Speaker ousts Iowa House Judiciary Committee chairman

After his arrest, Chip Baltimore replaced with Zach Nunn

Representative Linda Upmeyer on the House floor. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/File Photo)
Representative Linda Upmeyer on the House floor. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/File Photo)

DES MOINES — House Speaker Linda Upmeyer has replaced House Judiciary Committee Chairman Chip Baltimore as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee following his arrest last week on drunken driving and weapons charges.

Upmeyer named Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, a member of the committee, as chairman for the rest of the 2018 session. Baltimore will remain on the committee but not as its leader with control over its agenda.

“Serving as a committee chairman is a privilege that requires a higher level of trust and responsibility,” the Clear Lake Republican said in announcing the change. “Drinking and driving is unacceptable behavior that endangers the lives of all Iowans who wish to travel our roads safely. Rep. Baltimore’s actions were clearly irresponsible and he is being held accountable.”

Baltimore, 51, a Boone Republican, was jailed Friday after authorities said they spotted his Ford Explorer weaving and going 25 mph under the speed limit on Interstate 35 in Ames.

Police said they later found a gun in his sport utility vehicle. While Baltimore had a permit for it, police said the permission became void when the legislator’s blood alcohol level exceeded the legal threshold of 0.08 percent. Ames police said Baltimore’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.147 percent.

“From the moment I made the horrible decision, I have taken full responsibility for it and accepted any and all consequences resulting from it,” Baltimore said in a statement Monday. He told reporters he will plead guilty to the charges. A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 8.

Baltimore called Upmeyer’s decision “the right thing to do.”

“I wholeheartedly agree with and support her decision,” he said, adding that he encouraged Upmeyer to replace him so he didn’t become a distraction from the work of the committee.

“That’s exactly what it would have been. The work of the committee needs to go on,” he said.

In addition to losing his chairmanship, Baltimore, a lawyer, could face professional repercussions. The charges are a violation of Iowa Supreme Court ethics rules, Baltimore said, adding that he self-reported his arrest.

“That’s part of the consequences of my decision and I’m accepting full responsibility for that,” Baltimore said. “Whatever is decided, it certainly is warranted.”

Baltimore, who is in his fourth two-year term, has not decided whether he will seek re-election.

“That’s a decision I’m not even contemplating at this time. I have other things that I need to take care of first,” he said.

The impact of an OWI arrest is not always politically fatal. Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, and the late Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, were re-elected after being charged with drunken driving.

Reps. Kelly Burt, D-Waterloo, and Erik Helland, R-Johnston, left the Legislature after OWIs.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who was arrested on drunken charges in 1999 and 2000, said Baltimore was in her thoughts and prayers. “He admitted he made a mistake,” she said. “He said he understands there are consequences and agrees with the consequences.”

Baltimore doesn’t expect his arrest to affect his role in the debate over water quality legislation. He led efforts last year to pass a House proposal, but the House and Senate were unable to reach agreement on how to proceed.

“Honestly, the change in my role on water quality occurred last year at the end of session when I opposed the Senate water bill,” he said.

l Comments (319) 398-8375; James.Lynch@TheGazette.com

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