Supreme Court's same-sex ruling doesn't warrant impeachment, Branstad says

Iowa Republican Gov.-elect Terry Branstad talks on the phone in his office Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, in Urbandale, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa Republican Gov.-elect Terry Branstad talks on the phone in his office Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, in Urbandale, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Governor-elect Terry Branstad said Monday he does not believe the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 same-sex marriage decision rises to the level of malfeasance prescribed in the state Constitution that would warrant the Iowa House to consider impeaching the remaining four justices.

“I don’t think that impeachment is the appropriate remedy,” Branstad said in an interview.

Also, the rural Boone Republican who will be inaugurated for a fifth term as governor on Jan. 14 said he would oppose treating unionized employees differently by giving them a pay increase over the next two years that would not be extended to all state workers, saying that would make them a “privileged class” and saddle taxpayers with a cost not warranted given the current budget realities.

In a wide-ranging interview, Branstad said he disagreed with the court’s marriage ruling but he also disagrees with a band of House Republicans who have indicated they are drafting articles of impeachment against Justices Brent Appel, Mark Cady, Daryl Hecht and David Wiggins. Three other members of court – Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit — ended their terms Dec. 31 after they lost their retention votes in the Nov. 2 general election.

The incoming governor said he believes the unanimous court “over-reached” when the justices struck down as unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act he signed in 1998 that defined marriage in Iowa as only between one man and one woman. The 7-0 ruling in April 2009 had the effect of legalizing civil marriages between couples of the same gender – a change that critics argue was legislating from the bench and over-stepping the justices’ constitutional authority that constituted malfeasance in executing their duties.

“I think if you look and read the Constitution, which I have, I think it’s pretty obvious. The Constitution says what the grounds for impeachment are. My reading is it’s not there,” he said. “There’s a difference between malfeasance and over-reaching, I think. I really think that if people look at the Constitution, I think the remedy is that when they come up for retention that people have a chance to vote them out. I think that’s the appropriate remedy. I don’t think that impeachment is the appropriate remedy.”

On a separate topic, Branstad said the state cannot afford new two-year contracts that outgoing Democratic Gov. Chet Culver negotiated with three employee unions which provide for a series of across-the-board salary increases – a 2 percent raise effective July 1, 2011, a 1 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2012, another 2 percent raise on July 1, 2012, and a 1 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2013. Employees eligible for “step” increases also would get an automatic 4.5 percent grade increase as part of the new pact.

Although lawmakers and previous governors have decided to treat employees differently by not extending all the compensation raises included in collective bargaining agreements to all non-contract state workers, Branstad said he disagrees with that practice. State budget officials have estimated that extending the terms of the new two-year pacts slated to take effect next July 1 to all state workers would cost more than $103 million in fiscal 2012.

Without bargaining units agreeing to reopen talks with him once he takes office, Branstad said it appears that paring back the number of state workers to offset the pay increases might be his only option because it appears language in the agreements limit or curtail the state’s ability to privatize some services currently handled by state workers “so our hands are tied” because he can’t universally reopen contract talks if union leaders refuse.

“That means there’s going to be substantial reductions in most of those agency budgets that are personnel, so that probably means layoffs,” he said. “I’ll look at the other alternatives. I’ve done that before and so, if we have to, we’ll do what we have to do.”

Branstad contends the taxpayers’ interests were not protected in the collective bargaining process and the pay increases are not sustainable given the financial challenges facing state government. Branstad, who has set a goal of reducing the size and scope of state government by 15 percent over five years, has said the state should follow the example of President Obama and reopen contract talks with an eye on freezing state employee wages and changing some benefit and compensation provisions.

If he is forced to fashion a fiscal 2012 budget within the constraints of the union contract agreements, Branstad said he will seek to have the terms of the union pacts extended to all state workers.

“That’s only fair,” he said. “I’ve always believed that you don’t give the unions something that you don’t give other people. I understand that’s been done. I’m saying that’s wrong and we are going to correct that. We are not going to make one group a privileged class and treat other people differently. I’m not going to do it. I believe in fairness. That’s going to be a big change.”

“There were no negotiations. This is the problem. Management didn’t get anything. The union made its demand and they just acquiesced. I’ve never heard of anything like that. I think it’s unconscionable,” he added.

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