Branstad defends Wahlert's handling of unemployment disputes

Branstad said his 2011 IWD appointee has been the target of “partisan political attacks"

Rod Boshart
Published: March 24 2014 | 2:39 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:06 am in

DES MOINES — Complaints about how Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert is handling disputes over unemployment benefits escalated into a war of words between Gov. Terry Branstad and a Democratic state senator who says he won’t back down.

Branstad used his weekly news conference to defend Wahlert, charging that allegations that she has brought inappropriate and undo influence over administrative law judges -- in federally funded positions -- who decide state unemployment benefit disputes are politically motivated.

“I have great confidence in Teresa Wahlert,” Branstad told reporters. “I think she’s an outstanding administrator. I think she’s very fair.”

The governor said his 2011 IWD appointee has been the target of “partisan political attacks and I think she’s answered every one of them and answered them very satisfactorily.”

Last week, Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, called for a federal investigators to look at abuse of power allegations he’s leveled at Wahlert, alleging she is trying illegally to exert influence over administrative law judges who decide unemployment cases.

Dotzler released copies of emails and related stories of his interviews with Workforce Development employees to back up his claims. He also said Wahlert had the judges develop “tip sheets” for employers to help them win their cases and asked for tallies of how judges decided their cases after she had fired the former chief administrative law judge and made the agency’s 14 other judges report to her.

On Monday afternoon, Dotzler took to the Senate floor to decry “bullying” tactics being employed to intimidate IWD employees and tilt outcomes in favor of businesses in unemployment cases. He also said he is not engaging in personal attacks but he’s seen some coming at him.

“I’m not going to back down from the truth, I’m not going to run from personal attacks,” he told his Senate colleagues. “This isn’t Bill Dotzler making this stuff up. It’s coming from the employees of Iowa Workforce Development.”

Branstad said Walhert’s office just received a positive report from the U.S. Department of Labor following a routine inquiry on its unemployment appeals process. The agency also has reduced significantly a backlog of cases under her direction, he added.

“She has never second guessed or tried to change what an administrative law judge did,” Branstad said in giving Wahlert his vote of confidence.

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