Iowans left in the dark on Senate GOP sexual harassment investigation

Iowa Senate Republican leaders have never acknowledged that Kirsten Anderson faced sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation while working for the Senate GOP caucus.

They have stuck to the unconvincing story that Anderson lost her job (hours after she had submitted a written complaint about a hostile work environment) solely because of her writing skills.

They didn’t allow an independent investigation of the allegations Anderson raised in a lawsuit, which a Polk County jury unanimously found credible.

They aren’t releasing any findings from an internal investigation of those allegations.

They have ensured that the legislature’s new human resources director will report to Republican political appointees.

Yet they want us to take their word for it that harassment at the statehouse will not be tolerated.

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Iowa Senate Republicans hold no one accountable for sexual harassment case

Iowa Senate Republicans voted last Friday to make no changes in the caucus’s staff or leadership, following a sexual harassment lawsuit that led to a $2.2 million verdict against the state. Instead, Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson will internally review allegations that came to light through Kirsten Anderson’s lawsuit, with the chamber’s number two Republican, Senate President Jack Whitver, “overseeing the investigation.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix has claimed repeatedly that any problems relating to a hostile work environment were resolved soon after he took charge of the Senate GOP caucus in late 2012. But court testimony indicated that neither senators nor top Republican staffers ever asked others employed by the caucus whether they had observed sexual harassment or other offensive workplace conduct. Although Dix admitted hearing about matters “I was not aware of” during the trial, he still insists Anderson was fired in May 2013 solely because of her work product. Meanwhile, the current Iowa Senate Republican communications staffers occupy themselves with who-knows-what, as opposed to keeping the website and social media feeds current.

Dix confirmed that Republicans will not cover the costs of any payout to Anderson, opting to let taxpayers foot the bill for the lack of professionalism that persisted for years.

Republicans’ failure to hold anyone accountable for this debacle underscores the need for independent consultants to take a hard look at what happened in the Senate GOP caucus and how to fix the work environment. Anderson has asked a Polk County District Court to make that happen.

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Six hints Iowa Senate Republicans didn't fire Kirsten Anderson over work product

Iowa taxpayers are on the hook for $2.2 million dollars after former Senate Republican communications director Kirsten Anderson won a huge sexual harassment lawsuit last week.

If Senate Republican leaders had any sense of accountability, they would resign, or at least offer to raise money to cover the cost of the verdict, so the general fund doesn’t take another hit while the state budget is in terrible shape.

But Majority Leader Bill Dix refuses to admit any wrongdoing by his colleagues or his staff. He is sticking to his story: “Kirsten Anderson was terminated for her work product and for no other reason.” Dix’s top aide Ed Failor, Jr. has been saying the same thing for years.

The jury didn’t buy the official line, and you shouldn’t either.

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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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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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