DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate confirmed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ choices for a trio of state agency posts Tuesday, but minority Democrats rejected her appointment of Iowa City school board member Phil Hemingway to serve on the state Board of Educational Examiners.
Senators voted 48-0 to confirm Debi Durham as director of the state Economic Development Authority, Chris Kramer to guide the state Department of Cultural Affairs and Rod Roberts to serve as state labor commissioner for the next four years. Gubernatorial appointees must receive at least 34 affirmative votes — two-thirds majority of the 50-member Senate — to be confirmed.
In the case of Hemingway’s appointment, 16 Democrats opposed his nomination while all Republicans present and Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, supported his confirmation with two senators absent — Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, and Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines. Republicans hold a 32-18 majority in the chamber.
When the confirmation vote stalled at 32-16, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, switched to a no vote in a procedural move designed to allow the Senate to reconsider Hemingway’s nomination at a future time if Whitver determines that both absent senators would vote in favor of the appointment. Otherwise, he said, “I would probably withdraw my motion to reconsider and then he would just be done.”
During Tuesday’s floor action and a previous Senate Education Committee meeting, Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said he received complaints about Hemingway’s actions as an Iowa City Community School District Board member that raised concerns about placing him on a state panel that conducts confidential investigations of allegations brought against licensed Iowa educators.
Based on information he received from Hemingway’s colleagues and others, Wahls said, “I do not believe he is a good fit for this position. He may be a better fit for a different position, but I do not believe that he would be an effective member of the Board of Educational Examiners, and I urge the body to reject his appointment.”
Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, the only other senator to address Hemingway’s confirmation, said she believed he was being unfairly targeted for his efforts to hold the local school district accountable and was criticized for giving the media an email message about a district personnel decision that the board wanted to keep confidential. However, Cournoyer said, the messages were sent on the district’s email server, which made them a public record.
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Cournoyer said she did her “due diligence” in talking with Hemingway, a Republican who is a self-employed auto mechanic, and with his detractors in researching his nomination and “found that any and all ethics allegations against him are unfounded and nonexistent, and based on hearsay, rumors, assumptions and slander.”
Cournoyer said Hemingway often is the one dissent on 6-1 school board votes, but she noted his job is to be a taxpayer watchdog rather than an advocate for the board or superintendent.
“He’s a good person who is willing and able to serve,” Cournoyer said. “He questions, he disagrees, and he’s a thorn in their side and they don’t like it. They are using this opportunity to drag his name through the mud.”
Reached for comment, Hemingway said he was humbled by the support from Kinney, whom he said he has worked with on ag-related education issues. Hemingway withheld further comment pending the possibility of a Senate reconsideration of his confirmation.
Reynolds’ office declined to comment on Tuesday’s vote.
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