State Senator David Johnson wrote to Attorney General Tom Miller today to follow up on his request last month for answers to nine questions related to the coming transfer of power in Iowa. Governor Terry Branstad plans to resign following his expected confirmation as U.S. ambassador to China, which could happen in late April or early May.
I enclose Johnson’s latest letter in full below. The senator, who is not affiliated with any political party, noted the urgency of the question, because of Branstad’s upcoming U.S. Senate confirmation hearings. Johnson added, “My mail last month included a surprising number of cards and letters thanking me for making the request for an Official Opinion, as citizens’ attention has been drawn to the situation.”
Johnson’s February 1 letter to Miller requested a formal opinion “on an expedited basis” by February 15, because Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will assume the governor’s powers soon. However, the Attorney General’s Office has not yet responded in writing. When I last inquired about the status of the opinion, Miller’s spokesperson Geoff Greenwood told me in a February 27 e-mail, “Our office is still working on it. I’ll let you know when we have something available.”
Several readers have asked why anyone should care whether Reynolds will have the title of governor and whether she will appoint a new lieutenant governor after Branstad leaves the scene. To recap points I explained in more detail here, allowing Reynolds to appoint a new lieutenant governor would put an unelected person (rather than the Iowa Senate president) next in line to perform the governor’s duties, should anything happen to Reynolds before January 2019. In addition, a newly-appointed lieutenant governor could travel the state in an official capacity, handling public events and generating local media coverage. In effect, Reynolds would be able to use state resources to boost the political profile of her chosen running mate for 2018.
I look forward to reading the opinion from Miller, though I still believe the best outcome would be for the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices to provide a definitive interpretation of the relevant provisions in the Iowa Constitution. Nowhere in that document is it written that the lieutenant governor is empowered to a new lieutenant governor when the governor’s office becomes vacant.