On Wednesday, May 22, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds line-item vetoed HF 615, the justice system appropriations bill, to remove sections 24 and 28 pertaining to the role of the attorney general.
The law would have “required the approval of the Governor, Executive Council, or Legislature to prosecute any action or proceeding, including signing onto or authoring amicus briefs or letters of support, in any court or tribunal other than an Iowa state court,” according to the press release.
While she vetoed that part of the bill, Reynolds said the law had brought Attorney General Tom Miller into discussions about their respective roles. In the transmittal letter accompanying the bill, Reynolds wrote,
As a result of the Legislature’s leadership on this issue, Attorney General Miller and I have had the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful discussion about the appropriate balance of authority between the Governor and the Attorney General with respect to Iowa’s involvement in litigation. And ultimately, Attorney General Miller agreed to my proposal to adjust our litigation practices in a manner that I believe addresses my core concerns without amending Iowa’s current statutes.
Attorney General Tom Miller said his agreement with the governor was made in good faith,
This agreement allows my office to continue to protect Iowans through consumer enforcement actions, which are primarily filed in Iowa courts. It also allows me to express my opinion on matters affecting Iowans before federal agencies and Congress.
Republicans got the leash out but avoided collaring the popular Miller.
In part, the ability to reasonably negotiate differences between state-wide elected officials is part of what makes Iowa different from nearby states like Wisconsin and Kansas. We look at them and say to ourselves as Iowans, “Dear God! Let’s not be like them.” That Reynolds and Miller were even able to discuss and negotiate a better solution to Republican dislike of his activities is something. It is also something else.
While Miller, first elected in 1978, is the longest serving attorney general in the United States, he will eventually retire or die in office. That he is a Democrat is less important to his longevity than the way he looks after the interests of Iowans. When Miller’s seat becomes an open race to replace him, electing a Democrat is not assured. If anything, the office of attorney general will lean in the direction of state government’s majority party.
There are one-offs like Democratic Auditor Rob Sand, who won statewide election despite Republican dominance in other offices. If Reynolds has the same longevity as Terry Branstad, Democrats holding statewide office may well be sanded off in the woodshed of Republican re-making of the state. By vetoing sections of the HF 615 pertaining to the attorney general, Reynolds is playing the long game in politics, looking after her own interests as much as settling an immediate political dispute.
We live in an open society and Republicans have been working to shape it according to their image. In many ways they have been successful. The longer it is before Democrats win a majority in the legislature and re-take the governor’s office the more permanently Republican initiatives penetrate our culture and become the background against which we live our lives. Democrats failed to stop Republicans in 2018. 2020 remains our last best hope to do so. Flipping the Iowa House of Representatives to Democratic is both doable and a primary goal for Democrats this cycle.
A veil of reasonable envelopes the judiciary budget bill and the settlement between Reynolds and Miller. One hopes the outcome is indeed reasonable, and not the vapid dealings of a Republican party looking out for their own long-term self-interest.