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Branstad's latest regent appointees will 'undergo criticism' from Iowa Senators

BY STACEY MURRAY | MARCH 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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Reactions are mixed among Senate Republicans and Democrats following Gov. Terry Branstad’s appointment of two new members to the state Board of Regents.

Senators of both parties have addressed partisan concerns, along with controversy following two of the appointees.

“If there is trouble, it would be for partisan reasons, and I don’t believe that that should come into play here,” Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said. “The question for these or any appointments is if the person is qualified and I think the three nominees are qualified.”

Regent President Craig Lang was reappointed March 1 by Branstad, along with new appointees Robert Cramer and Subhash Sahai.

Lang’s current term expires in April. Cramer and Sahai would fill the positions of Regents Jack Evans and David Miles pending approval from the Senate.

Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science, said disproval from one party against another’s nominees isn’t surprising.

“It’s still one of those things that if you’re on the other party, you’re basically wanting to call attention to it for political reasons to try to poke holes in the opponent, especially since Branstad will be coming up for re-election,” he said.

Concern arose with Cramer’s contributions to several Republican campaigns, including those of Bill Northey, Iowa secretary of Agriculture; former Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale; Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; and Branstad. His counterpart Sahai has also donated to Democratic campaigns.

Lang’s reappointment comes after criticism of the handling of Iowa State University’s Harkin Institute and transparency issues with the regents.

Senate Democrats must approve his reappointment. They hold a 26-24 majority, meaning they have control over the passing of the two nominees, but the slight edge might not be enough.

“It’s such a close division, that the Democrats would have to all stay together to make sure, but the Senate leader is quite good with that,” Hagle said. “They’d have to be quite unhappy with him, and my guess is that that won’t happen.”

But Johnson said a Democrat block on the nominees would be inappropriate.

“Obviously, that’s where partisanship might raise its ugly head,” he said. “It doesn’t fit in at all. It all has to be politically balanced, gender-balanced, and should be geographically balanced. Partisanship isn’t part of the job description.”

But Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, said Democrats are solely interested in the nominees’ qualifications.

“We’ll scrutinize, we’ll examine, and we’ll have conversation,” she said. “In the end we’ll see if those nominees are going to advance the progress that the regent institutions have been trying to do.”

While Republicans have raised questions about Democratic intentions, Mathis assures them regent qualifications are top priorities.

“Gov. Branstad can appoint any one he wishes — it’s his prerogative,” she said. “Our job is to scrutinize anyone who wants to fulfill the role of the regents, and that’s it.”


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