Staff Editorial

Iowans pay price for lack of oversight under Reynolds' emergency powers

Whatever our 'new normal' looks like, it must include three functional branches of state government.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, o
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, on Friday, May 15, 2020. (Olivia Sun/The Des Moines Register via AP, Pool)

It has been 10 weeks since Gov. Kim Reynolds first proclaimed a disaster emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. She has updated or extended her disaster proclamation more than a dozen times since then.

Under Iowa Code, the governor has broad authority to manage the crisis without the usual checks and balances established in our state constitution. That includes her authority to “utilize available resources of the state government.”

Few would quibble with the necessity of strong executive power to manage the immediate impacts of a global public health emergency, but as the pandemic drags on, Iowans are paying a price for the lack of oversight.

The Reynolds administration has signed some $45 million in emergency purchase orders for personal protective equipment, according to Associated Press reporting released last week. Especially worrying is a

$7.2 million deal for gowns and goggles from a GOP campaign supplier with no experience in the medical supplies sector.

The owner of the campaign vendor with ties to Republicans, David Greenspon, is facing felony charges for allegedly beating a woman last year. The state government can consider a business partner’s “integrity and reliability,” but does not run criminal background checks on prospective vendors, the AP reported.

The traditional procurement process, which requires an open bidding process, was suspended by Reynolds in March, giving her office total discretion over the Greenspon contract and others. After more than two months of running the state with one branch of government controlling the levers, it’s time to restore the constitutional limits placed on Iowa’s executive branch.

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About a week after Reynolds’ initial emergency proclamation, the Iowa Legislature voted to suspend its session, which was extended in March. On June 3, lawmakers are expected to resume business, and not a minute too soon.

Lawmakers should demand that Reynolds follow standard purchasing practices whenever possible. They also should initiate inquiries on a long list of Iowans’ pandemic worries that Reynolds has not adequately answered for — such as the lack of a transparent epidemiological model, Test Iowa failing to meet its volume goals, and policies that jeopardized the health of meat plant workers and long-term care residents.

An emergency disaster proclamation is intended for just that — an emergency. To be an emergency, by definition, it must be unexpected.

At this point, though, the continuation of the pandemic is very much expected. Whatever our “new normal” looks like, it must include proper oversight and three functional branches of state government.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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