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Bipartisanship of Board of Regents questioned

BY ALEKSANDRA VUJICIC | MARCH 04, 2015 5:00 AM

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Three new appointees to the state Board of Regents will have to face the Iowa Senate for approval, but some Senate Democrats are questioning Gov. Terry Branstad’s selections based on their political affiliations and the affiliations of the existing regents.

Three spots on the regents will be vacant at the end of April, and Branstad has appointed two Republicans, Mary Andringa and Patricia Cownie, along with Rachael Johnson, a student from the University of Northern Iowa who hasn’t identified with a party, Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said.

New appointees are subject to confirmation by the Senate; if all three women receive approval, the board would consist of five Republicans, three members without a party affiliation, and a single Democrat.

This new composition of the regents would technically not break Iowa law, which states that the board should not consist of more than five members of the same political party, but some lawmakers are saying the purpose of the law is being undermined.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said the regents need some sort of decent representation.

“The governor may be following the letter of the law but not the intent of the law,” he said.

Dvorsky said he doesn’t question the qualifications of the people Branstad appointed, but that Andringa and Cownie are both Republicans while leaving one Democrat on the board is unfair.

“I think that’s just wrong,” he said. 

Centers told The Daily Iowan the appointments were made in accordance with Iowa law regarding party identification and gender balance.

“[Gov. Branstad] believes that Ms. Andringa, Ms. Cownie, and Ms. Johnson will be exceptional additions to the board and looks forward to their service as the administration continues to strive to offer affordable, world-class higher education,” Centers said in a statement.

The appointments have to be confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate by April 15, Dvosrky said, and 34 votes are required for each confirmation.

The current regents who will reach the end of their six-year term and vacate their seats include Ruth Harkin, a Democrat, along with Hannah Walsh and Robert Downer, both Republicans.

If Branstad’s picks make the cut, Katie Mulholland, the current regent president pro tem, would be the only Democrat.

Last year, Senate Democrats rejected two of Branstad’s appointees to the regents, both of whom were Republicans.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said that by having a majority on the regents, it gives Republican members a voting edge and power to set an agenda, but he said it should be a bipartisan effort.

“Politics plays into everything; obviously plays into appointments, and the Board of Regents is one that should be very sensitive because it represents the state, all three institutions, and should have more of a bipartisan relationship,” he said.

Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, said the governor is following all the rules, and when there is a like-minded group of people, whether they’re conservative or liberal, the regents work best as one or the other.

“I don’t have a problem with doing it because if the shoe were on the other foot, it would certainly be the other way around,” he said, noting that he could guarantee if there was a Democratic state leader, the board could be made up of five Democrats.


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