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Editorial: Don't make nomination process overtly political

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa Senate Democrats expressed doubt last week about the confirmation of some of Gov. Terry Branstad’s nominees to the state Board of Regents, the body that oversees the state’s public universities. The state Senate, controlled by the Democrats, must approve Branstad’s picks, which the governor submitted on March 1.

Branstad nominated three men to the regents: current Regent President Craig Lang and newcomers Robert Cramer, a construction-company owner from Grimes, and Subhash Sahai, a doctor from Webster City. To be confirmed, the nominees need the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, which must vote by April 15.

In a press conference last week, Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said that he believed that Lang and Cramer would likely not garner a sufficient number of votes to be confirmed by the Senate. Sahai, who has contributed to the Democratic Party in the past, is likely to be approved.

Only one regent nominee has ever failed to be confirmed by the Senate — Martin Pomerantz, a Des Moines businessman who was also nominated by Branstad.

It seems that the opposition to Branstad’s picks for the regents is, in large part, political.

Cramer is a registered Republican and a frequent donor to Republican candidates; opposition to Lang’s renomination may be due in part to political retribution. Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he would not donate his papers to Iowa State University’s Harkin Institute because Lang insisted on a provision that would have required the center to collaborate with other academic institutions on their research.

The Editorial Board recognizes that the Senate absolutely has the right to confirm or deny any candidates appointed by the governor to the regents, but we do not believe that the Senate should turn the nomination process into an overtly partisan affair.

We have seen, in Washington, the deleterious effects of a hyper-partisan nomination process. Just this year, we have seen a few ugly confirmation battles in Washington, most notably the ultimately unsuccessful Republican filibuster of Chuck Hagel, now the secretary of Defense.

“There’s too much politics in all this,” Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “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.”

Indeed, we believe that the governor should have, within reason, some degree of freedom in the nomination process. Particularly with regard to Lang’s renomination, the Senate seems to be obstructing the confirmation process on insufficient, partisan grounds.

Lang has served as the president of the Board of Regents through two searches for new university presidents, the recent tuition freeze, and an initiative to improve transparency at the regent universities.

Through these challenges, he has done a perfectly fine job as the head of the regents; the Senate majority should not obstruct the confirmation process for Lang and his fellow nominees on purely political grounds. It is a disservice to the political process.


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