You could call it The Revenge Of David Johnson. Ever since the Republican Senator from Northwest Iowa bolted the party over Donald Trump, his former party members have given him the cold shoulder in the Legislature. So it perhaps was not a coincidence that the person who requested Attorney General Tom Miller review whether Kim Reynolds could take over the Governor’s office and appoint her own Lt. Governor was Johnson himself.
Today Miller announced that Reynolds could not, in fact, appoint her own Lt. Governor and potential successor. She can, however, take on the full role and office of the Governor. Current Governor Terry Branstad begins his U.S. Senate hearings tomorrow for his ambassadorship to China.
The Iowa Constitution was surprisingly vague about what happens during an unexpected transition in the middle of a governor’s term, and the state hasn’t experienced one in any recent decade. Johnson was apparently wise to formally question the matter, as the issue isn’t as clear cut like a vice president taking over for a president.
Under Miller’s opinion, State Senate President Jack Whitver would be next in the line of succession, were Reynolds not be able to finish out the current term.
Miller’s decision today on the matter would have to be challenged by Reynolds at the Iowa Supreme Court. At the very least, it will complicate the Reynolds’ transition plans and decision on who to appoint as her Lt. Governor.
Reynolds indicated shortly after Miller’s decision that she would ignore it, and instead go off a previous opinion Miller gave in December.
“With the law on our side we will move forward with his first conclusion as we examine our options in light of Tom Miller’s reversal,” Reynolds said in a statement.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Reynolds simply “appointed” her own Lt. Governor at this point and pursued legal options going forward. It’s not like the Lt. Governor has a lot of official responsibilities that the administration can’t function without, so a questionable legal standing wouldn’t undo any major actions the next one takes. Reynolds’ Lt. Governor pick could still travel the state, do publicity events and help behind the scenes to raise money for Reynolds’ 2018 campaign.
However, it would make everything very awkward. For starters, Reynolds’ first act as Iowa’s new governor would be to flout the Attorney General’s legal decision. For a party already seen as power-hungry with their one-party rule, it would further the narrative that Republicans don’t care about Iowa’s democratic process. It would also make the new Lt. Governor’s every appearance around the state weird – would each news story start off with a story of how this person may or may not actually be Lt. Governor?
Moreso, it simply impedes Reynolds’ ability to lay out a clear message from her office in the early weeks of her governorship if she’s also fighting a major legal battle over the legitimacy of half her administration.
It’s just a mess, basically. Democrats were already appreciative when Senator Johnson voted with them on several major topics this legislative session. Now they have one more thing to thank him for.
by Pat Rynard
Photo by Gage Skidmore