House galleries reserved for governor’s invitees during Branstad speech
Gov. Terry Branstad’s office reserved most of the public seating in the Iowa House during his Condition of the State speech today, causing dozens of people who tried to attend the speech in person to be turned away.
Branstad’s spokesman, Tim Albrecht, said the governor reserved most of the gallery seats for the school children he invited from several schools. Some lawmakers and others objected and questioned whether there was an effort to keep out protesters from Occupy Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
Albrecht said the reservations were intended only to make sure the governor had room for his guests, not to keep out protesters. He said there were seats set aside for the public, but “they filled up fast.” There was a TV screen set up outside the chamber for overflow seating, he said.
Danny Homan, president of Iowa AFSCME, the state employee’s union, said he was denied admittance to the gallery, and was told it was reservation only. He said he saw a steady stream of other members of the public who rode the elevators to the gallery and came right back down because they weren’t allowed to enter.
“This governor closed down the Capitol, closed down the people’s House to his select group of people. This has never happened in this state to my knowledge,” Homan said. He was wearing a button on his shirt with Branstad’s face circled in red and crossed out.
A spokesman for Iowa CCI also said 30 to 40 members had been turned away from the gallery.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said it appeared state employees were filling up most of the seats not taken by school children. “It was great they came to the speech. I don’t care who comes to the speech, but the public is welcome here and they were not welcome today,” he said.
Bolkcom said if anyone tried to disrupt the speech, they would have been escorted from the gallery, as has been done in the past.
It’s not unusual for the governor to have seats reserved for his invited guests, but I don’t recall one ever claiming the majority of seats. It sends a message that runs counter to the extra effort the House is making toward transparency this year. Spending $130,000 on a live webcast will allow more Iowans to watch. But it should never be considered a substitute for the opportunity to attend legislative functions in person.