These folks think they own the joint.
Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration signed off on two-dozen confidential settlements with departing state employees, including at least a couple with extra bucks offered in exchange for silence. No one authorized state agencies to spend the roughly $500,000 those settlements cost, potentially including federal dollars.
Department heads also reclassified 300 state workers to make it easier to can them. Some who have been fired were added to a do-not-rehire-ever list, even though the list has been declared legally dubious.
The administration laid off employees who oversaw tens of millions of dollars in construction projects and handed that oversight to a handful of private firms. But the guy who ran the Iowa Veterans Home kept his job long after the governor’s office was reportedly presented with troubling testimony from staffers who reported intimidation and harassment.
We’re still wondering whether anyone on the governor’s team tried put a thumb on the scales of justice in unemployment compensation cases, or threatened to cut funding for the Public Employment Relations Board unless it hired a former Polk County judge hand-picked by the administration to decide employee-employer disputes. The governor insists these accusations of political motivation are politically motivated, so he’s shown little interest in checking them out.
THE BIGGEST QUESTION
Maybe this stuff bothers you because you didn’t support the governor in the first place, and are glad to see him under fire. Or maybe you’re convinced that the governor is being unfairly tarred by partisans. There are plenty of people in both camps. Lots of questions remain unanswered as to how much of this was proper or improper.
But what bugs me most is what I said in sentence one.
Roll it all together, and you get a pretty clear picture of a governor, his allies and friends acting like they own the executive branch, and can do just about whatever they want with it. After nearly 20 years in power, save that 12-year fluke when Democrats sublet the place, and with four more years surely on the way for team Branstad, there’s really no good reason to care about silly stuff like oversight, consultation or explanation.
When you own the joint, you don’t need to explain sweeping personnel decisions or major changes in contracting policy to anyone. State lawmakers? Please. You don’t need to advertise open jobs or search for the best candidates. Look no further than the administration’s friendly Rolodex. What are friends for if not for high places?
Pausing to ask for guidance, advice, fresh perspectives is for squishy short-timers. These folks have got all the perspectives they need. Quintuple-termers don’t double check.
And when things look bad, make it all go away, as fast as you can. Shut it down, issue an executive order, fire somebody, if you absolutely have to. Then, swiftly change the subject. Go on the attack. But always, always act unilaterally.
And never concede that the governor shares responsibility or made a mistake. It’s somebody else’s fault.
Your critics? Liberals, union types, journalists in cahoots with Dems. Repeat.
Our governor could go a long way toward proving me dead wrong by calling for a fully independent investigation into all this stuff. It doesn’t have to be run by Democrats trying to hound him from office. But it also can’t be run by Republicans trying to shield the governor from political harm.
I know the state auditor is looking into confidential settlements, and the attorney general has been mentioned, but I’d like to see investigators from outside the statehouse take a crack at unraveling these webs. Trusted hands who don’t live under the dome.
Because, in the end, this really isn’t about whether we have a Republican governor or a Democratic governor. It’s about whether we have an executive branch of government that works to represent all of us, that’s responsive and open, even when things go wrong, and isn’t afraid of outside oversight.
A few polls have shown that even some Iowans who approve of Branstad’s performance have misgivings about giving him a sixth term. Maybe they’re worried about what happens when one person wields that much power for that much time. I think the last several weeks have shown those concerns warranted. We’ll see if the governor seeks to address them.
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