House Study Bill 555 would address an issue that keeps people from being engaged in the political process in Iowa.
Currently, state law requires a public employer to grant a public employee 30 days of leave upon request if the employee informs the employer that the employee is a candidate for an elective public office. This bill would require any appointing authority or employer to do the same.
It also prohibits an appointing authority or employer from taking adverse actions against an employee seeking election to a public office or from prohibiting an employee from seeking election to a public office.
Wes Enos has firsthand experience dealing with an employer telling him not to run for elected office.
“Basically Wells Fargo has had a policy in place that says any time you’re planning on running for office, you have to clear it through their global ethics team,” Enos said. “That’s been in place since I’ve been at Wells Fargo since 2015.”
Enos said he has served on the city council in Bondurant and received permission for just about everything. In 2018 he ran for Polk County Republican chairman. He was encouraged to run for Polk County Supervisor by Rep. Brian Lohse and Sen. Zach Nunn.
“I’ve been approved for everything, so I never had any reason to believe it would be denied,” Enos said.
He put the request in last June but didn’t receive an answer. Enos was prepared to announce his candidacy on Nov. 11 but was told Wells Fargo hadn’t finished making its decision.
He informed Wells Fargo he’d be announcing on Dec. 12 if he did not hear anything.
“I was told on the morning of Dec. 12 they were not going to allow it,” he said. “Meaning if I went forward and did it, they’d either tell me to drop out of it and not go forward or I would face potential disciplinary action at work, which really kind of threw me.”
Enos said it’s a change in the course of Wells Fargo’s general view on the topic of employees serving in public office and engaging civically in general. Given the political environment in 2020, Enos said it makes sense for a company to be risk-averse.
“My general concern is not necessarily with Wells Fargo,” Enos said. “It’s with the fact that the largest employer in the state has now basically said we’re not going to approve any employee seeking public office. What happens if the political environment gets more and more heated and other larger employers follow suit? Now all these people can no longer engage in serving in public office.”
The proposed legislation, Enos said, benefits both employees and employers as it takes the responsibility for their employees running for office out of their hands.
“From their side, it protects them in terms of not worrying about people coming back and saying your employee is running as a Republican or a Democrat and I hate Republicans or Democrats and I am punishing you too,” Enos said. “They’d be shielded and able to say state law doesn’t allow them to make that decision.
“If all companies did decide the political environment is too hot and they want out, there’d be a massive brain drain on the number of people who would run for public office or serve in office.”
Five states have a similar rule already in place.
As for Enos, he said he could still theoretically run for Polk County Supervisor. He has until March 25 to file his papers. If the bill is pushed through by March 25, he can run. If he finds a different job, he could run. If Wells Fargo would change its mind, he could run.
“At this point, I’m not saying that I’m running and I’m not saying I’m not,” he said. “I’m simply saying we’re at wait-and-see because I’m at a point where my hands are tied.”
He said he believes he could have a good impact on the county board. And, he added, the board lacks a conservative voice.
“I’m disappointed from that aspect,” he said. “But I’m not quite ready to pack it in and give up on the idea until March 25 rolls around and we either have a decision or we don’t.”
To be clear, Enos is not the only employee at Wells Fargo this time around who was denied. The Iowa Standard was given names of other employees, but they could not be reached for comment prior to publication. Wells Fargo’s decision has hindered efforts by both Republicans and Democrats in running for office.
And, Enos added that the Wells Fargo government relations team has been incredibly helpful to him in this process. He said Wells Fargo is a great company overall and it’s not just a Wells Fargo thing.
“It’s not really a Wells Fargo thing,” he said. “Its companies are risk-averse right now and the political environment seems risky.”