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Lawmaker: Senate will reject utility board nominee

DES MOINES (AP) — Senate Democrats said Thursday that they will reject Gov. Terry Branstad’s nominee for the Iowa Utilities Board.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said the nominee, former Republican Rep. Nick Wagner, doesn’t have enough Democratic votes for the two-thirds majority needed for confirmation. McCoy said he believes senators will reject Wagner’s nomination on the floor next week.

The Iowa Utilities Board regulates rates and services of Iowa utilities. Board members are paid more than $113,000 a year.

McCoy, who heads the Senate Commerce Committee, said the panel also hasn’t voted to approve the nomination of Wagner, an engineer from Marion. He said some senators don’t think Wagner is qualified and believe he could unfairly favor his hometown.

“(The board) rules on territorial disputes between utilities,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. “If you had two board members from the same location, they could geographically control what happens if they share the same view.”

Hogg also said he’s worried the board is not attracting enough people with experience in utility regulations, economics and law.

Wagner would replace Darrell Hanson, a former state representative, and would join Swati Dandekar of Marion and Elizabeth Jacobs of West Des Moines. Both Dandekar and Jacobs have served in the state’s Legislature.

“The board is statutorily required to balance the interests between utilities and the consumers,” said Wagner, who has worked 12 years for The ESCO Group, an engineer company headquartered in Marion.

“I will continue to fight for my nomination,” he said. “I am very qualified.”

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor won’t withdraw the nomination. He called for Democrats to “drop the silly games.”

“Gov. Branstad will continue his fight for Nick Wagner’s confirmation, because he is the kind of bright, talented young leader Iowa deserves on the Iowa Utilities Board,” Albrecht said in an email Thursday.

Wagner said he hasn’t spoken with the governor about what his options are since the Senate’s decision.

“I have to make the decision that’s best for my family,” Wagner said Thursday.

The Senate must approve, reject or defer the governor’s nominations by April 15.

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