When Ruth Harkin was first appointed to the Board of Regents in 2005 by then-Governor Tom Vilsack, the political landscape was much different than it is now. Back then, neither Republicans nor Democrats had a majority in the Iowa Senate. The Senate chamber was equally split with 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats.
Back then, nine Republicans voted for Ruth Harkin’s appointment, while 15 voted against, and one Republican Senator was absent. Fast forward to 2009, and Democrats have a comfortable majority with 32 Democrats compared to just 18 Republicans. One might think that means Ruth Harkin will have an easy reappointment to the Board of Regents – think again.
While Republicans are a clear minority in the State Senate, Democrats still need two of them to vote for Culver’s appointees if they are to be confirmed. There is a growing possibility that Culver and the Democrats might not be able to find the two votes needed to confirm Harkin for a second term on the Board of Regents.
One of the main objections Republicans have to Harkin’s re-appointment is the complete lack of representation from Western Iowa on the Board of Regents. Republicans want to see more geographic balance on the Board, and putting someone besides Harkin on the Board could help achieve that goal. Currently, the nine person board is made up of four people from Polk County, one from Poweshiek County, one from Linn County, one from Johnson County, a student member who goes to ISU, and one member who lives in Virginia (Harkin). There is not one member from the Board of Regents who lives west of Polk County or north of Story County.
Some Republicans also think that the Board of Regents would be better served by somebody who spends most of their time in Iowa rather than someone who is flown in on an oil company’s corporate jet to attend meetings. While Ruth Harkin has a famous Iowa last name, her Iowa roots are shallow.
Ruth Harkin grew up in Minnesota and attended law school in Washington, D.C., which is where she met Tom Harkin. She served as the Story County Attorney in the 1970’s, but moved to Washington, D.C. when Tom Harkin was elected the U.S. Senate in 1984. It’s pretty safe to say that, if her husband wasn’t Tom Harkin, she would never have been appointed back in 2005.
Also different from 2005 is the scrutiny that the spouses of our elected officials are now under. Just a few weeks ago, U.S. Senator Chris Dodd’s wife, Jackie, was in the headlines as she was a paid employee of AIG. While Ruth Harkin doesn’t have any connections that we know of to AIG, she is on the board of directors of Conoco-Phillips. Conoco-Phillips graciously flies Ruth Harkin back to Iowa on their corporate jet so that she can attend Regents’ meetings.
The Senate Republicans are more ideologically unified now than they were in 2005, and it is important to note that the majority of them are from Western Iowa. Politically, there are hardly any negative consequences for opposing Ruth Harkin’s appointment. In fact, it’s probably beneficial to give their Republican base a small victory like this as we head into the summer.
While many of the Des Moines elite will moan and groan over the Republicans’ objection to Ruth Harkin’s second term on the Board of Regents, Republicans have every right to oppose her, and they should. Ruth Harkin is rarely in Iowa unless there is a Regents’ meeting or her husband is campaigning. She has to fly to Iowa for almost every meeting because she doesn’t really live here, and neither she nor her children attended Iowa schools.
There are plenty of qualified Iowans who should have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Regents. Why do we need to give political favors to a Senator’s wife who is in the pocket of a big oil company?
blog comments powered by Disqus