Civic Skinny

April 21, 2011 |

Who’s racist? Praise for Kibbie. Branstad v. Wiggins (Round 1)


Two questions a reporter might want to ask Gov. Terry Branstad.

If it’s racist, as you say, for the Iowa Senate to reject “the only black department head that I appointed”...

1. Was it racist for you to reject the only black among the nine names sent to you to fill the three Supreme Court vacancies?

2. Why was there only one black among the 30 or so men and women you chose to run state agencies?

Just a couple of suggestions.

The Governor over the weekend took on Supreme Court Justice Dave Wiggins, who chaired the Supreme Court Nominating Commission that sent Branstad those nine names. Wiggins, who joined in the unanimous decision allowing gay marriage in Iowa, is up for retention in 2012, and Branstad clearly doesn’t like that ruling or Wiggins himself.

Instead of sidestepping a question about the retention vote — governors historically stay away from the business and personalities of the court — the Governor on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” unleashed a broadside on Wiggins, accusing him of being intemperate in running the commission. Actually, he can deny he said that. He said, “I suspect there’s going to be some people that have grave concerns,” and “I think a lot of people” and “some of the judges who were being considered” say Wiggins showed “a lack of temperament in the way he interviewed the candidates and the way they were treated and whether they were all treated in the same even-handed and equitable way.” It’s “all on videotape,” the Governor noted.

Indeed, it’s all on videotape because Wiggins and his committee voted to hold public hearings on nominees — for the first time. The governor then interviewed the nine finalists in private despite some calls for him, too, to conduct the interviews in the open. So, as one guy noted, no one knows the temperament of Branstad himself in his interviews or whether he operated “in an even-handed and equitable way.”

The Iowa Press crew let him get away with his attack without pointing that out or following up. ...

At any rate, the attack — or the views of “some people” or “a lot of people” or “some of the judges” — is mobilizing fans and friends of the court, and one guy deep in the loop says they’ll soon be hiring strategists and raising money to get out the vote to support Wiggins in the 2012 up-or-down election. It’s all very un-Iowan, but Branstad (and Bob Vander Plaats last fall) has made it clear that the rules have changed: If supporters want to keep Wiggins next year — and Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht in 2014 — they’ll have to run political campaigns. Wiggins himself won’t shy from a fight. ...

In case you didn’t notice, Cityview predicted weeks ago that Isaiah McGee would not be confirmed by the Senate to head the Iowa Civil Rights Commission — and not because he’s black — and that William Gustoff would not be confirmed as a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission. And neither made it. Of course, Cityview also predicted that a third nominee, Brent Rastetter, would not be confirmed for a spot on the Environmental Protection Commission. He was confirmed with just one dissenting vote. But two out of three ain’t bad. ...

You’ve got to hand it to Jack Kibbie, the Emmetsburg farmer and Democrat who is president of the Senate. He managed the redistricting bill, which his chamber passed with just one no vote. Then he sent out an e-mail praising the bill and the nonpartisan process of drawing new districts as “the best approach in the country.” He said he was “privileged” to manage the bill.

What he didn’t say: The bill will end his political career. His own district was redrawn and combined with that of Republican Sen. David Johnson. The new district is overwhelmingly Republican — and conservative Republican, at that — and even the likable Kibbie wouldn’t have a chance in it. In all likelihood, he’ll retire, friends say, ending a legislative career that began 50 years ago when he was first elected to the Iowa House. He served there from 1960 to 1964, when he was elected to the Iowa Senate. He served until 1968, when he lost, but 20 years later he returned to the Senate and has been re-elected every cycle since then. If he bows out now, it means Johnson will serve the remaining two years of his own term; if Kibbie stays in, the two will face off for the right to serve a stub two-year term before the four-year cycle kicks back in.

Kibbie will turn 83 on Bastille Day. ...

A guy in Rep. Steve King’s district — a Republican who has never liked King — says Christie Vilsack “wouldn’t have a chance” running against the incumbent Congressman in the newly drawn fourth district. “I would vote for her and give money to her, but in this district a Democrat, particularly a woman, would be beat badly. I don’t know of anyone except perhaps [Sen. Chuck] Grassley who could beat King at this time in the new district. It is depressing but nonetheless a fact.”

Not depressing, of course, if you’re Steve King.

Vilsack is expected to announce her plans any day now.

Meantime, the announced Congressional candidates are furiously raising money. GOP Incumbent Tom Latham, as expected, announced he would move to the Des Moines area to take on fellow incumbent Leonard Boswell instead of staying put and facing King in a Republican primary. As of March 31, Latham already had $983,150 in the bank; Democrat Boswell had $173,806. Democrat Dave Loebsack, who is moving from Mt. Vernon to Iowa City to avoid a primary against fellow incumbent Bruce Braley — but who may end up in a primary with Vilsack — had $121,874 cash on hand, and Braley, who like King has a pretty clear shot toward re-election, had $170,266. King had $142,610.

Tom Harkin, who won’t face voters again until 2014 — if he decides to run again — had $2,639,865 on hand on March 31, and Chuck Grassley, who was just re-elected last fall, hadn’t filed his report by the week’s end but appears to have around $1.8 million. CV