How Iowa could have lost three Supreme Court justices in 2016

Remember how awful you felt on November 9, 2016, as you started to grasp what we were up against following the most devastating Iowa election in decades?

Would you believe the results could have been even worse?

Imagine Governor Terry Branstad appointing three right-wingers to the Iowa Supreme Court. It could have happened if conservative groups had targeted Chief Justice Mark Cady, Justice Brent Appel, and Justice Daryl Hecht with the resources and fervor they had applied against three justices in 2010.

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Courts reject legal challenges to Iowa collective bargaining law

Two Polk County District Court judges have dismissed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Iowa’s new collective bargaining law. Although the plaintiffs are likely to appeal the rulings, the bar will be high to convince four Iowa Supreme Court justices the state had no rational basis to enact changes affecting some public employees more adversely than others.

I enclose below the court rulings and key points, along with reaction from leaders of AFSCME Council 61 and the Iowa State Education Association, which filed the lawsuits earlier this year.

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Why did Branstad and Reynolds request transition funds they didn't need?

Some surprising news arrived in the mail recently. In response to one of my records requests, Governor Kim Reynolds’ legal counsel Colin Smith informed me that “zero dollars” of a $150,000 appropriation for gubernatorial transition expenses “have been spent and there are no plans to spend any of that appropriated money.” I soon learned that the Department of Management had ordered a transfer of up to $40,000 in unspent Department of Revenue funds from the last fiscal year “to the Governor’s/Lt. Governor’s General Office to cover additional expenses associated with the gubernatorial transition.”

A Des Moines Register headline put a favorable spin on the story: “Reynolds pares back spending on office transition from lieutenant governor.” However, neither the governor’s office nor Republican lawmakers ever released documents showing how costs associated with the step up for Reynolds could have reached $150,000.

Currently available information raises questions about whether Branstad/Reynolds officials ever expected to spend that money, or whether they belatedly requested the fiscal year 2018 appropriation with a different political purpose in mind.

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Adam Gregg will "operate" but not "hold" office of lieutenant governor

Seeking to avoid a lawsuit, Governor Kim Reynolds has picked State Public Defender Adam Gregg as her lieutenant governor to “serve in an acting capacity, fulfilling all duties of the lieutenant governor’s office through the January 2019 inauguration.”

Attorney General Tom Miller issued a formal opinion this month stating that Reynolds will not have the authority to name a new lieutenant governor. Reynolds and many other Republicans attacked Miller for what they called a “partisan” decision, but apparently the new governor doesn’t want to roll the dice on how the Iowa Supreme Court would resolve this question.

Instead, Gregg will have the title of lieutenant governor and the salary associated with the position. According to the governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Albrecht, “Gregg will ‘operate’ the office of lieutenant governor, but not actually ‘hold’ that office.”

The Reynolds administration acknowledges that Gregg will have no place in the line of succession. Under Article IV, Section 19 of the Iowa Constitution, if there is a vacancy in the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor becomes “incapable of performing the duties pertaining to the office of governor,” the Iowa Senate president “shall act as governor,” with the Iowa House speaker next in line to hold those powers.

I sought comment from Miller and others on whether the state constitution allows someone someone to hold the title of lieutenant governor while serving “in an acting capacity.” (The constitution does not discuss that concept, as far as I can tell.) Miller will hold a press conference later this morning, after which I will update this post. Gary Dickey, who researched these questions as legal counsel for Governor Tom Vilsack in 2004, said via e-mail today, “I know of no limitation on giving titles to employees of the office. Whether they want to call him Lieutenant, vice, or deputy means little so long as he does not attempt assume the constitutional right of succession in the event that Governor Reynolds can no longer serve.” Dickey later told the Associated Press, “As a matter of law, he’s just another staff member of the office, […] It’s a positive sign that she recognizes there are constitutional limitations to the office. I’m not sure that’s always been the case for the last six years.”

Today’s news release and background on Gregg are after the jump.

UPDATE: Miller told reporters today that the “fundamental question” in his formal opinion was related to succession questions. He said he’s “pleased” Reynolds took action today “that would not alter the succession provision,” complying with his opinion on the key constitutional question. He added that the governor can designate anyone she wants to perform certain roles on her behalf. Miller noted, “The one question that remains is the title, acting lieutenant governor. It’s a new position. It’s not a constitutional provision or position,” and it’s not part of the constitutional framework. His staff will do further research on that position. “The key fundamental question here” is who succeeds and Reynolds “complied fully” with his opinion about the Iowa Constitution. Asked whether Reynolds had ruled out any legal challenge, Miller replied that he wouldn’t “I wouldn’t go that far” to make such a “broad statement.” But making clear that Gregg is outside the line of succession “dramatically” changes the landscape for such a lawsuit.

As he said on May 1, Miller said he supports amending the state constitution to allow a lieutenant governor who assumes the governor’s office to appoint a new lieutenant governor.

Miller confirmed that no one on Reynolds’s staff consulted him about their plans. He said the governor’s senior legal counsel Ryan Koopmans called the Attorney General’s office around 9:30 this morning to inform them about the decision.

Asked to comment on Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann calling his opinion a “ridiculous partisan stunt,” the attorney general repeated that he was persuaded by the weight of the evidence, including “overwhelming” case law from other states.

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Rest in peace, Joy Corning

Joy Corning was independent. As a state senator and lieutenant governor, she didn’t cater to social conservatives who were gaining strength in the Republican Party of Iowa during the 1980s and 1990s. She paid a price for her principles when she ran for governor in 1998 and got no support from Terry Branstad, along whose side she had served for eight years. She would have been a great governor.

Joy was empathetic. Long before she ran for office, she was a young stay-at-home mom when her husband came home from work with awful news: a woman in their community had died of complications from a back-alley abortion, leaving a husband to raise three children alone. Joy couldn’t stop thinking about that mother. The tragedy fueled her dedication to protecting reproductive rights. “Whatever the circumstances of the unintended pregnancy, we cannot experience the hardship and struggle faced by some women who make this decision. We are simply not in their shoes,” Joy wrote in a guest column for the Des Moines Register this year.

Joy was fair-minded. She was among the first prominent members of her party to support marriage equality in Iowa. During the 2010 campaign, she and former Democratic Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson co-chaired the Justice Not Politics coalition, supporting the retention of Iowa Supreme Court justices who were under attack after striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act.

Joy was fact-oriented. While watching the Republican presidential debates, she was repelled by Donald Trump’s “know-it-all demeanor when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” She came out publicly as #NeverTrump last September and shortly before the election co-authored an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton, in part because of Trump’s “demagoguery,” “racism, nationalism, misogyny and discrimination against people with disabilities.”

Joy was committed. Some politicians leave the state after their ambitions don’t pan out, but Joy stayed in Iowa and volunteered countless hours for many causes over the last eighteen years. In her obituary, she wrote that she was “most passionate about issues related to children and families, women’s health & rights, equality and justice, education and the arts.” For friends who are inspired to make contributions in her memory, she suggested the Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Foundation, Plymouth Church Foundation, UNI Foundation, or the Des Moines Symphony Foundation. Joy was also a founding board member of 50/50 in 2020, a non-profit seeking to elect more women in Iowa, as well as a founding member of an advisory board for the University of Iowa’s center for gifted education, named in part after my mother. (Joy and my mother became friends when both served on school boards during the 1970s–Joy in Cedar Falls, my mother in West Des Moines. I didn’t get to know Joy until many years later, when I served on a fundraising committee she chaired for what was then called Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa.)

Joy was kind. Former Planned Parenthood leader Jill June recalled her motto: “If you can’t say something nice, be vague.” That approach to life wouldn’t produce good blog content, but it did make Joy a wonderful human being.

After the jump I’ve posted many other reflections on Joy Corning’s legacy. Please share your own memories in this thread.

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