DES MOINES — One of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appointees to the Iowa Board of Medicine failed to muster the support needed to win confirmation by the Iowa Senate on Wednesday, and minority Democrats say at least one more gubernatorial selection faces problems getting the required 33 votes.
Senators voted 30-18 in favor of Katherine Asjes’ nomination to the Iowa Board of Medicine, which failed to meet the two-thirds majority of the current 49-member Iowa Senate needed for confirmation.
A total of 27 GOP senators, one independent and two Democrats were yes votes, while 18 Democrats were opposed.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said he had spoken with Asjes, a Nevada, Iowa, mother of six whose family had lived outside the United States and in other parts of the country before moving to Iowa in 2005. He said she saw a chance of serving on the state board as a way to “give back” to Iowa.
“I think that she is more than qualified for this position,” he said.
However, Asjes’ positive response to an online article on the Catholic World Report that took issue with homosexuality, promiscuity and other topics related to human sexuality caused some Democrats to question whether it was appropriate to place her on a state board that oversees health issues.
“What I read was pretty off the wall for somebody going on the Board of Medicine,” said Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines. “She states that she completely agrees with all that this person has said, and this guy goes back into the Dark Ages talking about sexuality.”
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines said her members believe people serving on the Iowa Board of Medicine should protect the health of all Iowans and the online blog raised “red flags” and “gave us pause whether or not she would be an appropriate person on the board.”
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Zaun was the only senator to discuss Asjes’ nomination before the floor vote and afterward, during a time set aside for “points of personal privilege,” he expressed his “disgust” that Democrats rejected her based upon her “freedom of speech” to express an opinion.
“What frustrates me is I know what we’re talking about here,” Zaun said. “Nobody wants to talk about it. She actually made a comment on a blog. One comment. So we bring her down, her whole family down. ... This is an incredible family, and I’m disgusted about what’s happened.”
Petersen told reporters after the vote that she informed the governor about appointees who faced challenges winning Senate confirmation, but Reynolds’ office did not choose to withdraw Asjes’ nomination.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said another gubernatorial nominee who faces an uphill challenge to get 33 affirmative votes is former state Rep. Mike Cormack, of rural Polk County, who has been reappointed to serve as chairman of the Public Employment Relations Board.
The board has come under scrutiny for its oversight of public employees’ union recertification votes that were required until a controversial 2017 overhaul of Iowa’s collective bargaining law.
The board recently drew the ire of union members in announcing a requirement that public-sector union workers would have to register to vote ahead of the certification elections, but Cormack issued a statement after getting negative feedback that the board was “changing course” on the plan.
Dotzler said Democrats are concerned that the union certification process be fair and less costly when elections are held this fall and, so far, they’ve not seen a system put forward by PERB officials that will accomplish that.
“I know Mike Cormack. I served with him. I always considered him one of the nicer Republican legislators I’ve served with,” said Dotzler. “But this isn’t a nice person’s game. We are here to serve Iowans and make sure that we do things in a proper way, and I’m deeply concerned if those things don’t get changed that there won’t be enough votes for him.”
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Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, chairman of the Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee and floor manager of last year’s collective bargaining bill, praised Cormack as a “tireless worker” who has traveled Iowa extensively to promote fair recertification elections and has handed down board rulings on employment issues that “indicate to me that he is running straight down the middle and trying to be a public servant to all and basically calling them as he sees them.”
Schultz said he believes Cormack has earned another term as PER board chair, adding, “I believe it would be a disservice to Iowa to take down the confirmation of Mike Cormack in retaliation for a bill that I floor managed. I don’t think that Mike Cormack brought any of this upon himself, and it would be a shame if he was the person that they punished for this.”
The deadline for the Senate to complete confirmations is April 15 so Thursday may mark the final action since senators aren’t likely to be in session Friday heading into Sunday’s deadline.
On Wednesday, senators voted 47-1 to confirm 20 gubernatorial nominees “en bloc” before also voting 47-1 to confirm Stephen Larson to another term as administrator of the state Alcoholic Beverages Division and 42-6 to approve Gretchen Tegeler as a member of the School Budget Review Committee.
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