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September 30th, 2009

The Iowa Film Office: We’ve Seen This Script Before

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Written by: Bob Haus
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scapegoat__detail__-_emailFor those of us who still enjoy reading the newspaper, there has been more than enough column inches recently about the Iowa Film Office, the state tax incentive that has lured the film industry to Iowa, and the serious lapses in that program. The Governor is incensed, the State is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, the State Auditor and Attorney General have been called in, and some of the people responsible for the debacle have been fired.

After reading two articles in the Des Moines Register regarding this unfortunate reality show, it has became apparent how the remaining acts of this script will play out. The story will seem familiar to anyone who has watched government botch a program and then scurry to offer up a scapegoat.

On Sunday, the Des Moines Register ran a long story about Mike Tramontina, a long-time government worker and Democrat operative. The basic take-aways from this article were apparent: Mike is a thoughtful public servant, one driven to right the wrongs leveled against the unfortunate, someone who struggled to get low income housing to be not only affordable but respectable. Quoted throughout the article are people in high places in the Democrat party and the Culver administration. The only thing missing was old, dated pictures of Mike working the line in a soup kitchen or the animal shelter. The article leaves us with the impression that this is a fine man, one who right up until his last minutes in office fought for the economic development of our state. His only mistake was to rely upon others who may or may not have been qualified to manage such a large operation.

On Monday, an article was published about Tramontina’s subordinate, Tom Wheeler. He is cast in this reality show as a local boy who went off to Hollywood to learn the trade and returned home with the desire to breathe life into a fledgling film industry. Known for his aggressiveness and his solid ties to the film and production industry, he was the man who was entrusted to lead a program without any substantial staff assistance, budget authority, or “back office” support. But, as his former boss Mike Blouin (no friend inside Team Culver) pointed out, Wheeler was hired because, well, there wasn’t really anyone else who applied for the job.

Both of the main actors in this reality show, Tramontina and Wheeler, have gone underground, refusing to talk to the media. But we can all see how this script will be written over the coming weeks:

1. The Attorney General will issue a report indicating that, according to the law, commitments that were entered into by the Iowa Film Office have to be honored, creating yet another wave of red ink for the State. It will find no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Iowa government workers, and no charges will ever be filed. It may seek reimbursement for the luxury cars, but the AG’s bluster will be openly mocked in Hollywood.

2. The State Auditor’s report will be scathing, highlighting everyone’s lapses in this drama. The findings will highlight the rush to enact this program by the Legislature, an absolute failure to properly gauge the potential cost of this program, the lack of any substantive internal controls that could have stopped these problems early, and the complete and utter mismanagement of the program by the Culver administration. It will be a blockbuster report in its own right.

3. Tramontina’s very influential friends will continue his PR effort unabated. He will be cast in the final act as a hero, misunderstood, one who was duped and taken in by the failures of his subordinates. He lands on his feet, is taken care of by the Culver and/or Obama Administrations, and goes on merrily with his life. Bruised, embarrassed, but not beaten.

4. Wheeler, well, Tom…get ready to be run over, hung out to dry, and professionally ruined. You’re the odd man out here. Governor Culver won’t accept the blame for a hire made by his archenemy Blouin. Tramontina has the important friends. You’ll be cast as the guy who was too cozy with his old Hollywood buddies and the guy who desperately sought recognition and validation from the artist crowd. Because of those lapses, your judgment was clouded, you took your eye off the ball, and you cost the State hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s your fault Tom. That’s the Final Act script.

Now, I’m not saying that I agree with how this script ends. In a normal world, the Boss, Governor Culver, has responsibility for this and should be held accountable. But as those of us who deal with lights, cameras and scripts know, perception often becomes reality. In Hollywood’s case, they want you to believe their perception IS your reality. And the reality of this script will be that Tom Wheeler is hung out to dry, and forced to take the fall.

It’s An Inconvenient Truth, from Chet Culver Productions.

About the Author

Bob Haus

Robert Haus is a Des Moines based advertising and communications consultant. Born and raised in Iowa, Bob is a proud graduate of both Iowa State University and the University of Iowa College of Law, which makes him a confirmed CyHawk fan. A former farm boy, and recovered lawyer, Bob has spent the last 20 years working at all levels of state and federal politics. He has worked for and advised Republican candidates for President, US Senate, US House, statewide office, and the Iowa Legislature.

You can follow him at

Bob’s personal blog is

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