Senate Democrats Reject Wagner Nomination

By James Lynch, Reporter

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By Ellen Kurt

DES MOINES, Iowa – Senate Democrats, who are threatening to reject two of Gov. Terry Branstad’s nominees to the Board of Regents, have nixed the appointment of a former Republican lawmaker to the Iowa Utilities Board.

After caucusing on the nomination of Nick Wagner, the former vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, it was apparent there were not sufficient votes to confirm the Marion engineer, according to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines.

“We did a head count and the votes weren’t there,” he said Thursday.

Thirty-four votes are needed to confirm the governor’s appointees. If Wagner received the full support of the Senate GOP caucus, he would need 10 votes from the 26-member Democratic caucus to be confirmed to the board that has broad responsibility for rates and services of electric, natural gas, and water utilities, the services of communications utilities, and generally supervises all pipelines and the transmission, sale, and distribution of electrical current.

A spokesman for Branstad said the governor does not plan to withdraw Wagner’s nomination, calling him “the kind of bright, talented young leader Iowa deserves on the Iowa Utilities Board.”

“Nick Wagner is extremely qualified, a dedicated public servant and an exemplary community leader,” spokesman Tim Albrecht said. “Senate Democrats have absolutely no reason to vote down Nick Wagner and can demonstrate no plausible reason why he should not serve on this board. Gov. Branstad will continue his fight for Nick Wagner’s confirmation.”

McCoy cited senators’ concerns with two of the three members of the board being from Marion. Swati Dandekar, a former member of the House and Senate, also is from Marion.

Senators also questioned having three former legislators on the board that has broad responsibility for rates and services of electric, natural gas, and water utilities, the services of communications utilities, and generally supervises all pipelines and the transmission, sale, and distribution of electrical current.

Also, McCoy said, Democrats thought at least one member should be an attorney. There has not been an attorney on the board since Rob Bernsten – formerly of Marion – left the board and was replaced by Dandekar.

Wagner, who has no plans to withdraw from consideration, noted that two current utility board members are from Polk County.

“I’m qualified,” said Wagner, 39, who is an electrical engineer. He’s worked on energy and utility projects at The ESCO Group for the past 12 years. “There’s no doubt in my mind I’m qualified.”

He also pointed out April 4, there is no statutory requirement that a member be an attorney.

“That’s why you have staff attorneys,” he said.

Finally, McCoy said, some senators had “issues” with Wagner when dealing with him on appropriations.

“They thought he was not a good listener,” he said.

Before serving in the Iowa House, Wagner served on the Marion City Council.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@sourcemedia.net

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