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Civic Skinny

Judge list is cut to 11; Eric Branstad buys a house.

3/11/2015

Eleven people apparently have made the cut for second interviews with the Grassley pals who are screening applicants to advise him on whom to back for two open federal judgeships in Iowa. Yes, Chuck Grassley is a Republican and Barack Obama is a Democrat, but Grassley isn’t just any Republican; he’s chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve any Obama appointees before they get to the full Senate. And Iowa no longer has a Democratic Senator. So look for a deal — a deal that will affect the Iowa judiciary.

The 11 are — Cityview is told:

State court judges Sean McPartland of Cedar Rapids and Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, Larry McLellan and Karen Romano of Des Moines; federal magistrate judges Helen Adams of Des Moines and Len Strand of Sioux City; federal bankruptcy judge Thad Collins of Cedar Rapids; assistant United States attorneys C. J. Williams and Patrick Reinert of Cedar Rapids, and Steve Locher, a lawyer with the Belin firm in Des Moines.

Romano was the choice of former Sen. Tom Harkin, but the name was sent to the White House late in the year and was one of scores that the White House never acted on.

Two Des Moines lawyers who are tuned-in to things like this say you might want to put your money on Judge Ebinger. She’s a Yale Law School graduate, clerked for Federal Appellate Judge Michael Melloy and was an assistant U.S. Attorney both in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines before being appointed to the state bench by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2012.

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If Ebinger ultimately joins the Federal bench in Des Moines, it would mean that all three active (as opposed to senior) judges — Ebinger and John Jarvey and Stephanie Rose — will be people who spent their entire lawyering career as prosecutors.

An Ebinger ruling will be the subject of an Iowa Supreme Court hearing this week. Former Indianola city attorney John Hoyman is appealing his fraud conviction of last year. Among other things, he says Ebinger should have recused herself from the case since her daughter was the flower girl in the wedding of Rob Sand, the assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case. Sand and Ebinger’s husband, Des Moines lawyer Louis Ebinger, are friends, court documents say.

Ebinger sentenced Hoyman to 10 years in prison. …

Eric Branstad — one of the governor’s sons — and his wife, Adrianne, have bought a five-bedroom, four-bathroom home on 1.3 acres on 51st Street, south of Grand Avenue. The home was owned by Sheldon and Roselind Rabinowitz and is part of a three-home compound that backs up to Ashworth Park.

The other two homes are owned by Rose Pomerantz, the widow of Marvin Pomerantz, and Harry and Pam Bookey. Roselind Rabinowitz and Marvin Pomerantz were siblings. The conversations could be pretty interesting when Branstad and Bookey meet in the driveway; Bookey is one of the town’s more fervent Democrats.

The Branstads paid $447,500 for the ranch-style house, which was built in 1961 and is assessed at $436,800. The house has about 3,800 square feet of living space, and the lot includes a tennis court that was built in 1980. County records also list the Branstads as owners of a house in West Des Moines that they bought for $210,000 in 2008 as well as a condominium in West Des Moines that he bought for $130,000 in 2004.

Eric Branstad is the Iowa Director of America’s Renewable Future, a nonprofit political organization that works to make sure the government keeps the so-called renewable fuels standard, which greatly helps Iowa’s ethanol companies.

A stately, 95-year-old home at 5500 Grand Avenue has sold for $900,000, the highest price for any single-family home in Polk County so far this year. The four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 4,000-square foot brick-and-stucco home was sold by the Tamara Stroh trust to William and Amy O’Brien. David Stroh bought the home in 1998 for $375,000.

At about the time of the sale, Tamara Stroh purchased a somewhat smaller brick home on half an acre at 147 34th St., where 34th runs into Elmwood Drive. She paid $529,000 to Zachary Eubank, who bought the house in 2008 for $501,000. It is assessed at $412,900. …

Your tuition dollars at work: The four-year graduation rate for the entering class of 2010 at the three state universities was 45.7 percent, according to data prepared for this week’s meeting of the Board of Regents.  The six-year graduation rate for the class of 2008 was 70 percent at the University of Iowa, 68.9 percent at Iowa State University and 63.8 percent at the University of Northern Iowa.

The average employee at the universities missed 7.2 days because of sickness last year. That cost the schools $42.5 million. The average employee took 17.8 days of vacation — about three-and-a-half weeks — in addition to the nine paid holidays and two unscheduled days off that are part of state policy.

And the universities spent $563.2 million for insurance and retirement programs last year. About 24,000 employees are covered by the TIAA-CREF retirement plan, and the universities contribute a sum equal to 10 percent of an employee’s salary into the plan; the employee contributes another 5 percent. Another 5,500 or so employees are covered by IPERS; the universities contribute 8.93 percent into IPERS and the employee contributes 5.95 percent.

Finally, the average salary for a professor at the University of Iowa in 2013 was $135,342 for an academic year; at Iowa State, it was $122,279, and at UNI it was $77,274.  At the University of Iowa medical school, the average was $315,500. CV

 

Comment: The Regents

Mary Andringa and Patty Cownie are well-educated, well-liked, well-known, well-connected — and wealthy —  Iowa Republican women.

They surely will do a good job as new members of the Board of Regents.

And they surely will be confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

Still….

The appointments once again show Gov. Terry Branstad obeying the letter of the law but just laughing at the spirit of it, sticking his thumb in the eye of the Iowa voter. For with the addition of the two Republican women, the nine-member board will have just two Democrats on it. And one of those was a registered Republican as recently as 2010 and before that was registered as an independent.

Iowa law dictates the makeup of boards. If a board has nine members, no more than five can be of the same party. So the new Regents board will comply. Republicans Andringa and Cownie will join fellow Republicans Bruce Rastetter, Milt Dakovich and Larry McKibben on the board.

The other four? Subashi Sahai, a doctor from Webster City, has been a registered Democrat for at least the past 10 years, though his only political contribution to a state candidate in the past 8 years was a $5,000 check to Branstad last year. Katie Mulholland, an educator from Marion, was a “no party” registrant until June 2010, when she became a Republican. A month later she registered as a Democrat; shortly thereafter, she was appointed a Regent — which already had a full complement of Republicans. Recently, she has contributed modestly to politicians of both parties.

Sherry Bates, the Scranton social worker appointed to a two-year stub term last December, is registered as a “no party,” though she has been a Democrat in the past. And Rachael Johnson, the recently appointed student Regent, also is a “no party,” according to state records.

The departing Regents are Iowa City lawyer Bob Downer, long a moderate Republican; Cumming businesswoman Ruth Harkin, whose Democratic credentials are never in doubt, and University of Iowa senior Hannah Walsh, whose experience includes stints as an intern in the Mitt Romney campaign and work for two Iowa Republican legislators.

The Board of Regents historically has been nonpartisan. That image started to slip a bit under Gov. Chet Culver — he pressed for a pro-labor vote on a key issue — and now there is little doubt. The shabby treatment of the proposed Harkin Institute and of Sen. Tom Harkin — Iowa State graduate and prodigious gatherer of federal funds for the Regents schools — by then-Board President Craig Lang is the most outrageous political play, but there are other examples. The latest: the exclusion of labor from the committee screening candidates for the presidency of the University of Iowa.

A Regent is supposed to act in the best interest of the taxpayers and the students in overseeing the administration of the universities, the hiring and firing of presidents, the dealings with the Legislature, the reining in of the board staff, and the overall atmosphere at the universities. Most issues that come to the board are routine, but some require open and robust debate — debate that can shape the atmospheres of the campuses, the futures of students, the health of the universities and the pockets of taxpayers.

That debate is stifled in boards that are run by dictate or that are made up of people who think alike. Where is the robust debate on the University of Iowa’s continued ranking as one of the top party schools in the nation, on its appearance on a list of the top 10 schools that threaten free speech on campus, or on the outrageous athletic budgets at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University?

For example.

Andringa and Cownie, and presumably student Johnson, will be fine additions to the board, without a doubt. There’s no doubt that Andringa and Cownie are dedicated Iowans who love the state and who will do their homework, think independently and speak out during the next six years.

Still…. CV

— Michael Gartner

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