Editorial: Branstad ignores issue, fails public

Editorial Board

Over the past couple of weeks, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration has been mired in scandal. As an investigative report by the Des Moines Register found, “Newly disclosed secret settlements between state government and former public employees show that some of the workers believed they were subjected to discrimination, inappropriate behavior and retaliation for blowing the whistle on improper bidding practices.”

On March 21, Gov. Branstad stated that he was unaware of some 24 different secret settlement agreements being made under his administration. Ten days later, he reiterated, “There’s no mastermind behind this.” A reasonable person, though, would find it difficult to believe that the governor was not involved in any capacity.

How is it that at least a dozen state agencies were able to slip past the Governor’s watch and issue these settlements? Moreover, what has each state agency sacrificed in exchange to pay for over $500,000 in settlements to keep former employees quiet?

We may not receive all of the answers in the near future, but the shady nature of Gov. Branstad’s administration, especially in past events regarding whistleblowers, has many Iowans perturbed.

Even if it is found that Gov. Branstad really was in the dark about actions taken by his state agencies, the incidents raise concerns over an out-of-sync executive branch that the governor can’t completely control. Either Gov. Branstad was involved with the dealings or he has failed to uphold and enforce his promise of a transparent and open government – pick your poison. 

The debacle is reminiscent of Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal, only slightly less malicious in nature. Whether either governor was directly involved in their respective incidents is not important. What is important is the underlying theme of deception in government along with an unwavering pattern of cronyism. 

The Pew Research Center shows that trust in government has, not surprisingly, fallen substantially since President Eisenhower’s administration in the 1950s — down from 73 percent to 19 percent. It has become increasingly difficult to place trust in our public officials in the midst of rising scandal. In addition, constituents may not be able to discern a good politician from a bad one, which severely harms the ability of good and effective representatives, wherever they may be, to actually legislate.

The overused quip about politicians being corrupt has become too common. Yet, sure enough a public official reinforces the quip by violating public trust.

With this in mind, Iowans should not settle for a simple slap on the wrist for executive appointees. Gov. Branstad should claim responsibility for the actions of his appointees. The old adage “The buck stops here” comes to mind. Those that violated the law are, after all, his appointees and he is responsible for those he places in positions of power. He needs to earn the trust of his constituents. Simply shrugging off concerns with an executive order, which should have been issued at the onset of his administration, will not suffice. 

Simply ignoring an issue does not make it go away. In fact, ignoring an issue will make a politician look worse in front of their constituents.

“It’s unacceptable. Iowans expect more from government. Iowans deserve better,” Branstad stated. Iowans do deserve better. Iowans deserve a leader they can trust to competently and ethically run their administration. Governor Branstad does not have that trust.