Governor’s office emails show little of Miles-Branstad tension


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Little of the tension between Gov. Terry Branstad and former Board of Regents President David Miles played out over email, disclosures from the Governor’s Office Tuesday show.

The Branstad administration filled a records request this week for emails between administration officials and regents. However, only one of the almost 400 messages contain substantive information about the discussions that eventually led to Miles’ resignation, an apparent sign most of the communication was carried out via phone and/or face-to-face conversations.

In a Jan. 31 email to Linda Fandel, Branstad’s education adviser, Miles expressed concern about the balance of power between the regents and the Legislature. Miles said the board is an independent body and should not have to report to the power of the Legislature.

“Our present concerns involve the ability of the board to express its views to members of the Legislature. I understand the desire to have the Executive Branch speak with one voice, but statute (wisely in my view) explicitly provides that the Board of Regents has independent governing authority,” he wrote.

Miles and then-President Pro Tem Jack Evans resigned their executive positions in July. Miles wrote in a letter to the regents that Branstad had asked them to resign.

“In our judgment, anything that distracts the board from its mission or that weakens the board’s collective resolve must go by the wayside,” he wrote.

The regents elected Branstad campaign backers Craig Lang and Bruce Rastetter to replace Miles and Evans in July.
The move stirred criticism that the governor is politicizing higher education.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said, “Petty politics are being carried out here.” Former Regent Michael Gartner said, “The Legislature has begun meddling too much, and the two most recent governors — Democrat Chet Culver and Republican Terry Branstad — have wanted a say in the governance that they are not entitled to under law.”

Miles had no comment Tuesday when reached by The Daily Iowan via email, and several attempts to contact Branstad’s spokesman for a comment on the email disclosure were unsuccessful. The regents’ communication officer, Sheila Doyle, said current Regent President Craig Lang also had no comment on the issue.

Regent Robert Downer said he has not seen hostility from the governor toward the regents but said Branstad’s opinions may differ from his own.

Downer said he thinks Branstad made “excellent” appointments to the regents earlier this year — the Iowa Senate unanimously approved Bruce Rastetter, Nicole Carroll, and Katie Mulholland on April 5 — and that he has enjoyed working with all of them.

“I’m on the side of higher education in Iowa,” he said, refusing to disclose his support for either the governor or Miles, his longtime fellow regent.

Further, Downer said, it is not productive to speculate about Branstad’s actions.

“I’m interested in what [Branstad] does, not what he may think,” Downer said of the possibility Branstad is trying to exert more control over the regents. “And I think he has shown over the years that he has served as governor of Iowa that he has been a friend of higher education.”

Regent Katie Mulholland said she had “no knowledge” of Branstad’s and Miles’ communication but said she thinks the Legislature understands its role to represent the people of Iowa and design legislation that will benefit the state’s population.

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