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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Kim Reynolds misled public about Iowa attorney general's view of her powers

Top staffers for Governor Terry Branstad knew more than a month ahead of time that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller had determined Kim Reynolds would not have the authority to name a new lieutenant governor after becoming Iowa’s head of state.

Records released by the Iowa Attorney General’s office undercut numerous public statements by Reynolds and other Republican leaders, which alleged or implied Miller had blindsided the administration with a sudden reversal of his earlier view.

Documents support Miller’s comments on May 1 about the exhaustive legal and historical research informing his 23-page response to independent State Senator David Johnson. Despite accusations made by many GOP politicians, records reveal no effort by any Democratic officials to influence Miller’s views on succession questions.

On the contrary: if the attorney general faced any political pressure to change his stance on Reynolds’ constitutional authority, available information suggests that pressure came from the governor’s office.

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Five stories: How Iowa's new abortion law will torment and endanger women

Women in Iowa have almost no options for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks, under a law former Governor Terry Branstad signed a few weeks ago. Proponents have claimed the measure would “save lives immediately.”

In reality, the law will cause more pregnant women to have life-threatening health problems, and will add to the suffering of parents whose babies have no chance of survival.

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Iowa Democrats face incredibly difficult path back to legislative majorities (part 1)

Many Iowa Democrats expect to have the wind at their backs for the 2018 elections, due to surging progressive activism, an unpopular Republican president, and backlash against GOP lawmakers who used their power this year to take rights away from hundreds of thousands of workers, lower wages for tens of thousands more, and undermine protections for those who suffer workplace injuries.

It’s too early to predict the political climate next fall, but Democrats need to hope for favorable external conditions as well as strong recruits and well-run campaigns. New calculations of last year’s presidential election results by state legislative district point to a very steep climb back to 51 seats in the Iowa House and 26 seats in the Senate. This post will survey the terrain in the upper chamber.

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Early clues about the Kim Reynolds leadership style are not encouraging

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will likely begin performing the duties of our state’s highest office very soon, following Governor Terry Branstad’s expected confirmation as U.S. ambassador to China. Speaking to journalists, some Republicans who have worked with Reynolds have enthused about her willingness to study the issues and be engaged in policy-making as part of her long preparation for the job.

Unfortunately, the way Reynolds has handled the controversy surrounding her authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor has revealed a willful disdain for research and opposing views.

Now, she admits she may have trouble working with Attorney General Tom Miller, whom she views as “my legal counsel” interfering with “my plan.”

If recent events reflect how Reynolds will approach other complicated and contentious issues, Iowans have reason to worry.

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Iowa attorney general: Kim Reynolds can't appoint new lieutenant governor

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced today that he believes Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will become the governor, and not merely “acting governor,” once Governor Terry Branstad resigns to become U.S. ambassador to China. However, in the same 23-page opinion (enclosed in full below), Miller determined that under Iowa’s constitution, Reynolds will not have the authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor once she is sworn in.

Reynolds has been vetting candidates to take her place for months, as staff in the governor’s office insisted she will have the right to appoint a new lieutenant governor. Miller’s office had indicated in December that the attorney general agreed with the Branstad administration’s view on the coming transfer of power, despite language in the Iowa Constitution stating that the governor’s powers “shall devolve upon the Lieutenant Governor” in the event of a vacancy, and calling for the Iowa Senate president to be next in line if the lieutenant governor proves incapable of “performing the duties pertaining to the office of governor.” At the time, Miller provided no legal analysis, but his office released a 1923 Iowa attorney general’s opinion, which you can read here.

Three months ago, independent State Senator David Johnson exercised his right to request a formal opinion from Miller on nine questions about the succession. He asked Miller to produce the opinion “on an expedited basis” and specifically asked him not to “simply rely on the precedent of a predecessor’s 1923 opinion.”

Staff in the Attorney General’s office, led by Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson, conducted “extensive legal and historical research” before reaching the conclusions Miller characterized as a “split decision” during today’s press conference.

Miller noted the precedent for using the title of “governor” when previous Iowa lieutenant governors exercised the governor’s powers following a vacancy. He also noted that when vice presidents have assumed the presidency, we have called those men “president” rather than “acting president.”

Miller said five factors pointed toward the conclusion that Reynolds does not have the authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor. An important one for him was language in Article IV, Section 19 of the Iowa Constitution, which spells out the succession of power from the governor to the lieutenant governor to the president of the Senate. (I’ve enclosed that passage below.) A state constitutional amendment in 1988, which provided for the lieutenant governor to be elected on a ticket with the governor, did not change the wording about the line of succession. Furthermore, Miller found, the historical record shows “The framers [of Iowa’s constitution] intended that those in the gubernatorial line of succession be elected.”

Miller also pointed to historical practice when the U.S. Constitution’s succession language mirrored the current wording of Iowa’s constitution (saying the president’s powers “shall devolve on the Vice President”). Before the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1967, none of the eight vice presidents who became the head of state following the death of a sitting president attempted to appoint a new vice president for the remainder of the term.

Speaking to reporters today, Miller said that as a matter of policy, he supports the idea of the new governor having the power to appoint a new lieutenant governor. But he maintained the Iowa Constitution would have to be amended to provide for that process.

Asked what would happen if the governor’s office disagrees with his legal analysis, Miller said he expects them to follow his opinion and repeatedly expressed hope that they will do so. If Reynolds proceeds with appointing a new lieutenant governor, her action “may or may not be challenged” in court. Responding to a follow-up question, Miller clarified that the Attorney General’s Office would not file that lawsuit, repeating that he hopes Reynolds will not take that course.

I am seeking feedback from attorneys on whether an ordinary Iowa voter would have standing to go to court if Reynolds disregards Miller’s conclusions about what the constitution allows. Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver would clearly have standing, since a new lieutenant governor would take his place in the line of succession. But the loyal Republican Whitver certainly would not object.

Front-runners for the lieutenant governor spot in the Reynolds administration are rumored to include State Representative Zach Nunn and State Public Defender Adam Gregg.

UPDATE: Added early reaction from the governor’s office and other political figures below. Reynolds sounds intent on ignoring Miller’s opinion.

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