Recently, it appears that the commissioners on the Iowa Civil Rights Commission are playing musical chairs with their party affiliation. Iowa Code section 216.3 provides that “no more than four members of the Commission shall belong to the same political party.” Despite conflicting voter registration data, it seems that the spirit, if not the letter, of this statute has been violated by the membership of six Democratic activists on the Commission.
According to the Ralph Rosenberg, the Commission’s Executive Director, the Governor’s website, media reports last year, and independent analysis, there are three acknowledged Democrats on the Commission: Alicia Claypool, Dr. Mary Chapman, and Debbie Gitchell. Claypool, the Commission’s chair, has given $5,250 to Planned Parenthood, $100 to state representative Ako Abdul-Samad, $3,100 to the state and local Democratic parties, and $700 to Chet Culver.
Mary Chapman gave $600 to the Iowa Democratic Party, $250 to Tom Harkin, $50 to Chet Culver, and several hundred dollars to other Democratic candidates. Debbie Gitchell gave $1,000 to Planned Parenthood, $500 to the Democratic National Committee, and $400 to Tom Harkin.
These three are the only commissioners whose party affiliation can be readily determined, leaving only one more seat that can be lawfully filled by a Democrat. That Democrat appears to have been Nancy Witt. Independent analysis of voting records, confirmed by media reports within the past year, show that Witt is a registered Democrat.
However, the Governor’s website indicates that Witt is now an Independent, which was confirmed this past week by Witt herself in an email with The Iowa Republican (TIR). Whatever she may call herself, her contributions, including several made this year, indicate that she is a Democrat at heart. She and her husband William have given $100 to Culver, $200 to Tom Harkin, $425 to the Black Hawk County Democratic Central Committee, $495 to state representative Bob Kressig, $275 to state representative Doris Kelley, and $125 to state senator Jeff Danielson.
In email correspondence with TIR, Witt states that she doesn’t remember exactly when she made the change in party affiliation but that it occurred several years ago. However, if the voting records and news reports are correct, the change actually occurred sometime in the past year, precisely when another Democrat was appointed by Governor Culver to the Commission.
That recently appointed Democrat is Dr. Keith Johnson of Sioux City. As with most of the Commissioners, Johnson’s party affiliation changes depending on when and who you ask. Independent analysis indicates that Johnson is a registered Democrat, and he was once on the staff of Democratic state senator Jack Hatch.
However, the Governor’s website currently lists him as an Independent, which was confirmed by the Commission’s Executive Director (who is a Democratic donor himself). Attempts were made to reach Johnson for this story but, to date, TIR has not received a response. Johnson did contact the Commission’s Executive Director, who relayed to TIR that Johnson stated he made the decision several years ago, “possibly 2 or 3 years” ago.
The running total so far is 3 confirmed Democrats and 2 Independents who were, at least until recently, Democrats. Another commissioner who recently switched parties is Rich Eychaner, who is labeled a Republican by the Governor’s website and by media reports last year. Independent analysis of voting records, however, indicate that Eychaner is an Independent, which was confirmed by the Commission’s Executive Director.
Whatever Eychaner may call himself, his campaign contributions clearly indicate that he is a Democrat. He has given $7,300 to Barack Obama, $7,500 to Chet Culver, $51,500 to the Iowa Democratic Party, $29,700 to the Democratic National Committee, $250 to Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller, $250 to state representative Ako Abdul-Samad, $1,000 to Planned Parenthood, and $1,250 to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, among many others.
That appears to leave Mark Morain as the sole Republican on the Commission. But though the Governor’s website lists him as a Republican, the Commission’s Executive Director stated in an email to TIR that Morain is now an Independent, making the switch sometime in the last half of last year.
Morain was a member of the unanimous decision by the Commission to support the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling last year legalizing same-sex marriage. At the time he told the Des Moines Register that, “To me, it would not be consistent with Iowa’s long-standing tradition of equality and the right to happiness to pass [a marriage] amendment.”
Out of a total membership of 7 of which only 4 commissioners can be Democrats, there are 3 acknowledged Democrats, 2 others who were until recently registered Democrats but now appear to be nominal Independents, and 1 Republican turned Independent who is a very generous Democratic donor.
This would clearly violate the statutory limit of 4 members of one party on the Commission if Witt and Johnson were pressured by the Culver Administration to change their party affiliation from Democratic to Independent. Even without such overt collusion, certainly the spirit of the law is violated when one party is allowed to circumvent it as the Democrats have in this case.
It is the responsibility of the Iowa Senate to ensure that a nominee’s party affiliation is authentic, and it is the duty of the Iowa Attorney General to investigate any possible scheme to avoid the statutory cap by switching parties.
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