Iowa Senate Democrat predicts regent appointees Lang and Cramer won't be confirmed

BY SAM LANE | MARCH 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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Democratic and Republican state legislators offered different predictions Thursday on the result of the Senate confirmation process for two of Gov. Terry Branstad’s state Board of Regents appointees.

Branstad appointed three men to soon-to-be-vacant board posts on March 1, including a reappointment of current Regents’ President Craig Lang, who has served as a regent since 2007.

Branstad’s other appointments were Robert Cramer, a Republican construction company owner from Grimes, and Subhash Sahai, a family-practice doctor from Webster City.

Sahai, who has donated to Democratic political campaigns, has taken little heat from the Senate, but both Cramer and the Republican Lang have drawn some ire.

During a press conference Thursday, Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said the two have “not been trustworthy.” He criticized Lang for his lack of communication and said the regents “micromanaged” the universities “to a point where it’s caused conflict within each institution.”

“We know that whenever you decide to vote against somebody … that’s a very difficult thing for us to do,” Hatch said. “It’s not easy. These are Iowans who volunteered to participate in state government and we’re saying, in a very public way, we don’t think you’re good enough. So, it’s very difficult and not an easy thing to do, but I predict in those two positions, [Cramer and Lang] will not be confirmed.”

However, Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said he suspects the Senate will confirm Lang and Sahai, but not Cramer. Still, he said all three appointees have his support. He admires Lang for his leadership and believes Cramer’s construction expertise would be valuable for campuses, especially in Iowa City, where cranes constantly loom on the horizon.

Johnson said the confirmation process has been frustrating.

“There’s too much politics in all this,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to concentrate on what the leadership is. And the thing is, every governor has appointees that the governor wants to make. He or she should be able to make appointments without a lot of political backlash.”

Some of the blowback for Lang stems from controversy surrounding Iowa State University’s Harkin Institute. According to The Iowa Republican, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, earlier this year said he did not want to donate his papers to the institute because Lang pushed for guidelines that encouraged the center to collaborate with other academic programs on research.

Lang — who sent a letter to senators this week urging their confirmation — has waded through the retirements of two university presidents, a tuition freeze push, and calls for increased transparency among the regent schools.

Cramer has donated to dozens of Republican political campaigns and, according to the Associated Press, lawmakers have questioned his socially conservative views.

Appointees must obtain a two-thirds majority vote from the Senate by April 15 for confirmation. Johnson said he hopes all 24 Senate Republicans will vote in favor of Cramer and Lang, meaning they would need to garner support from 10 Democrats for the confirmations to pass.

On Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, told reporters Democrats planned to caucus later that day and lawmakers would likely take a poll on the confirmation issue. Gronstal said he would inform the governor if any appointees are in a position to not be confirmed. The governor then will have the opportunity to withdraw those names or pursue them for a vote, Gronstal added.

“I can tell you generically, it is rare that we deliver a message to the governor that somebody’s in significant trouble and they come back in the end and get confirmed,” Gronstal said. “So that’s kind of the scenario we’re in at the moment. I won’t tell you where I’m going until I do my interface with the executive branch.”

Tim Albrecht, Branstad’s communications director, said a decision not to confirm Cramer and Lang would be “unfortunate.”

“We believe it would send the wrong message for the chair of the Board of Regents, who administered a tuition freeze, to then get voted off,” Albrecht said. “That’s unfortunate. That’s Washington, D.C.-style politics. We haven’t had that here before and we shouldn’t start now.”

Albrecht said Branstad — who also sent a letter to the Senate this week in support of the appointees — does not have alternative candidates, and believes both Cramer and Lang will be confirmed.

According to regent records, Des Moines businessman Marvin Pomerantz has been the only board appointee the Senate did not confirm. Branstad appointed him, as well.

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