IOWA CITY — An Iowa Republican Party official, David R. Barker, who recently became the only new appointee to this state’s Board of Regents was among 16 applicants — including public servants, professors, attorneys, executives, and a superintendent — but the only one to make significant political donations in recent years, donating tens of thousands of dollars to Governor Kim Reynolds.
David R. Barker, 57, of Iowa City, has made more than 50 political contributions since 2000 totaling nearly $200,000, according to state records and the National Institute on Money in Politics. He gave the most in 2018, with more than $109,000, but also donated hefty sums in 2017 and 2016.
Barker’s most generous contributions went to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is responsible for appointing regents to the nine-member volunteer board that governs Iowa’s public universities and special schools. He’s given more than $63,000 to Reynolds or her campaign since late 2016 — also donating nearly $10,000 to her predecessor former Gov. Terry Branstad and his campaign.
Additionally, Barker gave $25,000 to the Iowa Republican Party in 2018 and more than $30,000 to Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Mason City, since 2016. Years before his recent contributions, Barker gave modestly to the Iowa Democratic Party and some of its candidates — including Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City.
None of the other 15 new applicants for three regent seats with terms expiring next month gave much by way of political contributions, according to public records. Those who did gave $100 or less and often to local campaigns, like for county supervisor or city council.
The three of Iowa’s nine regents who have terms expiring April 30 include Milt Dakovich, 64, of Waterloo; Larry McKibben, 72, of Marshalltown; and Jim Lindenmayer, 68, of Ottumwa. Lindenmayer only joined the board last summer on an interim basis after Subhash Sahai, a Webster City doctor, resigned short of term’s expiration to spend more time with patients and family.
Dakovich, a Republican, sought reappointment to the board, as did Lindenmayer, who is not affiliated with a political party. McKibben announced he’s retiring, creating one open seat without an interested incumbent.
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Gov. Reynolds last week appointed Dakovich and Lindenmayer to stay on the board via new six-year terms and suggested Barker replace McKibben — who also is a Republican. Dakovich and Lindenmayer, like Barker, have made political contributions over the years — although Dakovich more than Lindenmayer.
Records show Dakovich has made more than 100 donations totaling more than $118,000. He’s given $16,000 to Gov. Reynolds and her campaign; nearly $20,000 to former Gov. Branstad and Reynolds, when she was his lieutenant governor; and $14,000 to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, who resigned last year after a video of him kissing a female lobbyist surfaced online.
Regent appointments must receive two-thirds Senate confirmation. State law, additionally, requires the board maintain gender and political balance, meaning no more than five members can be the same sex or have the same political affiliation.
The board currently has the maximum five women and four men — including Lindenmayer, Dakovich, and McKibben. It has one Democrat — former Iowa House Rep. Nancy Dunkel, of Dubuque; three with no party affiliation; and the maximum five Republicans, including the departing McKibben.
That mix means Reynolds can’t appoint a woman this time around but is not limited by party affiliation. Of the 18 applicants — including Lindenmayer and Dakovich, who sought reappointment — 12 are Republicans, four are Democrats, and two are not affiliated with a party.
Two of the applicants were women, both Democrats. All applicants but three reported being white or Caucasian — with one identifying as a first-generation Indian-American and two identifying as black or African-American, including one who has no party affiliation and one who’s a Democrat.
The board, which currently is all white, has no diversity requirements.
In a statement provided to The Gazette, Governor’s Office Spokesman Pat Garrett said, “Gov. Reynolds considered all the qualified applicants as well as the statutory requirements of the board.”
“She believes David Barker’s academic background, innovative thinking, and in-depth experience will serve Iowans well,” Garrett said.
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Among the applicants not selected was Dave Harper, shared superintendent of Sigourney Community Schools and Pekin Community Schools; Hardin County Supervisor BJ Hoffman; Jerry Kinder, a former educator with Johnston Community Schools; Drake University Professor Jimmy Senteza, chair of the school’s economic and finance department; David Weber, who serves on the City of Johnston Board of Adjustment; and Jeremy Davis, grass roots director with the National Pork Producers Council.
Davis previously worked with the U.S. House of Representatives, served as an Ames City Council member, and was an executive officer for the Iowa College Student Aid Commission. A Republican, Davis recently ran unsuccessfully for Iowa State Treasurer.
“As a member of the Board of Regents, I will use my educational and career background to make effective, common sense decisions that will enhance the operations of the regent universities while striving to improve the student experience while working to contain costs, support enhanced financial aid opportunities where available and be committed to making Iowa’s regent universities the top educational destination for Iowa students,” Davis wrote in his application.
In Barker’s application and attached resume, he identified himself as a partner with Barker Companies, which owns 3,000 apartment units and commercial properties in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
He also reported Gov. Reynolds last year appointed him to the Rural Iowa Empowerment Initiative executive committee. And he listed involvement on several other local and national boards — although he didn’t cite in his application or resume his membership on the central committee for the Republican Party of Iowa.
He reported being an adjunct professor in the University of Iowa Henry B. Tippie College of Business, similar work at the University of Chicago, and his role as economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1991 to 1994.
Barker earned master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago and referenced that academic background in justifying his application to the Board of Regents.
“The Board of Regents needs members who understand higher education and the business of higher education,” Barker wrote. “My life and career have been centered on both education and business. My father is a retired high school principal, and my mother is a retired teacher. I earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels at the University of Iowa for 14 years, and I have published peer reviewed research in academic journals.”
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Sen. Joe Bolkcom said he knows Barker, believes he would bring a valuable skill set to the Board of Regents, and plans to vote to confirm his appointment — at this time.
“I believe he’s quite competent,” Bolkcom said. “Sometimes these positions go to people who have been politically active but are not particularly knowledge about higher education. I think David is.”
As for Barker’s political giving, Bolkcom said, it’s not new that big donors often receive these types of appointments.
“That appears to be the system we have, for better or worse,” he said. “In the case of David Barker, not only is he active politically in the Republican Party, he’s knowledgeable about higher education and — at the end of the day — it’s the governor’s prerogative to make appointments.”
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