Staff Columnist

Iowa governors race becomes a battle of bosses

Democratic nominee for Governor Fred Hubbell talks with Jim Stewart of Marion, Shari Stewart of Marion, Stephanie Techau of Cedar Rapids, and Kevin Techau of Cedar Rapids at the Hawkeye Area Labor Council steak fry at IBEW Local 405 on Saturday, July 21, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Democratic nominee for Governor Fred Hubbell talks with Jim Stewart of Marion, Shari Stewart of Marion, Stephanie Techau of Cedar Rapids, and Kevin Techau of Cedar Rapids at the Hawkeye Area Labor Council steak fry at IBEW Local 405 on Saturday, July 21, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)

Iowa Republicans are assailing Fred Hubbell for his record running Younkers 30 years ago. They say the Democratic nominee for governor put profits before the good of employees, fattened his executive paycheck and cut workers’ benefits.

It’s almost like he’s stolen the GOP’s agenda. No wonder they’re steamed.

As I’ve said before, Hubbell’s business record is fair game, just like a politician’s record is fair game. But if this is the most potent ammunition the GOP has unearthed in Hubbell’s past, it may be bad news for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. This election might, after all, be fought over a privatized Medicaid mess, an inadequate mental health system, stagnating public schools, dirty water and maybe even the governor’s cozy relationship with President Tariff.

Hubbell was a bad boss, according to the GOP website firedbyfred.com. Once again, what Republicans see as sterling qualities in our hard-nosed, bulldozing “You’re fired!” president are seemingly disqualifying flaws for the Democrat seeking to fire Reynolds.

Maybe it was a drag to sling neckties and Swatches for Younkers, back in the days when my mullet partied plenty in the back.

But try working in the Branstad-Reynolds administration. It’s all business, front and back.

Remember Chris Godfrey, the former workers’ compensation commissioner duly reappointed and confirmed to a six-year, politically insulated term? The Branstad-Reynolds team sought to hound him out of office, demanding his resignation and slashing his pay when he refused. Republicans wanted a more business friendly commissioner, with a thumb on the scales.

Godfrey sued. The resulting lawsuit has cost plenty and is ongoing.

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Don’t forget Susan Ackerman, a judge who handled unemployment appeals for Iowa Workforce Development. She and other judges complained that the agency’s director appointed by the Branstad-Reynolds administration, Theresa Wahlert, pressured them to decide cases in favor of businesses.

Months after Ackerman took her concerns to a legislative committee in 2014, she was fired. But not before her bosses trumped up an insurance fraud charge against her, later dropped.

Joseph Walsh, head of workforce development’s unemployment appeals bureau, saw his job switched from a merit-based position to a political appointment. After he shared concerns about political pressures with the U.S. Department of Labor, he was laid off.

In June, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled both Ackerman’s and Walsh’s lawsuits against the state can move ahead.

There likely are more examples, but the point is working for team Branstad and now Reynolds means doing the bidding of the administration and its business backers, even when your job, by law, is to be an impartial judge deciding cases that affect injured and unemployed Iowans’ lives. Don’t like it? Hit the bricks. Blow the whistle? You’ll regret it.

This ongoing issue seems like a much bigger problem than whatever Hubbell did or didn’t do with Younkers 30 years ago.

But Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann insists it matters, because “standing up for the little guy” is what Reynolds does best. Unlike some retail baron, who, perhaps, had them carry him to work in a golden litter.

I’m not much for the term “little guy.” Maybe “Iowans” would do.

Does Kaufmann mean Iowans who teach school, plow highways and guard prison inmates, the workers who can no longer collectively bargain in any meaningful way? When the unions are hobbled, where will those workers go for help with their lousy bosses? To stacked-deck judges within the Reynolds administration?

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What about Iowans who can’t get private Medicaid managed care firms to cover the treatment they need? Or providers who can’t get paid? Kids loaded up with debt amid rising tuition? Lowest-rung workers living in counties that can no longer raise the local wage floor, thanks to GOP legislation? Low-income women looking for health care who find the nearby clinic closed?

Tax cuts and breaks for executive-types and businesses pile up higher and higher while incomes for many Iowans grow at a glacial pace, or not at all. We can’t take real steps to clean up Iowa’s water because large agribusiness interests don’t want it to happen. And to top it off, let’s make it harder to cast a ballot.

But hey, it’s all about the little guy. So long as he‘s got a big checkbook, or maybe a jet he’s willing to loan, or runs Apple. This is what the governor does best?

But Younkers. Remember Younkers. Maybe if Hubbell had run a few casinos into the ground, opened a sham university and sold suspect steaks we wouldn’t be having this debate. He’d be a stable genius, headed straight for the top, believe me.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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