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Iowa Politics Roundup: GOP Chair Credits Focus on Independent Voters - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 05 November 2010 13:42

Appointment of Three New Justices Key Issue in Transition of Governors

Iowa’s rejection of three Iowa Supreme Court justices this week is a first since the state adopted its merit-selection system for judges in 1962, and the job of appointing three new justices to the state’s highest court is expected to become a hot political issue in the transition between current Governor Chet Culver and Branstad.

“This has never happened before,” said Steve Boeckman, a spokesperson for the Iowa State Bar Association.

Boeckman said the justices would return to their jobs this week, but their terms end December 31. He said the justices could decide to resign prior to their terms ending, given this week’s vote. Courts spokesperson Steve Davis said the court will meet next week to discuss how to handle the transition.

Branstad said it would be a mistake for Culver to rush to appoint three new Iowa Supreme Court justices before his term ends.

“The Judicial Nominating Commission is not balanced. You have 12 Democrats and only one Republican on it, so I think to really restore credibility to the court system it’s important they not rush to judgment to get a nominee to a lame-duck governor,” he said. “It should be I think done in the normal deliberative process.”

Branstad said the Judicial Nominating Commission could be changed by legislation, and he sees that as the solution to politicizing the court.

“Looking to the future, I know there are many people concerned about it becoming a very political situation, and I think the best way to avoid that is have a more balanced system so you don’t have one party dominating and controlling the process of who will be considered for appointment in the future,” he said.

The 15-member commission has 10 days after an opening on the Supreme Court to call a meeting of the commissioners. Within 60 days, the commission must interview applicants and forward a list of three nominees to the governor for each vacancy. The governor then has 30 days to appoint one of those three individuals to serve on the Supreme Court.

Culver said Wednesday that he was reviewing the process for appointing new Iowa Supreme Court justices following Tuesday’s vote against retention of Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit, and David Baker.

“I am reviewing the matter carefully to ensure the judicial-selection process that is utilized now is consistent with the Iowa Constitution, with Iowa law, and with past practices used in the course of both Democratic and Republican administrations in instances when multiple vacancies in our appellate courts have been created simultaneously,” Culver said.

Dvorsky Says Dems Will Lean from Mistakes

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky said that she doesn’t believe the party needs to change its message after suffering widespread losses across the state Tuesday, but she did say the party will have to tweak how it delivers that message.

Dvorsky said the party will be going through numbers precinct-by-precinct and district-by-district to better determine what happened on Election Day, but she also said she’s not sure the party could have done much else.

“They had talked for a long time about this tsunami off the shore that was coming, and one of the things that we always knew is it was a midterm election and there’s history on that, so we knew that nationally that was going to be tough,” she said.

Dvorksy suggested that Iowa actually withstood the GOP wave fairly well, noting that Attorney General Tom Miller and U.S. Representatives Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley, and Dave Loebsack won re-election.

“We stood shoulder-to-shoulder as straight up and tall as we could to be the seawall there and I think we were in some sense successful,” Dvorsky said. “I’m not sure about this, but I think Iowa was the only state in the country that re-elected all its Democratic incumbents” in Congress.

She said the party’s efforts beginning in June to target people who typically don’t vote in midterm elections was a big reason the three congressmen won Tuesday night.

“Would we have liked a different outcome? Sure, but I look around at some of the other state parties, and we held on to Tom Miller in an election that was unbelievable the money that was thrown at that,” Dvorsky said.

But a particularly painful loss Tuesday night was the defeat of Mauro, Dvorksy said.

“I understood that he was slightly behind in the polls, but the loss of Secretary of State Mike Mauro to this state ... . I know it’s a partisan seat and I know it’s an election, but I have to say I believe that’s a loss to all Iowans,” Dvorksy said. “That office is tremendously important to the process, and Mike Mauro has run it with a level of professionalism, a level of commitment to openness and accessibility. I am terribly, terribly disappointed about that one.”

Republicans Take Over House, Focus on Budget

Republicans not only took control of the Iowa House Tuesday but did so in dramatic style, appearing to have won 60 seats.

“They had a pretty big night,” said House Speaker Pat Murphy (D-Dubuque). “We took a bath tonight; there’s no question about that.”

“We did everything we thought we could do to preserve the majority,” Murphy said. “The undecideds – obviously most voted against us. ... We’ll live to fight another day. Tonight, we have to give Republicans credit. They got control of the Iowa House.”

With new power in hand, House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) requested the day after the election that Culver instruct department directors to freeze all discretionary spending until the legislature convenes in January.

“In light of yesterday’s election results and with the pending transition of leadership in the House and the executive branch, we are beginning the hard work of aligning ongoing expenditures with ongoing revenue,” Paulsen wrote in a letter to Culver. “Due to the use of over $700 million of one-time funds to cover the FY2011 general-fund ongoing expenditures, we believe it is necessary to reduce the amount of general-fund expenditures.”

Paulsen said that by freezing state spending, House Republicans will be able to review all spending for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget and identify specific spending reductions.

At the direction of Culver, Department of Management Director Dick Oshlo on Thursday rejected that request.

“As you know, discretionary spending is a very small part of the general-fund budget, and the aforementioned controls apply to discretionary spending,” Oshlo wrote in a letter to Paulsen. “Governor Culver does not have the authority to freeze appropriations for programs unless there is a deficit, and there is no deficit projected for FY 2011. “

Meanwhile, a split legislature looks likely as Democrats appear to have held on to control in the Senate. Democrats won at least 25 seats and appear likely to take at least one more out of two seats with tight vote counts.

Already, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has pledged to block any efforts to vote on a marriage amendment to the Iowa Constitution. He said he hopes the Senate can spend its time on job-creation and improving the economy, rather than spending time on same-sex marriage.

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

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