No 'designated survivor' in Iowa gubernatorial succession plan

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CEDAR RAPIDS — When the president delivers his annual State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, one member of the cabinet is not in attendance at the U.S. Capitol.

That’s part of the presidential succession plan so that in the event something catastrophic simultaneously causes the death of the president, vice president, speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate as well as cabinet members, there will be one administration official left to assume command.

It’s also the premise of “Designated Survivor,” a television drama about a low-level Cabinet member who becomes president of the United States after a catastrophic attack during the State of the Union address kills everyone above him in the presidential line of succession. If it sounds familiar, it’s similar to the plots of a pair of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, Debt of Honor and Executive Orders.

Iowa has a succession plan, too, but the “designated survivor” strategy is not employed when the governor delivers his annual Condition of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature.

In fact, the members of the line of succession designated in the Iowa Constitution — lieutenant governor, Senate president and House speaker — attend the speech. The governor, speaker and president are usually within arm’s reach of one another.

In the unlikely event they would be unable to serve, the state Supreme Court would convene the Legislature to elect a governor and lieutenant governor, and fill their respective leadership vacancies, according to the Constitution. Supreme Court justices attend the Condition of the State speech if their schedules permit, a court spokesman said. Many times, all seven are in attendance.

Longtime Senate staffer Eric Bakker could not recall ever hearing a “designated survivor” strategy discussed.

Former Sioux City Sen. Steve Warnstadt did work on a “continuity of state government” plan, but said it addressed issues with the Legislature, not the executive branch.

The Capitol is “one of the most secure buildings on the Capitol complex” because anyone other than state employees and lawmakers entering the building must pass through metal-detecting security gates, according to Colin Tadlock, House Republican communications director.

“Security is increased during the Condition of the State Address” including uniformed troopers in the House galleries, on the House floor and in the capitol rotunda.

“Iowa State Patrol is very comfortable with the measures taken every year to protect members of the public and General Assembly,” he said.

Like Bakker, Tadlock doesn’t believe there’s been any recent discussion of a succession plan.

“Perhaps this new show on ABC will spur a conversation,” he said.

“Designated Survivor” premieres Sept. 21 on ABC.

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