UPDATE: Senate rejects governor’s DHS director

"Your theory of the indispensible man — I just can't accept that," Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley said during today's debate. "Everybody is replaceable."

At 9:10 a.m., the Iowa Senate took up the nomination of Gene Gessow to be the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.  In Iowa, governors nominate the folks who serve in the top jobs in state agencies, but 34 of the 50 state senators must vote "yes" on the nomination in order to confirm the person for the job.

Governor Chet Culver held a news conference yesterday to pressure Republicans in the senate to support Gessow's nomination.  There are 18 Republicans and 32 Democrats in the Senate.  It means if all 32 Democrats support Culver's nominee, then at least two Republicans are needed to vote "yes" on a nomination in order for the person to be confirmed.

It's 9:14 a.m. now and Senator Jack Hatch (D-Des Moines) is still talking, about Gessow's work as manager o fthe state's Medicaid program. Gessow has been acting director of the DHS for the past six months.  Senator Rich Olive (D-Story City) offered a few positive remarks about Gessow, then Hatch regained the microphone.  Hatch began questioning Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley, asking why all 18 Republicans intend to vote against Gessow's confirmation.

By 9:29 a.m., the Hatch/McKinley conversation prompted another senator to call a "point of order" (suggesting that senator was objecting to the nature of the discussion) and the principles in this drama are now standing in the central point of the senate — the "well" — having a private conversation with Senate President Jack Kibbie.

At 9:32 a.m., "We just don't ask one another how we'll vote," Kibbie advised once that private discussion broke up and the Hatch/McKinley "debate" continued. 

"You can't have somebody in state govt that is not forthcoming and is not transparent to both sides of the aisle," McKinley said. 

"I'm assuming you're talking about…Atalissa," Hatch pursued.

"…There was more than one instance," McKinely replied.

By 9:36 a.m., more Republican senators started yelling "point of order" right after another terse Hatch v. McKinley exchange and there are lots more people in the "well" now having a private conversation.

By 9:41 a.m., that private discussion was over and Hatch made some more remarks, without directly questioning any Republican.

Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) asked to speak, suggesting this "ain't bean bag" and if you're a state senator, then you should be willing to stand up and say why you're not supporting a nominee. "You'veeither got the guts," McCoy began, but then Republicans senators started yelling their "point of order" objections. 

By 9:48 a.m., the private conversation was over and the Senate President issued this advice: "Refrain from personal attacks on one another."

McCoy still had the floor and concluded with this:  "Any time it gets a little tough here…it's easier to invoke Rule 9 or to state that, you know, someone some how crossed the line than dealing with (the issue)…I think your silence is deafening….You owe it to the people of Iowa to tell them why you're not willing to support (Gessow)."

Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) was next:  "I'd just as soon not see all of you for about six weeks." That drew laughter. "I know that we're pushing the edge of decorum," Quirmbach continued, before adding: "Is Gene Gessow the best man in the world for this job?  I don't know….(but) this would be a disastrous time to have a leadership vacuum in this department."

Senator Keith Kreiman (D-Bloomfield) said he had "some concerns about the DHS" but Kreiman said Gessow "has been open to listen to comments, complaints, to provide facts and has helped me do my job as a legislator."

Senate Daryl Beall (D-Fort Dodge) said a week ago he would have voted against Gessow's confirmation, but Beall said Gessow's actions had changed his mind. "I'm not convinced he has that 'vision thing'…but he is a hard worker…I appreciate that in a public servant…He has earned my vote."

At 10:00 a.m., the floor was Senator Hatch's again, for closing remarks on Gessow's nomination.

At 10:10 a.m., Hatch finished his remarks.  The senate voting machine was opened.  All 32 Democrats voted for Gessow.  All 18 Republicans voted no.  Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) switched his "yes" vote to "no" — a parliamentary move that allows Gronstal to file a motion to reconsider the nomination if two Republicans chance their minds and decide to vote "yes" on Gessow.

UPDATE:  Here is the Radio Iowa story.  A 53-minute-long mp3 is at the bottom of that page, if you want to listen to the senate debate.

UPDATE II:  At 11:00 a.m. Governor Culver issued a statement.  Read it below.


DES MOINES – Today, Governor Chet Culver issued the following statement after the Iowa Senate failed to confirm Gene Gessow as Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).

Statement from Governor Culver

“While the Iowa Senate failed to confirm Gene Gessow as the Director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services this morning, a motion to reconsider has been filed.  This provides a clear opportunity for Senate Republicans to take a second sober look at this matter, place the interests of Iowa above partisan politics and, in another vote correct this unwise and unjust act by confirming Gene Gessow’s nomination.

“It is clear.  Gene Gessow is the right person to lead the Department of Human Services, and his record speaks for itself.

“Gene worked his way through the ranks of DHS, leading our state’s Medicaid office, where he helped create the Iowa Care program which has provided health care to more than 65,000 hardworking, uninsured adults in its history.

“In the six months since he assumed the duties of Director of the Department of Human Services, he has insisted that Glenwood and Woodward must obey the aggressive standards established by the 2004 settlement with the United States Department of Justice.  And the good news is – they have.  Justice officials have found that Woodward is in full compliance, and that good progress has been made in Glenwood.

“Director Gessow has worked quickly to implement both Medicaid and food stamp improvements through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which will help countless Iowans during these difficult economic times.

“Within hours of the stunning revelations at Atalissa, Gene Gessow successfully shepherded the men of Henry’s Turkey Service to safety, sending 38 social workers to Atalissa immediately to help with the men’s short and long term needs. And while serving on the Dependent Adult Abuse Task Force, he has made it clear: the lessons of Atalissa will always be remembered for Iowans with disabilities.

“And during last year's historic floods, DHS not only made more than 90,000 in-person contacts to provide crisis counseling, but Gene personally delivered Medicaid provider checks to Cedar Rapids when postal service was interrupted.

“Gene has demonstrated time and again his commitment to this state and its people.

“So, I want to remind Senate Republicans – there is still time to do the right thing.  Hundreds of thousands of Iowans depend upon the Department of Human Services for their quality of life, and they need us to stand up for them.

“Put aside your partisan differences, and confirm Gene Gessow today. “

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Rich Olive is a Democrat