Civic Skinny

December 23, 2010

Effort to impeach justices is bad news for Branstad


“I regret that the justices were not retained” in the November election, a Republican office-holder wrote to Skinny a few days ago. “Many of my Republican friends rejoiced, of course, over this result. Like many things, though, I fear there are unintended consequences lurking around the next bend in the road.”


The letter had barely arrived before the consequences — some intended, some not — started popping up from the voters’ ouster of three of the state’s seven supreme court justices. The main unintended consequences: Republican Terry Branstad is going to face more problems from his right than from his left. The split in the state party will widen, not heal, in coming months. And the Democrats will get a break they didn’t expect.

That’s the clear message coming to the fore as Branstad and the new legislature prepare to take over. Except during campaigns, Branstad has never liked social issues — he ran several times on the death penalty but then seemed to forget about it after being elected — but those seem to be the only issues that some in his Republican Party care for. And they’re not conceding leadership to him just because he trounced Democratic incumbent Chet Culver in the election.

The latest move, a plan by three new GOP legislators to try to impeach Iowa’s remaining four Supreme Court justices because of the gay-marriage ruling, won’t work, but it will generate headlines and rancor as Branstad tries to implement his economic and jobs agenda, which is what he cares about. Indeed, with the right off on its own crusade the once-and-future governor will have to seek help from Democrats Mike Gronstal and Kevin McCarthy to get anything done.

The Republican state platform is filled with planks that the right nailed on — opposition to gay marriage, approval of guns in schools, elimination of mandatory sex-education classes, repeal of no-fault divorce, the teaching of creationism in the schools, opposition to adoption by gays, and the like. In the campaign and since the election, Branstad with one or two exceptions has dodged those issues whenever he could, talking instead about jobs and growth and taxes.

But the election of legislators like Kim Pearson of Pleasant Hill and Tom Shaw of Laurens and Glenn Massie of Des Moines — the three newcomers who are planning the impeachment drive — can gum up the legislative works for the Republicans, who control the House and are just a couple of votes away from Senate control. Throw in the fact that losing Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bob Vander Plaats won’t go away — The Des Moines Register gave him prime space Sunday to argue that the four remaining justices should resign — and you leave the new governor with something that’s between a legislative distraction and a leadership threat.

[Amazingly, the Register let Vander Plaats get away with writing that the gay-marriage decision was unconstitutional, when in fact the seven justices who unanimously decided the case decided it solely on the basis of the Iowa constitution. “Civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals,” the court noted. Writing that the ruling is unconstitutional is like writing that the Iowa football team was undefeated this year. It is, as they say in law school, contrary to fact. Of course, some folks in Iowa City can’t accept the fact that their football team was mediocre, either.]

But Branstad shows no signs of molly-coddling the far right. He is methodically filling out his administration, and it looks to be one that will have more women in top positions than the outgoing Culver administration — and at least some of those women (as well as some of the men he is appointing) wouldn’t be able to pass the litmus test demanded by the party platform. Already, the governor has appointed Debbie Durham to run the Department of Economic Development, Teresa Wahlert to run Workforce Development, Courtney Kay-Decker to head the Department of Revenue, Marianette Miller-Meeks to oversee the Department of Public Health and Jodi Tymeson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has asked Nancy Richardson to stay on at the Department of Transportation, and he named Brenna Findley as his general counsel. With still more appointments to come, Branstad could end up with the most gender-balanced top administration in history.

In somewhat of a surprise, Branstad did not reappoint Gene Meyer as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Instead, he chose a long-time associate, Larry Noble. Noble has been in the Iowa Senate, and the appointment will cost Polk County taxpayers about $25,000. That’s what county auditor Jamie Fitzgerald says it will cost to have a special election to fill the Ankeny legislator’s seat.

Meyer is one of three finalists to succeed Branstad as president of Des Moines University, and one guy suggests Meyer wasn’t reappointed because Branstad thinks the commissioner will get the DMU job. But Skinny is told that that job has been offered to Angela Franklin, a Ph.D. who is executive vice president and provost at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, though no announcement has been made. ...

A guy who usually knows what he’s talking about says AFSCME members are turning out in droves to vote on the new contract that Chet Culver approved a couple of weeks ago. And he says support for it is “more than overwhelming.” ...

Finally, Skinny joins those in mourning three terrific Iowans who died last week: Mary Jane Odell, Bob Feller and Wythe Willey.

And have you noticed how the days are getting longer? CV


Round Kick Gym

Best of Des Moines 2011

Fall Relish

Coupon Guide