Iowa Regent appointments would leave one Democrat

Senator: 'That's a major problem'

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IOWA CITY — If Iowa senators confirm the three new Board of Regents members recommended this week by Gov. Terry Branstad, the board will include only one registered Democrat.

The board’s nine volunteer members currently include five Republicans, two Democrats and two members who are not registered with a party. The six-year terms for regents Bob Downer, a Republican from Iowa City, Ruth Harkin, a Democrat from Cumming, and Hannah Walsh, a Republican filling the student seat on the board, are set to expire at the end of April.

On Monday, Branstad announced dozens of appointments to fill Iowa’s boards and commissions, including three new regents. Mary Andringa of Mitchellville and Patricia Cownie of Des Moines are both registered Republicans. Rachael Johnson, a student representative from the University of Northern Iowa, is not registered with a party, according to Jimmy Centers, a spokesman with the governor’s office.

If confirmed by two-thirds of Iowa’s senators — or 34 votes — the board effective May 1 would include five Republicans, three without party, and one Democrat — current regent President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland. The board cannot have more than five members of the same political party, according to Iowa Code.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said although Branstad’s appointments don’t violate the letter of the law, “this clearly is a violation of the intent.”

“That’s a major problem they’ll have to look at,” he said.

State law also requires the board be gender-balanced. With the new appointments, the board would include five women and four men.

The Senate must decide whether to confirm the appointments by mid-April, Dvorsky said. If they reject any of the names, the governor could suggest different appointments or name interim regents, who would have to come back for confirmation next year, Dvorksy said.

The Senate last year turned down two of Branstad’s three picks for the board following a contentious debate. Craig Lang, a Republican dairy farmer from Brooklyn, and Robert Cramer, a Republican construction company executive from Grimes, both were rejected. Subhash Sahai, an Independent physician from Webster City, was confirmed.

At the time, Republicans largely supported the nominees and most Democrats voted against them.

In a statement, Branstad said he believes “Ms. Andringa, Ms. Cownie, and Ms. Johnson will be exceptional additions to the board and looks forward to their service as the administration continues to strive to offer affordable, world-class higher education.”

Andringa is chief executive officer and chair of the board for Vermeer Corporation, an industrial and agricultural equipment company based in Pella. According to the Iowa Business Council, Vermeer is a family-owned company serving the environmental, construction, mining, forage, trenching and drilling industries.

Vermeer in September announced plans to build an “applied technology hub” in the Iowa State Research Park allowing Iowa State University students, faculty and Vermeer team members to work together on advancements for industrial and agricultural equipment.

The company also was involved in a program developed by ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative and sponsored by Stine Seed Company and Summit Group, which is Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter’s company.

Andringa and her husband have made more than $90,000 in mostly Republican contributions in Iowa over six years, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. That total includes a combined $75,000 given to Branstad for his campaigns in 2010 and 2014.

Appointed regent Cownie is the mother of Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines. She previously served on the state’s Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Statue Committee as a registered Democrat, but has changed her party affiliation over the years, according to governor spokesman Centers.

Outgoing regents Downer and Harkin have said they did not seek reappointment to the board. Outgoing student representative Hannah Walsh told The Daily Iowan last month that she was interested in serving on the board another term.

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