IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday appointed her 78-year-old father and several other Republican donors and activists to panels that will vet and recommend finalists for judicial vacancies.
Reynolds announced 25 appointments to district judicial nominating commissions, including 23 that were identified as Republicans and two as independents. The 14 statewide commissions, which include five members appointed by the governor and five elected by district bar associations, interview nominees for judge positions and make recommendations to the governor, who makes the final selection and appointment to the bench.
The governor's appointees included Charles Strawn of Saint Charles. The governor's announcement didn't mention that Strawn is her father, but press secretary Brenna Smith confirmed the relationship to The Associated Press.
Smith said Strawn was one of three applicants for two openings on the District 5A commission, which vets judicial candidates in Dallas, Warren and four other central Iowa counties that have a combined population of 234,000.
She said that Reynolds appointed Strawn and longtime GOP activist Marlys Popma of Kellogg; the third applicant lived in a county already represented on the panel and wasn't eligible.
Strawn will serve a six-year unpaid term, which doesn't require Senate confirmation. The District 5A commission will meet May 17 to interview candidates seeking to replace retired District Judge Paul Huscher of Waukee, who served two decades on the bench.
"I was invited to serve on this board and would like to serve in order to repay to society for the great life and benefits I have enjoyed," Strawn wrote in his April 13 application to the governor's office, obtained Tuesday by AP. He said that he had retired in 1989 after working for 30 years at John Deere's Ankeny factory following his graduation from high school.
Smith said that the governor's director of boards and commissions "reached out to Mr. Strawn about the opening."
Iowa law doesn't prohibit the governor from appointing a family member to serve on a board or commission, and former Gov. Terry Branstad appointed his son Marcus to a six-year term on the Natural Resource Commission in 2013. State law does prohibit state and local officials from making hiring decisions that involve their close relatives to paid positions.
Some Democrats called the appointment unseemly.
"I love my dad, but Iowans can rest assured that as governor, I will be able to find a qualified individual among the other 3.1 million Iowans for every state board and commission position that must be filled," said state Sen. Nate Boulton, an attorney running for governor. "Judicial appointments are serious matters and should be free from any impression that a governor had undue influence in the process."
Strawn was one of many appointees with Republican credentials named by Reynolds to the judicial commissions, which are part of Iowa's merit-based selection system designed to ensure judges are chosen based on their qualifications and not political ties. Disclosure filings show that several of them had donated to GOP county parties and candidates in the past.
"Governor Reynolds looked for people who would respect the law, select good judges and work hard," Smith said. She said that the appointees followed the practice of prior governors and were mostly "non-lawyers of varying backgrounds," including citizens who worked in several industries.
In addition to the Huscher vacancy, the commissions will consider candidates for seven other open judicial vacancies created by retirements, Iowa Judicial Branch spokesman Steve Davis said.