AG Miller Throws Wrench Into Branstad’s Departure Plans

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
Posted 5/1/17

7 Comments on "AG Miller Throws Wrench Into Branstad’s Departure Plans"

  • Pardon me while I chortle almost uncontrollably. Was Miller’s first “opinion” in December a “legal opinion”? Or just that – an opinion?

  • The AG Opinion is linked in the story. The conclusion is that the Lt. Gov serves as both Gov. and lt. Gov. under these circumstances and it is very difficult to read the IA Constitution any other way. Whatever the AG’s office said about it before, this is the only official AG “Opinion” about this. So, Kim can do as she pleases, but the AG’s Opinion, while not controlling, can be cited to a court in support of its conclusions. I agree with the view that she would look really bad in making her first act something that the state AG says is not consistent with the Iowa Constitution. This should be interesting. And, why on Earth do we need a Lt. Gov. for the year and 1/2 remaining in this term?

    • I think we should not get in the way of Kim Reynolds shooting herself and her party in the foot. Based on Miller’s one and only opinion, Reynolds’ appointment of a lieutenant Governor while she still occupies the position would be over-reach, due to both ignorance and opportunity, which is always good fodder for a political campaign. Hopefully, the Iowa Supreme Court will interpret the various provisions of the state constitution as Miller has.

  • Am I reading this right? Miller gave a previous decision that the Governor could appoint a Lt. Governor to fill the vacancy, but now Miller has issued a second opinion that indicates that the Governor cannot appoint a Lt. Governor to fill the vacancy? Miller appears true to his word: whatever opinion works for my political position is the right opinion for the moment.

    Astounding! Hope the Justices of the Supreme Court are more grounded in the law rather than political whim. Shame on Miller for offering decisions from both sides of his mouth.

  • Tom Miller is a very intelligent and constructive attorney. A Harvard Law School graduate, he is and will be a conservative counsel. Kim Reynolds is best advised to follow his advice. After all Terry and Kim puppet show is going to be split. If Ms. Reynolds ignores Tom’s advice. She should be personally responsible for the costs involved from a court battle.

  • Republican David Johnson Is the monkey wrench here by asking the question he put to AG Tom Miller . That question being can Reynolds hold both offices at the same time ?…….the obvious answer is no . However she can assume the vacancy of the governorship of Iowa upon taking the oath, thus vacating the Lt.governor’s position . So only then can govenor Reynolds fill the vacated position of Lt. govenor . The breakpoint between the positions is the taking of the oath for assuming the governorship of Iowa . Basicly she can’t appoint a Lt govenor before taking the oath of govenor ! The problem johnson sees is that she may say who is to fill her position before she takes the oath and becoming govenor . It’s all about proper protocol, period ! This is not a big deal unless you have no understanding of protocol, but then that seems to be one of the problems facing our politicians nowadays, as they have embraced authoritarianism instead !

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