Iowa Politics Roundup: Perry, Palin Excluded from Ames Straw Poll Ballot Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Hannah Hess and Lynn Campbell   
Monday, 25 July 2011 10:10

The ballot for the August 13 Ames Straw Poll will include nine names, but former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Texas Governor Rick Perry are notably absent from the list.

By a 6-5 vote, members of Iowa’s Republican State Central Committee on Saturday determined that the final ballot will include former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

That’s in addition to the six candidates guaranteed a spot by spending at least $15,000 each to reserve space at the Ames Straw Poll: Minnesota U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, former Godfather’s Pizza Chief Executive Officer Herman Cain, Michigan U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter, Texas U.S. Representative Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

Perry and Palin were proposed for inclusion but rejected.

“Because they are not officially declared, then where do you draw the line?” asked Bill Schickel, Republican State Central Committee member.

Republican Party of Iowa Chair Matt Strawn cast the deciding vote in two rounds of ballot choices. First, the committee voted to exclude Palin and Perry. When Perry’s name was again raised for consideration, another 6-5 vote killed the proposal.

Ultimately, Schickel said, it came down to a matter of fairness.

National polls released Friday by CNN and Fox News showed increasing enthusiasm for Perry and Palin. However, neither officially has declared candidacy or formed an exploratory committee.

Other names not on the ballot included New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, and former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer.

Huntsman’s name was added despite his earlier announcement that he would not compete in Iowa. Romney, who is considered the national frontrunner, also said he would not actively compete in this year’s straw poll. Romney was the winner of the 2007 Ames Straw Poll, spending about $2 million in that effort.

All nine candidates on this year’s straw-poll ballot will be invited to participate in the nationally televised Republican presidential debate at Iowa State University in Ames two days prior to the straw poll.

The Ames Straw Poll, a fundraiser for the Republican Party, is considered a key test of a candidate’s organizational strength and campaign prowess. More than 14,000 Republicans cast ballots at the Ames Straw Poll in 2007. The event also draws hundreds of reporters and attention from the national media.

Republican National Committee member Steve Scheffler told last week that the committee was obligated to list candidates beyond the six who bought space for the straw poll to make the results a credible reflection of Iowans’ preferences.

Scheffler said the ballot “ought to include anyone deemed viable,” and he placed Perry and Palin in that category.

But committee members were divided Saturday on what criteria should be used to determine the names on the ballot. Time spent campaigning in Iowa, qualified candidacy, and popularity in national polls could be factors, they said.

Republican National Committee member Kim Lehman suggested only including people who had formed an exploratory committee for president, while State Central Committee member Trudy Caviness, of Ottumwa, said she had a hard time including candidates who hadn’t stepped up and said they’re in, according to live tweets from the meeting by Des Moines Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich.

In 2007, the State Central Committee placed former Tennessee U.S. Senator Fred Thompson on the ballot when he was still weeks away from declaring his candidacy. The committee also added New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain to the ballot, in addition to the eight who had reserved space at the Ames Straw Poll. – Hannah Hess

Lawmaker Calls for Government Oversight Committee to Review Godfrey’s Pay Cut

A key Democratic lawmaker concerned about Republican Governor Terry Branstad cutting the salary of the state’s workers’ compensation commissioner is calling for the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to review the matter.

State Representative Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) is questioning whether the Iowa governor has the unilateral right to “change the direction” of the state workers’ compensation program given that its commissioner has a six-year, fixed term established in state law.

“As ranking member of the House Rules & Administration Committee, I am troubled by the governor crossing the line and trying to monopolize a power that belongs equally to the General Assembly and that affects the lives of thousands of Iowans,” Isenhart said in an e-mail last week to “The provision of health care to workers injured on the job is not a political question that gets re-opened with every election.”

But given that Republicans control the Iowa House, it was not clear whether the joint House-Senate committee that continues to meet between legislative sessions will look at the issue.

Branstad recently cut Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey’s annual salary from about $109,000 to $73,259 after he refused to resign. Godfrey’s new salary is the lowest level of his pay grade and is about $35,000 lower than the 12 deputies he supervises.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds on July 18 defended Godfrey’s cut in pay. She said Branstad ran for governor to change the direction of government and needs to have confidence in his leadership team. Branstad spokesperson Tim Albrecht on July 19 provided further reasons why the administration does not have confidence in Godfrey.

“The governor has heard from a number of Iowa’s small-business owners who were extremely concerned with Mr. Godfrey’s job performance, particularly with regard to rising costs associated with worker’s compensation premiums,” Albrecht said. “In the last four years, Iowa has gone from the 45th least expensive in workers’ comp to 36th, so under Mr. Godfrey’s leadership, it’s actually gotten more expensive to do business at a time when we need to be more competitive. Workers’ comp claims have become too expensive for our job creators.”

But Isenhart noted that in the two years Reynolds served in the Iowa Senate, he was vice chair of the joint Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee on which she served. He said he doesn’t recall Reynolds questioning the program’s effectiveness or the commissioner’s performance.

“So I, for one, am highly skeptical that the salary action taken by the governor is justified from a performance standpoint,” Isenhart said. “Rather, through this strong-arm tactic, the governor is staking claim to a political outcome, which he has no right to command.”

Isenhart said he’s encouraged state Representative Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights) and state Senator Thomas Courtney (D-Burlington), chairs of the Government Oversight Committee, “to bring clarity to this matter.” Over the years, the committee has investigated various scandals, including those relating to inflated salaries at the Central Iowa Employment & Training Consortium and Iowa Association of School Boards.

Isenhart also said he asked state Representative Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig), chair of the Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, to address this situation during the 2012 legislative session if the Government Oversight Committee does not address it before then.

Albrecht said it’s common for a new governor to ask agency and department heads to resign so the governor can replace them with people who share his vision. He said the legislature sets the term of the commissioner, so Godfrey has the right to stay, despite Branstad’s request that he resign.

Godfrey was first appointed to be the workers’ compensation commissioner in 2006 by Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack. However, the Iowa Senate rejected Godfrey’s appointment at that time. He was then re-appointed to the position in 2007 by Democratic Governor Chet Culver and was re-confirmed in 2009. His current term ends in April 2015.

Albrecht said the governor sets the commissioner’s salary, and he’s exercised that right.

“The legislature said this particular position should have a fixed term. However, the legislature also directed the governor to set the salary of this commissioner,” Albrecht said. “Mr. Godfrey is exercising his right, and governor is exercising his ability to set the pay, which was the last means we had to show our disapproval of the work being done by Godfrey. This is part of the checks and balances of state government.” – Lynn Campbell

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