Iowa Politics Today: Branstad wants to be ‘go-between’ for Trump, China

Source: By The Gazette • Posted: Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Monday, March 6, 2017:

RESPONSE COMING: The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is preparing a response to questions an Iowa senator wraised about the succession of Gov. Terry Branstad if and when he leaves office to be President Donald Trump’s ambassador to China. Sen. David Johnson, an Ocheyedan independent, believes that if the governor’s office is vacated, the powers and duties of the governor will “devolve” to Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. However, it’s not clear to him what becomes of the office of lieutenant governor. Johnson asked the attorney general to issue an official opinion on the succession process by Feb. 15. Monday he asked the Attorney General’s Office about the status of that request. AG spokesman Geoff Greenwood said a response is forthcoming, although he doesn’t know when. It may be an attorney general’s opinion or it simply may be a response. Branstad believes he will be asked to appear before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee as soon as early April and he expects confirmation could follow soon after.

BRANSTAD AS US-CHINA ‘GO-BETWEEN:’ Gov. Terry Branstad said once he is confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to China, he hopes to help President Donald Trump’s administration advocate for trade deals and other policies that are better for the U.S. than those currently in place, but also remain beneficial to China. “The best deal is a win-win, which would be better for America but also good for China,” Branstad said. “My goal is to try to be the go-between between the two strong leaders … and hopefully working out some of these difficult issues.” The U.S. exported nearly $116 billion in trade goods to China in 2016, according to federal data, and Iowa exported $2.3 billion worth of goods to China in 2015, according to the US-China Trade Council. Some business leaders are concerned President Trump’s calls for renegotiated trade deals could lead to a trade war that could adversely impact Iowa ag producers and businesses.

TIGHT-LIPPED LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will succeed Gov. Terry Branstad once he becomes President Trump’s U.S. ambassador to China, is playing it close to the vest on her eventual transition to power. At the administration’s weekly news conference, Reynolds declined to discuss possible candidates she might appointee to serve as her lieutenant governor once she is expected to be sworn in as governor later this year. Reynolds said the timeline is still unknown given the uncertainty surrounding Branstad’s confirmation as ambassador by the U.S. Senate, but she said she expects a “seamless transition” once Branstad exits and she takes the reins of state government. “There’s going to be plenty of time for me to lay out what my objectives are but right now we’re focused on the work that’s at hand” while the 2017 Legislature is in session, Reynolds told reporters. Branstad insisted he has not made recommendations as to who should be Iowa’s next lieutenant governor, telling his weekly news conference that it’s Reynolds’ choice to make and “I have great trust in her judgment.”

PUBLIC INPUT SOUGHT: State officials are seeking ideas from Iowa citizens on how best to utilize $21 million the state will receive over the next 10 years as part of a federal settlements with German automaker Volkswagen. Iowa is in line to receive money flowing through environmental mitigation trust funds that is set aside specifically for projects that reduce emission of nitrogen oxides. Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe joined Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds at their regular Monday press conference to invite Iowans to provide their suggestions on how the funds should be spent. Iowa has developed a new website to provide information about the settlement and collect input on how the state should plan for using the mitigation funds.

According to federal officials, the settlements resolve allegations that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by the sale of about 590,000 model year 2009 to 2016 diesel motor vehicles equipped with “defeat devices” in the form of computer software designed to cheat on federal emissions tests. “The settlement provides for an array of eligible projects that could benefit Iowa. We are asking Iowans for their input on the types of projects they believe will achieve the greatest long-term impact,” Branstad said. The public comment period will be open until April 14. Once all public comments have been collected, a working group comprised of officials from several state agencies and coordinated by the Iowa Department of Transportation will develop a mitigation plan that will be submitted to the VW settlement trustee, according to state officials.

BRANSTAD DEFENDS RFS PROVISIONS: Gov. Terry Branstad gave assurances Monday that federal Renewable Fuels Standard procedures would not be changed by the new Trump administration. Reports surfaced last week that efforts were underway to change some biofuel policies that were being pushed by influential oil refinery officials, but Branstad flatly told his Monday news conference “it’s not going to happen” based on assurances he had received from “a lot of people” – including his son, Eric, who directed Trump’s presidential campaign in Iowa and now serves as a White House liaison in the U.S. Commerce Department. “I know the rumors and I know who is involved in it and I can tell you they’re not true,” the Iowa governor said in discussing an effort to shift ethanol blending requirements from distributors to retailers – a change he called impractical that “was shot down real quick.”

BUILDING SUPPORT: Members of the Iowa chapter of the American Institute of Architects set up shop Monday in the first-floor rotunda at the state Capitol in hopes of bending lawmakers’ ears as part of Design Professionals Day on the Hill. AIA members focused on issues pertinent to the architecture profession including three major principles to enhance Iowa’s vitality and viability: licensure titling, statue of repose, and alternative project delivery. AIA members pressed the point that Iowa has the longest statute of repose for architects of any state at 15 years. They say the standard is too lengthy, given that owners change uses, conduct maintenance or create unforeseen uses that cause problems the architect has no control over. AIA Iowa supports legislation that would reduce Iowa’s statute of repose from 15 years to eight years for commercial and residential construction.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This bill isn’t ready for prime time. It should never been brought to this chamber and I urge people to vote against it.” — Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, in opposing a bill Monday that would exempt farm operations from having electrical work done by a licensed professional and would not require that the completed work be inspected.