing the problem.

Both the substance of the measure and the way the governor announced it revealed aspects of her leadership style.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor denied 35 AG requests to join national cases

Governor Kim Reynolds denied 35 requests to sign Iowa on to multi-state legal actions during the first year of an unusual arrangement in which Attorney General Tom Miller ceded some of his authority.

Reynolds refused to allow the state to weigh in on lawsuits related to federal or state policies on immigration, reproductive rights, environmental regulation, consumer protection, gun safety, LGBTQ rights, and access to President Donald Trump’s personal records.

During the same time frame, the governor approved eighteen requests from Miller to join cases involving a wide range of legal matters.

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Iowa Supreme Court finalists McDermott, Chicchelly, and May, in their own words

After interviewing fifteen applicants, the State Judicial Nominating Commission on March 6 agreed on three nominees for the Iowa Supreme Court: Matthew McDermott, District Court Judge Mary Chicchelly, and Iowa Court of Appeals Judge David May. Governor Kim Reynolds will appoint one of them during the next few weeks.

To the credit of the commissioners, all three finalists are well-qualified to serve. Thanks to a law Republicans enacted in 2019, commission members appointed by either Reynolds or Governor Terry Branstad now outnumber elected attorneys, meaning they had the votes to send less-experienced but politically-connected loyalists to the governor. They did not.

I’ve enclosed below highlights from each finalist’s application and interview, along with some noteworthy comments by three candidates who didn’t make it onto the short list: Brenna Bird, Alan Ostergren, and Sam Langholz.

I felt confident in January that Reynolds would appoint McDermott, because of his past work for the Republican Party of Iowa and close ties to senior GOP officials. Knowing now that the governor’s own legal counsel Langholz has ambitions to serve on the Supreme Court, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reynolds pick a different finalist. Langholz’s job involves helping the governor interview and select judges. He has incentive to steer her toward appointing a candidate who has presided over a District Court, to improve the odds of the State Judicial Nominating Commission selecting someone who lacks that experience next time. Reynolds will get at least one more appointment to the high court, because Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel will reach the mandatory retirement age in 2022.

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