Senate Democrats look to reject Wagner appointment to Iowa Utilities Board
Marion engineer, former Iowa House member says he won't withdraw from consideration
UPDATE: Iowa Senate Democrats, who are threatening to reject two of Gov. Terry Branstad’s nominees to the Board of Regents, said Thursday they may nix the appointment of a former Republican lawmaker to the Iowa Utilities Board.
After caucusing on the nomination of Nick Wagner, the former vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, it was apparent there were not sufficient votes to confirm the Marion engineer, according to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines.
“We did a head count and the votes weren’t there,” he said Thursday. Thirty-four votes are needed to confirm the governor’s appointees. If Wagner received the full support of the Senate GOP caucus, he would need 10 votes from the 26-member Democratic caucus to be confirmed to the board that has broad responsibility for rates and services of electric, natural gas, and water utilities, the services of communications utilities, and generally supervises all pipelines and the transmission, sale, and distribution of electrical current.
Branstad was disappointed by Democrats “Washington DC-style politics.
“These partisan politics needs to stop,” the GOP governor said Thursday afternoon. “It’s absolutely wrong.”
He doesn’t plan to withdraw Wagner’s nomination.
“I can’t understand why they wouldn’t choose someone like him, who is an engineer, who could be a real great asset on that board,” the governor said.
Wagner, 39, is an electrical engineer who has worked on energy and utility projects at The ESCO Group for the past 12 years. He’s the “kind of bright, talented young leader Iowa deserves on the Iowa Utilities Board,” according to the GOP governor. Senate Democrats “can demonstrate no plausible reason why he should not serve on this board.”
However, McCoy cited senators’ concerns with two of the three members of the board being from Marion. Swati Dandekar, a former member of the House and Senate, also is from Marion. The current board has two Polk County residents.
Senators also questioned having three former legislators on the board that has broad responsibility for rates and services of electric, natural gas, and water utilities, the services of communications utilities, and generally supervises all pipelines and the transmission, sale, and distribution of electrical current.
Also, McCoy said, Democrats thought at least one member should be an attorney. There has not been an attorney on the board since Rob Bernsten – formerly of Marion – left the board and was replaced by Dandekar, a Democrat.
Wagner, who has no plans to withdraw from consideration, pointed out April 4 there is no statutory requirement that a member be an attorney.
“That’s why you have good staff attorneys,” he said.
Finally, McCoy said, some senators had “issues” with Wagner when dealing with him on appropriations.
“They thought he was not a good listener,” he said.
Branstad insisted he chooses appointees based on qualifications and experience “and the job the can do for the people of Iowa.”
Referring to the confirmation process --including his regents nominees Craig Lang and Robert Cramer, who Democrats have threatened to reject -- called on the Senate to treat them and the process fairly.
“The people I appointed deserve the opportunity for a fair hearing and an opportunity to be voted on,” he said.Want to talk more about this story? Join the conversation here