Weekly News Roundup: GOPers Criticize Anthem Protests, Pate Often Missed Key Meetings, Fitzgerald Questions Budget Fix Plan

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Iowa Republicans, Kirk Ferentz criticize National Anthem protests

In response to President Trump’s recent comments that NFL players who kneel in protest of systemic racism during the national anthem should be fired, teams and owners from across the league joined together this week to kneel, link arms, or stay in the locker room during the anthem to defy the president. This didn’t sit well with Iowa Republicans. “I would rather not comment on what individuals do that they call freedom of speech,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, “but when a knee is involved, I figure the only time that you get on your knees is to pray.” Sen. Joni Ernst said she respected protesters’ right to free speech but added she had the right to stop watching football in response. And Gov. Kim Reynolds called the protests “so disrespectful” to military veterans.

University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz — the state’s highest-paid public employee — also weighed in, saying he supported his players protesting but not on the field. Matt Campbell, head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones, struck a different tone, saying he would support his players if they chose to protest. In a tweet, his wide receiver, Allen Lazard, encouraged players to #TakeaKnee, although the Cyclones don’t take the field until after the Anthem is finished regardless.

The protests began in 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee in protest of police violence against African Americans.

Paul Pate often missed meetings of key executive panel

Secretary of State Paul Pate has failed to appear in person for more than half of the meetings of the state’s five-member Executive Council on which he serves, according to an Associated Press review of meeting minutes. Pate missed 20 of the 76 meetings held during his most recent tenure as secretary of state and phoned in to another 21. The council’s duties include approving emergency spending, appointing outside attorneys, and determining insurance plans for state employees. Although Pate’s attendance record is worse than the council’s other members, his spokesperson Kevin Hall defended his attendance record, saying phoning into meetings is common and that Pate missed other meetings for reasons including caring for his sick mother and going on vacation. Hall said Pate had a doctor’s appointment during another meeting at which the council approved fees for attorneys defending the state’s new restrictions on collective bargaining.

State treasurer questions legality of budget fix plan

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat, on Friday sent a letter to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds claiming that her plan to balance the state’s budget using $13 million from the Iowa Economic Emergency Fund “would not be in compliance with Iowa law.” The dispute involves varying interpretations of a law that allows the governor to transfer up to $50 million in emergency funds without legislative approval only if the estimate of “general fund receipts” during the fiscal year’s final quarter is “at least one-half of one percent less than the comparable estimate made during the third quarter of the fiscal year.” Otherwise, Reynolds may be forced to call a special legislative session to resolve the budget shortfall. In the past, the governor has typically disregarded Fitzgerald’s advice, and on Friday her chief of staff Jake Ketzner mocked the treasurer in a tweet that was later deleted.

Depositions reveal how Board of Regents sidestepped state’s open meetings law in U of I presidential hire

This week, the Associated Press also revealed details of how former Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter held a series of meetings in July 2015 at his Ames business office with Bruce Harreld, whom the board later controversially hired as the University of Iowa’s new president. By holding multiple meetings with Harreld, a former IBM executive, the board was able to avoid having a majority of its members present at any single time, which would have required public disclosure. The details emerged in depositions board members gave in response to a lawsuit alleging they violated the state’s open meetings law. Rastetter testified that he didn’t consider the meetings “an official Board of Regents matter” but that he scheduled more than one “to specifically make sure we were in compliance” with the law. He also said that he arranged the meetings at the urging of businessman Jerre Stead, a university donor. No other presidential candidates received similar treatment.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.