Thursday, August 18, 2011

Consensus-building Branstad's way

After laying out an ambitious agenda following his inauguration, Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature battled over a number of issues. The resulting extra-long session culminated with Branstad and House Republicans getting their way in some cases and Senate Democrats getting their way in others. The two sides met repeatedly to try and work things out, but could never come to agreement. Everyone held out as long as possible before finally making some concessions. For Branstad, seeking consensus seemed to be out of the question. The governor came into every situation knowing what he wanted and pushing hard to make it happen. But with the legislative session weeks behind him, Branstad hosted the Iowa Education Summit at the end of July. He emerged from the two-day event praising the merits of seeking consensus to help form an education agenda in advance of next year's legislative session. (Notably, one of the Branstad priorities that eventually ended in compromise had to do with changing the approach to state support for preschool.) But some of Branstad's recent actions may be instructive when it comes to understanding his approach to consensus-building. There was his lengthy effort to push David Miles and Jack Evans, president and president pro-tem on the Board of Regents, out of their positions. After initially refusing to resign, the pair stepped down from their leadership positions while staying on the board, which governs the state's universities. That cleared the way for the board to elect Craig Lang president and Bruce Rastetter president pro-tem, GOP loyalists who will presumably follow Branstad's playbook. Branstad found a way to emphasize his message when one bureaucrat didn't give in to his resignation request. He gave a fat pay cut to Chris Godfrey for insisting on finishing out the six-year term as Iowa workers' compensation commissioner he was appointed to in 2009. A special incentive, of sorts. The terms for both the regents and the workers' compensation commissioner are set at six years precisely so they don't always coincide with the terms of governors and are, hopefully, insulated from politicization. If Branstad is hoping to build consensus in any number of areas, he might have considered not vetoing several provisions that are getting his political opponents fired up, some passed with broad bi-partisan support. One was a bill to increase the earned income tax credit for families making less than $45,000. Another was a prohibition on bonuses for state government executives. The third called for maintaining the current number of unemployment offices across the state. He may be building a consensus with those vetoes, but it's between Democratic lawmakers and constituencies like low-income working families and union members affected by the vetoes. They may already lean toward Democrats, but a good leader finds room in his priorities and agenda for such people, as well.

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