Governor Terry Branstad's office announced on Thursday that Brenna Bird (whose maiden name was Findley) is stepping down as the governor's legal counsel "to pursue opportunities in the private sector." Her LinkedIn profile hasn't been updated yet, so it's not clear whether Bird is returning to the Des Moines-based Whitaker Hagenow law firm. She joined that firm in 2010 after leaving Representative Steve King's staff, but did not practice much law, since she was running for Iowa attorney general full-time.
Branstad named Bird as his legal counsel shortly after the 2010 election. She appears to have influenced several of the governor's policy choices. At one time, Branstad had supported a mandate to purchase health insurance, but soon after being inaugurated in 2011, he joined a lawsuit to overturn the federal health care reform law (a key issue in Bird's unsuccessful attorney general campaign). Branstad's legal counsel also appears to have helped convince Branstad to change his position on banning lead shot for hunting mourning doves in Iowa. When the state legislature refused to overturn a rule mandating non-toxic ammunition, Bird worked several angles to overturn a rule adopted by the state Natural Resource Commission.
Bird's work as legal counsel has also gotten the Branstad administration involved in some major litigation. In 2011, she participated in efforts to pressure Iowa's Workers Compensation Commissioner to resign before the end of his fixed term. As a result, she and the governor, along with other former staffers, are co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by the former workers' compensation commissioner.
In 2013, Bird was a key contact for Iowans seeking to ban the use of telemedicine for providing medical abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics. As the Iowa Board of Medicine considered a new rule containing verbatim wording from anti-abortion activists, the state Attorney General's Office "cautioned the board against moving so quickly." But as the governor's counsel, Bird encouraged board members to adopt the telemedicine abortion ban immediately. Planned Parenthood's lawsuit challenging that rule is pending with the Iowa Supreme Court.
Bird may be leaving the public sector for now, but I suspect Iowans will see her name on a ballot before too long. She reportedly considered running for Congress last year in Iowa's third district and has served on the Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee since last June. I could easily see Bird running for a Republican-leaning Iowa House or Senate seat if one were to open up in central Iowa. Alternatively, she and 2014 attorney general nominee Adam Gregg (now Iowa's state public defender) are likely GOP candidates for attorney general in 2018.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. After the jump I've enclosed a press release on Bird's departure from the governor's staff, with background on Michael Bousselot, her successor as legal counsel.
Governor Terry Branstad press release, February 5
Brenna Bird to pursue opportunities outside state government
Michael Bousselot promoted to legal counsel for Branstad, Reynolds
(DES MOINES) - Brenna (Findley) Bird, who has served as the legal counsel for Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds since they took office in 2011, is departing the office to pursue opportunities in the private sector. Bird's final day in the governor's office is Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. A photo of Bird can be found here.
"I wish to thank Brenna for her service and counsel over the past four years," said Branstad. "Brenna has been instrumental as we worked to end burdensome regulations like the RICE rule, and required jobs impact statements on any new government rule and regulation. I wish Brenna all the best."
"Brenna has been an integral part of our team and an advocate for cutting government red tape and ensuring that bureaucracy doesn't prevent job creators from expanding their businesses," said Reynolds. "Though she will be deeply missed in our office, we wish her well in her future endeavors."
Bird, a native of Dexter, Iowa, earned her bachelor's degree from Drake University and her law degree from the University of Chicago. She was the Republican nominee for Attorney General in 2010. She is currently an adjunct professor of law at the University of Iowa.
"It has been an honor and a privilege to serve Iowans and work for Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds," said Bird. "I look forward to the opportunities ahead in the private sector and am eager to share my plans in the near future."
Michael Bousselot, 32, who currently serves as a policy advisor to Governor Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, has been promoted to legal counsel. Before joining Governor Branstad's staff, Bousselot, a Davenport native, worked as an attorney in private practice in his hometown. Before practicing law, Bousselot worked as a consultant in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Bousselot earned a bachelor's degree in accounting in 2005 and a master's degree in accounting and business taxation in 2006 from The University of Iowa. In 2009, he received his law degree from Drake University Law School. A photo of Bousselot can be found here.
Michael Bousselot, legal counsel, Office of Gov. Terry E. Branstad
Commenting on Bousselot's promotion, Branstad said, "Michael is a leader in our office. Whether it was developing the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan and the historic property tax relief package of 2013, or his constituent service work, Michael has tackled each challenge and task with focus and diligence. I'm confident he will excel in his new role as our office's legal counsel."
Bousselot will assume his role as legal counsel Monday, Feb. 9, 2015.