Branstad Sticking With Regents’ Nominees Despite Senate Opposition

By James Q. Lynch, Reporter

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks during the Health and Human Services Committee panel meeting at the National Governors Association's winter meetings in Washington Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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By Ryan Jones

DES MOINES, Iowa – Gov. Terry Branstad continues to stand behind his three nominees to the Iowa Board of Regents despite a new indication one or more of them may not win Senate confirmation.

The governor does not plan to withdraw the nomination of Regents President Craig Lang, a Brooklyn farmer, or Grimes construction executive Robert Cramer, who have run into opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Confirmation of a third nominee, Webster City physician Subhash Sahai, has been recommended by the Senate Education Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said that after his 26-member caucus discussed Branstad’s appointees he told the governor’s staff Thursday afternoon “who I think might face a challenge” winning confirmation. He did not specifically say that either Lang or Cramer is in trouble, but Democrats have voiced no objections to Branstad’s other nominees.

“You can jump to whatever conclusions you want,” Gronstal said.

After receiving Gronstal’s briefing, Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor’s position was unchanged.

“The governor stands behind his nominees and believes these Washington, D.C., style attacks from the Iowa Senate Democrats should have no place here,” Albrecht said. “It is disappointing and sad that Senate Democrats have behaved in such a partisan way.”

Lang and Cramer face challenges getting the 34 affirmative votes needed for confirmation. Lang, a former Iowa Farm Bureau president, has been criticized for academic freedom issues related to ISU’s ill-fated Harkin Institute, while Senate Democrats raised concerns about Cramer’s activism on socially conservative issues.

Branstad has written to each senator to make the case for the nominees. Lang, Cramer and Sahai “bring diversity, experience, knowledge and expertise that we need on the Board of Regents, Branstad said earlier this week.

He noted under Lang’s leadership the board selected Steven Leath as president of the Iowa State University and William Ruud as president of the University of Northern Iowa, pushed for increased UNI funding, started to address the tuition set-aside issue and froze tuition for in-state students.

Cramer’s contracting experience will be valuable as the University of Iowa undertakes $1 billion in flood rebuilding projects, Branstad said.

He asked senators to look at his nominees’’ qualifications and “not make decisions based on political litmus tests.”

If the Lang and Cramer nominations are in trouble, Albrecht said. “it’s political, it’s partisan, and it’s extremely disappointing.”

“We would hope Senate Democrats are better than this,” he said. “We shall see.”

Responding to rumors that Regent Ruth Harkin, the wife of the senator, has been calling Democratic state senators asking them to reject Lang, Gronstal said he has received no reports of her lobbying.

“I have no knowledge of that,” he said.

The Senate must act on gubernatorial appointments by April 15.

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