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March 25th, 2014

Register’s Agenda: Liberal Partisanship, Make Governor’s Race Competitive, Omit AFSCME’s Role

The Des Moines Register has serious problems. Circulation is down, their online pay wall is easier to navigate than a suburban cul-de-sac and their political staff routinely gets scooped on stories by part-time bloggers.

The Register is desperately hoping for a big political year in Iowa. They need it to boost their declining circulation and ad sales. Unfortunately for the Register, their own poll released last month shows Governor Branstad remains very popular and his reelection remains a near certainty. His opponent, liberal Des Moines politician Jack Hatch continues to languish below 30 percent.

For a prime example of the Register’s agenda, all one needed to do was look at the Register’s online edition on Monday. Instead of focusing on the executive order Branstad issued, the steps he took to ensure transparency in Iowa government and his response to the story they’ve been promoted for the past week, this was the headline for the Des Moines Register’s story:

Register partisan headline

Yes, despite a flurry of developments and responses by the state’s chief executive, the most important element of the story, according to the Des Moines Register, is a partisan attack by one of the most partisan Democrat senators in the state. The headline is shameless and exposes the Register’s true agenda.

The clearly partisan headline is just the latest attempt to try to smear Terry Branstad in an election year. They want to make the governor’s race close, so what do they do? Send their most liberally partisan reporter to dig up a supposed scandal by talking to disgruntled former employees.

While Jason Clayworth was on the political beat for the Register, he served as the Iowa Democratic Party’s de facto mouthpiece. Any attack the Dems wanted made public, they simply contacted Clayworth and he regurgitated it in the Register. Now on the “investigative” beat, Clayworth is up to his old tricks.

Clayworth published a hit piece on Terry Branstad on Sunday, March 16, alleging he the governor fired state employees because of their political affiliations and then paid them off to keep the firings silent.

The problem is, the facts got buried in the hyperbole. Out of the six former state employees Clayworth cited, only two were Democrats. Two were independents. The other two were registered Republicans. So much for the firings being partisan, but that pesky little fact did not appear until the very bottom of Clayworth’s extensive article.

However, in the very first sentence, the author set the tone for his hit piece by writing most of the former employees “claimed their jobs were eliminated because they have Democratic ties”. Disgruntled former employees make all sorts of accusations. That does not make their claims true.

Also lacking from Clayworth’s “investigation” was any modicum of perspective. Governor Branstad campaigned throughout 2010 on the promise that he would reduce the size of state government. He followed through on that promise by cutting more than 1,000 state jobs, saving Iowa taxpayers millions of dollars.

Additionally, any new governor wants to bring new people into his administration. Branstad’s predecessors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver shuffled employees out en masse to replace with their own people. Those facts never appeared in Clayworth’s article, either. Nor was their any investigation into “secret payments” or confidentiality agreements brokered by previous administrations.

One also has to question the timing of the Register’s original report. They knew full well that Governor Branstad was out of the state on vacation for the entire week, allowing their story a full week to take root before he could respond.

Branstad’s office sends reporters the governor’s schedule each Friday. The fact that they published it at a time when he could not conduct a proper internal investigation and respond to the allegations calls into question the Register’s motives.

Then, in true tabloid style, the Register ambushed Branstad right after he got off the plane at the Des Moines Airport on Friday following a weeklong vacation in Arizona. Anything to keep the story alive.

Governor Branstad conducts a press conference every single Monday morning. He answers every question reporters have for him. This is a totally different approach than his Democrat predecessor Chet Culver, who rarely spoke to the media. There is no reason the Register could not wait until Monday for Branstad to properly address the situation.

Now, he has. Branstad ensured every single settlement agreement with laid off state workers will be published for the public to see. There will be no more confidentiality agreements.

“After a thorough review, the facts show employees were not terminated based on political affiliation,” Branstad said Monday. “I am troubled and disappointed by the use of confidentiality agreements. This practice of keeping information from the taxpayers is unacceptable and wrong.”

Branstad continued, “I’ve signed Executive Order 85 today to ensure the executive branch operates in a transparent manner, ending the use of these confidentiality agreements, increasing accountability, and making employee settlements readily available for taxpayer viewing online.”

Here are the facts:

–1,000+ state positions eliminated

–321 employee settlements occurred since January 14, 2011

–24 of the 321 settlements contained confidentiality agreements

–Only 10 of those 24 settlements included cash payouts

–All of the settlement agreements are now posted online

In every sector, public and private, settlements are negotiated when employees are laid off. They are better known as severance packages. Often, confidentiality agreements are reached. Sometimes these agreements are initiated by the employee, sometimes by the employer.

However, government should be transparent. It was wrong to not divulge the circumstances and amounts of these settlements. This is not, however, a major scandal, no matter how badly the Des Moines Register and the Iowa Democrats want it to be one.

From now on, in Governor Branstad’s administration, each employee settlement will be cleared through the attorney general’s office and made public. Confidentiality agreements are now banned. Situation addressed, case closed.

Where’s AFSCME?

Oddly silent in this supposedly huge scandal is the state employees’ union, AFSCME. They are not mentioned a single time in any of the Des Moines Register’s thousands of words of “investigative” reporting. Why not?

Shouldn’t a true investigative piece tell us what role the state employees’ union played in all of this? After all, looking at the documentation, it is obvious thatAFSCME helped negotiate these supposedly scandalous settlements and confidentiality agreements. Did the Register even seek comment from AFSCME leader Danny Homan, one of Governor Branstad’s most vocal critics?

Some important tidbits about AFSCME: They are huge donors to the Iowa Democratic Party and Iowa Democrat candidates and officials.

AFSCME has endorsed Branstad’s Democrat opponent Jack Hatch and will likely donate $100,000+ to help Hatch defeat Branstad, if they haven’t already. AFSCME donated $100,000 to their preferred Democrat gubernatorial candidate Tyler Olson before he dropped out of the race late last year.

What role did major Democrat donor AFSCME play in these negotiated settlements that Iowa Democrat officials supposedly find so appalling? When will the Des Moines Register report on that? And why didn’t they already?

We at openly admit our partisanship on our home page (“News for Republicans, by Republicans”). We wish the Des Moines Register would do the same.

About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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