Gov. Branstad crossed the line

By The Gazette Editorial Board


Since his election in November, Gov. Terry Branstad has exercised his power to replace department heads and appoint folks to various boards and commissions. Iowa governors do that. It’s to be expected when there’s a change in leadership and party.

We respect that power and agree with many of the changes Gov. Branstad has made.

We also think that he abused his authority in a couple of cases that unfolded early this week.

On Monday, David Miles, president of the state Board of Regents, which governs the state’s public universities, and Jack Evans, president pro tem, resigned their leadership positions under pressure from the governor — initially, they resisted the request.

And on Tuesday, news broke that Christopher Godfrey, the state workers’ compensation commissioner, had his salary of $109,000 cut by $36,000 after refusing to resign.

Both of the governor’s actions cross the line.

Regents board members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate to serve staggered six-year terms. However, Iowa law states that the board elects its own leadership. The leadership terms of Miles, a Democrat, and Evans, a Republican (and also a member of The Gazette board of directors), don’t expire until April.

After the resignations, the board quickly elected Republicans Craig Lang and Bruce Rastetter as president and president pro tem, respectively. Both are more to Branstad’s liking. Both appear qualified for leadership.

However, Branstad wrongly meddled in the long-established independence of the board to select its own leadership. Remember, the regents do not serve solely at the governor’s pleasure.

As for Godfrey, he is among many department heads asked to resign as Branstad took office. He was reappointed in 2009 by Gov. Culver and unanimously confirmed by the Senate. His term expires in 2015.

Godfrey’s position is among several that long have been intended to be protected from political influence and carry through multiple administrations to ensure continuity.

We’re also puzzled as to why the governor is so adamant about getting Godfrey’s resignation. No specific performance issue was cited. The governor’s office did note that the state’s ranking in workers’ compensation premium costs has gone from 45th lowest in the nation to 36th. Yet Iowa, in other rankings, is regarded as having one the top workers’ compensation systems. Many of the state’s prominent employers have voiced support for Godfrey and his leadership.

Worse yet, slashing Godfrey’s pay as a political move is a tactic unworthy of a governor.

Use your power, Gov. Branstad, but respect the limits designed to prevent any one office of government from becoming too powerful.

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