AG race: A close look at the Miller-Findley debate

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Republican challenger Brenna Findley debated at the University of Iowa law school on October 20. I read the news coverage of the debate highlights at at the Des Moines Register blog,, Radio Iowa and, but I was anxious to watch for myself. This afternoon Mediacom showed the debate, and I was able to take detailed notes, which you can read below. Both candidates communicated their central message well. Findley tried to keep the incumbent on the defensive, but I thought Miller handled her points and defended his record well. He also noted several times when her ideology or lack of experience seemed to affect her views on the attorney general’s proper role.

Unfortunately, Iowa Public Television isn’t showing this debate, and to my knowledge Mediacom has not posted the full video. Miller and Findley appeared jointly on IPTV earlier this month (video and transcript here), but although they touched on some of the same issues, that discussion lacked the depth and intensity of the one-on-one debate. Mediacom cable subscribers have one more chance to watch the attorney general candidates’ debate on Channel 22 this Sunday, October 31, at 7 am.

I have another post in progress on this campaign, because both candidates are running new negative television commercials this week. Also, the Progress Project, which is closely linked to the American Future Fund, is up on television with an attack on Miller.

My play-by-play of the Miller-Findley debate is after the jump.  

Opening statement: Findley goes over bio highlights unconstitutional health care reform mandate; promises to challenge fed govt takeover of health care; Congress can’t rely on commerce clause to force people to buy insurance.

The 99 percent budget rule also important; she will enforce it against governor, including governor of her own party; Culver’s budget was $25 million out of balance, but current AG took no action.

Note from desmoinesdem: Miller explained his reasons for not intervening in the budget process in a letter to Auditor David Vaudt, which I posted here.

Findley: I “will leave no stone unturned” to protect children and victims of crime;

due to current AG staff missing a deadline two sexual predators were set free “not missing deadlines–that’s job 1 for the AG’s office,” she will make sure no deadlines are missed. Findley challenges Miller to 2 more debates; he accepts [but I don’t think that is happening]

Miller opening statement: quotes AP reporter Mike Glover saying big difference between these two candidates; voters have a clear choice. I love this job and I appreciate the opportunity to be AG. I have a passion for using the law to serve the interests of ordinary Iowans. Focused the last 3 yrs on mortgages & modifications to keep people in homes; taking care of all sorts of complaints, using law to serve interests of ordinary people; farm division does that too; we have a victims’ assistance program.

My opponent’s passion is really different–more of an ideological passion, sees the job as a place to further conservative policy goals, ideological and constitutional goals. She’s enthused about challenging health care legislation where law is terribly against her and minority of AGs who are bringing case.

Experience is another issue. been here a while, built up a lot of experience. My opponent practiced law for about 18 mos in california then served 7 yrs with Steve King in political, ideological environment.

We have a professional office, we call em as we see them as opposed to political environment my opponent comes from.

Moderator notes that questions are all composed by U of I law students.

Q: AG’s office has many roles; what function of office do you believe are most important and why? What do ppl misunderstand most about the job?

Findley: Defends record; she worked both in DC and in the 32 counties of western Iowa; didn’t live in DC for 7 yrs as opponent claimed. Current Ag has lots of experience, but I’m 34 years old, same age you were when you were elected AG. You also worked for member of Congress and lived outside Iowa. Happy to stand on her record, including private practice experience.

Most important function is that AG serve interests of people. I work for taxpayers, not just for government. I will work hard for you every day to serve your interests.

Miller response: We’re the same age, I mean, she’s the same age I was when I was first elected. But I had practiced law for 8 yrs, more than 4 of those in Iowa. She’s practiced for 18 months, none in Iowa. You can’t make these judgments without significant experience in the practice of law.

F says she is with Whitaker Hagenow law firm in Iowa (Des Moines).

She handled issues for Steve King’s Judiciary Committee; couldn’t represent private clients on the side while working for House b/c of ethics rules.

Q to F: You highlight fact that you’re conservative as reason to vote for you. Miller, you ran to be Democratic nominee for governor. How can they keep ideology out of work as AG?

Miller: professionalization of the AG office was important to me. Hire bright people, treat law as important and separating out ideology. That’s partly how he got elected the first time, and he’s never forgotten it. I’ve tried to reach across party lines, do things on bipartisan basis. I don’t think anyone in state govt has been more bipartisan than I have; good relations with Republicans in IA Sen and House, served with two Republican governors. Put politics aside.

F: Everyone is equal before the law, fundamental principle of legal system, and I would run the AG’s office based on that principle. AG’s office is largest law firm in Iowa w/ 143 lawyers. Ppl can be good lawyers whether they are Ds or Rs or have no party affiliation.

Challenges Miller’s claim to call them as he sees them. Why did Miller not defend Defense of Marriage Act in state court? Why did he leave it to Polk Co attorney’s office?

Miller: The state wasn’t sued. The defendant was the Polk Co recorder. So naturally, Polk Co attorney defended him. You’re sort of misinterpreting roles and functions. Polk Co attorney’s office is terrific office, does good work.

Q: Some ppl criticized Miller’s office orders telling county recorders to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

F wants to correct record; state doesn’t issue marriage licenses and wasn’t sued, but law gives AG authority to intervene in court case where state has an interest, and he could have intervened to defend DOMA in court, but he chose not to do that.

On county recorders issue, it matters whether your own AG will go to court to defend your laws or not. County recorders caught in the crossfire, many things were in flux, she doesn’t think it was right to put them in the crosshairs; he should have shown more leadership and should of defended the law.

Miller: many laws are challenged in court, and AG’s office doesn’t usually intervene unless the state is a party to the lawsuit.

Concerning the recorders, when the Sup Ct rules, everybody has a responsibility to follow the law. I did show leadership. I showed leadership by working with them and showing them that we are a country that follows the rule of law. There was some controversy about following the Sup Ct. I worked closely w/county recorders to make sure they followed law; proud of the leadership he provided.

Findley: I’ve visited all 99 counties, and have reached out to county recorders. First time many county recorders heard of AG Miller’s position o marriage ruling was when they got a letter from his office; didn’t get a phone call from his office before. Doesn’t agree with tactics of threatening w/removal from office when law was in flux.

Miller: They were not threatened with removal from office. Come on! worked with them and w/public health office to comply.

Q: How can state deal with social media and cyber-bullying?

Miller: Incredibly challenging issues. Worked with Craigslist to get some of the prostitution and child trafficking off there. Working w/other AGs with social network issues. Good working group of AGs on this. Bottom line is bullying is wrong no matter where. I’m a believer in person and his or her opportunity to function as human being, and bullying crosses that in every way shape and form. Mentions tragedy at Rutgers, incredible invasion of privacy that led to a suicide. I’ve been great advocate in terms of bullying of kids b/c they were gay. Fundamental principle of treating people right.

Findley; I believe we need to make changes to Iowa law to keep children safe from violent sexual predators. We need real time tracking instead of time-delay trafficking. If we could know on a real time basis where the criminals are, we could prevent these crimes.

We need to update law on sexual exploitation of children through pornography b/c of technology. Now penalty same for one photo vs whole computer of child porn materials, hard to track child porn over internet.

Refers to situation that happened over the summer. I will leave no stone unturned when it comes to protecting children. Current AG’s office missed important court deadline this summer, so two violent sexual predators were let out.

Miller: My opponent has talked a lot about this. Central part of her campaign, part of one of her tv ads. She is misleading Iowans about how it all came about. In one case, normally judge sets 90 days, but in this case the court administrator set it a few days beyond. In another case interlocutory appeal, came down and there were only 9 days left before deadline, judge looked at it and said I can extend this, but Supreme Court reversed appeals court ruling.

She’s wrong to say 2 sex predators out on streets. Worked with county attorney’s office in Omaha; one of them is in jail there on a previous charge.

F: You blame court administrator for your own mistake when your own office didn’t meet deadline.

Q (two questions on health care reform together): HCR lawsuit already pending in fed court, and if it’s repealed, wouldn’t that take away benefits that the law currently provides? What will you do about natl health insure law?

F: Fed govt has no right to force Iowans to buy a certain kind of health insure or face IRS penalty. That’s what law would do by 2014. So far 21 states have stood up to this; increased Medicaid costs, loss of liberty, but most import unconstitutional power grab. Lopez case of 1995, Morrison case in 2000; both of those cases limited Congress’s power under Commerce clause. AG will have a hard time finding a case saying Congress can force people to buy a private product from a private party. I will join this lawsuit if elected.

M: This is the choice I was talking about before: go with the law or ideology. Law is heavily on the side of constitutionality. That’s why 2/3 of AGs have not joined the lawsuit. Question is about commerce power, and it’s very broad; Congress can regulate things that affect interstate commerce. When people don’t get insurance, some get sick or injured, end up in emergency rooms and we pay for them. Billions of dollars in those expenses, clearly affects interstate commerce. Clearly Congress has power in health care area. When there’s a broad program, Cong has power over whole program. Clearly failure to get insurance affects interstate commerce and health care system in a significant way. Case will get decided. it’s clearly constitutional. That’s following the law, not ideology.

F: AG failed to cite a single Supreme Court case supporting his point; there is no case that says fed govt can force citizens to buy private product from private party. Even during WWII Congress couldn’t force people to buy war bonds.

M: She and the proponents of their position engage in legal fallacy. She says there’s no case, and there isn’t. But there’s a set of principles that apply that lead to a factual situation.

F: AG has admitted that he can’t cite a case because there’s none. This kind of thinking is why we need new leadership in AG’s office. I will stand up for constitution.

Q on environmental regulations: how do you balance need to protect natural resources w/business interests.

Miller: Question goes to philosophy on regulation. Some are too quick to regulate. Some are very anti-reg. They are the kinds of people that brought us financial crisis. Those of us in middle believe in strong, fair, reasonable regulation. Coming to resolutions that are fair and make Iowa common sense. In this area and enforcing consumer laws, it’s in interest of good businesses. When some businesses are able to violate envir or consumer law, that gives them unfair advantage. My opponent tends much more toward anti-regulation side. That’s part of her philosophy, intrinsic in all of her work in Congress.

Findley: My philosophy on regulation is I believe in our free-market economy, and as I travel the state, small business owners are facing tough times; feeling squeeze of arbitrary govt regulations that don’t achieve their stated goals. Govt red tape and paperwork is killing opportunities in state and hurting jobs. I hear from small bus owners that they are hurting; no small bus owner should have to hire attorney to deal with govt, and that’s happening. My opponent has been activist on environmental issues; he tried to enforce cap and trade on America through courts.

One question I would like to ask AG is why he accepted $10K political contribution from habitual violator affiliated with salmonella outbreak.

Miller: When Jack DeCoster came to Iowa, he had mixed history. Based on what he did in Maine, I learned that if you’re tough on him, he complies with law. So my office was very tough with him; he got labeled a habitual violator and in my office I told him I don’t ever want to see your company in my office again. We concentrated on hog industry. We have a better, constructive relationship with the son. He [the son, Peter DeCoster] gave me a contribution before last campaign, and looking back, that was a mistake, so I returned the contribution.

Q: How can AG get Iowans back to work?

Findley: Important issue for me. No one wants to move back in with parents and people want to stay in Iowa rather than look out of state. I will serve as problem-solving lawyer on Iowa’s economic development team; I’ll focus on 2 things: frivolous litigation causes companies not to want to locate or expand in Iowa. When those companies expand there will be more legal work for graduates here. Second area is red-tape regulations. Too much now, I’ll work with legislature to make sure we achieve policy goals without hampering small business and killing jobs. My private sector experience helps me here, working with business.

Returns to DeCoster–you say you gave him a stern talking to, but then you accepted political contribution from him.

Miller: We all share goal of economic development. I have a 28-year-old son, I hope he’ll be able to move back to this state. Has worked on those issues, when my buddy Mike Blouin was at IDED [in Tom Vilsack’s administration] he called me about these issues. AG’s office has to create environment for law-abiding companies to flourish. That means enforcing law evenly and fairly for everyone so businesses following law aren’t put at a disadvantage. Chamber of Commerce, which is no pro-plaintiff group, has consistently named Iowa courts as among fairest in country, not prone to frivolous litigation.

But Brenna, speaking of courts, what is your position on retention of Sup Ct justices?

F: You talked about unfair advantage, but I wonder what advantage DeCosters had when they donated to your campaign? Egg recall was embarrassment to this state, we need more answers.

As for retention, come January, I plan to be arguing before Sup Court, so it would be inappropriate for me to take position on retention of justices. Principle of law that attorneys don’t get to choose the judges they will appear before.

Q: on illegal foreclosures, how AG office will prevent them.

Miller: One of great sad events of last 4-5 years is what’s been done in mortgage area. Fraudulent, unfair, put people at enormous disadvantage. In AG’s office we created foreclosure hotline, we did that with Legal Aid and Iowa Finance Authority and non-profits. Over 12,000 inquiries. Generally recognized as the best in the country in dealing with this. We worked at it, and it really worked. Thousands of people are still in their homes. Some people couldn’t pay full amount but could pay something more than lender would get from foreclosure, so it was a win-win.

Foreclosure fraud group is hoping to help with modifications to keep people in their homes. That’s why I love the job, working for ordinary people.

Findley: In Iowa, judge has to sign off on foreclosures. Some people bought more house than they could afford, some people are facing hard times, foreclosures are up. AG and I agree that law should be enforce on proper notice, documents should be in order. But I would not freeze all foreclosures in Iowa, because judges have to sign off on individual cases. Agrees with making information available to all Iowans. But foreclosures won’t be prevented by what AG is doing, they will only be delayed. To solve real problem we need to get economy going. As AG I will work to create jobs, improve economy.

Miller: You misunderstand–We haven’t advocated moratorium on foreclosures across country. We are trying to balance, not do harm to housing sector or economy. Three companies had moratorium on foreclosures, we haven’t asked others to do it. We can’t save every home, but some can be saved and I want to keep people in homes across this state.

Findley question to Miller: I want to save every job and every small business in Iowa. My question is that you cite 28 year experience. How did your office drop ball in prosecuting the sexually violent predators? What did you do to stop it and what went wrong?

Miller: We have an incredible office, people do incredible work, particularly in criminal area on the most difficult cases. We’ve put 582 people in prison for life, 84 people in sexual predator program. Ask any defense lawyer or judge, and any observer, and they would say this office does excellent work in criminal area.

We’re all human, we can make mistakes, and I explained what happened a few minutes ago. It was a mistake that happened and will happen from time to time. But important thing is our people do a terrific job, occasionally in 28 years will make one or two mistakes. My opponent is trying to suggest that we don’t do a good job because of those mistakes. Not true. Ask anyone in criminal justice system. You’ve heard the number of times she’s tried to raise this, you’ve seen her commercials, she’s trying to say attorney general’s office isn’t doing a good job. That’s just not true. That’s why people don’t like politics. That’s not the old politics. That’s politics you learned in 7 yrs in Washington, and you shouldn’t and I don’t think you will have opportunity to bring that politics to this office.

Miller question to Findley: Spent most of career working for King’s office, you’re an admirer of his, he’s your mentor, your views are similar. Could you tell us 3 issues that you disagree with Steve King?

Findley: You’ve mischaracterized my resume. I worked in private practice. I understand you have some issues with him. He is not running for attorney general. I am currently in private practice. Interesting that he asks this question. He’s been AG for 28 years, and his best question is something that relates to a person not running for AG. I won’t cover for people in my own party like we’ve seen in state government, where your government has covered for Chet Culver’s office. film office, school boards issue, stonewalling access to documents. I think it’s interesting that this is the question you choose to raise. I’m proud of Steve King, he’s a hard worker, I think everyone is equal before the law. I understand that you take exception to him, but one thing you can say about him is he always takes a stand on an issue, and I hope we have opportunity to discuss this more in future debates.

Time for closing statements.

Findley: We’ve hard some surprises today but it’s no surprise that two lawyers will have disagreements in a debate. We have some things in common, I’m 34 years old, same age he was when first elected. We both worked for Iowa members of Congress. Also serious differences; one is about fed govt not having right to force you to buy health insurance. Clean government needs more attention; all are equal before law. We disagreed on DeCosters; they are bad apples, spoiling it for Iowa agriculture, we need to clean up our state. Ironic that General Miller would talk about my regulatory position when he took $10K from only habitual violator in Iowa. On sex predators, he says office is first-rate, but a first-rate office doesn’t make those mistakes. As a result, two of the worst are no longer subject to jurisdiction of this state.

Miller: We’ve worked hard on film credit scandal. Our office has worked hard on that. Let me tell you about that. That could have cost state hundreds of millions of dollars. Chet Culver caught it quickly. Fiscal disaster the state faced is no longer the case. Worked through letters of registration so hundreds of millions of dollars of exposure are not there. Brought criminal cases against several people, we continue to investigate. Complicated cases.

My passion is using law to serve ordinary people. It’s a great opportunity in AG’s office. No area do we work harder than in consumer protection. Elderly are particularly prone to scams. We have brought cases that no other state has brought. We have protected Iowans where no other states have been protected. Refers to signs seen in telemarketer offices: Do not call into Iowa. Have enormous satisfaction because I’ve been on the right side, I’ve done good things for ordinary people. That’s what government should be  about across the board, and that’s what government is about while I’m AG. I’m asking voters for one more chance–awfully lucky guy to have as many chances to be AG as I’ve had, but I’m asking for another chance because I love the job. I believe that I can do it very, very well in the interests of every single Iowan. That’s who I believe in, that’s who I serve every single day. Asking for your vote.

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