AUDIO: Human Rights chief loses senate confirmation vote

Isaiah McGee, the man Governor Branstad asked to serve as director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, has failed to win senate confirmation to the job.  McGee needed the support of two-thirds of the senate.  The vote was 30 yes, 20 no.  McGee needs three more “yes” votes in order to win confirmation. (One of his supporters switched to a “no” at the last minute in order to be on the prevailing side and, as such, be able to file a motion to reconsider the vote.  So that means McGee had 31 yes votes today in reality, but not technically.)  (Listen to debate: McGeeVote mp3 runs 20 minutes)

“I personally have spent hours on this nomination,” Senator Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) said, adding McGee refused to repeatedly to back down from a so-called “gag order” he issued for department staff and commissions — until an email sent today said no one would face repercussions for speaking with legislators.  “…I have done a lot of soul-searching on this nomination.”

Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, called McGee one of the “most interesting and great candidates I have seen for this position….He grew up dealing with racism.  He grew up dealing with poverty…and he worked through those and became a great leader in one of our communities…What else do we want from someone on this commission?”

Feenstra expressed support for the “gag order”.

“Have you ever been head of a private busienss?  If you were the leader…I can only hope that you want all communication to go through you because you want to be lock-step with everybody in that organization, you want to say the same thing every time,” Feenstra said.

Feenstra said lack of a cohesive message “corrupts” an organization like the Department of Human Rights. “It will actually make the organization fail.  You have to have one voice and work together for these causes,” Feenstra said.

Feensdtra then hinted bigotry and racism may be behind this decision. “Really, really, do you want to take him down because supposedly he didn’t allow somebody to say something?…Is there more behind this?”  Feenstra said.

Senator Bill Dix defended McGee. “He has, at least in my opinion, been open with the senate,” Dix said. 

Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, defended McGee.  “This is about politics rather than the person,” Zaun said.  “…I just hate to see this body take down another good man…He has made mistakes and he has corrected those mistakes.”

Jochum said anyone who cast a no vote “did not do so lightly.”

“Look folks, I am a woman. I am a mother. I have an adult child with disabilities, severe disabilities — 34 going on 2.  I can assure you in my lifetime I have personally witnesses discrimination against those with disabilities.  I have,” Jochum said at the beginning of her closing comments on the nomination.

“…This is not about politics.  This is plain and simply about open and transparent government and a director/nominee who several months ago did put a gag order on,.” she said.

UPDATE:  Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley has filed a “motion to reconsider” on McGee’s nomination.  It’s a parliamentary move, meaning McGee’s vote could be discussed again in the senate if four senators change their minds and vote for him.  The deadline for changing minds is April 15th.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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