Iowa Politics Roundup: Branstad Picks Durham to Head Economic-Development Department Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 03 December 2010 13:24

Governor-elect Terry Branstad has picked Siouxland Chamber of Commerce President Debi Durham to be the new director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

As Branstad introduced her, the two of them began outlining how they plan to change the department into a public/private partnership and create the 200,000 new jobs in Iowa that Branstad promised on the campaign trail.

“That takes legislation,” Branstad said of the transformation to a public/private partnership. “We’re going to work from the present framework that exists, but we are going to envision where we want to go and we’re going to lay that out. We did some of that during the campaign, and we’re now going to move forward very aggressively on this even during the transition before we take office. But we will then need to work through the legislative process to get the changes made that we want to get made.”

Branstad said he’ll have Durham, 50, start immediately on the analysis of what stays and what goes in the department, although he wasn’t sure if that could be accomplished by January 14.

Durham praised the staff at the current Iowa Department of Economic Development and indicated that perhaps she wouldn’t entirely “clean house” or replace all of the staff once she’s the new director.

“I have worked with this team at the Department of Economic Development, and I know it is comprised of very dedicated individuals, and I look forward to joining them in their efforts as we move this department forward,” Durham said.

More than 82 percent of workers at the Iowa Department of Economic Development are considered “at will” and could be out of a job.

Branstad said Durham will work closely with Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Reynolds, who will be the chair of the new Commission for the Partnership for Economic Progress.

Durham stressed that she can’t do it alone. “Job creation was the cornerstone of their campaign, and I am charged with the task of initiating and preparing the framework for the new department, which will be called the Partnership for Economic Progress,” she said. “I think the key word in this new name is ‘partnership,’ because that really is what it’s about. Debi Durham cannot create 200,000 jobs.”

But Durham said in partnership with the economic-development professionals around the state and those in the education community, state universities, and the private sector, Iowa can create and retain jobs. She said the involvement of the private sector must go beyond membership on state boards. She also said that anything involving public funding will be transparent.

The Iowa Democratic Party was quick to jump on Durham’s comments that Branstad’s goal of creating 200,000 new jobs is a “stretch goal.”

“Iowans deserve an administration that will take job creation seriously instead of abandoning the promises they made on the campaign trail,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky. “Unfortunately, less than a month after being elected, the Branstad/Reynolds administration has abandoned one of its key promises to Iowans.”

2010 Sees Record Number of Midterm Voters

The more than 1.1 million Iowans who voted in the November 2 election represented the highest number of total voters participating in a midterm election in state history, Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro said.

The turnout of 1,133,434 was 54 percent of the state’s 2.1 million active and inactive registered voters. While the percentage was not the highest because past elections had fewer registered voters, the number that turned out was the highest ever.

Voter turnout was announced at a meeting of the State Board of Canvass, which made official all results of the November 2 election except the governor’s race. (That will be canvassed by the General Assembly on January 10. Unofficial results show that Republican Branstad defeated Democrat Chet Culver 52.2 to 42.8 percent.)

Mauro chaired the meeting, certifying results of the election in which he lost his job to Republican Matt Schultz.

Mauro, a former Polk County auditor, has worked in government overseeing elections for 28 years. He told IowaPolitics.com that he has not yet made a decision about his future, despite getting a call from Governor-elect Branstad shortly after the election. He said he hasn’t been formally offered a job from Branstad yet.


Iowa Businesses Feeling More Optimistic

Two new economic forecasts released recently show increased optimism by Iowa businesses.

The Iowa Business Council’s Overall Economic Outlook Survey Index rose to 64.7 in the fourth quarter, more than 3 points higher than three months ago and 17 points higher than a year ago.

The survey was completed by the 21 corporate members of the Iowa Business Council during the second half of November. Sustained strong sales levels and higher capital spending by many of Iowa’s largest employers were two reasons for improvement in overall optimism expressed by business leaders for the coming six months.

“This quarter’s survey results indicate that many companies are expanding their operations, possibly anticipating greater consumer purchasing activity in 2011,” said Tom Aller, president of Interstate Power & Light and chair of the Iowa Business Council. “We’re still cautious, however, in our employment projections. Given the tough economy that business has dealt with over the last few years, attaining levels of steady long-term growth within the many different industry and service sectors represented on the Council remains the goal.”

Meanwhile, for only the second time since May of this year, the monthly Business Conditions Index for the nine-state Mid-America region including Iowa advanced, according to a survey of supply managers released by Creighton University.

Economic optimism as captured by the November business confidence index rose to 67.8 from October’s 62.0 and September’s 51.6.

“This is the second straight significant increase in the confidence index,” said Creighton University Economics Professor Ernie Goss. “While the overall U.S. economy remains weak, as gauged by unemployment rates, individual firms in the Mid-America region are experiencing solid improvements in business conditions. This is translating into a strong economic outlook.”

For an 11th straight month, Iowa’s Business Conditions Index was above growth-neutral. But the index, a leading economic indicator from a survey of supply managers, slumped to 54.7 from 60.2 in October.

“Durable-goods producers in Iowa are reporting the strongest growth among heavy manufacturers in the region,” Goss said. “Agricultural-equipment manufacturing is experiencing very strong upturns in business activity. On the other hand, nondurable-goods manufacturers, particularly food producers, are experiencing pullbacks in economic activity. However, the positives are definitely outweighing the negatives in the state economy. I expect continuing economic progress well into 2011 for the state, even as the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high.”

Farm Bureau Pleased with Election Results

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Lang touted the group’s success in the 2010 election in his address to several hundred members at the group’s 92nd-annual meeting, held at the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines.

Lang said more than 92 percent of the Farm Bureau’s supported candidates won at the polls this November. He said Farm Bureau members helped to elect those who are friendly to livestock and share a vision for a bioeconomy. He indicated that’s a change from the way things have been.

“Continued deficit spending will reduce opportunities for our next generation,” said Lang, a Brooklyn farmer. “We are no longer satisfied with taxation without something of value to show for it. We’re tired of failed policies and empty promises.”

Lang also expressed optimism in the economy.

“We are starting to get past the obstacles, the flagstones that stand in the way of our success,” he said. “The state has been protected from the worst of the recession because of the value of agriculture in Iowa. This state needs farmers. We are the foundation of the economy. We have proven our value to picking up the economy at a time when the entire nation needs a lift.”

Legislative Diversity Takes a Step Backward

The number of women and minorities in the Iowa legislature will take a slight step backwards in the upcoming legislative session following a major change in membership.

The legislature will have 38 new members beginning in January, 30 of whom are Republicans. But the number of women will decline by three, from 34 to 31, while the number of minority members will decline by one, from six to five.

Five women legislators retired this year, including four long-serving veterans of the House: Representatives Marcella Frevert (D-Emmetsburg), Delores Mertz (D-Ottosen), Polly Bukta (D-Clinton), Jodi Tymeson (R-Winterset), and sophomore member Elesha Gayman (D-Dubuque).

Two other women were not re-elected: Doris Kelley (D-Waterloo) was defeated by Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), while Geri Huser (D-Altoona) was defeated by Kim Pearson (R-Pleasant Hill).

Women also lost a number of committee leadership roles in the legislature. Four Republican women and 23 men will serve as committee chairs in the Iowa House, compared to nine women and 18 men under Democratic leadership. Senate Democrats have not yet announced their committee chairs.

The four women serving as House chairs will be Representatives Renee Schulte of Cedar Rapids, Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn, Annette Sweeney of Alden, and Linda Miller of Bettendorf.

However, Representative Linda Upmeyer (R-Garner) will become the first woman majority leader in the Iowa House during the upcoming session. Upmeyer has been active in Purse PAC, which encourages women candidates. She said she thinks it’s purely coincidental that fewer women will be in the legislature and in leadership positions during the coming session. She said a lot of it has to do with women simply not running for elected office.

“I’m a firm believer that women that step forward and run for office or leadership have a really great opportunity to be elected,” Upmeyer said. “I think women don’t step up as often; that’s why I think there are fewer women. But when they do and when they’re really interested in doing the amount of work it takes to be elected – it’s a big job – then they have the same shot at being elected as men do.”

Upmeyer noted she likely would have been a committee chair if she hadn’t run for a leadership position, and said House Speaker-elect Kraig Paulsen has always been supportive of women in the caucus.

“I know Kraig Paulsen to be a real advocate for women in these kinds of roles,” Upmeyer said. “I know that’s true.”

Despite a net loss of three female legislators, four women were elected to the House for the first time in 2010. Republican Mary Ann Hanusa of Treynor took over the seat of Representative Doug Struyk (R-Council Bluffs). And Democrats Anesa Kajtazovic of Waterloo, Mary Wolfe of Clinton, and Ruth Ann Gaines of Des Moines took over seats formerly held by Democratic Representatives Kerry Burt, Polly Bukta, and Wayne Ford, respectively.

Gaines, an African-American, has big shoes to fill in the seat held by Ford, the state’s first African-American legislator who retired this year. The only other African-American legislator who won’t be back in 2011 is Representative Kerry Burt (D-Waterloo), who resigned after a drunk-driving arrest and questions about whether he dodged paying full tuition for his children at a private school.

Representative Deb Berry (D-Waterloo) said she feels the ethnic makeup of the legislature continues to improve, despite the loss of an African-American legislator. But she’d still like to see more diversity.

Berry noted that African-Americans make up about 3 percent of the population of Iowa and said the five black legislators out of 150 total is representative of that percentage.

“If you make a statewide comparison percentage-wise we are above that, we’re over that,” Berry said. “So I think that’s good. Could we reach out and get other ethnic groups? I think with a growing Hispanic population, I’d like to see more Hispanics run for seats, and Asians, too, for that matter.”

Branstad Holding Off on 2012 Presidential Pick

Branstad emphasized that he will not endorse a candidate in the 2012 presidential campaign at this time.

“I’m not ruling out the possibility at some future date ... but I want to be very welcoming and encourage all potential Republican candidates to come to Iowa, spend their time here,” Branstad said. “I think I’ve demonstrated how you can win elections in Iowa. You do it by going to all 99 counties and meeting with a lot of people and articulating a vision and a plan for where you want to lead the state or, in this case, the country.”

Branstad said presidential candidates coming to Iowa is good for the economy. He said he’d also encourage the Republican Party of Iowa to host a straw poll next summer as it has in the past.

Roughly 30,000 to 33,000 Republicans attended the 2007 straw poll at Iowa State University, which is seen as a first test of a candidate’s strength and organization.

But several better-known presidential candidates – including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain of Arizona, and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson – skipped the 2007 straw poll.

“I think not participating is certainly not a very good strategy,” Branstad said. “So I would certainly encourage people to come and to participate.”

This weekly summary comes from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service. Reporter Andrew Duffelmeyer and other correspondents contributed to this report.