On Monday afternoon, Democrats in the Iowa Senate voted down two of Governor Terry Branstad’s nominees for the Board of Regents. The Senate rejected Robert Cramer, a Des Moines businessman with ties to a conservative group by a vote of 27 to 23. Appointees need at least 34 votes in favor of their confirmation to be confirmed. The Senate also rejected a second six-year term for Regent president Craig Lang. Lang only could muster 30 votes in his favor.
In both cases, Democrats blocked the confirmation of both individuals, but in the case of Craig Lang, Republican Brad Zaun voted with the Democrats in opposition to Lang. Zaun has a history of voting against gubernatorial appointees. Several weeks ago, Zaun also joined Democrats in not recommending either candidate in a vote of the education committee. Zaun has stated that he thinks too many influential people are selected to serve on the board of regents. However, in 2005, he did vote to confirm Tom Bedell, the wealthy son of a former Democrat congressman from western Iowa.
Democrats had signaled for weeks that they might vote down two of Branstad’s nominees, but on Monday, they followed through on their threats even though blocking nominees is not common practice. Democrats noted on numerous occasions that 99.2 percent of the governor’s nominees had been confirmed. Yet, it seemed as if they were making that statement to justify voting against Cramer and Lang.
Democrats opposed Cramer and Lang for different reasons. Cramer was opposed mainly because of his affiliation with the Bob Vander Plaats’ group, The FAMiLY Leader, and for his support of traditional marriage. Numerous Republican senators spoke out against the Democrat litmus test, but it didn’t matter. Their minds were made up.
Senate Democrats seemed to employ doublespeak at times. On one hand, they would say that they were not opposing Cramer for his religious beliefs, but in the next sentence, they would talk about how his views on marriage disqualify him to serve as a regent. Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids bluntly said that he was opposing Cramer based solely on the gay marriage issue. Democrats can’t seem to comprehend that many people object to gay marriage because of their religious beliefs. Republicans put up an admirable fight, but their message was completely lost on their liberal colleagues.
Craig Lang was denied a second term on the Board of Regents mainly because of the fiasco surrounding the Harkin Institute at Iowa State University. Senate Democrats painted Lang as a partisan and divisive force on the board, but as Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix pointed out, in the last 202 votes of the regents, only one of them wasn’t unanimous. That vote only had one dissenting board member and that was Ruth Harkin, not Craig Lang.
The politicization of Craig Lang came at the hands of the Des Moines Register and the Harkins, not the Board of Regents. To this day, the Des Moines Register has failed to accurately report on what really transpired with the Harkin Institute. They made it seem like Lang and other Republicans on the board were on a mission to end the institute, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. After the institute was approved by a vote of the regents in 2011, the regents themselves didn’t have anything to do with it. Former ISU President Gregory Geoffroy, who also sits on the board of the Harkin Institute, composed the memorandum of understanding that Sen. Matt McCoy, the Harkins, and other Democrats are so upset about.
After the Harkin’s complained about the institute’s academic freedom being restricted, current ISU President Steven Leath tried to rectify the situation by making some concessions. Leath’s relaxed arrangement did nothing to pacify the Harkins, and they, not Lang, chose to take their ball and go elsewhere. If anything, Lang’s confirmation was blocked because he actually upheld a current policy of one of the regent universities that clearly states all agricultural research at the university must be coordinated with the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD). Lang didn’t create that policy. It’s been in place for over 50 years.
What happened in the Iowa Senate on Monday was just another example of politics at its worst. How ironic is it that the wife of a U.S. Senator, who doesn’t spend any real time in Iowa, can serve as a regent and get appointed to another term, but a guy like Lang can’t? How ironic is it that a guy like Michael Gartner was qualified to serve as regent after suing Iowa State University over it’s newspaper, but Lang is unqualified to serve because he stood up for the school’s long-time policy on research.
The future ramifications of the Senate Democrats blockade of Cramer and Lang are unknown, but if gubernatorial appointments get more partisan in the future, the Democrats only have themselves to blame. Branstad now must find two new individuals to appoint to the Board of Regents. It is likely he will appoint them after the April 15th deadline, which means they will begin serving on the board and face confirmation next spring. Branstad could re-nominate both Cramer and Lang, but that seems unlikely in this political climate.
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