Paul Pate's error sends pro-gun amendment "back to square one"

“[A]ll of our work has been wiped away,” Iowa Firearms Coalition President Kurt Liske wrote in an e-mail to supporters on the evening of January 13. “Because of the Secretary of State’s complete failure, we must now go back to square one of the constitutional amendment process.”

Pro-gun advocates thought they were halfway toward amending Iowa’s constitution to include expansive language on gun rights, which could invalidate many existing regulations.

But Republican lawmakers will have to start over this year, because Secretary of State Paul Pate dropped the ball.

To amend the Iowa Constitution, two separately-elected state legislatures must approve identical language before the proposed amendment goes on a general election ballot, where it must receive a majority vote. After contentious debate last March, the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate passed House Joint Resolution 2009, which would add the following language to Article I of the state constitution:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.

In theory, Republicans could have passed the same language this year, setting up a November 2020 statewide vote on whether to adopt this text.

But the Secretary of State’s office missed an essential step. Article X of the state constitution requires the Secretary of State to publish an official notification about amendments at least three months before the people elect a new legislature. Liske informed his group’s supporters,

This responsibility rests with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office and it is with extreme frustration that I must report this constitutionally mandated requirement was not fulfilled. Because of this failure, last year’s vote and all of our work leading up to it appear to have been undone. […]

Make no mistake; there are a lot, A LOT of people in Des Moines right now who do not want to see this made public. Not right now. Not like this. But I believe firmly in transparency and honesty in leadership. […]

Earlier this evening Secretary Pate contacted me to offer his most sincere apologies and accept full responsibility while also reiterating his personal support for this amendment. The Secretary of State’s office is reviewing all legal means to potentially right this ship, but options appear to be limited. IFC is conducting its own independent review.

I am not aware of any remedy for this kind of mistake. When Secretary of State Chet Culver neglected to publish a different amendment before the 2004 election, lawmakers had to approve the language in two additional legislatures before it finally went on a statewide ballot in November 2008.

It appears that Republicans will need to pass the state-level Second Amendment this year or next, and again in 2021 or 2022, in order to put the measure before voters in the 2022 general election.

I will update this post as needed with political reaction or comment from Pate’s office.

UPDATE: The Secretary of State’s office did not respond to my inquiry but provided the following comment to the Des Moines Register:

“Due to a bureaucratic oversight, my office failed to publish the required notifications in Iowa newspapers of two continuing resolutions passed by the Iowa Legislature last year. I accept full responsibility for this oversight and offer my sincerest apology to the legislators and supporters who worked so hard on these bills,” Pate said in a statement.

That means lawmakers will have to start over on the only other constitutional amendment approved by both chambers last year: a proposal to allow a lieutenant governor who becomes governor after a death or resignation to appoint a new lieutenant governor. Bleeding Heartland covered that amendment in detail here.

SECOND UPDATE: State Representative Matt Windschitl, who introduced the pro-gun constitutional amendment and has been a leading voice for the gun lobby in the Iowa legislature, described Pate’s mistake as a “monumental setback,” Katarina Sostaric reported for Iowa Public Radio on January 14.

THIRD UPDATE: Pete McRoberts, an attorney who volunteered extensive amounts of time to help craft the other amendment approved by the House and Senate in 2018, provided this comment to Bleeding Heartland.

“While I’m disappointed, mistakes happen, and dwelling on them helps no one. The proposed constitutional amendment regarding a governor’s succession is the result of more than a decade of bipartisan work for one clear purpose – providing stability and clarity when there are vacancies in the top offices in Iowa.

“These efforts were and are about the future, and of continuity of government for the next generation. We who have been working on this issue are grateful for the legislature’s attention to it, and we look forward to the next steps.”

Appendix: Full text of e-mail from Iowa Firearms Coalition President Kurt Liske to supporters, sent at 8:52 pm on January 13, 2019.

My fellow Iowans,

I have unexpected and bad news to report.

A short time ago, I learned that all progress to add your Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the Iowa Constitution appears to have been undone. Amending the Iowa Constitution is an extremely long and challenging task. The process to do this is laid out in Article 10 of the state constitution and among those requirements is a mandate for public notification.

Less than 48 hours ago, I learned that last year Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office failed to uphold their duty for legal publication of our constitutional amendment. In matters such as ours, the constitution requires a public notification for a minimum of 3 months prior to the election of a new General Assembly of the Iowa legislature. This responsibility rests with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office and it is with extreme frustration that I must report this constitutionally mandated requirement was not fulfilled. Because of this failure, last year’s vote and all of our work leading up to it appear to have been undone.

In summary:
When you try to amend the state constitution there several requirements that must be met. Including a formal public notification. The Secretary of State’s office is responsible for this notification. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate failed to meet this requirement, and as a result, it appears that last year’s vote and all of our work has been wiped away. Because of the Secretary of State’s complete failure, we must now go back to square one of the constitutional amendment process.

Make no mistake; there are a lot, A LOT of people in Des Moines right now who do not want to see this made public. Not right now. Not like this. But I believe firmly in transparency and honesty in leadership. There are a tremendous number of you who are reading this who’ve sacrificed your time and your money, pouring yourselves and your resources into this endeavor. We’ve worked for years to put the pieces in place to make this amendment happen. Knowing all of that has been undone due to a technicality and an elected official’s failure to act makes me sick and that is why I’ve chosen to share this information as soon as possible.

Each of you reading this has been wronged, and you deserve to be made aware of it. Those of you who’ve contributed to our efforts deserve a public apology from the Secretary of State.

Earlier this evening Secretary Pate contacted me to offer his most sincere apologies and accept full responsibility while also reiterating his personal support for this amendment. The Secretary of State’s office is reviewing all legal means to potentially right this ship, but options appear to be limited. IFC is conducting its own independent review. IFC has made our frustration and disappointment abundantly clear to the Secretary of State’s office and requested a public apology be made to IFC members.

To be clear, I bear some responsibility in all of this. I failed to check to see that the Secretary of State completed his legally required responsibility. This fact is particularly tough to swallow as Paul Pate has stood alongside us, speaking directly to IFC members proclaiming his support for our cause, claiming to be “right there with you making sure that your voice is heard.” With those words and actions in mind, I took for granted that the simple task of publishing our amendment would get done and failed to provide the necessary oversight. For that, I apologize.

I believe it’s critically important that you hear this message straight from us. The Iowa Firearms Coalition proudly claims the mantle of Iowa’s leading Second Amendment advocacy group. We work extremely hard to do things the right way.

Other groups, other gun owners talk a big game, but IFC leads (our list of pro-gun owner victories bears this out). IFC members are the first to hear this news, and by breaking this story, we’ve shown ourselves once again to be the leaders on all things 2A related in Iowa. Whether it’s good news and cause for celebration or bad news about a monumental setback you deserve honest and timely communication about what’s going on and that’s what we provide.

With that established it is vital that you recognize a few critical facts as we move forward.

First, the need for an RKBA amendment remains. This apparent setback does not change the fact that there is nothing in the Iowa Constitution saying the People of Iowa have a Right to Keep and Bear Arms in this state. IFC will fight to enshrine your rights in the state constitution in the weeks, months, and years to come, for a long as it takes, regardless of any setback or false start. What we’re trying to accomplish will have an impact on Iowans not just now but for generations to come. And it is for this reason that we must do this is the right way. We must go about our business such a manner that there cannot be a single doubt about our intentions or any reason to call into question the validity of our work.

In addition to this massive undertaking, the Iowa Firearms Coalition will once again be pushing an aggressive agenda during the 2019 legislative session. Expect to see bills addressing the permitting process and how and where you may carry in Iowa.

Every day, far too many Iowans – parents, workers, lawful citizens – risk felony charges merely because they crossed some imaginary line outside a school or workplace while choosing to carry protection for themselves and their loved ones legally. Expect to see these items addressed in 2019.

And as always plan to see plenty of drama and hand-wringing from our opposition.

In closing I’d like to reiterate, we’ve suffered what appears to be a significant setback. This undertaking and our cause in general, has always been a contentious matter. To have years of work negated by an elected official’s failure to perform his job has taken everyone by surprise. But let it be known the Iowa Firearms Coalition remains steadfast in our desire to enshrine your God-given, natural Right to Keep and Bear Arms in the Iowa Constitution and we will not waiver from our goal. What should have taken four years will now take longer. As frustrating as this is we cannot, and we will not stop. Our cause is too great to give up on.

At this point, if you’re still reading this and you’re upset and looking for something to do, this is what we need from you. Contact your legislator now and make sure they understand that Iowans want, need and deserve this RKBA Amendment. They didn’t screw this process up, but the fact of the matter is we need them to act on this matter. Please helps us drive home this fact.

I take a tremendous amount of pride in what we do and everything we have accomplished together. Thank you all for your support and commitment to our cause, both now and in the future.

Respectfully,
Kurt Liske
President, Iowa Firearms Coalition
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UPDATE: Pate sent a written apology to the Iowa Firearms Coalition (a state affiliate of the National Rifle Association) and read the letter out loud in this YouTube video:

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